Johann Christian Bach


Harpsichord Concertos

Early Harpsichord Concertos

The catalogue of the estate of the Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (Verzeichniß des musikalischen Nachlasses des verstorbenen Capellmeisters Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach), published in Hamburg in 1790 by his widow, Johanna Maria, is not only a very important source of information about Emanuel’s works but also about the music of the entire Bach dynasty. Furthermore it tells us most of what we know about the early compositions of Johann Christian Bach. Specifically it refers to "A packet containing compositions (by Johann Christian), prepared in Berlin, before the author went to Italy, comprising 5 keyboard concertos, 1 violoncello concerto, 2 trios and 3 arias".(ein Paket mit Compositionen, in Berlin verfertigt, ehe der Verfasser nach Italien ging, bestehend in 5 Clavier-Concerten, 1 Violoncell-Concert, 2 Trii and 3 Arien). The catalogue also lists some of his keyboard music included in an anthology and the scores of a symphony, an overture and a further keyboard concerto "in the style of Tartini", (nach Tartinis Manier). The catalogue does not specifically state that these works were from Johann Christian’s Leipzig or Berlin periods, but the implication is there, not least because of the evident coolness between the two brothers in later years.

Of all these works only the five keyboard concertos can now be positively identified, in Johann Christian’s autograph full score (Mus. mss. Bach P. 390) in the Deutsche Staatsbibliothek Peussischer Kulturbesitz in Berlin. They are fairly typical products of the North German School of the time, the school of Carl Heinrich and Johann Gottlieb Graun, Franz and Georg Benda, and Wilhelm Friedemann and Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, with what the New Oxford History of Music calls its "antiquated language and confusion of styles". They are also generally quite unlike any of Johann Christian’s compositions post-1755. Together with another "Berlin" concerto they are also the longest of his 26 authentic keyboard concertos and the only ones scored for soloist and four-part strings. Here every movement is built on the ritornello principle: a passage for the entire ensemble played of the beginning, repeated complete or in part a number of times during its course and one final time to bring the movement to a close, with passages for the solo instrument between the statements of the ritornello. This is the standard formal scheme for the baroque concerto. In the hands of a bad or lazy composer it could (and sometimes did) produce mechanical and cliché-ridden music, but even in the 1750s a talented and industrious artist could produce work of real interest and merit. During his nearly five years as Carl Philipp Emanuel’s ward and pupil Johann Christian was in contact with many of the finest exponents of the genre. But these concertos are much more than the supervised composition exercises of a gifted student. They display accomplishment as well as talent.

Concerto in D minor (C 70)

1. Allegro assai
2. Adagio affettusoso
3. Allegro

The first eight notes of the ritornello of the first movement are the key to the understanding of the entire movement. They dominate the ritornello itself, returning prominently half-way through, twice subsequently in the bass and at the beginning of the unison passage which rounds it off. For the record, Bach also uses this little motive in inverted and speeded up forms, but that is difficult to appreciate without a score. The first solo, based on the ritornello material, is short, just 12 bars. Then follow the first few burs of the ritornello played by the orchestra exactly as they were at the beginning. The solo harpsichord takes up the eight note motive again, but soon we feel the music is moving from minor to major. You will note on the way the two statements of the eight note motive in the violins under the solo instrument. The whole orchestra shortly returns with a couple of bars of the ritornello in the relative major key of F major before yielding again to the soloist. A much longer orchestral statement of the ritornello in F major (more than half of it) then follows, roughly a third of the way through the movement. The next third is by for the most complex part of the movement. As before there is alternation between the soloist and the orchestra, but there is also more modulation and some “development” in the orchestral part of the little 5-note figure which follows the main 8-note figure at the beginning of the ritornello. At the end the soloist emerges from this complex texture, there is a cadence and the ritornello returns in the orchestra in the dominant minor key. But, as happened before at its first statement in F major, this ritornello is of very brief duration – a false return, as it were. Then there is another short solo passage and a much fuller statement of the ritornello in A minor – actually the first half with four interpolated bars. The soloist then returns in the home key with the eight note motive and the order of musical events after that is much the some as in the first third of the movement following the opening ritornello, but a little longer and in different keys. The entire movement is then rounded off by the last 11 bars of the ritornello. If I have concentrated on this technical detail, it is only to show how carefully and imaginatively the teenaged composer approached his task of injecting new life into an old form.

The remote key of B flat major – the furthest tonally away from the main key of any Johann Christian Bach keyboard concerto, the tempo indication of adagio qualified by the adjective affettuoso (with tenderness) and muted strings all indicate that Bach was attempting a deeply felt slow movement. Such deep feelings are usually associated with minor keys. Bach, like Mozart after him, was able to achieve them in major keys too.

The concluding allegro uses many of the devices of the first movement, but also introduces others. To the casual hearer the beginning of the first solo may appear to have little to do with the opening bars of the ritornello, but the attentive listener will notice that, while the soloist is rushing around in semiquavers, the pizzicato strings are playing its melody. The attentive listener will also notice that the first and second major returns of the ritornello begin not with its opening material but well into its second half. This might appear and sound eccentric had Bach not in both cases already “developed” the motive with which this truncated ritornello begins in the orchestra as an accompaniment to solo passagework. Finally, what appears to be the opening of the original ritornello returns for the one and only time in its original key and scoring at the very end of the work. In fact, it is just the final bars, the earlier sections having received so much attention earlier in the movement that Bach presumably judged that their further appearance would be too much.

Concerto in B flat major (C 68)

1. Allegretto
2. Andante
3. Presto

On the sixth page of the original score of this concerto is this inscription in Johann Christian’s handwriting: “I have made this concerto ... is it not beautiful?” (Ich habe dieses Conc. gemacht ... ist das nicht schön?). Such seeking after approval is generally more in character in a young adolescent than a young man nearing twenty, so it seems reasonable to assume that this concerto dates from Johann Christian’s earliest years under Carl Philipp Emanuel’s roof. There is physical evidence too to suggest that this was the earliest of the five to be composed: most of the work is on different paper from the rest of the manuscript and there are many more corrections and alterations than in the other works. Then there is the evidence of the work itself. In general the musical material is simpler and the structures more clearcut. In the allegretto, for instance, the ritornello, already a sixth of the whole movement, is repeated note for note at the end. This is not to suggest that the work is merely an apprentice piece of no intrinsic interest.

