Johann Christian Bach


The Symphonie Concertante

For a period of about sixty years, starting around 1765, a type of orchestral work with solo parts for two or more solo instruments flourished in the newly developing public concert life of the major cities of Europe. The genre is nowadays usually called the Sinfonia Concertante, presumably because that is the title generally given to its finest example, Mozart’s K 364 with violin and viola soloists. At the time, however, such works went under a multiplicity of descriptions. Nonetheless, the overwhelming majority were given the French title Symphonie Concertante.

It is tempting to regard the baroque concerto with multiple soloists as the model from which the Symphonie Concertante developed. But, as the distinguished American scholar and leading expert on the genre, Barry S. Brook rightly states, “the Symphonie Concertante resembles the Concerto Grosso no more than the Classical solo concerto resembles its Baroque antecedent”. In the Symphonie Concertante the solo group is more prominent, the orchestra more subservient and the interplay between them less important than in the Concerto Grosso. Moreover, the tone of the Symphonie Concertante is predominantly cheerful and deep emotion is almost completely avoided. Brook has identified some 570 works in the form by about 210 composers and only two or three of these are in minor keys. For the first two decades of its popularity the genre was centred on Paris, with works by native French composers being supplemented by those of visiting composers, especially those from Mannheim. Apparently French taste much preferred the work in two-movement form, which inevitably locked a slow movement. Even in the three-movement type which flourished elsewhere it is rare to find a middle movement with a tempo indication slower than Andante. During the early years the solo group usually consisted of two violins. Later much larger groups of up to nine instruments were used. By for the most prolific composers of Symphonies Concertantes were Giuseppe Maria Cambini (1746 - ?1825), with over 80 to his credit, and Carl Stamitz (1745-1801), with 38. Most other leading composers in the genre, such as the Chevalier de Saint-Georges (c. 1739-1799), Jacques Widerkehr (1759-1823), Jean-Baptist Davaux, and Christian Cannabich (1731-1798), produced about a dozen works each. Johann Christian Bach, with his output of at least 17 works, must be counted among them and his works, in the view of the distinguished British scholar and Editor of the famous New Grove Dictionary of Music, Stanley Sadie, “are as a group unmatched by any other composer”.

Symphonie Concertante in E flat major (C 33)

with Two Violins and Oboe Soli

1. Allegro
2. Andante
3. Tempo di Menuetto

On Sunday, 4 April 1773 in Paris, the violin virtuosi and brothers Simon and Pierre Le Duc opened the second half of a concert in the famous series, the Concert Spirituel, “with a lyrical and well-proportioned concertante by Bach”.

The following October, Bach’s principal Parisian publisher, Jean-Georges Sieber, issued a set of orchestral parts of the work recorded here. It is likely, therefore, if not absolutely certain, that they were one and the some work. On the other hand it is doubtful whether the Sieber edition and the edition by J. J. Hummel published in Amsterdam a year later faithfully represented Bach’s original conception of the work. The main source of Bach’s Symphonies Concertantes, a manuscript once belonging to Royal Music Library and now in the British Library in London, also contains a keyboard concerto which is the some in all its essentials as the present work. The probability is that the keyboard version came first and what we have here is an arrangement made for Paris. This is very much in line with Bach’s practice of recycling his favourite works for use in different cities. However, the keyboard concerto version of the work is very richly scored with pairs of flutes, clarinets, bassoons and horns as well as strings. The Sieber and Hummel editions lack the parts for clarinets and bassoons, which makes some passages (in the third movement especially) sound ill-considered and undernourished. Bach was a master of orchestration and was praised as such by the contemporary English musicologist, Dr. Charles Burney, so he would hardly have willingly reduced the orchestration unless he had been compelled to do so and would certainly have revised the less than satisfactory passages. In any case such an arrangement would hardly have been necessary for a performance at the Concert Spirituel, arguably the most prestigious concert giving organisation in a city where clarinets were probably more easily available than almost anywhere else in Europe. The chances therefore are that the Sieber/Hummel version of this work, which has been recorded a number of times before and was published in the Eulenberg miniature score series as long ago as 1935, is actually a publisher’s arrangement. There are several other instances of this in Bach’s output as his publishers were always reluctant to issue orchestral works which called for clarinets because the instruments were still quite rare. This is therefore the first recording of the work to restore it to what was probably its original form by simple expedient of incorporating the missing wind parts from the keyboard concerto version of the work with very minor modifications.

The allegro is true to type. The long opening ritornello (about a fifth of the entire movement) provides the orchestra with virtually the whole of the material which it uses during the remainder of the movement. Once the soloists enter, the orchestral contribution is largely restricted to short passages marking the end of their solo or duet passages. The cadenza is contemporary and comes from J. C. Bach’s Gloria in G. In the Andante we enter a different sound world. The solo violins are silent and a new soloist, an oboe, takes over. This contrast is sharp enough in the reduced orchestration of the Sieber/Hummel edition but in the much richer reconstructed version we have here the sudden emergence of the only woodwind instrument not included in the wind section of the orchestra is indeed startling. Further aural delights are in store in the Minuet, which has neither the usual Trio nor the customary repeated sections, Here Richard Maunder’s reconstruction really comes into its own. The rich passages for wind alone are most impressive and are show up the much leaner version with flutes, horns and ’cello in Sieber/Hummel for the arrangement it undoubtedly is. The two violins dart around with the energy of Mediterranean swallows in their solo passages. And if you do not have a smile on your face by the end of the movement I would be very surprised.

