Composed: c. 1731
Length: c. 15 minutes
Orchestration: continuo, strings, and two solo violins
First Los Angeles Philharmonic performance: April 6, 1923, Walter Henry Rothwell conducting
About this Piece
As with most of his instrumental music, we know little about the origin of the Bach concerto on this program. It probably dates from after 1730, when Bach was not only the Cantor of Leipzig’s St. Thomas Church, in charge of liturgical music in three Lutheran churches, but also director of the Leipzig Collegium Musicum, which played Friday night concerts in Zimmerman’s Coffee House in an era before there was such a thing as a concert hall.
Just as Germans imported the suite from France, they imported the concerto from Italy, and Bach himself was heavily involved in the transalpine trade: the 11 arrangements of Vivaldi concertos he made are testimony to his fascination with the Italian master. His Concerto for Two Violins, BWV 1043, shows Vivaldi’s influence in the brisk rhythms and outgoing character of the outer movements, and much of the solo writing.
But the counterpoint is unmistakably Bach. All three of the concerto’s movements are fugues, a structural choice that springs naturally from having one soloist constantly repeating what the other does. This sort of canonic follow-the-leader might become tiresome in other hands, but Bach created outer movements of great energy and vigor, and a middle movement of sublime beauty. —Howard Posner