In the first movement, the first solo begins with new material featuring the “feminine endings” and syncopation absent from the ritornello. Both in the ritornello and elsewhere there is that easy dialogue between instruments which was to remain a feature of Johann Christian’s style to the very end of his life. The Andante (with the strings here too muted) also features a mannerism which was to be for ever his: melodies featuring a short note on the accented first beat of the bar followed by a longer note off the beat. Note too the startling use of the “Neapolitan sixth” near the end of the ritornello. The presto finale is a daring movement for a young composer to have written. Apart from its headlong pace and nearly 400 bars, it has a deceptively simple ritornello. The opening does not sound particularly fast, but as soon as it reaches the ninth bar you suddenly become aware of how quickly the music is going. Very soon the bass and the violins begin a quasi-canon, rising ever higher only to descend to a pause bar. Then off it goes again, with the violins bowing away furiously in semiquavers, while the violas and the bassos toss the opening motive of the ritornello from one to the other – the bass version inverted and the viola the correct way up. Immodest the young Johann Christian may have been, but I am sure you will agree with him that his concerto was indeed "schön".

Concerto in F minor

1. Allegretto
2. Andante e grazioso
3. Allegro

This concerto is the best known of Johann Christian Bach’s five "Berlin" concertos thanks to an edition published in 1954 and the only one to be recorded until recently. It is paradoxically the most “modern” sounding of the three concertos on this CD and at the some time the most “old-fashioned”. It sounds “modern” to those ears accustomed to the later Bach concertos in its use of violins in thirds and sixths, with their clear-cut and sometimes repeated phrases. This is most apparent in the andante, significantly also marked e grazioso. It sounds “old-fashioned” to the same ears by virtue of all its unison passages in the outer movements and especially by the trills at the end of those in the first. The keyboard writing looks back to the baroque with some passages which would not seem to out of place in the fifth Brandenburg Concerto and also forward to the rococo with others which could transfer with ease into one of the concertos of Johann Christian’s opus 1 or 7. However; perhaps its most striking feature is how different in overall character this concerto is from the others in the manuscript.

Concerto in E major (C 71)

1. Allegro assai
2. Adagio
3. Presto

The unique manuscript of this concerto contains many revisions and corrections and is mostly written on the some type of paper as the early Concerto in B flat major, which suggests that this work too may have been among the earliest of the set to have been composed, perhaps not long after 1750. This supposition is supported by even a casual hearing of the work. It is perhaps the most baroque sounding of the five. This is partly defined by the way Bach uses the orchestra. Here, as usual, it plays the ritornelli, provides the customary punctuation derived from ritornello material between solo paragraphs and supports the soloist with sustained chords, but, one tiny passage in the adagio apart, there is no melodic interplay between soloist and tutti. The baroque sound is, of course, even more clearly defined by the nature of the musical material itself.

The opening of the ritornello of the allegro assai is almost archetypal baroque: relentless triplet quavers over a descending bass coming to a half-close. The second paragraph sees the triplet quavers in the bass, here descending chromatically, and new material in the violins. This paragraph has several attempts at coming to a conclusion – another typical baroque procedure. When it finally succeeds, we hear what initially sounds like a return to the opening, but actually turns out to be a dialogue between the two violins, over sequential harmony – another baroque feature. Like the second paragraph, this third makes more than one attempt at a conclusion. A brief unison passage – yet another favourite baroque mannerism, with many triplet quavers, brings the ritornello to an end. All this is strongly characterised and memorable material, but it is almost entirely ignored in the solo sections of the movement. The first solo introduces completely new material which re-appears at strategic points later in the movement, but otherwise the remining solo sections are remarkably free from melodic relationships. Nonetheless, the strength and memorability of the ritornello material and the sometimes unexpected way in which Bach deploys it ensures a satisfyingly balanced movement.

The solo part is somewhat more melodically integrated into the structure of the adagio in E minor. The 8-bar ritornello is chiefly characterised by the use of the violins in thirds and sixths and appears complete at the beginning and end of the movement. Elsewhere, orchestrally it ploys very little part in the proceedings, with just its closing bars announcing the beginning of the second and third solo sections. Each of these three solo sections takes the melody of the opening of the ritornello as its starting-point, but rapidly moves on to a free fantasy.

Like the Concerto in B flat major, the last movement here is marked presto, but here once again the soloist and orchestra keep their own material to themselves. Once more the ritornello material is strongly characterised. Notice how the lower instruments imitate the first violins at the beginning and near the end, the nervous descending passage just after the start and the four unison notes at the end – more an exclamtion mark than a full-stop. This movement has all the exuberance of a talented young man revelling in his newly-won powers as a composer.

