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Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 in G Major, BWV 1048

Brandenburg Concerto No. 3

Bach arrived in the German town of Anhalt-Cöthen in 1717, to take up the position of Kapellmeister to Prince Leopold. This enlightened young monarch not only enjoyed hearing music but was himself a gifted amateur performer on the violin, bass viol and harpsichord. He loved instrumental music more than any other kind, and Bach was only too happy to provide him with many outstanding examples, including his first major outpouring of concertos.

In 1719, Prince Leopold sent Bach to Berlin, to bring back a harpsichord he had purchased there. During Bach’s visit, he made the acquaintance of Christian Ludwig, Margrave (or ruler) of Brandenburg, a town in Prussia. That gentleman asked Bach to send him some examples of his music.

After two years’ delay, Bach finally replied to this request. He did so by assembling a set of six concertos for various instruments. After revising and polishing them, he sent them off to Brandenburg, a lavish dedication attached. That inscription – which demonstrates that lengthy, flowery thank-yous to wealthy patrons are nothing new – earned them the nickname Brandenburg Concertos. It reads, in part,
As I had the pleasure a couple of years ago of being heard by Your Royal Highness, in accordance with your commands, and of observing that you took some delight in the small musical talent that Heaven has granted me, and as, when I took my leave of Your Royal Highness, you did the honour of requesting that I send you some of my compositions, I have therefore followed your most gracious commands and taken the liberty of discharging my humble obligation to Your Royal Highness with the present concertos which I have adapted to several instruments, begging you most humbly not to judge their imperfections by the standards of that refined and delicate taste in music that everyone knows you to possess, but rather to accept, with benign consideration, the profound respect and most humble devotion that I attempt to show by this means…

The Margrave showed little interest in the concertos, alas. They passed, probably unplayed, into a library in Berlin following his death. Bach scored Concerto No. 3 for an orchestra of strings, divided into nine parts. The vigorous, richly textured opening movement and the sprightly, dance-like finale are separated by two chords. Bach probably intended them as a guideline for a brief improvisation to introduce the finale.

Program Notes Don Anderson 2012


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