Johann Sebastian Bach

Brandenburg Concerto No. 6 in B flat major, BWV 1051

    Description by John Keillor

    Johann Sebastian Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 6 in B flat major, BWV 1051 is the final concerto in a set of works dedicated to Christian Ludwig, Margrave of Brandenburg. (It may actually have been the first composed, however.) They were intended as a job application, but the job did not appear.

    Bach's sonic imagination was seemingly limitless, and for this final concerto he chose to limit the work's instrumentation to strings and continuo, meaning that the only non-bowed instrument heard is the harpsichord. Every other concerto in the set made extensive use of contrasting timbres, balancing the strings with the winds, often in unprecedented ways. This limitation of timbre is also extended to register; there are no violins, just two violas, two violas da gamba, a cello, and the violone, which is near the cello range and is from the gamba family. The overall effect of this decision is a spirit of repose and conclusion. There are no visceral contrasts in the music, though the final Allegro is faster than the other two movements; the concerto, whenever it was actually composed, makes a splendid way to end the overall set.

    Bach's writing for these instruments was unconventional for the time. In the early eighteenth century the lower members of the violin family were considered orchestral instruments with supporting roles. They were given comparatively easy parts to play, while the gamba and its relatives were regarded as chamber instruments and necessarily received more difficult lines. Bach chose to reverse the level of difficulty, giving the viola and cello the tough solo parts, while the gamba players were free to cruise along in the supporting roles. In the second-movement Adagio, they are completely silent.

    The form of the three-movement work is also filled with reversals. The opening movement sounds initially like a freely composed fugal arrangement, free of the stark contrasts normally associated with concerto form. Its ritornello, normally a focused bit of recurring melody, rambles along without drawing much attention to itself, while the music that is supposed to be spun out of the ritornello is concise and sharp. Compounding the irregularities further, the second movement (lovely and languid) ends in a different key from the one it starts in. The final movement assumes the character of a fugal gigue, but reveals itself to be a set of variations based on the initial ritornello, which is a much freer demonstration than the traditional spinning-out of the initial material.

    Overall, these surprises result in what in many ways is the most various and striking among the Brandenburg Concertos. Its beauty is equal to its invention.

    Parts/Movements

    1. Moderato
    2. Adagio ma non tanto
    3. Allegro

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2018 CPO 555158
    2018 Linn CKR 430
    2018 Arcana A 452
    2018 Accent ACC 24352
    2018 Grand Piano GP 77778
    2017 Supraphon SU 42132
    2017 Decca 4832158
    2017 Pentatone / PentaTone Classics PTC 5186668
    2017 Profil - Edition Günter Hänssler PH 16010
    2016 Archiv Produktion 4795384
    2016 Musiques à la Chabotterie 605014
    2016 RCA Red Seal 88875169792
    2016 Christophorus CHR 77400
    2016 Brilliant Classics 95303BR
    2016 Hungaroton HCD 3278687
    2016 Deutsche Grammophon 4795983
    2015 Warner Classics 0825646019311
    2015 Erato 550562
    2015 Alpha ALPHA 300
    2015 K-Tel 136436
    2015 Tacet TACET 101BDA
    2014 Berlin Classics 0300593BC
    2014 Smekkleysa SMC 3
    2014 Channel Classics CCSSA 35914
    2014 PentaTone Classics PTC 5186205
    2014 Profil / Profil - Edition Günter Hänssler PH 13053
    2014 L'Oiseau-Lyre / Decca 4786753
    2014 Sony Classical 88843045052
    2013 Archiv Produktion 002894791045AB55
    2013 Teldec 690116
    2013 Fra Bernardo FB 1205172
    2013 Linn / Linn Records CKD 430
    2013 Berlin Classics 0300534BC
    2013 Helicon Classics / Helicon Records HEL 029667
    2012 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099970490
    2012 ABC Classics ABC 4761923
    2012 ZYX Music CLA 101382
    2012 Tafelmusik Media TMK 1004CD2
    2012 Newton Classics 8802093
    2012 Deutsche Grammophon
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    2012 Analekta ANLCD 299967
    2012 Hänssler Classic CD 94615
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    2012 Naxos 8501061
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    2012 Deutsche Grammophon 002894770055
    2012 ABC Classics 4765099
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    2011 Newton Classics 8802075
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    1995 Intercord Klassische Diskothek 820503
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    1995 IMP Classics 2009
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    1994 Deutsche Grammophon 437461
    1994 ASV 6075
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    1994 ESS.A.Y. 1037
    1993 Teldec 77611
    1993 Philips 438317
    1993 Decca / Philips
    1993 Laserlight 14131
    1993 Telarc Distribution 80354
    1993 Laserlight 15932
    1992 Teldec 9031-75859-2
    1992 Astree 8737
    1992 Hyperion 66711
    1991 RCA 60533
    1990 LaserLight 15509
    1990 Philips 426088
    1990 Sony Classical 46254
    1990 CBS Records / Columbia 42309
    1989 Archiv Produktion 4271432
    1988 Archiv Produktion 423492
    1988 Naxos 550048
    1988 Deutsche Grammophon / Universal
    1988 Archiv Produktion
    1987 Archiv Produktion 423116
    1986 Deutsche Grammophon / Universal
    1985 L'Oiseau-Lyre
    1983 Archiv Produktion 410501
    1983 Philips 400077
    Brilliant 93102-VOL1
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    Challenge Classics CC72070
    Philips 442356
    Musical Heritage Society 524781
    Vox 8047
    Vox 3008
    Sony Music Distribution 53525
    Virgin 59152
    L'Oiseau-Lyre 414187
    Musique d'Or 1013
    EXL 4216
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    Erato
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