Concerto in F minor

1. Allegro di molto
2. Andante
3. Prestissimo

This work is the only one recorded on this pair of cpo CDs devoted to Johann Christian Bach’s early keyboard concertos which is not included in full score in Mus. mss. Bach P. 390. It survives nowadays complete in five other manuscripts, with a sixth (formerly in the Berlin Singakademie) presumably lost in World War II. Four of these six attribute the work to Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (as does the Breitkopf Thematic Catalogue of 1763), one (in a different hand from the one which copied the music) names Wilhelm Friedemann Bach as the composer and the other identifies it as a composition by Johann Christian. This last source, now in the Bach Archive in Leipzig, is perhaps the most important because it was written by Johann Christoph Altnikol (1719 or 20-1759), husband of Elisabeth Bach and therefore brother-in-law to the three composers, who was presumably well placed to attribute the work correctly. Significantly perhaps, Carl Philipp Emanuel did not include the work in his list of compositions and no expert on Wilhelm Friedemann’s music has claimed it as his. Paradoxically, further support for Johann Christian’s claim to be the composer comes from one of the manuscripts attributing it to Emanuel. Although the harpsichord part (Mus. mss. Bach St. 482) unequiovally names Emanuel as the composer, its cover has a label with the inscription: “Concerto fb Per il cembalo dal Sig. J.C. Bach detto il Milanese riveduto dal Sigr C. F. Bach” (Concerto in F minor for the harpsichord by Mr. J.C. Bach called the Milanese revised by Mr. C. P. E. Bach). Labels can, of course, provide false as well as accurate information and it was only when Dr Rachel Wade, General Editor of the complete edition of the works of C. P. E. Bach, identified the handwriting as that of Christoph Nichelmann (1717-61 or 2), a colleague of Emanuel’s at the court of Frederick the Great (who almost certainly must have known Johann Christian as well) that scholars began to take it at face value. More recently another meticuluos American scholar, Professor Jane R. Stevens, has discovered a sketch of ten bars of the first movement in Johann Christian Bach’s handwriting – on the last page of the first concerto in Mus. mss. Bach P. 390. Even this does not make the case absolutely watertight, but the overwhelming balance of the evidence points to Johann Christian as the author.

The concerto itself is in much the same mould as the other five concertos, but (in Jane Stevens’ view) "more aggressively expressive" than any of them. The ritornello of the allegro di molto is characterised by a strong, wide-ranging figure heard at the beginning on the first and second violins in unison, shortly afterwards divided between them in canon, then in the bass and finally on the violins in unison again before leading seamlessly to a concluding passage for all the strings in unison. The solo sections similarly rely heavily on this figure. The Andante in C minor likewise derives its coherence from the very close relationship between the material of the ritornello and the solo passages. This relationship also characterises the prestissimo finale. The considerable use of sequences and repetitions both in the ritornello and the solo sections is another prominent feature.

Concerto in G major (C 72)

1. Allegro
2. Poco adagio
3. Allegro

The manuscript now called Mus. mss. Bach P. 390, notwithstanding the various corrections and alterations it contains, is an all probability a fair copy made from earlier scores now lost. It is tempting therefore to look upon the fifth and last concerto it contains as the last to be composed. Certainly it is the most fluent and technically assured, as well as having the most demanding solo part. The orchestra plays a more positive accompanimental role in the solo sections than elsewhere. There is also a brief example of the type of dialogue between soloist and orchestra which was to become common in the classical concerto. This occurs almost exactly three-quarters of the way through the first movement when the soloist for the first and only time enters with the opening theme of the ritornello. However, generally baroque gestures and techniques – notably sequences and unison passages – are still very much in evidence. It needed the liberating influence of Johann Christian’s move to Italy in the late spring or summer of 1755 and his exposure to genuine Italian opera, not the old-fashioned variety performed in Berlin, to bring him up to date.

Six Keyboard Concertos, op. 1

If we were not absolutely certain that at least five of the six works in Vols 1 and 2 of this series of Johann Christian Bach’s keyboard concertos were authentic, it would be very easy to conclude that those works and the six presented here were by completely different composers. But his seven years in Italy brought about a remarkable change in Johann Christian’s style of composition. Gone were the late baroque gestures of the North German concerto and in their place were now the fluent, Italianate melodies with clearly defined periods of quite a different style of concerto.

Bach left Italy at the end of June 1762 with, apparently, every intention of returning, after having fulfilled a year’s contract as musical director of the Italian opera house, the King’s Theatre, in London. Initially his working and living environment in London was Italian. He even had lodgings with his employer, the impresario of the King’s Theatre, Colomba Mattei, and her husband in Jermyn Street. However, court was German and a number of German musicians, including his future collaborator Carl Friedrich Abel (1723-87), were active in the city. It can therefore only have been a very short time before Bach was drawn into German musical and court circles. Bach’s involvement with the German musical faction in London did not endear him in the long run to the Italian, but during the 1762-3 season at least lie had a foot in both camps. Johann Christian’s main task as a composer during that season was two compose two full-length operas, but he also found time to write and publish the six keyboard concertos on this CD. On Thursday, 10 March 1763 he placed this advertisement in the London daily newspaper, The Public Advertiser

This Day is published,
Price One Guinea,
SIX Concertos for the Harpsichord, with
Accompanyment, for two Violins and a
Violoncello. Dedicated
Permission to her Majesty. Composed by
Signor John Bach.
Printed for the Author, and to be had of
him at Signora Mattei’s
in Germyn-street, St. James’s, and at Mr.
Hanimel’s Music Shop in
King-street, St. Arm’s, Soho.

The text of the formal dedication is included in the magnificent presentation copy of the first edition once in Queen Charlotte’s possession and now in the British Library. The original French text is given in the French language section of this booklet.

To the Queen


It having very graciously pleased Your Majesty to admit my services to Her in the art of singing, I have made it a duty to employ all my diligence to Her studies, and to Her amusement.
It is in this regard that I have taken the liberty of offering Your Majesty this feeble sample of my work.
The indulgence and kindness with which Your Majesty has deigned to listen to this music being played has encouraged me to make It public; and the very gracious permission that Your Majesty has given me to have it printed under Your glorious protection, assures me that She would wish to receive this evidence of my industry with that kindness and that Royal beneficence, which inspires the admiration of this Kingdom, the delight of the Court, and the happiness of Her Servants and Subjects, and the good fortune of him, who has the honour to be with the most respectful veneration
Your Majesty’s
Most humble, most obedient,
and most submissive servant
John Bach

Princess Charlotte Sophia of Mecklenburg-Strelitz (1744-1818) was passionate about music and even sang and played the harpsichord to entertain the guests as supper was being prepared directly after her marriage to King George III of England on 8 September 1761. It was hardly surprising therefore that Bach, who could instruct her in both disciplines and in her mother tongue, was firmly established in her retinue within a very few months of arriving in London. No records exist showing what or how Bach taught her, but the dedication of these concertos makes it fairly clear that they were written for her to listen to rather than to play herself. The private nature of these performances is probably the reason why Bach chose so small an accompanying ensemble, just two violins and cello and also provided no opportunities for cadenzas. It is also perhaps for the same reason that the majority of them adopt the then fashionable two-movement form of chamber music.

