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The Brandenburg concertos, six stories

Bach’s Brandenburg concertos come alive in Marinucci’s reading derived from rhetorics of the time.

Emiliano Marinucci reads Bach’s famous work in the light of the rethoric authors of the baroque era.

This text was commissioned to me by Riccardo Minasi for the performance of the Brandenburg concertos conducted by him on the 7th of march in Zurich with La Scintilla.

I started from Pickett’s analisys and explored all my references, in music, geometry and rhetorics to paint the image taht would lead, as a Virgilius into the depths of these works.

Six concerts avec plusieurs instruments, this is the way a manuscript begins, a French inscription for a German court. In a dedicated French speech Bach starts telling about his encounter with the Margrave, during a mission in Berlin to collect a Mietke harpsichord for Cothen, where he was employed. Bach decides on his own to impress the man with this gift, a full score, not parts, of a probably never commissioned concertos.
Never commissioned and probably never played by the Brandenburg orchestra, nor probably ever paid. It was a gift out of hope, the hope for a better future that didn’t arrive. But still great.
It displayed Bach’s figure as a man, a composer, a man of its moment.
The idea here, rendered extensively by the light of Luther’s writings, is of the third genre of music: after musica pratica and musica teorica, there it was, musica poetica. The term musica poetica was first coined by the Lutheran musician/teacher Nicolaus Listenius in 1533 to distinguish it from musica theorica (the study of music as a mathematical science) and musica practica (applied theory dealing with aspects of performance. terminologies from the discipline of classical rhetoric, and treated a musical composition as a work of oration, with an aesthetic aim of producing a work that could instruct, move and delight (docere, movere, delectare) the auditorium.
A term that united the ensemble of the study of rethorics typical of somebody like Bach, linked in his life to the study of the great oratori dell’epoca Latina, allo studio garmmatico. A tendency to be represented in his later works appropriating the shapes of the ars oratoria in his compositions. The couping between Quintiliano’s forms of expression and speech is equaled in the Art of the fugue and the Musical offering.
So, Bach, a distinguished composer to become akso a latin teacher later in the Thomaschule exposes his oration, his panegirico, telling some stories, The stories behind what he wants of the price to be seen.
In an orthodox Lutheran way, but also a classical humanistic one. A view odf the world, of a couert that has its roots in mythology, a mythology the justifies the common order of royalty, and expresses its being a continuous world that justifies it.
The margrave becomes: emperor, sheperd, musician, poet… the instruments are actors.
The play is set: six theatre pieces with many characters., six concertos with many instruments.

Concert n. 1
The concert starts, the horns blow their definite sound starting the triumph of Cesar. In this case t ceremony, the hunt of this Highness, Ludwig. Look at him: a military, son of the sergeant king of Brandenburg, sensible to music. Righteous, stiff, yet sentimental..
The turning curves in the parts of the horns evoke the tube, of roman tradition, decisive in the ceremony of thunder for Jupiter that accompanies the triumphal march of the emperor, along the via sacra, towards the Capitol hill. And, at the same time a savage hunt through the plains and beaches of Brandenburg. Lights trough trees and columns.
Characters in this theatre are the group of oboes, the opposition and then, in a moment, a short, subtle instrument, a soloist, above all this great blocks of sound, the people and parts of the procession cheering the emperor. A violin, a bizarre one, a piccolo, tuned a third higher, showing off his voice, never trembling unique. A part unplayable on any other instrument, a close love, an identification.
He is Nero, superimposing on all, making his solo in the theatre, singing on his lyre.

An actor, an emperor.
The blocks of the minuetto and the polacca paint the moments, the sounds like of a dance that are like a bagpipe, different, and the Poland so close, so linked. The violin dances.
The triumph is on.

Concert n.2
Do you hear it?
The distinctive sound of the trumpet . A trumpet among all. The trumpet of fame, that breaks with her metal sound the soil like the wheels of the chariots of an army. The sound stated in all literature on the royals.
It spreads, an abnormal instrument long and straight. Golden in its tuning in f, in an era where they were in c… Every person seeing an uncoiled trumpet would have known at the time exactly what it was .. Fame making its way.
Also, Luther recites:” To make music with hammered trumpets is to preach [predicare] the mystery of the kingdom of heaven and exhort to spiritual good things. To make music with voice of the bronze horn is to preach [predicare] and to reprove our sins and evil.”

Bach, he likes to push the limits, coupling this fame to violins and recorder, they are reason and passion, leading fame up the Parnassus, home of the muses, where they find the poets. The Prince hosts this reunion, in a languid sound of the oboe and recorder coupled. The Home of Homer, Virgil, Dante…
The kingdom of Heaven meets and combines with Parnassus, leading to the figure of this prince, hosting classical culture in a religious world, leading the Parnassus in the order of the next concerto….

