J. S. Bach: Brandenburg Concerto No. 3


The development of the concerto, suites and recitatives were prominent throughout the baroque era, with the output of Telemann, Handel and J. S. Bach leading the way. Bach’s style, as it is often remembered, brings to life contrapuntal invention, powerful harmonic language and exceedingly complex religious works for the organ. Bach had a truly devout relationship with God, which resonates in his music, for example St. John Passion and St. Matthew Passion, both of which are incredibly large-scale and complex works. 

Bach also published many collections of his work, perhaps the most famous is The Well-Tempered Clavier, which comprises two books, which present preludes and fugues in every key. Bach’s work with harmony is perhaps what he is best known for in education, which his four-part harmony, contrapuntal works and musical structures being at the forefront. Over the course of his life, Bach composed many different styles of music including cantatas, organ works, orchestral music and passions.


The Music

In tribute to the Duke of Bradenburg, Bach composed his Brandenburg Concerto collection during the year 1721. This style of writing highlighted the rise of the concerto grosso form, which essentially means there are a number of soloists playing within one small ensemble. The difference we see for No. 3, is that instead of one soloist, Bach has written for three violins, three violas, three cellos and a continuo bass. Like with the concerto style, there are three movements which develop the main melodic ideas, harmonically and structurally.

Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 is in G major, making it light, peppy and a perfect fit for the beginning of the work. The beginning of the first section has a driving melody, which is fast-paced and is eagerly passed around all of the ensemble. No. 3 has been likened to works by Vivaldi, which resonates through Bach’s melodic structures. However, the contrapuntal nature of this concerto grosso is unmistakably Bach, due to it’s incredibly clear structures and harmonies. 

There are many colourful moments in this concerto, which show through Bach’s powerful sonority. His harmonic changes are quick, delicately presented and resonate Bach’s signature style. The brief Adagio section is accentuated by a solo violin, which very quickly leads into the last section in G major. The rhythms are driving and there is a steady pulse throughout, which offers security for the listener.

The first and third sections accentuate polyphonic texture, which is utilised in many ways, including making the ensemble sound larger, or smaller than what is playing.

The use of dissonance is used sparingly, but when it is, it is because Bach is aiming to build tension. Coupled with fast tremolos, these sections highlight Bach’s harmonic prowess, and make this work even more exciting. 

Finally, in terms of form, the first movement is in Ritornello form, with a main melodic line being repeated and passed around the ensemble, and then returned to the original form at the end. The brief Adagio section is based on two chords, as its primary function is a violin improvisation. The final section is in Binary form (AABB).


Final Thoughts

J.S Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 3, is presented in a new and varied way from the others in the collection, due to its nod to the concerto grosso genre. This exciting, fast-paced and lively work is virtuosic, complex and emphasises how far ahead Bach’s musical mind was in his time.


Ⓒ Alex Burns

Happy Reading!

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