Johann Christian Bach


Woodwind Concertos

Flute Concerto in G major (C 78)

1. Allegro
2. Larghetto
3. Tempo di Minuetto

Until recently it had been thought that Johann Christian Bach composed only one Flute Concerto. We now know that he wrote at least one other, the concerto in G major recorded here for the first time. If it sounds familiar to record collectors will, an interest in Johann Christian Bach, that is because it is basically the earlier F major Oboe Concerto transposed up a tone, with the solo part modified to reflect the different characteristics of the flute. The solo part in the only surviving source is in Bach’s own handwriting, so we can be sure that not only is this concerto authentic but also the oboe concerto on which it is based. The orchestral ports are in the hand of a not very good copyist and the whole score is written on paper manufactured in the Netherlands. This paper was readily available in London and, indeed, was used by Bach in the autograph scores of his opera Carattaco (London, 1767) and the Rondeaux of the Flute Concerto in D major.

Like his father before him, Johann Christian Bach was a great re-cycler of his works. However, he was always very careful to cover his tracks. Except when the arias and duets from his London operas were translated from the Italian for use in the English-language theatres and pleasure gardens, he made sure that a movement appeared in a different context only in a work composed for a different city. Thus he was quite content to re-use operatic and even church music from his early years in Italy in his works for London and pieces composed for London in his commissions for Mannheim and Paris. All this appears to suggest that the concerto we have here is a work originally composed for Paris or even Milan and arranged for performance in London in the second half of the 1760s. It is a fascinating coincidence that about a decade later Mozart followed Bach’s example, presumably unaware that he was doing so, when he also converted an oboe concerto into a work for flute, also transposing it up a tone and altering the solo part.

In the late 1760s the flautist Joseph Tacet, was one of Bach’s close collaborators. As I have already noted, information about the programmes of London concerts of that period is sparse and even when the concert announcements offer more than the most basic information, they are tantalisingly incomplete. We know, for example, that Tacet played a flute concerto at the Thatched House in St. James’s street on 2 June 1768 in a concert in which Bach also took part, but the advertisement announcing the concert does not give the name of the composer. It would be stretching a point much too far to assume that he was Johann Christian Bach.

The title page of the unique source of this concerto mentions horns but the actual score gives no music for them. However, since there was no need for the horn parts of the original oboe concerto to be re-written, an instruction to use a G crook rather than one in F being sufficient, perhaps Bach’s copyist saved himself the trouble. In any event, since no other authentic orchestral work by Bach lacks them, it seemed logical to include horns in this recording. The allegro is easy-going rather than dynamic. Its form is similar but less “advanced” than in the second oboe concerto. There is no proper “second subject” and the “development” is just a section where new ideas are introduced and reinforced by repetition. The Larghetto is a movement which backs up Bach’s claim to be regarded as perhaps the chief composer of the Rococo. The tuneful Minuet en Rondeau, with its two solo episodes, was also popular in another form, as a “Favourite Rondeau” for viola-da-gamba and keyboard.

Flute Concerto in D major (C 79)

1. Allegro con brio
2. Rondeaux: Allegretto

It is by no means clear that the two movements recorded here were ever intended to form port of the same work. The only surviving sources are separate scores of the two movements, both in Johann Christian Bach’s handwriting, but each written on different paper and nowadays preserved in libraries in Berlin and Paris. The first movement, now in Berlin, is dated 1768. The Rondeaux has no date, but is written on the same type of paper as Bach used for much of the autograph score of his opera Carattaco, first produced in London in 1767. The chances are therefore that both movements were composed at roughly the same time. Certainly together they may an attractive and melodious whole. Whether, always assuming that they were designed to go together, there was ever a slow middle movement, as in the other live woodwind concertos, we shall never know. A published and recorded edition of the work uses the andante of the overture to Bach’s Parisian opera, Amadis de Gaule (1779), as the middle movement, but without evidential, historical or stylistic justification. We have not followed that precedent here. There were, after all, very many two movement concertos being composed in the 1760s, including a quite a number by Bach himself.