Concerto in B flat major, op. 1, no. 1 (C 49)

1. Allegretto
2. Minuetto

To ears accustomed to the mature concertos of Mozart the leisurely pace of the first movement of this concerto must come as a shock, yet here in miniature are the formal precursors of those great works. The allegretto of this first concerto sets out the formal pattern for the majority of opening movements in this set of concertos. The string ensemble first of all gives out the main melodic material in a section lasting approximately a fifth of the movement. The soloist enters with the opening material of the movement, but shortly afterwards begins to digress from the path laid down in the string ritornello. Some ideas are never taken up again, others are saved for later use and others immediately developed. During this first solo section the ensemble plays a decidedly supportive role, supplying sustained chords, punctuation at cadences and (just occasionally) a little melodic interest of its own. While the string ritornello which started the movement began and ended in the tonic key, the first solo section begins in the tonic and ends in the dominant. When this point is reached, the strings play a shortened version of their ritornello, also in the dominant key. The second solo section then begins. This is much freer in its use (or lack of use) of material from the ritornello than the first solo section. Here, for example, it is only towards the end of the section that any ritornello material is heard at all. This second solo section is rounded off by a few bars from the ensemble, loosely based on material from the ritornello. The third solo section then begins in the tonic key. This is a recapitulation of the first solo section. This recapitulation is never exact. It cannot be, for the simple reason that. while the first solo section moves from the tonic to the dominant, the third and final section has to remain throughout in the tonic key to provide a satisfactory tonal balance to the whole movement. This balance is reinforced by the final few bars in the movement, which are based on the last part of the original string ritornello.

The second movement is a minuet and trio (but not so named). Unusually, it lasts longer than the first movement, even when (as here) the two sections of the first minuet are not played twice when it is repeated. The clever way in which Bach grafts the concerto concept on to the simple dance movement repays close attention.

Concerto in A major, op. 1, no. 2 (C 50)

1. Andante
2. Minuetto

The opening movement of this concerto is even more leisurely than the first. Yet the formal plan of the andante is broadly the some as that allegretto. There are very many subtle differences and delights. Note, for instance, the way in which the first violin imitates the soloist’s melody at the beginning of the first and third solo sections. Note too the new material which the soloist introduces (in the dominant) in the first solo section, which he then repeats (in the tonic) in the third.

The second movement this time is a single large-scale minuet, beautifully proportioned. But, like almost all of Bach’s music, it is not without its surprises. To mention just the most startling one, at about the mid-point of each half of the movement, following a few bars from the soloist, we find ourselves not on the firm harmonic ground we expected but in suspense. The chord is the one we were expecting, but its root position not its inversion.

Concerto in F major, op. 1, no. 3 (C 51)

1. Allegro
2. Minuetto

In the remaining concertos of the set we are on more familiar ground, all the first movements are allegros of some kind. Here again the broad formal outline is the some, but with a long string passage after the first solo section and a somewhat truncated third solo section in relation to the first.

A large-scale minuet once again completes the concerto, full of delightful detail and much of it featuring melodies in sensuous thirds and sixths.

Concerto in G major, op. 1, no. 4 (C 52)

1. Allegro assai
2. Andante
3. Presto

In this concerto Bach sets aside the two movement concerto in favour of the one in three. Moreover, he calls the piece “Concerto o [or] sinfonia” in the original edition. We shall probably never know precisely what he meant by using this expression, but its form is quite unlike the three earlier first movements. For a start, the soloist never plays the melodic material of the opening ritornello. This begins in much the same vein as the others, but just at the point when you might expect some new, contrasting material to be presented the soloist bursts in a cascade of arpeggios. He then ignores everything which has gone before and introduces much new material of his own. This first solo section, which is roughly twice the length of the ritornello, ends in the dominant and then everything we have heard so far is repeated. The second half of the movement, which is also to be repeated, begins with a shortened version of the ritornello in the dominant. The soloist enters as before and not only introduces some new material but develops some old. We then hear the ritornello in the tonic key but in a different shortened form than before. The soloist follows this up with a shortened recapitulation of the first solo section and the movement ends with the shortest of codas.

If the soloist dominated the first movement, he monopolises the second. Again it is a very strange movement. The first dozen bars, with their strange harmonic ambiguity, play no structural part in the movement and, if both halves were not repeated, would never be heard again.

The presto could not be in greater contrast: very short, very lively, very cheerful, with just one shortish section in the minor mode.

Concerto in C major, op. 1, no. 5 (C 53)

1. Non tanto Allegro
2. Allegretto

The first movement is cast in the same general formal mould as the first three concertos, but the solo Sections are perhaps melodically freer and more rhapsodic.

The allegretto is a charming movement and not quite as simple as it might appear. Note for example, the use Bach makes of the potential for contrapuntal development of the very first phrase.

Concerto in D major, op. 1, no. 6 (C 54)

1. Allegro assai
2. Andante
3. Allegro moderato

Like the fourth concerto, the sixth is in three movements and is described as “Concerto o Sinfonia”. The Allegro assai and the andante have a close family resemblance to their counterparts in the earlier concerto. But the first is nowhere near as dramatic and the second a limpid, uncomplicated monologue.

The last movement is a set of six variations on God save the king, the oldest of all national anthems. Bach’s variations were presumably meant as a further compliment to his Royal patron but are certainly not his most imaginative composition. Nonetheless, they served to keep his name alive long after his death since editions continued to appear for a hundred years after they were written.

