Adam Kuenzel: The Brandenburg Concertos

Johann Sebastian Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos consist of six instrumental works created during the early 18th century for Margrave Christian Ludwig of Brandenburg-Schwedt, a prince of Prussia. Many music historians consider the six works as some of the finest compositions produced during the Baroque era. 

Bach developed the six Brandenburg Concertos to use a wide range of orchestral instruments, often in innovative combinations. For instance, Brandenburg Concerto No. 5 in D major makes use of a harpsichord, violin, and flute in the concertino, and the violin, viola, cello, violone, and harpsichord in the ripieno. Many contemporary orchestras have performed the Brandenburg Concertos to much success, including the Minnesota Orchestra, which Adam Kuenzel serves as principal flute chair. 

Active during the height of the Baroque era, Bach earned acclaim for his talents as an organist, harpsichordist, and violinist during his lifetime. However, his fame as a composer did not appear until a revival of his music during the 19th century. Today, many regard him as a primary composer in the Baroque style and one of the greatest composers in history. Music historians believe that Bach produced the Brandenburg Concertos over several years, possibly beginning as early as 1717. During the majority of the time he spent writing the pieces, Bach served as a director of music to German Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Köthen. 

When finally bequeathed to the Margrave Christian Ludwig in 1721, the Brandenburg Concertos sat in storage for close to 15 years, possibly because the prince lacked enough musicians to perform the pieces. Once the Margrave died, the concertos were sold and did not resurface again until 1849 in Brandenburg, Germany. Each of the six concertos maintains unique characteristics. For instance, Brandenburg Concerto No. 5 uses a popular chamber music ensemble (flute, violin, and harpsichord) of the Baroque period, while Brandenburg Concerto No. 1 in F major is the only piece in the collection composed of four movements.

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