Symphonie Concertante in G major (C 32)

with Two Violins and ’Cello Soli

1. Allegro
2. Andante
3. (Tempo di) Minuetto

Only three of Bach’s Symphonies Concertantes were published during his lifetime. Like the previous work, this one was published in Paris, probably also in 1773, but by a publisher much less closely associated with Bach, La Chevardière. I suppose it is just possible that the work here was really the one performed at the concert at the Concert Spirituel in April 1773, but the use of a solo group which includes a ’cello in addition to the two violins and its less fluent and polished style probably rules it out. As with the previous work, there are textual questions which need to be considered. The orchestra in La Chevardière’s edition consists of pairs of oboes and horns as well as strings and that is the form in which the work has hitherto been recorded. While the oboe parts are quite manageable on the modern instruments used in these recordings, they are almost unplayable on the eighteenth-century instruments required in a recording which aims to reflect contemporary performance practice. Moreover, the general pitch of the parts, the tessitura, suggests that they were intended for the higher range of the flute rather than the oboe. And it is for these reasons that we have used flutes on this first recording of the work on Period Instruments.

Unlike the other two works recorded here, this one retains the some solo group throughout. The opening ritornello of the allegro is almost a quarter of the movement and the orchestra generally takes a more positive part in the proceedings than in the preceding work. This is especially true of the flutes, who function almost as fourth and fifth soloists. Some of the distinctive sound of the work also comes from the use of divided violas. In the Andante they almost invariably double the two flutes an octave lower. The full orchestra is used very sparingly in this movement. After the opening ritornello it is never heard again except in three unison passages strategically placed in the second half. A sturdy Minuet and more delicate Trio round off the work. The first section of the Minuet is purely orchestral, but the second, which is nearly three times its length, is almost exclusively given over to the soloists. Initially the two violins predominate, but in due course they yield to the solo ’cello playing in its highest register. The Trio (in E minor) is chamber rather than orchestral music: the three soloists are silent and the two flutes and the two violas have the stage to themselves, with just the occasional punctuation from the bass.

Symphonie Concertante in E flat major (C 42)

with Two Violins and ’Cello Soli

1. Allegro
2. Largo ma non tanto
3. Tempo di Minuetto

Like the first work on this CD, this Symphonie Concertante exists in another form: as a Bassoon Concerto. The version recorded here survives in manuscript sources in Milan and Mantua and a further copy in the Royal Library in Berlin has been missing, presumed destroyed, since the end of the Second World War. Two set of parts of the version for bassoon have however survived in Berlin. The few scraps of evidence they offer suggest that the bassoon version was composed for the virtuoso, Georg Wenzel Ritter (1748-1808), who was a member of the Mannheim orchestra from 1764 to 1778. This would date that version as having been composed between 1772 and 1775, when Bach was in the Palatinate supervising the productions of four of his major works, the operas Temistocle and Lucio Silla and the serenatas Endimione and Amor Vincitore. On the other hand, neither version is obviously the earlier and both are equally convincing in performance. However, what we know of Bach’s practice of recycling his favourite works does perhaps point to his having arranged a preexisting work for Mannheim rather than the other way round. It is probably fairly safe therefore to assume that the work we have here dates from the early 1770s.

The Allegro is very similar in form to the first movements in the preceding works. The cadenza played here is found in both surviving manuscripts and shows just how wide of the mark are some of late twentieth century attempts at supplying, cadenzas to two hundred year old works. The two solo violins are silent in the Largo ma non tanto and but here it is a solo ’cello which takes over. This is one of Bach’s longest slow movements - and one of his most deeply felt. The Minuet which concludes this work is like its counterpart in the first in having neither a Trio nor any repeated sections. However, here the orchestra plays a much less important role. After the orchestral ritornello of 32 bars the two solo violins take centre stage and remain there virtually to the end, shaping and developing the material, while the orchestra merely offers a few bars of punctuation from time to time.