Piano Concertos

Six Piano Concertos, op. 7

The six keyboard concertos, op. 7, first published in 1770, have much in common with the op. 1 set Johann Christian Bach issued seven years earlier. Both sets are dedicated to the British Queen, whose music master Bach had become. They have the some orchestration: two violins and cello. They are on much the same scale. And both have four concertos with two movements and two with three. However, there ore important differences too. On this occasion Bach appears to have issued the concertos through his regular London publisher rather than producing his own first edition. Here on the title page of John Welcker’s publication the solo part is assigned to “Harpsichord or Piano Forte”, whereas in Bach’s first edition of op. 1 no alternative to “Clavecin” was given. The new designation is a reflection of the fact that since 1766, when Johann Christoph Zumpe (1726-1791) produced his prototypes, pianos had been increasingly available in London. Nonetheless, in spite of his own well-documented enthusiasm for the piano, Bach is careful to ensure that the solo part does not demand too many effects only achievable on the newer instrument. Indeed, in the fifth concerto there are very few dynamic markings and in Nos. 2 and 6 none at all. Elsewhere, in addition to the usual alternation of substantial sections marked piano and forte, there are groups of two or three notes marked forte within an otherwise piano passage. The word crescendo or its equivalent is nowhere to be found, but (as Richard Maunder has pointed out) a succession of piano, mezzo forte and forte markings just before the recapitulation in the first movement of the fourth concerto is a crescendo except in name.

Recent research has taught students of Johann Christian Bach’s music to treat early editions of his music with caution. Far too many have proved to be arrangements of more elaborate originals. Here too we have good reason to question whether the printed texts of these concertos are what Bach and his colleagues actually played or whether they are versions edited for publication. Manuscript horn parts for five of the six concertos exist in libraries with important collections of his music and one source also has oboe parts for the third concerto. Since all of these additional parts are obviously the work of a talented composer, the possibility of their being authentic cannot be ruled out. However, much more compelling evidence comes from a manuscript copy, partially in Bach’s own handwriting, of the keyboard part of the sixth concerto which was sold at Sotheby’s London auction in May 1992. All three movements there are much longer than the published version and the keyboard part is rather more demanding. However, here we have recorded all six concertos as Bach published them, because, edited for publication or not, they have his imprimatur.

Piano Concerto in C major, op. 7, no. 1 (C 55)

1. Allegretto
2. Minuetto

This first concerto follows the custom of the times by being the easiest of the six to play. It is cast in the “classical” form for first movements of concertos: tutti exposition, solo exposition, development, recapitulation. Here all four sections are of a similar length, but, like all good composers, Bach has one or two musical surprises in each section for the attentive listener. The Minuetto (without Trio) is a fine example of Bach’s characteristic blend of a popular style with sophisticated technique. Note, for example, how he teases the listener by bringing the first part of the movement to a close only at the fourth attempt and then without the accompanying strings. And how he is not content to do the same at the end of the second part (as convention demanded) but adds a six-bar coda for the whole ensemble to round off the movement.

Piano Concerto in F major, op. 7, no. 2 (C 56)

1. Allegro con spirito
2. Tempo di Minuetto

There is a long-standing tradition, originating from the memoirs of Mrs Papendiek, one of Queen Charlotte’s entourage, that Bach composed this concerto for himself to play on the organ between the two parts of his oratorio, Gioas, re di Giuda, in the Lent of 1770. The English custom of performing an organ concerto between the acts of an oratorio had been established by Handel many years before and Bach was, in characteristic manner, merely following local practice. However, as R.J.S. Stevens, who sang as a boy in the choir, notes in his Recollections of a Musical Life, “this Concerto gave no pleasure to the Audience, and was absolutely hissed: all our boys laughed at the exhibition; so different was it from the true Organ Style of playing, to which we had been accustomed”. In retrospect, it is difficult to imagine a sophisticated audience in Europe’s largest and most prosperous city laughing at this genial and attractive work.

The first movement may very well have been written, as some commentators have claimed, in imitation of the English organ concertos of such composers as James Hook. This is supported by the frequent appearance of unison passages punctuating the lengthy solo passages and the casting of the movement in a mixture of baroque and classical forms. The Minuet is notable for a lengthy episode in the minor mode, but objectively is one of Bach’s less successful movements since he over-uses his material.

Piano Concerto in D major, op. 7, no. 3 (C 57)

1. Allegro con spirito
2. Rondeau: Allegretto

The first movement here too lacks the formal straightforwardness of the first concerto. Perhaps Bach himself was aware of this because, uniquely in all his concertos, he directs the entire solo exposition to be repeated. And then, as if to compensate for this, omits much of the material from the solo exposition, including the soloist’s arresting entry, from the recapitulation. Not only in its formal aspects but in its general tone, this is a fascinating movement. Where else but in Mozart, for example, do you find a concerto beginning with such a mixture or formality and diffidence?

The second and final movement is a Rondeau with two episodes. Even in the episodes the material of the main section is never far away. In the first, quite short, episode you can hear fragments of the opening bars in the string accompaniment. In the second, much longer, episode in the relative-minor key the link is more tenuous: just one reference when the accompanying strings return after the first keyboard solo. Here Bach avoids the danger of over-using his material by giving the second statement of the main Rondeau section at little more than half its original length and providing new material at the end of the third.

Piano Concerto in B flat major, op. 7, no. 4 (C 58)

1. Allegro giusto
2. Allegro di molto

Perhaps the main problem a composer faced when writing a two-movement concerto was to provide each movement with sufficient individual characteristics to avoid monotony. Usually this meant a foster movement followed by a slower. Here Bach reverses the order. As if to emphasise the point, he begins the allegro giusto quietly. This is only the first of the many surprises in this ingenious, if formally comparatively straightforward, movement. The use by later composers of the ingenious harmonic progression of the interrupted cadence which twice delays the conclusion of the “orchestral” exposition and the brief excursions into the minor mode just before the “second subject” in the solo exposition and the recapitulation, may have dulled our response to such originality, but the London audiences in the late 1760s must have found them quite startling. The allegro di molto lacks such subtleties and relies, like the finales to most symphonies and opera overtures of the time, on its headlong pace to bring the concerto to a satisfying conclusion.

