“At Your Highness’ command, as I noticed that Your Highness took some pleasure in the little talents which Heaven has given me for Music, Your Highness deigned to honour me with the command to send Your Highness some pieces of my Composition:” wrote Bach to the Margrave of Brandenburg in 1721, presenting his six Brandenburg concertos – although still with thirteen years’ life left, the Margrave would never be given the chance to hear them performed.
The manuscript – flawlessly handwritten by Bach, untrusting of his own copyist for such a high-profile client – lay untouched in the Margrave’s library until 1734, when it was sold for far less than the hours of work, by one of the most talented musicians ever to have lived, were worth. The Margrave, as powerful as he was, did not have access to musicians who would perform the concerti – It’s thought that the ruling King of Prussia neglected the arts, so they would not be heard until after their publication in 1850, nearly 120 years later.
Bach’s Brandenburg concertos use a number of different instruments in a larger concerto grosso form – meaning a work with more than one soloist. Bach’s fourth concerto has a concertino (group of soloists) consisting of a solo violin with two Flauti d’echo – not an instrument which was popular even at the time, so most recordings use flutes or recorders. There is also a ripieno (a tutti ensemble) played by strings with continuo (An improvised chordal accompaniment and bassline, to thicken the texture) on cello and harpsichord.