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Bach Brandenburg Concerto No. 2
Movement I
I am not sure how many of my colleagues also experience this, but where I teach there are no
prerequisites required for admission to any of the music programmes. As a result, I find myself having
to spend a significant part of my teaching time catching up on theoretical knowledge before I can get
started on the content of the course itself.
Therefore, before attempting these analyses, it is perhaps advisable to share some of the boundaries I
set for my students. These are some clarifications they have found useful.
Ritornello: Returning or recurring section played by the orchestra
Ripieno: Returning or recurring section played by the orchestra. Ripieno is Italian for stuffing
Concertino: Section played by the solo group, in the case of the Brandenburg Concerto No. 2
consisting of a trumpet, a flute (in the Bach Gesellschaft edition a recorder or Flte bec
is specified), an oboe and a violin.
Western art music: It is useful to remember, as far as possible, a nuts-and-bolts definition of Western
music, because this dovetails neatly with these analyses, as we shall soon see. There are many
definitions of Western music of course, and they range from the ridiculous (such as Edgar Varses
Music is organised sound) to the extremely elegant. Among the best of these must rank Irving Godts,
which reads as follows:
Unwanted sound is noise. Music is humanly organised sound, organised with intent into a
recognisable aesthetic entity as a musical communication directed from a maker to a known or
unforeseen listener, publicly through the medium of a performer, or privately by a performer as
listener. As far as [is known], ethnologists have never found a human society that does not make
music. (Irving Godt. Music: A practical definition. The Musical Times, Vol. 146, No. 1890 (Spring, 2005),
pp. 83-88).

In my classes I use a definition that reads Music is a series of closes or cadences supporting a pleasing melody.
Close: A harmonic progression such as V-I (Perfect), I-V (Imperfect), IV-I (Plagal) or V-vi
Cadence: A harmonic progression such as IV (or ii)-V-I (Perfect), IV (or ii)-I-V (Imperfect), vii6-IV-I
(Plagal) or IV (or ii)-V-vi (Interrupted)
The difference between a close and a cadence is that in the former, there are only two triads.
According to Rameaus Treatise on Harmony of 1722, however, there are three harmonic functions:
Tonic, Sub-dominant and Dominant. If all three are not present in a progression, then that progression
cannot be called a cadence, because all the notes in the scale have not been heard. It is then a close.
Other theorists further explored this notion, including Hugo Riemann in the nineteenth century and
subsequently other theorists. I agree. In this respect I have encountered much opposition from
colleagues, along the lines of theyre not required to know that at this level, an approach to teaching
and learning of which I am deeply suspicious. Wagners purported revolution in harmony towards the
end of the nineteenth century rests entirely on the notion of achieving chromatic colour by
introducing secondary dominants to his harmonic palette. This results in daisy chains of Dominant-
Tonic progressions outside of the tonal centre of the piece in question, with not a sub-dominant
function in sight (see the illustration below).
I do not embrace the emphasis on this notion of what constitutes Western art music is the sake of
filling up time in class. When one applies this brief definition to the Fischer analysis of the Bach, one
notices the following:
The first ritornello (or ripieno, depending on ones choice of terminology) does indeed stretch from
the anacrusis to bar 1 to bar 9. Of interest, though, is what happens thematically and harmonically in
this first statement. The material in the Vordersatz is based in its entirety on the tonic triad in F. In the
Fortspinnung the harmony vacillates in its entirety between dominant and tonic. Bach has not yet fully
established the tonic centre of F major. It is only in the Epilogue, on the second half of the first beat in
bar 9, where the sub-dominant function is fleetingly and subliminally introduced by way of the chord
ii6, completing the final perfect cadence in F and thus establishing the tonal centre.
As far as the thematic material is concerned, all the material can be referred back to the motifs in the
Vordersatz. For a start, the Vordersatz consist of a repetition of the first motif. Likewise, both the dux
and the comes of the Fortspinnung are repetitions, and the scalar material is derived from the short
run-up from tonic to mediant in the first motif of the Vordersatz. In the Epilogue, the first motif of the
Vordersatz is inverted and Bach develops the simple repetition that had gone before to sequence. In
short, already in evidence is the binding element that is the hallmark of all classical compositions that
have stood the test of time. In this respect one can also quote the first motif of Beethovens Symphony
No. 5, which not only binds and consolidates the first movement, but the entire symphony.
In broad terms, however, the ripieno-concertino interaction in the first movement may be summarised
as below. I abbreviate bars as B ripieno as R and concertino as C
B1-9 B10-11 B12-13 B14-15 B16-18
R1 C1 R2 C2 R3
B19-20 B21-22 B23-24 B25-30 B30-31
C3 R4 C4 R5 C5
What follows bar 31 can best be described as a development, and the alteration between ripieno and
concertino continues as above. That it is a development is underscored not only the treatment of the
thematic material, but also the movement from one tonal centre to another, every time established by
a perfect cadence, not close. See for example bars 35-36, where Bach modulates to the relative minor.
