The Kennedy Center

Oboe d'amore Concerto In A major, BWV 1055

About the Work

J.S. Bach Composer: J.S. Bach
© Dr. Richard E. Rodda

Like the musical talent of the Bach family, many of Johann Sebastian's compositions went through several generations. It was a common 18th-century practice for composers to rework their own music (and that of others, in those pre-copyright days) to fill a new need. Among the best-known of such pieces in the Bach canon are the concertos for harpsichord, all of which seem to be arrangements of some of his earlier music, much identified, some conjectured. The Third and Seventh Concertos, for example, are arrangements of the E major and A minor Violin Concertos; the Sixth corresponds to the Fourth Brandenburg. Bach needed these pieces in harpsichord/orchestra form for the programs of the Leipzig Collegium Musicum, a public concert-giving organization whose direction he assumed soon after arriving in Leipzig in 1723. Bach or one of his talented sons was soloist at the keyboard for many of those regular Friday concerts held at a local coffee house.

The harpsichord concertos were based on works Bach wrote for his duties at the court of Anhalt-Cöthen between 1717 and 1723, where he was responsible for the instrumental rather than the sacred music. Most of the model works were originally for solo violin, but the esteemed English musicologist Sir Donald Tovey showed that the Concerto in A major (BWV 1055) was written originally for oboe d'amore, an ancestor of the modern English horn. Though the original manuscript of the oboe d'amore concerto is lost, the score of the harpsichord concerto based on it clearly differentiates between the neat notation copied from the earlier version, and the ornaments and elaborations later written spontaneously to adapt the solo line to the keyboard. (The orchestral accompaniment remained largely unchanged in all these concerted works.) The reconstruction by Wilfried Fischer for a solo wind instrument, a most attractive affair, was accomplished by eliminating the keyboard decorations to reveal the simpler, original version.

The opening movement of the Oboe d'amore Concerto begins with a vivacious orchestral ritornello whose ?returns? (? ritornelli ? in Italian), like the supporting pillars of a cathedral, give the form both its structure and its name. Between the columns of the ritornelli , like sparkling stained glass windows, the solo instrument develops a complementary motive. The regular phrases, disposed in eight-measure blocks, give this movement a dance-like quality. The following Larghetto offers a stark contrast in mood from the jolly opening movement. Above a chromatically descending, passacaglia-like bass, the soloist intones a mournful song full of rich emotion. (Such music is a reminder that the Baroque era was essentially a romantic age in the deeply expressive nature of its art.) The jubilant finale, modeled perhaps on the gigue, returns the dancing motion and high spirits of the first movement.