Concert n. 3

Nine muses and the harmony of the spheres
The only strings here all live in a constant proportion and mathematics. A world dominated by the definition of harmony represented in the era of Bach straight out of the end of the Renaissance. As the Mount Parnassus populated by Apollo and the muses, the daughters of Mnemosyne, memory, that live near the fount of Ippocrene, where memory and eternal is given
So the rule of number three is all throughout the composition, three is the perfection, the design of trinity, so the blocks of instruments are in number of three.
Three groups of three violins, three violas and three cellos.
The idea of the world, derived form authors starting from Gaffurius into Fludd, is of a sound that tunes the world. Is it the chord striked in the second movement by the violin, of Apollo’s lyre, living in the highest of heavens? The uperunanium world.
The idea of the universe divided by the different muses in as the nine heavens starts in Marziano Cappella that correspond to different levels of sound is blended with the idea of the world derived by the Harmonices Mundi by Kepler. And described in the Paradiso by Dante:
O voi che siete in piccioletta barca,
desiderosi d’ascoltar, seguiti
dietro al mio legno che cantando varca,
tornate a riveder li vostri liti:
non vi mettete in pelago, ché forse,
perdendo me, rimarreste smarriti.
L’acqua ch’io prendo già mai non si corse;
Minerva spira, e conducemi Appollo,
e nove Muse mi dimostran l’Orse.
Kepler speaks of the sounds of the planets, their position, closer of distant from the sun defines their sound. Higher and faster or slower and lower. This is the chord the evolves into a bariolage, a distinct fast ensemble of notes, a mercurian spirit.
This is true in the second movement, a depiction of this planetary order and movement.
The, two bars of adagio, the Alpha and Omega of God, opening a kind of total movement, a piece that sounds like an organ.
An angel that means messenger in Greek, moves through the spheres, making its way and working through the stars.
The idea of a regulated sky, an astrological concerto that is a description of the idea of music as a God related structure of the skies and a t the same time a paid tribute to the classic world.
Playing is ascending to the Empireus, but through the Parnassus, and the nine Muses.
It’s where Apollo and his lyre will take you with his mania (inspiration). This is what music will do.

Concert n.4

The contest between Apollo and Marsyas
Apollo was regards as the custodian of order against the dionisiac energy and enthusiasm. The idea of this contrast is echoed in another of Bach’s composition, and here yany ideas are in common: ‘Der Streit zwischen Phoebus und Pan’ BWV 201 (The Contest between Phoebus and Pan)… seems to have been intended for an outdoor performance. In the middle section of the opening chorus…the echo effect was carefully written out, so it is possible that it was performed in a place without a natural echo, such as the garden, often used by the Bach Collegium Musicum, just before the east gate of the town.” In any case, this concert, which appears to have taken place during the Leipzig Michaelmas Mass at the end of September 1729 before an audience of locals and out-of-towners, will have carried the seal of an uncommon event. After all, both the librettist and the composer — obviously in close collaboration — were aiming at nothing less than the exposition of an aesthetic program in unequivocal opposition to the galant style that was becoming increasingly more fashionable around 1730.
The action is based on the legend of the contest between Apollo and Marsyas.
It is not really Pan..who succumbs to Phoebus-Apollo’s sublime art, to which Bach devotes the finest of his own, but…Midas… he doesn’t understand and as a bad judge get ass ears.
So the Muses seemed willing to give Marsyas also… so Apollo had to start doing tricks like playing upside down and more to win. Al of this echoed in the two flute in “echo”, representing the Greek aulos, which was a reed instrument, a war instrument also, and opposed there is the lyre- violin with his desire to impress, ennoble the melodies, clear, up and down, fast.
Broken chords, double stops…
The virtuoso here is trying to win.
The double flute is expressed in slight echo effects created and noted as fashionable at the time, with a style Bach himself used in his Actus tragicus funeral cantata to create an atmosphere of serene death.
So the king of the muses is the margrave that helps the triumph of reason over chaos, allowing to make choices of virtue in a scenery of Vanitas that defines the human condition.
That leads us at the scenery of the hero of concert 5.