The two movements we have here are among Bach’s most attractive creations. Charming, elegantly written and full of melody. The allegro con brio in fact has two lyrical melodies, either of which could serve as the “second subject”. The movement itself (like the oboe concerto mentioned above) of the typical early classical concerto. The contrasting section, as before, does not develop material heard earlier, but introduces new ideas perhaps the most attractive of which is built on leaps between the lower and upper registers of the solo flute. Overall the orchestral texture is light (presumably to allow such a gentletoned soloist to be heard clearly), but wonderfully detailed, with lots of rests for the lower instruments.

In Rondeaux the recurring statements of the main section are separated by three episodes for the soloist, each longer than its predecessor. One episode in the minor is common but two, as here, is quite unusual. Finally, do listen out for the transition leading from the last solo episode to the final return of the main section. It, like the remainder of the concerto, shows the hand of a master craftsman.

Flute Concerto in D major


The discovery of this movement for flute and strings is one of the early fruits of the massive research project to document the music of the entire Bach Family, the Bach Repertorium. When Ulrich Leisinger and Peter Wollny were examining the Bach sources in the Brussels Conservatory they come across an anonymous manuscript, which some post librarian had attributed to Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach. They however recognised it as a work not only in Johann Christian’s style but actually in his own handwriting. It was clearly the slow movement of a three-movement work, either a flute concerto or a symphonie concertante. The obvious place for it is as the slow movement of the D major flute concerto and all the concrete evidence – the style, the handwriting, the type of paper – supports this hypothesis. Moreover, it sits very well between the two existing movements, which were perhaps too similar in mood and tempo to provide a totally satisfactory whole.

The three separate autograph manuscripts (now in Berlin, Brussels and Paris respectively) which make up this concerto are all working documents, with deletions and revisions all clearly visible. More than any other manuscripts in Johann Christian’s hand they show the composing process. The score of this movement, in particular, is full of crossings-out, shortening the original version by over 20 bars. Bach’s final intentions however are such an obvious improvement and sufficiently clearly expressed to have encouraged us to record his revised version (with one conjectural bar where the manuscript did not make sense) here.

The movement is a wonderfully subtle piece of musical composition. Note, for example, the way that the flute suddenly appears, floating over the final bars of the ritornello, continuing with a downward scale and then repeating the four bars played just before its entry before bringing the combined ritornello-first solo to a close.

Oboe Concerto, no. 1 in F major (C 80)

1. Allegro
2. Larghetto
3. Tempo di Minuetto

The sole surviving source of this concerto is a set of manuscript parts (lacking the part for ’cello) in the Öttingen-Wallerstein collection, formerly housed at Schloss Harburg in Swabia in southern Germany but now preserved at the University Library in Augsburg. The library catalogue informs us that it was part of the estate (Nachlass) of Franz Xaver Fürall, who was employed as on oboist at the court of Graf Kraft Ernst zu Öttingen-Wallerstein and who died on 11 February 1780. However, the picturesque Schloss Harburg, perched high on its rock above a bend in the river Wörnitz, is so for distant from any place which Johann Christian Bach is known to have visited or to have had any connection with that it seems reasonable to assume Bach did not write the concerto either for Fürall or his employer. Its style suggests that it was composed no later than the early 1760s, when Bach was active in Milan, Paris and especially London. He seems to have been quite fond of the work. Not only did he re-cycle the Minuet as the final movement of a Sonata for keyboard and viola da gamba (presumably in London after 1762 for his friend an colleague, Carl Friedrich Abel), but he arranged the whole work as a Flute concerto in G major, in much the same way that Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was later to transform his Oboe concerto, K 314. Of course, it is possible that the Flute concerto many have been the original and the Oboe version the arrangement. However, for reasons which I explain in the notes accompanying the recording of the version for flute I am inclined to think that the Oboe version came first. The concerto has been recorded once before, using just the incomplete set of performing material from Schloss Harburg, and two conjectural reconstructions of the full orchestration have been published. This recording, benefiting from the recent availability of the version of the concerto for flute, restores the whole work to what is probably its original state.

The allegro is Bach at his most genial. Formally it falls into the four basic sections – orchestral exposition, solo exposition, contrasting section, recapitulation of the early classical concerto. However, there is no “second subject” as such and the contrasting section does not “develop” existing musical material but introduces new ideas and reinforces them by repetition. The Larghetto, with its two viola parts, is an elegant rococo confection, with a false reprise after the central orchestral ritornello. The concerto ends with a tuneful Minuet en Rondeau. There are two solo episodes. In the first of which Bach cannot resist alluding to the main theme of the movement.