Symphonie Concertante in B flat major (C 46)

with Violin and ’Cello Soli

1. Allegro maestoso
2. Larghetto
3. Allegro

This is one of the best of Johann Christian Bach’s works in the genre, but until recently it was thought to have been lost or at best unavailable for the foreseeable future. The only known manuscript was a set of orchestral parts formerly in the Königliche Hausbibliothek in Berlin. This was either destroyed during the Second World War or may just possibly have been taken away by the Soviet authorities. All we had were the incipits in Charles Sanford Terry’s thematic catalogue and a description in Fritz Tutenberg’s 1928 monograph on the orchestral music. It was quite obvious that Tutenberg had made scores of those works which had existed only in parts in order to write his book and, when Richard Maunder was preparing the two volumes of Symphonies Concertantes for the Collected Works, he made strenuous efforts to Find them but without success. By then Tutenberg had died and no one, including surviving members of his family, knew where his papers were. However, during a visit to the Staatliches Institut für Musikforschung Preusischer Kulturbesitz in Berlin in November 1996, was lucky enough to come across most of his scores, including this concertante. In fact the manuscript was in two different hands. The first movement and the first few bars of the second were quite neatly written and the score had evidently once belonged to Fritz Stein, another noted Johann Christian Bach scholar and one-time director of the Staatliche Hochschule für Musik in Berlin. The complete second movement and the finale were in Tutenberg’s large and untidy handwriting, obviously made at top speed and full of abbreviations. At first glance some of it appeared to be barely legible. In the event, however, it proved not too difficult to produce a performable score.

The style and proportions of the work place it among Johann Christian Bach’s works of the late 1770s. It was therefore probably composed for the annual series of concerts he presented with Carl Friedrich Abel at the Hanover Square Rooms in London. The soloists then would almost certainly have been the violinist Wilhelm Cramer (1746-99) and the cellist James Cervetto (1747 or 49-1837). The allegro maestoso opens with a grand ritornello taking up almost a third of the length of the entire movement. It is full of well-differentiated musical ideas, two of them featuring clarinets, then still uncommon instruments. Since it is a ritornello of a Symphonie concertante movement and not the exposition of a symphonic movement in sonata-form, it begins and ends in the home key. There is, however, a clearly defined second subject area in the dominant key (beginning with the descending figure in thirds and sixths in the strings). The violin is the first soloist to be heard, with a statement of the opening theme. This is then repeated (as in the ritornello) but by the ’cellist. As before the clarinets follow this with two statements of a cheerful little motive in the clarinets, answered here not by the full orchestra as before but by the soloists. The descending figure in the strings (denoting the start of the second subject group) follows, but after that the movement is given over to virtuoso displays by the soloists (with just one reminder of ritornello material) until about two thirds of the way through. Then the full orchestra returns with a selection of ritornello material in the dominant key, carefully omitting the beginning (which we are about to hear again from the soloists) and the end (which Bach is saving up for after the cadenza). The soloists return as they entered, but Bach is much too good a composer merely to repeat himself in this recapitulation. The descending second subject figure, for example, never returns. After the cadenza, which (since it occurs in the manuscript) is presumably is by Bach himself, the movement ends as did the ritornello. Most unusually in an orchestral work of the time, the first violins are silent at the beginning of the Larghetto, leaving the seconds and violas to announce the theme together in thirds. The solo ’cello too is silent but for the whole movement, leaving the solo violin centre stage. In its four solo passages in a major-key movement it weaves a bittersweet cantilena – yet another rebuke to those commentators who (in their ignorance) continue to recycle the old view that Johann Christian was incapable of writing deeply-felt music. The finale has no such ambitions. It is a cheerful rondo in 6/8 time, with the two soloists vying with each other in the virtuosity stakes between the three statements of the rondo theme.

Symphonie Concertante in F major (C 38)

with Oboe and Bassoon Soli

1. Allegro
2. Tempo di Minuetto

The only surviving source of this work is the set of orchestral parts at the British Library in London (R.M. 21, a. 5-7) which contains no fewer than ten of Johann Christian Bach’s Symphonies Concertantes. Although that manuscript contains some of his lost and grandest works in the genre, this is one of the earliest and slightest. It is none the less attractive for that. Stylistically it clearly belongs to the 1760s and it may not be too fanciful to consider the possibility that Bach wrote it in Naples in 1761 for the two artists who played the oboe and bassoon obbligati in the highly popular final aria, “Per darvi alcun pegno”, of his most widely performed opera, Catone in Utica. Bassoon players capable of coping adequately with the high tenor register of the instrument were, after all, not very common in those days. This perhaps explains why, whereas the now unavailable Berlin copy (Königliche Hausbibliothek no. 158) assign the part to the bassoon, the London manuscript gives it to the ’cello.

As usual, Bach has one or two surprises for the unwary listener in the Allegro. For into the ritornello, in fact more than a fifth into the whole movement, there is a half-close and we hear the opening theme again on the oboes, followed by another few bars also from the beginning. Has the first solo section begun? A few moments later it becomes very clear that it has not and that Bach has been teasing us. After the ritornello comes to a proper close, there is more teasing. The bassoon has the first solo, but, instead of playing the opening theme again as convention requires, he strikes up with something quite different. The oboe ploys a variant of this bassoon theme when he enters, but otherwise that is the lost we hear of it. When the soloists return after the central (partial) statement of the ritornello, they have the opening theme. One again Bach has a trick up his sleave: the oboe begins the melody alone and this is taken up by the bassoon in canon two bars later. The cadenza is found in the London manuscript and is therefore from the eighteenth-century, if not by Bach himself. In the minuet the passages for solo instruments ore reserved for the beginning of the second half (both halves are repeated). This is a gentle rather than a showy movement, a quality underlined here (as in the allegro) by the occasional use of divided violas.

