Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 in G Major, BWV 1048
In 1721, Bach was growing weary of his post as Kapellmeister for Prince Leopold in the city of Köthen, where he had worked since 1717. Despite the prestige of the post, Bach felt unfulfilled by the scope of the city’s musical tradition, and so he began seeking patronage elsewhere. He assembled a set of six Concertos for Several Instruments – most likely composed at various points over the preceding decade – recopied them freshly, and sent them to the Margrave Christian-Ludwig of Brandenburg-Schwedt, enclosing an elaborate dedication ingratiating himself to the Prussian noble, excerpted below:
“…I have in accordance with Your Highness’s most gracious orders taken the liberty of rendering my most humble duty to Your Royal Highness with the present Concertos, which I have adapted to several instruments; begging Your Highness most humbly not to judge their imperfection with the rigor of that discriminating and sensitive taste, which everyone knows Him to have for musical works, but rather to take into benign Consideration the profound respect and the most humble obedience which I thus attempt to show Him.”
Bach’s saccharine dedication was not sufficient to procure the Margrave’s patronage; moreover, the music was never even performed (it is possible that the court orchestra at Brandenburg was simply not up to the task). The unused scores were only rediscovered over a century later in the Brandenburg archives, just in time for publication in 1850, on the centenary of Bach’s death, and have since become known as the “Brandenburg Concertos.” Bach, meanwhile, remained at Köthen until 1723, when was appointed cantor at St. Thomas Church in Leipzig, where he spent the rest of his life.
Since the concertos were not composed as a coherent set, each of the six possesses individual characteristics, instrumentations, and particularities. The third concerto, a frequent favorite among the six, is one of two scored without winds. There are no soloists; each of the instruments has moments of prominence, creating a dynamic variety of textures full of counterpoint and interplay. A puzzling feature of the concerto is its second movement. The manuscript contains only two chords, forming a sort of half-hearted cadence. Performers have had to decide how to perform the movement, sometimes inserting a cadenza before the short passage, or else allowing the chords to introduce the whirlwind Allegro on their own.