JOHANN SEBASTIAN BACH (1685-1750)
Brandenburg Concerto No. 5 in D major,
BWV 1050 (1721)
The work is scored for flute, violin, harpsichord, and strings.
Viewing Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 5 in Messiah's shadow offers a fitting finale and parable in piety, "for whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted" (Luke 14:11).
Fortune had changed for Bach in 1721, with the death of his first wife, Maria Barbara. Working as Kapellmeister for the city of Cöthen, Bach set his eyes on the Holy Roman State of Brandenburg as a possible new chapter in his life. Upon meeting Margrave Christian Ludwig of Brandenburg-Schwedt, prince of the Prussian Royal House, Bach attempted to ingratiate himself into a potential new position by sending him six concertos, Six Concerts à plusieurs instruments along with the following note:
"I have in accordance with Your Highness's most gracious orders taken the liberty of rendering my most humble duty to Your Royal Highness with the present Concertos, which I have adapted to several instruments; begging Your Highness most humbly not to judge their imperfection with the rigor of that discriminating and sensitive taste, which everyone knows Him to have for musical works, but rather to take into benign Consideration the profound respect and the most humble obedience which I thus attempt to show Him."
In retrospect, Bach may have wanted to rewrite that letter to reflect the Messiah as "Him," rather than the Margrave. Unfortunately, Bach never submitted the manuscripts to a copyist, sending the only copies in his hand. He would never see those manuscripts again; no one would, not until they were discovered 125 years later, in 1849, in the state archives by Siegfried Wilhelm Dehn. A musical resurrection in its own right, the concertos were published the following year, nearly fifty years after the composer's death, each concerto adopting the Brandenburg title.
The Fifth Concerto features a trinity of solo instruments, the flute, violin, and harpsichord. The Allegro of the first movement takes shape in the form of another dichotomy, the concerto grosso, the solo group (concertino), and the ensemble of strings (ripieno) alternate and dialogue showcasing the very best of the Baroque style. Suppose the triad of soloists was symbolic of the Holy Trinity. In that case, it's no surprise that the harpsichord is revealed with an almighty role. The keyboard instrument accompanies conservatively, but gradually it becomes more ornamental. Before the final ripieno refrain, magnificent virtuosity unleashes the Mother of All cadenzas, sixty-five measures of pure harpsichord glory.
The Affettuoso of the second movement features only the solo trio. Lovingly, as the tempo marking translates, the music is much more dotted in rhythm, contrasting the first's perpetual motion. The three speak in imitation, layering figures to create harmony; scriptural metaphor, "for there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one" (1 John 5:7).
The Allegro finale brings back the ensemble in 2/4 time, and triplet rhythms give the music a gallant gigue character. Unlike the first movement, the solo violin and flute speak first, followed by harpsichord to the same tune, constructing the exposition of a Bach specialty, a procedural scheme akin to the deus ex machina, the fugue. The alternation of melodic entrances and answers are carefully placed and layered in clockwork precision; the result is celestial alignment. Taken together, the solo trio and string ensemble number seven individual parts, seven parts for seven days of divine design.
All parts working in harmonic perfection fit the finale of this Messiah perspective, the sacred and secular. But, as the prophets, apostles, and Gospels remind, the end is just the beginning, "And on the seventh day God ended His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made" (Genesis 2:2-3). © MTF
(Notes by Michael-Thomas Foumai)
ABOUT THIS PERFORMANCE (MASTERWORKS 2):
Rejoice! From Handel’s Baroque epic comes the greatest story ever told, a Messiah of our time. Journey with Jesus of Nazareth, abiding in voices of prophecy, seraphic declaration, and apostolic revelation. The sacred and secular come together, forging a trinity of the divine-human experience. Temptation and betrayal slither in the Passacaglia from Rodrigo, Bach’s beloved Air from the Orchestral Suite No.3, is a vision of the earthly and eternal. Finally, divine design offers a final parable in the resurrection of Brandenburg Concerto No. 5.