Symphonie Concertante in D major (C 35)

with Two Violins Soli

1. Allegro
2. Andante
3. (Tempo di) Minuetto

Another important source of Bach’s Symphonies Concertantes (and of his music in general) is the Accademia Virgiliana in Mantua. Among the genuine works attributed to Bach ore a few which have recently been found to be by other composers and some concertantes which, although unknown from other sources, are probably authentic. This present work is one of these. The first movement is broadly constructed in the now-familiar pattern, but with a greater emphasis on virtuosity than the previous work. This includes a quite lengthy cadenza found in the manuscript. In the andante except for the little motive in the flutes, which seems to pervade the entire movement, references to ritornello material are sparse later in the movement. The cadenza comes from the Mantua manuscript. The minuet and trio (in the tonic minor key) anticipate the form familiar from Haydn and Mozart. The solo instruments feature only in the minore.

Symphonie Concertante in E major (C 44)

with Two Violins, ’Cello and Flute Soli

1. Allegro
2. Larghetto
3. Allegro molto

All the symphonies concertantes on this CD are to found in the main source of Johann Christian Bach’s works in the genre, a manuscript set of parts in the British Library in London (R. M. 21. a. 5-7). This work is also preserved in the music collection of the Thurn and Taxis private collection in Regensburg. Unfortunately, neither manuscript is dated. Nonetheless, its style places it among the mature works of the late 1770s. The ritornello of the opening Allegro, as happens in the majority of Bach’s concertantes, takes up a quarter of its length. This has two features which are well worth listening out for. The first is the sudden hush at the sixth bar after all the bustle of the opening. The passage never appears again, so one wonders why it was there in the first place. One possible explanation could be that his audience was so slow to settle down at the beginning of a noisy work that Bach inserted the sudden quiet passage to embarrass them into silence) The second is the “second subject,” which is not in the conventional dominant major but in the dominant minor. Bach was evidently quite pleased with his originality because he not only brings it back in the original key in the central (if partial) statement of the ritornello but also refers to it in the lengthy solo sections on either side of it. Another original feature is that the ’cello never takes over a melodic idea from the violins. It always either initiates an idea, which they then take up, or goes off on its own. Significantly perhaps, the cadenza (which comes from the London manuscript) is for violins alone.

The Larghetto in E minor is for strings (with the violas occasionally divided) and solo flute only, the only time that instrument is used in the work and an unusual feature in a symphonic concertante (although Johann Christian Bach himself uses other such alien instruments elsewhere in his concertantes). What is also noteworthy is that the plaintive opening theme of the movement is never repeated or even alluded to later. It is also strange that so much of the solo flute’s music is in G major. It is almost as if Bach is placing more reliance on the instrument’s tonal quality than the minor mode to achieve the solemn effect he is clearly striving for. The finale sounds as though it ought to he a rondo, but it actually uses the opening section as a ritornello. Note the “learned” canonic opening, with the top of the orchestra leading and the bottom following a bar later. The first solo section belongs to the violins. As if to compensate, the second, after the central statement of the ritornello, features the ’cello. In the middle of each solo section is a darker passage in the oboes and the minor mode, reflecting the spirit if not the letter of the minor-key passages in the first movement.

Symphonie Concertante in E flat major (C 41)

with Two Clarinets, Bassoon, Two Horns and Flute Soli

1. Allegro assai
2. Larghetto
3. (Tempo di) Minuetto

Bach, like Mozart, was besotted with the sound of the clarinet. Unfortunately, the players at his disposal seem to have had rather limited instruments or techniques or possibly both. In this concertante he compensates for this by giving the more complex music to the other instruments and not allowing the clarinets the lengthy solo passages found in the string concertantes. The two long opening notes of the allegro assai play an important structural role in the ritornello (which comprises more than a quarter of the movement) and consequently the entire movement. The first solo section begins with the clarinets in canon, with the second two bars behind the first. This use of imitation between the two instruments is a prominent feature of their contribution to the whole movement. After 15 bars the first solo section is interrupted by a lengthy orchestral extract from the ritornello. The clarinets take up their solo gain, also in canon (here joined by the bassoon) and in the conventional key of sonata form. It is no surprise when the re-statement of these solo passage after the central ritornello occurs in the tonic key. Bach’s love of orchestral colour is clearly exemplified in the Larghetto: the upper strings are muted and the bass plays pizzicato until the very last bars, the bassoon is much the most important bass instrument, the clarinets hove a mainly sustaining role and a single flute takes centre stage (even to the extent of enjoying the only cadenza in the work). The sturdy minuet offers no solos for the concertante group. Bach’s strategy was clearly to save it up for the second minuet (or Trio), where the two clarinets, two horns and bassoons have the field entirely to themselves.

