Over the summer we are repeating some articles from the Classics on Sunday series. This was first published on November 3, 2019.
LAST week I wrote about Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741), the Venetian composer sometimes called the King of Baroque. He was a major influence on Johann Sebastian Bach, who was seven years younger.
Bach was born in Germany in 1685 and as a young boy used to copy out scores of other composers, including Vivaldi, as a way of studying music.
His Violin Concerto in E major BWV 1042 has similarities with Vivaldi but has features which are uniquely Bach. He wrote it probably between 1717, when he was 32, and 1723, the period when he was Kapellmeister for Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Cöthen. This was the only time in Bach’s 50 years as a professional musician that his job did not consist of writing music for Lutheran worship. Prince Leopold had a passion for music that he could not indulge in church because his Calvinist religion limited liturgical music to simple psalm-singing. So he supported a first-class instrumental establishment of 17 players (quite a large group for a court orchestra of the time), and brought in Bach to direct and write music for them, making him the second highest-paid employee in the entire court. Much of Bach’s instrumental music is thought to date from his time in Cöthen.
Here it is played by the New York Classical Players with soloist Siwoo Kim. He was born in South Korea in 1990, and started learning the violin with his mother when he was two and a half. The family moved to the US when Siwoo was five and he studied at the Juilliard School in New York. I must say I love the new style of performance in which the violin and viola players stand so that they can move with the music. It must be liberating in contrast with being chairbound.
Bach recycled his work as his Harpsichord Concerto in D major, BWV 1054, found in his 1737-39 autographed manuscript of these works.
I am not sure that this is a terribly good performance, but it was the best I could find.
Here is a performance on piano. The piano had been invented by the time this concerto was written, but was not in wide use. The instruments of those days were quieter too. To me it sounds all wrong on a modern piano.
Finally, here is the score. The solo violin is the top line.
With acknowledgments to LA Phil.