Piano Concerto in E flat major, op. 7, no. 5 (C 59)

1. Allegro di molto
2. Andante
3. Allegro

This concerto is undoubtedly the finest of the set. The three-movement form enables Bach to produce a deeply-felt slow movement in C minor. Note especially how the interplay between the violins develops as the movement progresses. Like the fourth concerto this work begins quietly. It is cast in “conventional” classical form, but the “development” begins with the soloist introducing new material – a typically Mozartian procedure predating Mozart. The first two movements both have places for a solo cadenza and, as luck would have it, there are two cadenza’s in Bach’s autograph in the some keys. There is no indication on the manuscript that they belong to this work, but, as this is the only extant keyboard concerto with movements in these keys, there can be little doubt that they belong here. The concerto is rounded-off by an ingenious movement, superficially cheerful and apparently simple enough to please the Liebhaber (or general listener) but actually full of all manner of compositional devices to keep the Kenner (or connoisseur) enthralled.

Piano Concerto in G major, op. 7, no. 6 (C 60a)

1. Allegro
2. Andante
3. Allegretto

Because of the existence of the much longer version of this concerto, Stephen Roe has suggested that this work was written before the others in the set. This possibility is supported by a number of features of the revised version. The most obvious is that the soloist is much more dominant than elsewhere, almost as dominant as in the six Berlin concertos. Also the first movement is cast in a hybrid version of the “ritornello” form of the Berlin concertos and the “conventional” classical sonata-concerto form. The presence of so extended an orchestral passage (three-quarters of the length of the opening ritornello) in the dominant key at the mid-point of the movement was perhaps intended to off-set the dominance of the solo part, but it certainly emerges as a backward-looking feature. The Andante too is a formal hybrid, more elaborate than simple binary form and not quite developed enough for sonata form. As so often, Bach reserves a few surprises for the finale. Note in particular his dalliance with the minor just before the “recapitulation” and the near seismic lurch to the subdominant just before the end.

Ernest Warburton

Piano Concerto in G (Alternative version of op. 7, no. 6) (C 60b)

Dr. Warburton had known of the existence of the original manuscript of this work for several years, since it was sold by Sotheby’s, London, to a private collector on 29th May 1992. Subsequently, it would seem that Warburton communicated with the owner and was able to establish with certainty that the concerto is in fact an alternative, longer, and presumably earlier version of the published Concerto in G, op. 7 no. 6. The owner of the manuscript, who wishes to remain anonymous, kindly allowed Dr Ernest Warburton access to it, via a photocopy.

In “The Collected Works of J.C. Bach, Vol. 48:1” (1999, Garland Publishing, Inc., New York and London,) the current, alternative version of the concerto is referred to by Warburton, the General Editor, as Version B so than a comparison of its length can be made with Version A, the published op. 7 no. 6.

All three movements of B are considerably longer than those of A, the increased length being generally attributable to its more extended string Ritornelli. More strikingly, the keyboard writing is more florid in B than in A.

The MS is in Bach’s hand, and is in “short score”, that is, on two slaves, with only about 65 % of the keyboard and string writing fully composed. Warburton completed the remaining sketched-out material, in some instances cross-referring to op. 7 no. 6, and elsewhere creating new figuration for both keyboard and strings based on Bach’s indicated harmonic outlines.

Quote from Dr Ernest Warburton's description of Version B in the “Collected Works of J.C. Bach / 48:1” referred to in paragraph 2 above:

“In size, though obviously not in musical style, it resembles JCB’s earliest efforts in the concerto form, (those) written in the 1750s, C 68-73, (the Berlin Harpsichord Concertos.)

This version of op.7, no. 6 is, as it were, a missing link between the rambling, discursive early pieces, and the concise, more Mozartean works Bach chose to publish in London from 1763 onwards. One can understand why Bach should choose to prune the extended ritornelli for publication, but he also considerably simplified the piano part.

This raises an interesting question: do the editions published by JCB reflect what the composer actually performed, or did he, for commercial purposes, somewhat simplify the works to promote a wider sale? Charles Burney’s criticism that Bach’s keyboard compositions ‘are such as ladies can execute with little trouble’ is disproved in the energetic runs and arpeggios of this manuscript.”

Anthony Halstead

Piano Concertos, op. 13

Bach issued his third set of concertos in 1777. They share many features with the earlier collections published in 1763 and 1770. In fact, the six concertos in all three sets use the some six keys, with the exception of op. 1, no. 2. Here again four concertos are in two movements and two in three. However, there are important differences too. The scale of the concertos has expanded. The “orchestra” has also expanded to include pairs of oboes or flutes and horns, but still not violas. The title page of Bach’s first edition describes these wind instruments as “ad libitum” (optional), but the works themselves quite clearly show that their inclusion is much to be desired. The first edition also still allows the harpsichord as an alternative to the piano, but again the evidence of the solo part suggests a very strong preference for the newer instrument. The optional wind and the harpsichord alternative were quite clearly responses to commercial reality. Only the richest households could afford the four extra wind players and, little more than a decade after pianos had become available in England, many people still only had harpsichords. Moreover, ever the pragmatist and following his practice in the earlier sets, Bach allowed a keyboard reduction of the orchestral tuttis to be printed in the solo part in addition to the solo passages to enable those who wished to do so to play the concertos unaccompanied. This practice must have persisted into the 1790s because London publishers were then still offering the keyboard part as a separate publication.

Piano Concerto in C major, op. 13, no. 1 (C 62)

1. Allegro
2. Rondeau: Allegretto

The allegro begins with two loud bars followed by two soft. The first pair returns later to mark the beginning of the first solo section and the recapitulation, but it is the second which has the greater role in the course of the movement. It appears in all manner of guises. Bach not only exploits its melody, even turning it upside down in the development, but perhaps even more importantly uses its melodic contour and harmonic scheme to produce new ideas. Another important component of the movement is the phrase which begins the second (almost equal) half of the orchestral exposition. This consists of an octave leap and two repeats of the upper note. Bach clearly could not resist the contrapuntal possibilities of this little scrap of melody and, even as the first violin plays the fourth note, the second violin takes it up and the bass follows in similar fashion. One further feature of this orchestral exposition which is worth nothing is that the second parts of both halves are the some for most of their course. The soloist is hardly ever idle during his exposition. Much of his material we have already heard in the orchestral exposition, but note how his version of the phrase with the rising octave continues quite differently. Just before the mid-point of the movement the orchestra returns with a much shortened version of the opening tutti in the dominant key. This is more in line with baroque practice than rococo or classical, showing that even as late as the mid-1770s old habits died hard. However, the quite long development which follows it could not be more up to date and “Mozartean”. The recapitulation mirrors the solo exposition very closely. When the soloist has bowed out (without a cadenza), the movement ends with a literal restatement of the last three-quarters of the orchestral exposition, a baroque procedure if ever there was one.