Symphonie Concertante in A major (C 34)

with Violin and ’Cello Soli

1. Andante di molto
2. Rondeau: Allegro assai

This Symphonie Concertante was published by Jean-Georges Sieber, Bach’s principal Parisian music publisher, in 1775 and slightly later by Johann Andre of Offenbach am Main – one of only three of his works in the genre to be published in his life-time. It must have been popular because it remained in Sieber’s catalogue until the end of the century. Perhaps this is because it appears to have been composed with the French taste in mind. Certainly its highly decorated style contrasts with the bluffer manner of most of his other concertantes. The work is also present in the British Library manuscript I have already mentioned. However, Sieber’s publication offers a rather more demanding version of the ’cello part in the first movement and that is the version we have recorded here. The Andante di molto begins in typical fashion with a huge ritornello for the full orchestra running to over a quarter of the whole movement. We never hear it again in anything like its complete form. There are much shortened re-statements: just after the mid-point of the movement and after the cadenza at the end. Otherwise a few bars are used every now and then to provide musical punctuation between the solo sections, which ore lengthy and highly virtuosic.

The cadenza recorded here is by Sebastian Comberti, which acknowledgements to JCB.

The second movement is in the style of a Gavotte and somewhat unconventional in form for a Rondeau, as there is only one real episode I This latter is in the minor, with the violin and cello obbligati imitating each other over a drone bass for much of the time, almost like a musette. The music before and after this episode is identical. And there is even more symmetry with the main 12-bar Rondeau theme beginning and ending the section.

Symphonie Concertante in C major (C 36b)

with Two Violins and ’Cello Soli

1. Andante
2. Allegro

This work forms part of the most important collection of Johann Christian Bach’s symphonies concertantes to have survived, the set of orchestral parts in the British Library in London, call number R.M. 21 a. 7. (4.). However, recent research has revealed that it is not a totally original work but a radical reworking of on earlier three-movement symphonie concertante (C 36a), once thought to have been irretrievably lost. The differences between the two works give a fascinating insight into the composer’s mind. Not only is the second movement of C 36a eliminated in the revision, but both of the original outer movements are shortened and to some extent re-composed. Flutes are added to the original orchestration. And, equally significantly, literally hundreds of the original grace notes are removed. Evidently JCB had grown impatient with the elaborateness of his first thoughts and was looking for a simpler means of expression. Unfortunately, since neither work survives in the composer’s autograph and the extant manuscripts are undated, we have no precise date for the composition of either version. My guess would be that C 36a was written by the mid-1760s and the revised version recorded here was made by the end of the some decade.

The long and leisurely first movement clearly roots the work in the French tradition of concertantes. There are none of the bold gestures of Italian music. The opening ritornello, occupying the first quarter of the movement, provides almost all the musical ideas which are exploited later. The first violin is the first soloist to appear, playing a variant of the opening bars of the ritornello. Eight bars later the second violin follows suit and diverts the music to the dominant key. After a brief pause, momentum is renewed with alternating phrases from the oboes and flutes. It is only under the second flute phrase that the solo cello makes its modest first appearance, 77 bars from the beginning of the movement and well over a third of the way through is course. However, this reticence seems to have been one of Bach’s compositional tricks, as the cello’s first solo is much more virtuosic than the solos given to the violins. But not to be outdone, the violins are soon showing how skilled they are in fast passagework. Finally, a few seconds before the midpoint of the movement, Bach brings all three soloists together for the first time. The central ritornello (actually the last few bars of the original) follows, modulating to the relative minor. Then the two violins enter in the same order as they did at first, but by now their treatment of the opening theme is much further away from the original. When the cello makes its return it is with quite new material, of least for a few bars. The full orchestra then restates the first third of the ritornello. The solo violins return to compete against each other and subsequently the cello joins them for the longest passage in the entire movement when all three soloists play together. Once again the orchestra intervenes with a few bars taken from the latter part of the ritornello. From this the solo cello emerges with a solo cadenza (composed here by Sebastian Comberti), perhaps to compensate for his hitherto subordinate role. When the concluding trill of this cadenza is resolved, we are subjected to the biggest surprise of the entire work: instead of ending the movement with the conventional orchestral coda, Bach plunges us straight into the second movement.

However there are more surprises to come in the allegro itself. The first part is miniature rondo, but the solos in the episodes are given not to the string soloists but to the orchestral oboes, flutes and horns. Only when the second part (in C minor) arrives do the three string soloists put in an appearance, while the entire orchestra takes a rest. This trio section is quite the most radically re-composed and abbreviated part of the original work. The movement is rounded off by a literal repeat of the jolly first part.

Symphonie Concertante in E flat major (C 37)

with Flute, Oboe and Bassoon Soli

1. Andante
2. Allegro

The set of orchestral parts in the British Library referred to above also includes this work. There is also another source in the Royal Library in Brussels, a score written on British paper, which was once owned by the great Belgian scholar and collector, François-Joseph Fétis (1784-1871). In that source it is attributed to Joseph Haydn and consequently listed among the spurious works in Hoboken’s Haydn catalogue as I:Es14. Again neither source is dated, so my dating of its composition as the mid-1760s is merely conjecture.