Concert n.5

Hercules choice
The concerto was probaly a metaphor of a moment of Bach’s life. The encounter and contest, as supposed by Dirksen, with the French harpsichord player Louis Marchand.
Contest never to happen, as Marchand left the city of Dresden during the night, not to face Bach.
An allegory inside another. It is linked with Dresden for the two instruments that reveal the ability and charisma of two musicians there: the flutist Buffardin, teacher of Bach’s brother Jacob and the violinist Pisendel, virtuoso for whom Vivaldi was to write pieces himself and had met in Venice.
The harpsichord part, obviously, was for himself.
The idea of the cadenza is for the harpsichord so long and does come to mind was a theorician of musica poetica was once again saying about this figure: poetic music is divided in two parts, improvisation (sortisatio) and composition (compositio). Considering improvisation as “a sudden and impulsive ordering of a song through diverse melodies” which is based on one’s practical experience, emphasizing the superiority of composed over improvised music. Providing discussion of the use of cadences (clausula) by equating its function to the end of a sentence or paragraph… learners must be taught in what order cadences are to be conjoined so that they also render a just harmony for the ears.
Two things are to be considered carefully in the placement of cadences: one ofwhich is that they correspond in a fitting way to the words, the other to the concentus, and that they cohere to them equally.
Bach here follows by heart this description, his speech is peerless.
The subject is the choice of Hercules between virtue or vice, idealizing the noble margrave as making this distinguished choice. It was set in music by Bach in 1733 for his school alumni to celebrate another prince…
Both a newspaper account and the printed text list 5 September 1733 as the day of the performance [of BWV 213], and the birthday of the Saxon crown prince Friedrich Christian (1722-1763) as the occasion. The ‘Leipziger Zeitungen’ also mentions that it was performed by the ‘Bachische Collegium Musicum’ as ‘solemn music from 4 to 6 o’clock in the afternoon…in the Zimmermann garden.
‘ In Bach’s setting, the popular subject (also used by Handel, Reinhard Keiser and others) of ‘Herkules auf dem Schweideweg’ (Hercules at the Crossroads) and of his [Hercules’] choice of the way that, in spite of its being the more arduous one, led to the more exalted blessings of virtue.
Like Hercules, the prince was at a crossroad that would make him virous or not, godlike or not.
So the idea was familiar to him, the rhetoric… the long cadenza also showing the indecision of the hero… the sound of war like flute an invocation to his protector, Minerva, goddess of knowledge.
Again order was invoked in the Apollo violin, blending in his Vivaldi- like moving, in a horizon that speaks of the court of Dresden, of Bach’s victorious effort, choosing virtue and speaking the same of his royal subjects.
Everything in this human story: fame, triumph, virtue, order… to end in a way. Vanitas vanitatum, which is number 6.

Concert n. 6

The art of diyng
Ars moriendi- a treatise and a moral discipline, the baroque man expressed his anguish and fear of death channeling it into a morality destined to see it as a reunion.
Finally into God.
The world expressed its moral fears in a story, the encounter of the three living and the three dead. he basic version of the story goes like this: three young noblemen are out hunting.
Suddenly, they come across three corpses, which are in varying states of decay, but nonetheless still animated.
Unsurprisingly, the young men express shock and dismay at the sight, while the three corpses admonish them.
To consider the transience of life. And improve their behaviour before it is too late.
They were popes and princes, not what they see it’s what stays.
Vanitas vanitatum.
The concerto is expressed also by all tenor instruments, that show the world of the dead, two altos, two viola da gambas, cello and violone plus harpsichord continuo. A somber and dark pitch, like an image of dusk.
The gamba winks at Cothen prince Leopold, a distinguished player of the instrument, but also of C.F. Abel, present in the Brandenburg orchestra, a true poet of the instrument.
So the underwold is present in this story, the princes (two violas and cello) opposed to the corpses (two gambas and violone). They dialogue and pass in the second movement where the souls are blissful and joyous after repentance and thoughts.
Here the viols are silent, corpses have returned in their silence.
Broken by the triumphal third movement, were they dance altogether, in a Dance of death that remembers Holbein’s series. Everybody, from the rich to the poor, from the Prince to the peasant is taken away. So, moral and a good life will lead to a good Death, when she arrives to take you in its dance of spiral downwards movements.
This is a triumph, in dance movement, clear, of the Christiana faith, in a moment, in death. What was called Holy diyng, as expressed by Jeremy Taylor (1613–1667)
‘Rules and Exercises of Holy Dying’
But so have I seen a Rose newly springing from the clefts of its hood, and at first it was fair as the Morning, and full with the dew of Heaven, as a Lambs fleece; but when a ruder breath had forced open its virgin modesty, and dismantled its too youthful and unripe retirements, it began to put on a darkness, and to decline its softness, and the symptoms of a sickly age; it bowed the head, and broke its stalk, and at night having lost some of its leaves, and all of its beauty, it fell into the portion of weeds and outworn faces.
The end is here, the Vanitas portrait from concert one through six, Cesar will also, die, the ruler, the poet, the just will choose harmony and virtue and lay to rest, in the name of God.

copyright Emiliano Marinucci 2018


By Emiliano Marinucci

italian american, citizen of the arts. musician painter, photographer, passionate about sound and images. Traveled all around the world to create my blend of distincted art.

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