Johann Sebastian Bach

Brandenburg Concerto No. 5 in D major, BWV 1050

    Description by John Keillor

    Johann Sebastian Bach most likely completed his Brandenburg Concerto No. 5 in D major, BWV 1050, in 1721. This work is the fifth of six concertos the composer dedicated to Christian Ludwig, Margrave of Brandenburg. The offering was likely a sort of application for employment; Bach got no response, but these pieces have become some of his best-known material. Every one of the concertos is distinct, as are the composer's sets of suites and partitas. Hearing the fifth concerto in the context of the rest of the set makes it clear that, apart from Bach's inimitable strength as a contrapuntist, the key to his ability to make music that is both sublime and entertaining lies in the fact that in his hands, everything is elastic. No other composer of the Baroque era could write through the constraints of form as if it was not there at all. Bach saw more options than anyone else, in form and in influence. The way he blended the Italian sound into his own in these concertos ennobled both Italian and German music. The scope of his vision and his relentless invention, making everything he wrote new, frustrates any attempt at comparison.

    This fifth concerto is scored for flute, solo violin, obbligato harpsichord, and strings. It is the only one of the six pieces to have any solo material given to the harpsichord, which is part of the continuo throughout the other works, filling out the harmonies. What is quite bizarre and beautiful about the opening movement is the way the solo instruments and string ensemble seem to be muscling in on each other's musical functions. More specifically, the ritornello is almost carried away by the soloists although it is normally the territory of the tutti ensemble. The harpsichord seems to be holding the work together, and there are episodes in the second half of the movement where everything has ground to a halt except for the harpsichord. At the end of the movement, the other soloists actually support the free-flowing harpsichord line. It is a sort of divide-and-conquer movement, with tutti versus soloists, and also soloists against soloists. The harpsichord wins. No one wrote music with this sort of free play of function before Bach.

    The following two movements, briefer than the first, form an admirable contrast. The second movement is for soloists only, somber and cooperative. Though it is intimate and free of the first movement's tension, it is the most concerto-like movement in the traditional sense. This is a colossal irony, considering how the tensions of the concerto form were exploded in the first, which is as much a departure from the form as it is an adherent. The final movement is a charming dance, a lively gigue with fugal powers.

    Parts/Movements

    1. Allegro
    2. Affettuoso
    3. Allegro

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2016 Archiv Produktion / DG Archiv 4795384
    2016 Christophorus CHR 77400
    2016 Hungaroton HCD 3278687
    2015 Warner Classics 0825646019311
    2015 Erato 550562
    2015 Alpha ALPHA 300
    2015 K-Tel 136150
    2015 Erato 0825646190423
    2015 Tacet TACET 101BDA
    2014 Berlin Classics 0300593BC
    2014 Channel Classics CCSSA 35914
    2014 Smekkleysa SMC 3
    2014 PentaTone Classics PTC 5186205
    2014 Melodiya MELCD 1002224
    2014 Profil / Profil - Edition Günter Hänssler PH 13053
    2014 Telarc TEL 3531902
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    2014 Sony Classical 88843045052
    2013 Archiv Produktion 002894791045AB55
    2013 Klanglogo KL 1502
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    2013 Naïve NC 40030
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    2012 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099970490
    2012 ABC Classics ABC 4761923
    2012 ZYX Music CLA 101382
    2012 Tafelmusik Media TMK 1004CD2
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    2012 DG Deutsche Grammophon 4783385
    2012 DG Deutsche Grammophon
    2012 Analekta ANLCD 299967
    2012 Hänssler Classic CD 94615
    2012 Warner Classics
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    2012 Naxos 8501061
    2012 DG Deutsche Grammophon 002894770055
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    2011 Naïve OP 30530
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    2011 DG Deutsche Grammophon
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    2011 DG Archiv 4779510
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    1999 Teldec 3984-25717-2
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    1997 MDG 3110746
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    1997 L'Oiseau-Lyre 455700
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    1997 Philips 456 377-2PB9
    1997 Koch International Classics 37610-2
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    1996 DG Deutsche Grammophon 453001
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    1993 Laserlight 15932
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    1992 Teldec 9031-75859-2
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    1990 CBS Records / Columbia 42309
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