Concerto for Harpsichord : Work information

Johann Sebastian Bach ( Music, Images,)
Giuseppe Torelli ( Music, Images,)
Performed by
Peter Watchorn (Harpsichord)

This work

Work name
Concerto for Harpsichord
Work number
BWV 979
B minor
1714-01-01 02:01:00

This recording

Peter Watchorn
Joel Gordon
Recording date
2000-01-01 02:00:00

Track listing

  • (Adagio) - Allegro 1:44 min
  • Adagio 0:36 min
  • Allegro 3:42 min
  • Andante 1:04 min
  • Adagio 0:42 min
  • Allegro 4:13 min

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 

Giuseppe Torelli

Born in the parish of S Maria in Chiavica, in Verona, in 1658, Giuseppe Torelli's early musical training, if any, may have come from Giuliano Massaroti, who lived in the same part of the city. His earliest known 'performance' was in 1676 when he played the violin in a service at the church of S Stefano in Verona. He went on later to become a violinist at Verona Cathedral in 1683-4. On 27th June 1684 he was admitted as a 'suonatore di violino' to the Accademia Filarmonica in Bologna. Padre Martini's Catalogo degli aggregati dell'Accademia filarmonica di Bologna lists him as ‘Giuseppe Torelli Veronese Compositore Maestro di Cappella del Duomo d'Imola’ and he may have served in that capacity between leaving Verona and arriving in Bologna. He composed several sinfonias for the Accademia's annual patronal feast in between 1692 and 1708, indicating that he may have been raised to the rank of 'compositore' in 1692.

While it is not known with whom Torelli studied the violin, he is known to have been a composition pupil of Perti. On 28 September 1686 he joined the regular cappella musicale at S. Petronio, having previously been engaged there as an extra player for the patronal feast on the 4th of October. He remained there as a regularly paid member until November 1689, and then as an occasional member between 1690 and 1695. During the 1680s he made frequent appearances as a violinist in such cities as Parma and Modena, causing some disapproval.

Shortly after the disbanding of the S. Petronio orchestra for economic reasons in January 1696, Torelli left Bologna to seek employment elsewhere. Certainly, it seems likely that both Torelli and his friend, the castrato Francesco Antonio Pistocchi, went to Berlin in May 1697 to perform for the Electress Charlotte Sophie; both subsequently dedicated works to her, Pistocchi his pastorale Il Narciso and Torelli his Concerti musicali (op.6). By 1698 Torelli had become 'maestro di concerto' for the Margrave of Brandenburg at Ansbach. He remained there until the end of 1699, during which time he conducted Pistocchi's Le pazzie d'amore e dell'interesse. Letters to Perti show that the pair subsequently travelled to Vienna, where Torelli wrote an oratorio to be sung in the Emperor's chapel on Laetare Sunday; possibly his Adam auss dem irrdischen Paradiess verstossen, of which only the libretto now survives.

By March 1700 Torelli wanted to return to Italy. In his letters he talked of his wish to make a pilgrimage to Loreto, and of wanting to drink the waters at S Marino ‘having been so advised by the doctors here because of my cursed hypochondria and melancholy, which torments me greatly, though I have the look of a prince’. In May it appears that Torelli and Pistocchi returned to Ansbach, hoping to obtain permission from the margrave to return to Italy. However, Torelli only reappears in the records in February 1701, when he is listed as a violinist in the newly re-formed S Petronio 'cappella musicale', then directed by Perti. Torelli and Pistocchi were (unusually) to be paid for each function at which they performed rather than being held to regular, continual service; an exception probably made partly through their friendship with Perti and partly because they were both at the peak of their fame as performers, and thus did not wish to tie themselves to one position. By the time of his death in 1709, Torelli had become a renowned violinist both in and beyond Italy, leaving a legacy in the form of his compositions and in his many violin pupils, including Girolamo Nicolò Laurenti, Pietro Bettinozzi and Francesco Manfredini .