Oboe Concerto, no. 2 in F major (C 81)

1. Andante
2. Larghetto
3. Rondeau: Allegretto

While the oboe concerto now called no. 1 survived in a single source in Schloss Harburg, well away from Bach’s known areas of activity, the concerto here called no. 2 is uniquely preserved in a set of orchestral material used for his London concerts and subsequently presented by his widow to Queen Charlotte. Neither this material nor the concert advertisements in the London newspapers throw much light on the genesis and performance history of the work. The only known evidence for the performance of either of Bach’s oboe concertos comes more than four years after his death. On 17 May 1786, the castrate, Ferdinando Tenducci, promoted a concert for his own benefit which consisted entirely of “Pieces... of that justly celebrated Master, Johann Christian Bach, deceased, which still remain in manuscript”. The “Morning Post and Daily Advertiser” further informs us that “Act the First” was to end with “A Hautboy Concerto, Mr. Fischer”. Like Tenducci, Johann Christian Fischer (1733-1800) had been a close friend and colleague of Bach’s for many years, in fact since his London debut in 1768 in one of Bach’s concerts. Bach undoubtedly wrote many of his concertante and chamber works for Fischer and even made keyboard arrangements of some of Fischer’s own early concertos. It is now, of course, impossible to prove that the work performed in 1786 was the one recorded here, but it does seem a strong probability.

Some possible clue as to the concertos origins comes from the fact that the ritornello of the first movement is almost the same as the one in a symphonic concertante in E flat major (J.C. Bach Collected Works, Volume 31, p. 31), which probably dates from the early 1760s. The oboe concerto clearly comes much later, perhaps around 1770. The content and structure are much more sophisticated and reflect Bach’s experience as a composer of keyboard concertos. Like two of the opus 1 keyboard concertos, the soloist in the first movement enters with new material, but here it is in the main key of the movement and more as a false than a proper start. After a few bars the soloist pauses and begins again, but this time with the “correct” material, i.e. the phrase heard at the beginning of the ritornello. From then on the movement proceeds much like an early classical concerto, with solo exposition, development and recapitulation, betraying its relatively early date mostly because of the appearance of a large block of ritornello material at the start of the development.

The Larghetto is a serious and beautifully crafted movement. The long ritornello – almost a quarter of the work – provides all the motives which hold the movement together, permitting the soloist to introduce new material and indulge his rhapsodic fancy. The finale, a French-style rondeau with two solo episodes, is music which cannot fail to raise a smile.

Bassoon Concerto in E flat major (C 82)

1. Allegro spiritoso
2. Largo ma non tanto
3. Tempo di Menuetto più tosto Allegro

As any player of the instrument will confirm, the repertory does not include many concertos for bassoon. It is also a fact that the vast majority of these rare works seem to have been inspired by the exceptional qualities of a particular player. In the case of the present work that virtuoso may well have been Georg Wenzel Ritter (1748-1808), who was a member of the famous court orchestra of the Elector Palatine Carl Theodor in Mannheim from 1764 to 1778. Johann Christian Bach was active in Mannheim in the first half of the 1770s, supervising the premieres of two of his most ambitious projects, the operas Temistocle (1772) and Lucia Silla (1775), as well as performances of two other major works, the serenatas Endimione and Amor Vincitore. Bach was clearly impressed by the quality of Ritter’s playing since there ore bassoon obbligati in all four works. Of these much the most spectacular is the aria which concludes the first act of Temistocle – a veritable double concerto movement for tenor (originally Anton Raaff, Mozart’s first Idomeneo), bassoon and orchestra, which makes almost superhuman demands on both soloists. The records of performances at Mannheim are surprisingly sparse and there appears to be no hard evidence for Ritter having played concertos there, let alone Johann Christian Bach concertos. When Carl Theodor became Elector of Bavaria on 31 December 1777 and was obliged to move his court to Munich, Ritter was one of the musicians who accompanied him. There he remained until 1788, for the first few months as second bassoon in the orchestra and then as chamber virtuoso. In 1788 he moved to the court at Berlin, where his reputation as one of the greatest virtuosos of his instrument was reflected in his exceptional salary of 1600 thalers.

