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Brandenburg Concerto 3
and the viola

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The Brandenburg Concerto 3 is another of my favourite ones as a player, together with the Brandenburg Concerto 6 (I love all Brandenburg Concertos anyway, because Bach always gives interesting parts to all instruments, including violas).

Instruments used in the
Brandenburg Concerto 3

As with all Brandenburg Concertos, the group of instruments is always different. In the Brandenburg Concerto 3 the orchestra is composed of three violins, three violas, three cellos and continuo (violone and harpsichord). Each instrument has the same importance, plays a separate part, except for the three cellos and continuo in the last movement. First violin and first viola show off some embellished passages in the third movement.

The movements

The Brandenburg Concerto 3 is in three movements, [Allegro] (although not specified), Adagio, Allegro (click on the picture to listen to different samples or watch the videos of the whole work).

At the opening of the first movement all the instruments start together playing in unison a strong rhythmic musical idea, very joyful. Then there is an episode where the first violin starts a phrase which is then taken, going down, by all other instruments in turn: 2nd and 3rd violin, 1st, 2nd and 3rd viola, 1st, 2nd and 3rd cellos and bass. The music becomes darker and darker and my feeling is that this writing gives a sense of tremendous inevitability, very powerful, I don’t know what others feel...

The second movement has puzzled a lot of people among performers, conductors and scholars. It’s because Bach wrote only one bar with only two chords and the Adagio indication. So, what did he mean? Should the performers play the chords as they are? Should there be some improvisation by some of the players? In this case, who should play it? The first violin? The harpsichord? Or why not the first viola (which Bach himself might have played)? And should it be played before the chords or between them or both? Someone even suggested there might have been another movement that got lost...

Anyway, today the two chords are rarely played as they are,most of times it is the first violin that plays/improvises a cadenza. These chords, however played, leave a feeling of suspension that leads to the final movement.

In Brandenburg Concerto 3 the orchestra is composed of three violins, three violas, three cellos and continuo

The third movement is in two parts, with repeats. The instruments proceed mostly in blocks, with 1st, 2nd, 3rd violin one after the other in canon presenting the first idea in a fast tempo, followed by the three violas together and then by the three cellos and continuo, all of them playing the same idea.

Then we have violins alternating with the block of bassesand then with violas, followed by the violas alternating with the block of basses. The violins soon introduce a new element, again 1st, 2nd, 3rd violin one after the other followed by the violas, with basses accompanying with repeated notes.

Throughout the movement all instruments go on playing theoriginal theme, sometimes one after the other, other times alternating each other and other times as blocks of instruments, this way creating different sonorities, lighter and thicker.

From this short description of this movement of the Brandenburg Concerto 3 it might seem always the same thing, but Bach’s genius, his imagination and ability in going through several keys and variations make this seemingly simple writing become an endless masterwork, full of energy that stands the test of time. You got an idea of the third Brandenburg Concerto for three violins, three violas, three cellos and continuo by listening to it here, now you can download the free MIDI file and also download free score and parts if you want to perform it.

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