In short, the movement falls neatly into an ABA form, with a short recapitulation-coda starting at bar

Movement II
This movement reflects the influence Vivaldi had on Bach. Besides the contrast Bach creates by having
only the concertino playing the second movement, this smaller ensemble is strongly reminiscent of the
scoring Vivaldi uses in his Chamber Concerti. In the latter the composer also uses the basso continuo in
conjunction with one or more of the concertino almost as ritornello, with another instrument
functioning as concertino.
There are four motifs in this movement, three of which are strongly interrelated (see motifs a, c and d
below). The fourth (b below) functions almost as a counter-subject, in that it not only appears
consequently against any of the three main motifs, but also features prominently in the episodes
where none of the permutations of the main motif appears. The poignancy of this movement lies in
the fact that the rising or falling two-note slur is the universal semiotic musical symbol for a sigh or a
Significantly, Bach does not conceal cadences in this piece, as is generally the custom in the Baroque.
Strong cadences, complete with all three harmonic functions, appear in bars 14-15, 22-23, 32-33, 42-
43 and 62-65. This last cadence is an extended one, featuring, unusually, the quartad on vii in a sub-
dominant function (the chord has three notes in common with the triad on ii, which normally has sub-
dominant function), resolving onto a German sixth (in an unusual inversion), resolving in turn onto
the cadential six-four, dominant and finally a Tierce de Picardy. The strong cadence points also serve
to divide the movement neatly into sections.
Of special interest in this movement is how Bach sets about developing thematic materialbearing in
mind that thematic development in this piece is very subtleand how he uses this as a means of
establishing coherence between the first two movements.
Almost all the development is carried out between bars 5 and 15, and all material that follows is based
on what happens in these opening bars. For example, the two-semiquaver-quaver group in the middle
of motif (a) (bar 4) is inverted in motif (c) (bar 8). Note, however, how in bar 25 the same figure is
spun out by sequence, and reflects the movement of the theme in bars 5 and 6 of Movement I.
As far as the general construction of the movement is concerned, I contend that it fits fairly neatly into
a binary form. The first section can be said to end in bar 46, with an extended perfect cadence that
starts in bar 43 that only resolves on the tonic in bar 46. The entire second section of the piece is built
by using the sighing motif that serves as counter-subject to the opening theme (and I use the term
counter-subject advisedly, because it recurs.
In parenthesis, I observe that the notion of the sighing motif is not far fetched. It ties in with the work
of Johann Mattheson (1681 1764), the first Bach biographer, who posited that the composers work
is strongly linked to the rhetorical devices of the classical Greek orator.
The movement is brought to a close with the entry of the main theme in bar 57. I also note that
changes in the theme at cadence points do not qualify as development, but as necessary tonal changes
that are implemented correctly to shape the cadences.
Movement III
If one is at all familiar with the opening Kyrie eleison from the great Mass in b minor of 1749, then this
movement should come as no surprise. In fact, knowing that Bach only completed the Mass in 1749,
but that much of it was probably written before then, then it is not unreasonable to suppose that the
Kyrie may have been written even as early as 1721, when the Brandenburg Concerti were dedicated to
Christian Ludwig, Margrave of Brandenburg-Schwedt, and that this would be the reason why there
are significant points of contact between the two movements.
The movement is indeed structured as a complex fugue for concertino and ripieno. The openening
theme in the trumpet is answered a perfect fifth higher and it is a real rather than a tonal answer.
Moreover, this theme bears a marked resemblance to the main motif of the first movement, as well as
its counter-theme. There is the same two-semiquaver-quaver movement and the scalar passages,
which again underscores the importance of binding elements that need to exist between movements
of a work if there is going to be a sense of coherence.
Significantly, there is no sign of the ripieno until bar 47, and the appearance of the orchestra is here
limited to only ten bars. The ripieno is then silent again until bar 72, where it concertises with the
soloists for another 14 bars. There are other entries of the ripieno in bars 97 107 and bars 119
139. This is the final entry of the ripieno. In a certain sense it seems that Bach in this movement almost
revereses the roles of ripieno and concertino. This is further suggested by the fact that the theme is
introduced in the ripieno only in the second appearance of the orchestra. In all its other appearances
the ripieno carries only counter-subject material.
True to form cadences are obscured in this fugal movement. For example, perfect closes appear in
bars 21 22, again in 27 28 and 29 30, to name just the first few. The Exposition of this fuguein
other words, the point where all four the main voices, in this case the members of the concertino, have
been heardends in bar 41, which marks, significantly, the first perfect cadence (rather than a perfect
close) in C major.
The remainder of the movement is devoted to the development of the material found in subject and
counter-subject. Bach uses fragmentation, inversion, stretto, ornamentation, sequence and
repetition in short, nearly all developmental devices with the exclusion of augmentation and