One of the richest sources of Johann Christian Bach’s music is the former Royal Music Library in Berlin and I do not believe it is reading too much into the evidence to suggest that it is likely that the only two surviving sets of performance material for this concerto which are now in that collection found their way there as a result of Ritter’s involvement with Bach in Mannheim in the 1770s.

The work also exists as a Symphonie Concertante, the orchestral parts of which are virtually identical. Which version is the earlier is not immediately clear. Both works are equally convincing in performance. While it is a fact that all three movements are a few bars longer in the bassoon version, that in itself proves nothing. However, what inclines me to think that the Concerto is a revision of the Symphonie Concertante and not the other way round is the structure of the first movement. This is in a form which is quite usual in a Concertante but quite different from Bach’s other woodwind concertos. In particular, the recapitulation is much shorter and of less structural importance than elsewhere.

The Largo ma non tanto, already in the Symphonie Concertante version one of Bach’s longest and more deeply felt slow movements, is here 12 bars longer. It is arguable whether these extra bars add to the quality of the movement, but they certainly provide the soloist with two additional opportunities to display his technique in cadential flourishes. The concerto ends with a Minuet. However, unlike it and Mozart’s Bassoon Concerto K 191, the Minuet is not in the form of a Rondo. More evidence, perhaps, of the work being an arrangement.

Bassoon Concerto in B flat major (C 83)

1. Allegro
2. Adagio
3. Presto

Johann Christian Bach’s two bassoon concertos are listed in the 1782-1784 Supplement to the famous Thematic Catalogue issued by the publishing house of Breitkopf. By then Bach was already dead, so on this occasion at least) that normally extremely useful tool in the doling of late eighteenth-century musical works is of no assistance. In the absence (so far) of any documentary evidence of early performances, we are compelled to look at the surviving sources of the work for clues about its origin. There are two extant sets of orchestral material: a complete set in the Mecklenburgische Landesbibliothek in Schwerin and a set locking the horn parts and without oboes in the Andante in the Deutsche Staatsbibliothek in Berlin. The title page of the Berlin material does not mention horns. Neither does the advertisement in the Breitkopf catalogue. It is possible therefore that the Berlin set come from Breitkopf and so was copied in 1784 or later. The bassoon virtuoso, Georg Wenzel Ritter (1748-1808), entered the royal service in Berlin in 1788 and may have been the inspiration for the composition in Mannheim in the early 1770s of the E flat concerto. It is, of course, also possible that we owe the origins of the present concerto to Ritter and that, his original material haveing been lost, a new set was ordered from Breitkopf to replace it. We shall probably never know the truth.

However, we can be fairly sure that the Schwerin material did not come from Breitkopf because the title page lists the horns. Beyond that we draw a virtual blank. The orchestral parts do not even have a watermark and the fragments of watermarks on the solo part are too small to identify. Since Bach’s patron, Queen Charlotte of England, had been borne princess of Mecklenburg Strelitz it is hardly surprising if some of his works found their way to Schwerin, most likely for use in the concerts organised for Princess Ulrike by Johann Wilhelm Hertel (1727-1789). However, none of this really gets us any closer to the date of the work and the circumstances of its composition. All I can say from the evidence of the music itself is that stylistically it appears to date from the mid-1770s and that, unlike its companion, is probably an original work for the instrument.

The shape of its first movement, as in the other two concertos on this CD, is in essence the first movement form of the early classical concerto. But here there is more attempt at development in the central section. The Adagio is a dignified and serious movement of the kind obviously unknown to those earlier commentators who dismissed Bach as a morally suspect purveyor of frivolous music. There is, however, frivolity aplenty in the Presto finale. There is also considerable craftsmanship – note the canonic imitation of the main theme – and ample evidence, as elsewhere in the concerto, of a considerable knowledge of the technique and capabilities of the solo instrument.

Ernest Warburton

(C... *) = Thematic Catalogue of JCB’s works by Ernest Warburton
New York: Garland Publishing Inc, 1999