Classical Music | Piano Music

Johann Sebastian Bach

Italian concerto, BWV 971  Play

Cornelia Herrmann Piano

Recorded on 03/23/2016, uploaded on 01/05/2017

Musician's or Publisher's Notes

In 1735 Bach published Part II of the 'Clavierübung'. The volume contained the Concerto in Italian Style BWV 971and the French Overture BWV 831 - two of the most popular genres of that time. The Concerto was THE typical Italian musical form of the 17th century. It is characterized by the alternation of two counterparts - the solo (one instrument or a small group of instruments) and the tutti (orchestra).

From 1708 until 1717 young Bach was employed in the court of Duke Wilhelm Ernst in Weimar. Around 1713 the Duke ́s nephew Prince Johann Ernst returned from university in the Netherlands and presumably brought back a collection of Italian concertos which had been newly printed in Amsterdam. This might have been the first time that Bach had the opportunity to study the music of these Italian masters.

Once when I had programmed Bach's Italian Concerto I was asked "which orchestra are you going to play it with?" Actually this is a legitimate question if one does not know the piece. Here Bach is coquetting with the idea that it could be a transcription from an original orchestral work using the two manuals of a harpsichord to present the (softer) solo part versus (stronger) tutti sections.     Cornelia Herrmann



Italian Concerto, BWV 971    Johann Sebastian Bach

Of Bach’s tremendous compositional output, only a handful of his works were published during his lifetime. A significant portion is taken up by the collection of works published in the four volumes of the Clavier-Übung (“Keyboard Practice”) between 1726 and 1741.

One such work in this collection is the Concerto after the Italian style, better known today as simply the Italian Concerto. It was published in 1735 alongside the Overture in the French Style as part of Clavier-Übung II. Since then, it has become one of Bach’s most popular works for keyboard and is often performed on both harpsichord and piano.

Though called a “concerto,” the work is for harpsichord alone. To achieve the effect of contrasting instrumental groups, which is the crucial element of any concerto, Bach employs the forte and piano manuals of the two-manual harpsichord. Incidentally, the Italian Concerto is one of only a few of Bach’s composition that specifically call for the two-manual instrument—the others being its companion, the French Overture, and the Goldberg Variations.

The three-movement concerto is in the key of F major. The outer movements, both in lively duple meters and ritornello style, frame a somber arioso movement in D minor.    Joseph DuBose