"Love follows knowledge."
"Beauty above all beauty!"
– St. Catherine of Siena

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Music Tuesday: Brandenburg Concerto No. 2

I have to say that Johann Sabastian Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos are among the greatest works of music ever, and Concerto No. 2 is probably my favorite of the six.  I am not musically knowledgeable to understand its complexity, but I don’t think one needs to.  Just listen and appreciate the verve, the energy, the sheer joy. 

But let me just outline the complexity.  First, the work is a concerto, and a concerto creates a relationship between the instrument being highlighted and the orchestra.  But Bach doesn’t just highlight a single instrument, or two instruments, which would make it a double concerto; Bach highlights four instruments in relationship with the orchestra.  Now four instruments is a rather interesting number since four instruments typically constitutes a chamber music quartet.  So look at the relationships that abound in this composition.  The four highlighted instruments can all play off each other as a quartet; each of the four instruments relates to the orchestra at large, and the quartet itself as a unit relates to the orchestra.  It’s like playing three dimensional chess.

The four instruments of Brandenburg Concerto No. 2 are an oboe, a recorder, a violin, and a clarino, which is an early brass valve less trumpet. It was supposed to be extremely hard to play, but Bach had a particular virtuoso in mind when he wrote the piece.  Even so, the clarino is absent in the middle movement, probably to give the player a respite to gather himself for the climatic third movement.

Forget all the complexity.  Just listen for the wonder of this piece.  If you're looking to break at the movements, the second movement starts at 4:55 and the third starts at 9:04.

Of the performances placed on youtube, I think I liked this one the best.  I think it’s just a bit faster in tempo in the first and third movements than the others, and my hunch is that’s what Bach intended.

The Wikipedia entry also mentions that third movement was the theme of William F. Buckley Jr’s TV show, Firing Line.  Ah yes, I remember it well.  It was one of the rare (probably a token) shows with a conservative bent on Public Television.  And I was just the young, geeky conservative that faithfully watched it. 

Back to Bach: He’s the greatest!


  1. I've always had a fondness for #6 myself, Manny. Based mostly on the last movement, which I simply cannot hear enough. But they're really the Lay's of the classical music world. Nobody can pick just one.

    Are you familiar with Robert Greenberg? His lectures are great, and his lecture on the 2nd Brandenburg is just spectacular! (I can't find it floating around anywhere, so here's a sample of the man himself, speaking on a relevant topic: http://youtu.be/8cMR_U5cA6I)

    1. Yes, I am aware of Robert Greenberg's lectures. In fact his lecture made me focus on No2, which drilled it into my consciouness. I agree, though; you can't pick just one. Thanks for stopping by and commenting. :)