The externals of this piece are remarkably similar to the previous work: an easy-going andante, followed by a cheerful allegro. However, the language is less ornate and the textures less complex. The ritornello in the Andante is also much less important structurally and generally used only in fragments. In fact the opening four bars are never heard again. The three soloists dominate, either singly, in their two pairings and all together. The cadenza for all three instruments this time) is closely modelled on an eighteenth-century example in the Niedersächsisches Staatsarchiv in Wolfenbüttel, composed for an aria from JCB’s La clemenza di Scipione. In the allegro the first part is repeated after the second as in the previous work. Here a flute solo separates two statements of the main section. The second part begins and ends with the orchestral strings (in C minor), while the middle section is largely given over to the wind instruments (with the conspicuous absence of the flute), playing in the home key of E flat major.

Symphonie Concertante in G major (C Inc 5)

with Two Violins, ’Cello and Flute Soli

1. Allegro spiritoso
2. Andante
3. Allegro

The only source for this work is in another box of parts at the Accademia Virgiliana in Mantua. The bass part describes it as Sinfonia Del Sigre Gio: Christofforo Bach. This has led some scholars to consider the possibility that it might be a work by JCB’s elder brother, Johann Christoph Friedrich (1732-1795), but there is now a consensus that this is extremely unlikely. Five works in the Mantua library are similarly ascribed. Two are undoubtedly authentic works by JCB. Features of the remaining three, including this present work, have necessitated my placing them among the works of uncertain authenticity in my Thematic Catalogue of JCB’s works (New York: Garland Publishing Inc, 1999).

Most of these doubts concern the lack of formal clarity in the first two movements and the distribution of the solo parts throughout. Even from his earliest days JCB displayed a very orderly composing mind, which seems to be somewhat lacking here. But, whether he wrote the piece or not, there is much to enjoy, not least the G minor Andante.

Symphonie Concertante in C major (C 36a)

with Two Violins and ’Cello Soli

1. Andante
2. Larghetto
3. Allegro

Until 1996 this work was thought to have been lost. The one known set of parts, Berlin Hausbibliothek, no. 149, was presumed plundered or destroyed at the end of World War II However, by one of those pieces of luck which researchers hope to have from time to time, I found a score mode from these parts in the 1920s for Fritz Tutenberg when he was preparing his book, Die Sinfonik Johann Christian Bachs (Wolfenbüttel & Berlin: Kallmayer, 1928). The first movement is in the professional hand of Fritz Stein (1879-1961), at the time on the staff of the University of Kiel and later to become Director of the Berlin Hochschule für Musik under the Nazis. The remaining movements are in Tutenberg’s much less expert handwriting, obviously hurried and at times barely legible. However, both parts of the score are clear enough for the work to be rescued from oblivion.

The incipits in Charles Sanford Terry’s thematic catalogue of 1929 suggested that the present work was probably just the C major concertante (C 36b), with a Larghetto placed between the two known movements. However, the situation is far more complex and interesting than that. The outer movements of the present concertante are indeed closely linked to those of C 36b, but here both are longer and more elaborate (if lacking the flutes of C 36b). The more compact versions found in C 36b are clearly the work of a more mature artist and therefore later revisions. In the absence of a dated autograph, we can only guess at the date of composition of both of these works, but my guess is that this present work dates from the mid 1760s and its revision from the end of the some decade. I am supported in this view by the origins of the second movement of the present work. This is a reworking of Larghetto of the Violin Concerto (C 76), which almost certainly dates from Bach’s time in Italy (1755-1762).

The long and leisurely first movement clearly roots the work in the French tradition of concertantes. There are none of the bold gestures of Italian music. The opening ritornello, occupying the first quarter of the movement, provides almost all the musical ideas which are exploited later. The first violin is the first soloist to appear, playing a variant of the opening bars of the ritornello. Eight bars later the second violin follows suit and diverts the music to the dominant key. The cello emerges for its first solo under a passage for duetting oboes well over a third of the way through the movement. However, this delay seems to have been one of Bach’s compositional tricks, as the cello’s first solo is much more virtuosic than the solos given to the violins. But not to be outdone, the violins are soon showing how skilled they are in fast passagework. The central ritornello (based on the lost few bars of the original) follows, modulating to the relative minor. Then the two violins enter in the same order as they did at first, but by now their treatment of the opening theme is much further away from the original. When the cello seems as though it is beginning its next solo, it is immediately joined in imitation by the two violins. Indeed the cello plays a remarkably subordinate role among the soloists until near the end of the movement, where it has a cadenza all to itself.

In the Larghetto the only soloist is the first violin and the orchestral oboes of the outer movements ore replaced by flutes. The key is C minor and even before the orchestral ritornello has run its course, we hear some interesting harmonies. Although the solo violin clearly dominates the movement, the flutes (the first solo instruments we hear) are also important, providing contrast and punctuation as needed.

The oboes and horns fulfil a similar role in the outer sections of the allegro. In fact the three “official” soloists play only with the orchestral tutti until the central Trio, where we are once again in C minor. Here the three soloists have the stage to entirely themselves. Note the use to which Bach puts the descending figure at the beginning. Perhaps there really was a gene for counterpoint in the Bach family! After these 136 bars (counting the repeats) with the soloists, orchestra returns with an exact repeat of the opening section to round off the movement.

