Johann Sebastian Bach

Brandenburg Concerto No. 2 in F Major, BWV 1047

            One of the signal achievements of the music of the Baroque era was inauguration of the concerto.  The fundamental principle of the genre is the contrasting of a soloist, a group of soloists, or even two or more groups of musicians with each other during the course of a composition.  Almost every significant composer of the time composed them, but none reached the zenith of achievement in the genre as did J. S. Bach in his six Brandenburg Concertos late in the style period.

Brandenburg Concertos [all]

        In the history of the arts, as in all fields of human endeavor, there often come times in which momentous changes occur in a relatively short period. And that is certainly the case in the years surrounding the end of the 1500s, for this period saw the beginning of most of what is familiar to today’s concert audiences. Before about 1600 (give or take a few decades) there were no symphonies, no symphony orchestras, no operas, no cantatas, no sonatas, no string quartets, and no concertos. Whew! That’s a lot, and of course, the advent of these genres—or their ancestors--kicked off what we call the baroque era in music.

Orchestra Suite No. 3, BWV 1068

        There are two great collections of instrumental ensemble music by Bach, one being the Brandenburg Concertos, and the other being the four orchestra suites, or as Bach called them, “ouvertures.” The latter were not composed as a set of four, but stem from various years, and perhaps various places of origin. Bach referred to them as “ouvertures” because the first movement of each originated in the grand overtures to French operas. It was a common Baroque genre, which consists of a stately, slow initial section, often featuring high trumpets and dotted rhythms, followed by a faster section, often in fugal style.

Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, BVW 565

        The marvelous resources of the nineteenth-century symphony orchestra serve the broadest musical imaginative purposes with amazing facility. Although the twentieth century added a broad array of percussion instruments, the fundamental sound resources of the orchestra were in place by around 1850. During the 1800s the instrumental colors available in the orchestra grew tremendously as a result of the influence of the opera orchestra. Composers of opera were studiously incorporating new instruments into their works to heighten the dramatic atmosphere on the stage. French composers such as Meyerbeer led the way, followed by Wagner and others.