The main section of the Rondeau is first played by the orchestra alone and then repeated with the soloist as the senior partner. In the first episode Bach reminds us three times of material from the main section. The second episode, as so often, is in the minor and it too has the occasional reference to material from the main section. It is fascinating to hear how Bach, having been so deeply into the minor mode, prepares us for the return to the major in the final statement of the main section.

Piano Concerto in D major, op. 13, no. 2 (C 63)

1. Allegro con spirito
2. Andante
3. Allegro non tanto

The first movement shares the broad outline of the opening movement of the first concerto, even if some of the proportions are different. But here it is the loud opening two-bar unison motive which pervades the movement. To a skilled composer its shape suggests endless possibilities for contrapuntal development. Bach, perhaps judging that there were more enthusiastic amateurs among the prospective purchasers of these concertos than conoisseurs, only exploits its potential twice: at the beginning of the development and in the recapitulation. Bach’s wish to please his public is also evident in the Andante. This is a fantasia on a popular Scotch song, “Saw ye my father”. Scotch songs (as they were then called), and indeed Scottish literature, were very popular in England and much of the rest of Europe at the time and so Bach was “climbing on to the bandwagon” in using this simple song. The popular English composer, James Hook (1746-1827) had already produced a set of simple variations on the tune. Here Bach offers something much more subtle: a rondo, where the main section is varied on each of its repetitions. Bach underlines the contrast with the outer movements by replacing the oboes with the gentler-toned flutes. The finale, with the oboes back in place, is a more conventional rondo, rather like the second movement of the first concerto, with two episodes, the second in the minor.

Piano Concerto in F major, op. 13, no. 3 (C 64)

1. Allegro con brio
2. Rondeau: Allegro

Flutes replace the usual oboes throughout this concerto, emphasising the contrast between this elegant and exquisitely detailed concerto and its rather more extrovert predecessor. In form the first movement is like its counterparts in the first two concertos, but here the second subject is more prominent. The development too is more extended and “Mozartean”, especially in its exploitation of a descending figure first heard just before the second subject in the exposition. The Rondeau also follows the two earlier precedents: a main section (played first by the orchestra and then repeated mostly by the soloist) twice repeated with two soloistic episodes between. As in the first concerto both episodes have references to the main Rondo theme. The second, much longer, episode is once again in the minor. Here, as so often, Bach hints at the depth of expression of which he was clearly capable had the environment in which he worked allowed it. Both movements are marked allegro, which is taking a risk. But here, as in the only other of his twelve two-movement concertos (op. 7, no. 4), with two allegros Bach produces movements of sufficient contrast to make the actual tempo markings irrelevant.

Piano Concerto in B flat major, op. 13, no. 4 (C 65)

1. Allegro
2. Andante
3. Andante con moto

If the number of eighteenth-century reprints of this concerto is any kind of guide, this was Bach’s most popular keyboard concerto. Its popularity lay in the use of the “Scotch” song, “The yellow hair’d laddie”, as the basis for its last movement. In London during the 1770s the enthusiasm for “Scotch” songs amounted to a passion which was not to cool until the early years of the following century. The arrangements of folksongs by Haydn and Beethoven were products of this some fashion. “The yellow hair’d laddie”, with words by Allan Ramsay (1686-1758), the father of the great Scottish pointer of the some name, was one of the more popular songs and Bach may also have set it on two other occasions: once for domestic performance with keyboard and viola da gamba accompaniment (LH 5) and again as an aria with orchestra. In the latter form it appears as an insertion aria (G Inc 3) in Gli euqivoci, a wonderful comic opera by Stephen Storace (1762-1796) with libretto by Lorenzo do Ponte, which was produced in Vienna in 1786 a few weeks after Le nozze di Figaro and with much the same cast. Here in this concerto Bach uses the tune as the basis for a quite subtle set of variations.

The opening allegro, with its bold opening theme in unison, establishes that this is a concerto on the grand scale appropriate for the public concert hall. Moreover, after the amazingly brief orchestral exposition (a mere 33 bars), the soloist scarcely rests until the very end of the movement. Real virtuoso music!

The soloist is equally active in the Andante, but the contrast in mood and texture between the two movements could scarcely be greater. The neutral pizzicato opening for the orchestra is quite striking, as is its sudden switch to arco for the first time two-thirds of the way through the movement. Another noteworthy feature is that this is the only movement of the fourteen which make up the six concertos of opus 13 which calls for a cadenza from the soloist.

Piano Concerto in G major, op. 13, no. 5 (C 66)

1. Allegretto
2. Tempo di Menuetto

The character of this concerto seems more suited to performance in a private drawing room than in a public concert hall. Its attractions are in subtle harmonies rather than grand gestures. For a concerto of this date the orchestral exposition is very long (nearly a quarter of the length of the entire movement) and contains enough musical ideas for two movements. Bach chooses not to exploit all of them in the solo exposition and even introduces a new motive involving crossed hands. The central orchestral section – here more in the character of the old ritornello – is even more selective and therefore short. The solo “development” section which follows begins with the repeated-note motive used at the very beginning of the movement being handed down successively via the soloist, the first violin, the second violin to the boss. Bach repeats the passage a third lower before moving on to exploit other material from the orchestral exposition, some of which he ignored in the first solo section. The repented-note motive returns at the end of the section to usher in the recapitulation, which follows mutatis mutandis the some course as the solo exposition.

The Minuet preserves the gentle character of the first movement and adds the mildly chromatic harmonies which ore now called Mozartian.