Symphonie Concertante in D major (C 39)

with Two Flutes, Two Violins and ’Cello Soli

1. Allegro assai
2. Tempo di Minuetto

This is the only stand-alone orchestral work to survive in Bach’s own handwriting. The manuscript is preserved in the Thurn and Taxis archives in Regensburg, but how and when it reached there we do not know. There are five other sources, in Göttweig, Mantua, Prague and London, but none of the manuscripts is dated. The style however suggests that it was probably composed in the late 1760s. The two movement form shows the influence of France, but the style and content of the opening Allegro assai is clearly Italian. There are five designated soloists, but Bach uses them mostly in two groups: as a pair of flutes and a trio of strings. The only time they play together (except in the tuttis) is when the two flutes act as a background accompaniment to the strings. Elsewhere the two groups alternate, almost always playing different material. The material for the flutes is less virtuosic than that for the strings, which perhaps explains why they have the cadenza (Bach’s own) at the end of the movement.

The first part of the minuet dispenses with solo passages. These appear during the second part: for flutes, then strings, next a ritornello fragment for full orchestra, then flutes again, followed by strings and a ritornello-based coda. Once again the two groups of soloists plough their independent musical furrows.

This delightful little work is one of Bach’s happiest creations. It makes you wonder why he never had it printed.

Symphonie Concertante in E flat major (C 40)

with Two Oboes, Two Horns, Two Violins, Two Violas and ’Cello soli

1. Andante
2. Minuetto

This work is also to be found the in Thurn and Taxis collection, but not unfortunately in Bach’s autograph. There is another set of parts in the British Library and a score in the National Library in Vienna, but the set of parts which once belonged to the Accademia Virgiliana in Mantua now appears to be lost. All three surviving sources are undated and give the work a different title. In London it is merely called Concerto, in Vienna Concertino à più stromenti; o sia Notturno and in Regensburg Concertina Notturno. Of these, the Viennese description (a small concerto or nocturne for many instruments) comes closest to describing its character. Its elaborate scoring for nine solo instruments is in line with such other as Mozart’s Serenata notturna (K 239) and Notturno (K 286/269a) and Haydn’s Notturni for the King of Naples (H II:25*-32*), either in their original versions or in the revisions for London.

If you think you have heard the opening of the Andante somewhere before, you may know the later of Bach’s two oboe concertos (C 81). However, the resemblance does not last long. As with the previous concertante, the soloists are basically used in groups (oboes, horns, violins, violas). Only the cello is used much on its own. However, here we have some shoring of material between the groups. The long central ritornello at the mid-point of the movement is followed by seven solo entries when the movement’s opening motive is passed from cello to violins two and one and then from violas two and one to flutes two and one. Although the some motive is playable by the horns, Bach perhaps wisely – resists the temptation of over-using the material. The cadenza this time is left to the two violins.

The minuet may also be familiar, if you know the third of the Wind Symphonies attributed to Bach (B Inc 9). These six works, which include arrangements of music by Boccherini, Gluck and Gossec, were probably cobbled together by a hock in Johann Julius Hummel’s publishing, office in Amsterdam. However, there is no doubt about the authorship of this movement, at least in its original form as played on this CD. In fact there are three minuets: the first for full orchestra, the second (in C minor) for oboes and lower strings and the third for horns and upper strings. The solo cello takes part in both the second and the third minuet, after both of which the first minuet is repeated.

Ernest Warburton

Sinfonia concertante in B flat major (C 48)

with Oboe, Violin, ’Cello and Fortepiano Soli

1. Allegro
2. Adagio sostenuto
3. Rondo: Allegretto

Sinfonia concertante in C major (C 43)

with Flute, Oboe, Violin and ’Cello Soli

1. Allegro
2. Larghetto
3. Allegretto

Opinions about the artistic ranking of the youngest Bach son Johann Christian, also known as the “Milan” or the “London” Bach, have always been extremely polarized. “There is nothing behind my brother’s present manner of composing”, Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach declared in early summer of the year 1768 with great frankness to the poet Matthias Claudius, probably not without a grain of fraternal rivalry. When Claudius objected that nevertheless the music of the London Bach was most pleasing to the ear, the newly-installed Hamburg music director retorted gruffly: It pleases and fills the ear, but the heart remains empty. A very different opinion was expressed by Leopold Mozart in a letter to Wolfgang Amadeus from the year 1778; to render the composition of light and pleasant chamber works more palatable to his son he pointed out that even “Bach in London” had never published anything but “such trifles”. “What is slight becomes great when it is written with a natural flow and in a light hand while at the same time being worked out thoroughly. To do this is more difficult than all the artful harmonic progressions incomprehensible to most and all the melodies that are almost too hard to perform. Did Bach lower himself by writing such music? Not at all!”

