Harpsichord Concerto No. 4 : Work information

Composers
Johann Sebastian Bach ( Music, Images,)
Performed by
Robert Levin (Keyboard), Bach-Collegium Stuttgart, Helmuth Rilling (Conductor)

This work

Work name
Harpsichord Concerto No. 4
Work number
BWV 1055
Key
A Major
Genre
A
Composed
1740-01-01 02:00:00

This recording

Label
Hänssler
Producer
Richard Hauck
Engineer
Teije van Geest
Recording date
1999-05-01 01:00:00

The Composers

Johann Sebastian Bach

One of the greatest composers in history, Johann Sebastian Bach (father of C.P.E, J. C. and W. F. Bach) was by far the most significant member of the Bach dynasty of musicians.

He outshone his forebears and contemporaries, but did not always receive the respect he deserved in his own lifetime. After a brief engagement as a violinist in the court of Weimar, Bach became organist at the Neukirche in Arnstadt. In June 1707 he moved to St. Blasius, Mühlhausen, and married his cousin Maria Barbara Bach. In 1708 he was appointed court organist in Weimar where he composed most of his works for organ. In 1717, he was appointed Court Kapellmeister to the young Prince Leopold at Cöthen, but was refused permission to leave Weimar. The Duke only allowed Bach to go after holding him prisoner for nearly a month.

While at Weimar, Bach wrote his violin concertos and the six Brandenburg Concertos, as well as several suites, sonatas and keyboard works, including several, such as the Inventions and Book I of the 48 Preludes and Fugues (The Well-tempered Clavier). In 1720 Maria Barbara died, and the next year Bach married Anna Magdalena Wilcke. Bach resigned the post in Weimar in 1723 to become cantor at St. Thomas’ School in Leipzig where he was responsible for music in the four main churches of the city. Here he wrote the Magnificat and the St. John and St. Matthew Passions, as well as a large quantity of other church music. In Leipzig he eventually took charge of the University “Collegium Musicum” and occupied himself with the collection and publication of many of his earlier compositions.

Over the years that followed, Bach’s interest in composing church music declined somewhat, and he took to writing more keyboard music and cantatas. As his eyesight began to fail, he underwent operations to try and correct the problem, and these may have weakened him in his old age. He died at age 65, having fathered a total of 20 children with his two wives. Despite widespread neglect for almost a century after his death, Bach is now regarded as one of the greatest of all composers and is still an inexhaustible source of inspiration for musicians. Bach’s compositions are catalogued by means of the prefix BWV (Bach-Werke-Verzeichnis) and a numbering system which is generally accepted for convenience of reference.

Related Composers: Pachelbel, Telemann, Handel, Couperin

Also influenced: Mendelssohn, Brahms, Stravinsky, Hindemith 

Track listing

  • Allegro 4:07 min
  • Larghetto 4:56 min
  • Allegro ma non tanto 4:25 min

Notes

Most of the concertos that Bach wrote in the 1730s were adaptations of existing works, either by himself or Vivaldi. The Harpsichord concerto No. 4 was therefore based on an earlier concerto for oboe d'amore from Bach's time at Cothen. How the two pieces compare is impossible to establish, as the concerto only exists in this later version. It's probable, however, that Bach made extensive changes to exploit the polyphonic abilities of the harpsichord.

The stimulus behind the concerto's adaptation may have been the arrival of a new harpsichord on 17 June 1733, which by all accounts was a wondrous instrument. Indeed, we can thank the arrival of this instrument for virtually inventing the keyboard concerto, a form that was almost the sole preserve of the Bach family until c. 1750.

Opening with a lively cascade of notes, the Allegro is perhaps the best-known of the concerto's three movements. It's followed by a rather mournful Larghetto and a breezy Allegro ma non tanto.