Piano Concerto in E flat major, op. 13, no. 6 (C 67)

1. Allegro
2. Tempo di Menuetto: Andante

To modern ears this is perhaps the most attractive concerto of the opus 13 set. The texture is coloured by the use of the transverse flute (or the German flute, as it was called in Britain), one of the most typical sounds of the second half of the eighteenth century. The widespread use of a falling bass (still an effective device in the popular music of the twentieth-first century) is one of the techniques which underpin the melodic charm of the first movement. However, ultimate satisfaction comes from the perception, conscious or otherwise, that this is a movement composed by a master musician in full control of all of his stock of attractive and imaginative material. The development section is particularly fine, almost Beethovenian. And written before Mozart had composed any of his great concertos!

The minuet en rondeau maintains the same standard of elegance as the first movement, but (inevitably) not its some high level of invention. However, the lengthy second solo (in the relative minor and over pizzicato strings) and its transition back to the major key are much to be admired.

Piano Concerto in E flat major (C 75)

1. Allegro
2. Andante
3. Rondeau: Tempo di Minuetto

This concerto is the almost identical twin of the Symphonie Concertante in E flat major, first performed of the Concert Spirituel in Paris on 4 April 1773 and published in a reduced orchestration by Sieber of Paris later the same year and by J.J. Hummel of Amsterdam in 1774. There is no water-tight evidence as to which version came first. Richard Maunder, who edited both versions for the Collected Works, believes that the present version is the earlier. However, I have recently come to the conclusion that the form and style of the first movement, which are much appropriate to a Symphonie Concertante than a solo concerto composed in the 1770s, suggest that the keyboard version is the later. This view is perhaps supported by the fact that it alone among JCB’s known mature keyboard concertos remained unpublished in his lifetime. However, it seems to have circulated quite widely in manuscript. Six manuscripts are known to have survived, of which the most important is the incomplete set of parts at R.M. 21. a. 6. in the British Library in London. The cadenzas played on this recording come from a complete set of parts in the Kantonsbibliothek in Aarau in Switzerland, which has a small but important collection of JCB’s music.

The long opening ritornello of the allegro (amounting to about a fifth of the entire movement) is the orchestra’s principal contribution to the proceedings. Shortened versions of the ritornello appear at the mid-point and at the end, but the orchestra’s role elsewhere is largely to provide punctuation between or discreet support during the keyboard solos. Moreover, for nearly a third of the entire movement the orchestra is silent while the soloist performs unaccompanied. This is perhaps the most important difference between the two versions. Obviously two violins needed at least an orchestral bass for support, while the piano is quite capable of providing its own. Also, for the record, it is worth pointing out that the first movement of the keyboard concerto version is slightly shorter (by three bars) than its equivalent in the Symphonie Concertante. However, the two remaining movements are exactly the some length.

In the Andante the wind instruments are silent and, of course, the piano takes over the solo role allocated to the oboe in the Symphonie Concertante. The full orchestra returns for the Rondo-Minuet. This is a movement which seems to have a quite different character from its counterpart in the Symphonie Concertante. Perhaps the replacement of two soloists, who are more or less honour-bound to compete with each other in the virtuosity stakes, by just one who has the stage to himself is the chief contributory factor. Anyhow, an already genial and appealing movement becomes even more so in this guise.

Piano Concerto in E flat major, Bailleux op. 14 (C 61)

1. Allegro maestoso
2. Andantino
3. Rondeau: Allegro di molto

This is the least characteristic of the concertos published during Bach’s maturity. It is by for the longest and fully exploits a keyboard compass of five octaves. It was published in Paris in 1776 by Bailleux, who was not his regular French publisher. Remarkably, it was never reissued in London or Amsterdam, the two other major centres of music publishing in the eighteenth century. The original title page describes it as a concerto for harpsichord (clavecin), with an orchestra including (for the first time since the Berlin concertos of the early 1750s) violas and a pair of optional horns. The designation of the solo part for the harpsichord only seems like a throwback to earlier days. However, Bach’s only surviving letter in French, sent from Richmond, England on 26 September 1770, shows that he was acquainted with the Paris-based Madame de Brillon, whom he describes as the great harpsichordist (grand [sic] Joueuse de Clavecin). Anne Louise Boyvin d’Hardancourt Brillon de Jouy (1744-1824), was one of the leading keyboard players in Paris and also a composer. Her salon at Passy was famous and its members included Benjamin Franklin (1777-1785). It is known that Bach sent her an English pianoforte. It is also possible that he composed this concerto for her, although the lack of a dedication of the title page of the publication suggests otherwise.

The allegro maestoso begins in Bach’s most genial style. However, his extensive use of the “scotch snap” here suggests that the work may have been written some years before it was published. The opening ritornello (41 out of a total of 261 bars) remains firmly rooted in the tonic key. It reappears in shortened from twice later, in the dominant at bar 86) and in G minor (at bar 176), and a repeat of its last thirteen bars brings the movement to an unusual pianissimo close. The three solo sections are cleverly varied. The second is particularly notable for its use of the diminished seventh chord, more associated with romantic music than with rococo.

The andantino is an ingenious mixture of ritornello and sonata form. The first solo section (beginning in the tonic key and ending in the dominant) is mirrored very closely by the second (moving from dominant to tonic). Moreover, both of these clearly defined passages are repeated, with the repeat of the second being lengthened to include a cadenza. However, perhaps the most striking feature of the movement to modern ears are the remarkably forward looking, almost Beethovenian, harmonic progressions which it contains.

The finale’s marking of Allegro di molto is a trap for the unwary soloist. Too fast a tempo from the beginning means mounting difficulties later. Perhaps to expose the soloist’s virtuosity to the maximum effect, Bach has the strings play pizzicato when the going gets really tough. Needless to say there is no place for a cadenza at the end. Bach has correctly judged that the amount of virtuosity we have already heard is quite enough.

The numbers C 61, C 65-67, G Inc 3 and LH 5 refer to the entries in my Thematic Catalogue of Johann Christian Bach’s music, published as Volume 48:1 of The Collected Works of Johann Christian Bach (Garland Publishing Inc., New York and London, 1999).

Ernest Warburton

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