These two remarks present in a nutshell the fundamental differences between the rationalism prevalent in northern Germany and the generally more sensuous attitude of the south and Italy – differences that in the 1760s and 1770s were still deemed irreconcilable and that only the Viennese Classical period of the 1780s and 1790s knew how to reconcile. The works assembled on this CD represent important milestones along the way towards this synthesis. When after turbulent years in Italy Johann Christian Bach settled in London in 1762, he attempted to consolidate his reputation first with opera productions at the King’s Theatre and a few years later by launching, jointly with his compatriot Carl Friedrich Abel, a series of subscription concerts. For the latter he wrote a great number of imposing orchestral works, among them the two large-scale concerted symphonies presented here. Neither composition was published at the time, and they are preserved today in the form of sets of parts kept in the Royal Music Collection at the British Library.

The Sinfonia concertante in B flat major (C 48) is one of the latest and most mature of Johann Christian Bach’s orchestral works. It was written around 1780, at a time when Bach’s reputation in the London music world was already waning rapidly and his financial troubles and private worries were threatening to become insurmountable. His music reveals nothing of this oppressive situation, however – on the contrary: With its festive splendour it radiates such o confident and refreshing vivacity, offering such an abundant wealth of melodic ideas, that one inevitably thinks that with this music Bach wanted to present a deliberate antithesis to his personal situation.

The large-scale tripartite structure of the work is symphonic throughout; the light, “divertimento” tone typical of this genre has yielded entirely to on orchestral sound full of solemn splendour yet at the some time nimble and versatile, which provides the perfect vehicle for Bach’s mature style. The first movement is characterized by on extended orchestral exposition, which introduces the finely attuned thematic material. This is then taken up and developed by the four solo instruments in multiple ways, Bach being especially apt at making use of the various possible combinations of the instrumental idioms and orchestral colours. Thus first the oboe appears, initially on its own, then accompanied by the orchestra and eventually supported by the keyboard; next the two string instruments are introduced, before the keyboard sets out on an extended solo passage. In the course of the piece the quartet of soloists is treated by Bach like on independent ensemble, against which the orchestra retreats into the background. There are long passages where the listener gains the impression that he is attending a chamber concert transferred to the concert podium, where the intelligent and colourful interaction of the musical partners is more important than mere virtuosic brilliance.

A similar situation prevails in the elegiac Adagio sostenuto. This movement presents a number of different “soundscapes”: Apart from the full tutti there are the oboe solo accompanied by strings, the duet of violin and violoncello mostly moving in thirds, and finally the richly ornamented keyboard solo permeated by dialogic interpolations of the other solo instruments. Bach’s masterful achievement lies in establishing a perfect balance between these disparate elements and in thus gathering multiple details into a sublime whole.

The vivacious Rondo functions as a serene continuation of the artistry presented in the first two movements. Here the keyboard is separated more distinctly from the other instruments than before; it has its own solo passages whereas the melody instruments generally appear in duo or trio settings. This separate treatment enabled Bach to employ the keyboard both as a tutti-replacement and in several passages to entrust it with the theme of the essentially orchestral Rondo.

The Sinfonia concertante in C major (C 43) according to research done by Ernest Warburton was probably written around 1774/75. This beautiful work too was composed at a time of great financial hardship: The business partners Bach and Abel had acquired property at London’s Hanover Square, constructing a new concert hall in its garden where they would from now on host their concerts. There were a great number of rival ventures, however, so that despite their outstanding musical quality the Bach-Abel concerts turned out to be not much of a success. But again, these dismal worries have in no way affected the music. The piece is obviously tailored exactly to the preferences of the London audience. Sonorous melodies and brilliant passages of the four soloists are most prominent. In the middle movement the high tutti wind instruments pause, and the strings are given a uniquely dark timbre merely by the two bassoons playing along colla parte, harmonizing attractively with the idiom of the high solo instruments. The work closes with a jolly movement in 6/8 metre reminiscent of a hunting scene. The soloists here appear either jointly, quasi as an alternative tutti block, or they present themselves with soloistic passage work.

Peter Wollny

CADENZA IN C (attributed to Symphonie Concertante in G, C 45) for Oboe, Violin, Viola and Cello

Bach scholars have long associated the Cadenza with the “lost” Symphonic Concertante in G, C 45, first performed in 1776, and possibly the most frequently performed of Bach’s works in this genre.

The cadenza survives via Shield’s “Introduction to Harmony”, in which it is printed on pages 116-117.

William Shield was the principal viola at the King’s Theatre in the 1770s and, being named by Dr. Burney in Rees’s Cyclopaedia as a soloist at the Bach/ Abel concerts, probably played in many performances of C 45.

Shield states “This ingenious Cadence is engraved from the original M.S. which I had the good fortune to purchase with the celebrated Concertante to which it is so proper an appendage” and he later continues: “a more excellent model for an instrumental Cadence in four parts perhaps cannot be exhibited”.

He omits to name the composer, however, but its scoring for this instrumental combination, its key of C, and its two tempo indications (of Adagio for the first five bars, and Andante for the rest of the piece) point to its belonging to the 2nd movement (Larghetto) of the Symphonic Concertante in G.

The oboist J.C. Fischer has been suggested as its composer, but my strong conviction is that it is by J.C.Bach.

Anthony Halstead

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