Keyboard Concerto No.5

Johann Sebastian Bach

Keyboard Concerto No.5 in F minor


Recommended recording

Curated by Maryna Boiko, Primephonic Curator

About this work

Like Johann Sebastian Bach's better known Concerto in D minor, this work is thought to be a transcription of a lost concerto. While some scholars have attributed the violin composition to Vivaldi or to a minor German composer, the counterpoint and structure of the clavier seem indicative of Bach's idiom. Written during Bach's Cöthen period, the concerto is in three movements; all three are in ritornello form, in which each movement is based upon a single theme restated in various orchestrations at the opening, the closing, and after each exploratory section.

The first movement, an Allegro, has hints of the form that would later be described as a sonata-rondo. It begins with a tutti exposition of a 14-bar ritornello, characterized by a firmly stated bass figure and a recurring sixteenth note triplet in the upper voice. Even in the solo episodes, the bass figure from the ritornello is frequently restated. Once the ritornello is introduced, the soloist elaborates on the triplet figure with light accompaniment. After the tutti restates the ritornello in A flat, the soloist embarks upon a sonata-like development, firmly rooted in the tonic, to build up momentum. Midway through this section, the tutti briefly suggests the ritornello, then gives way to the soloist for a full 24 bars of triplet figures. In the equivalent of a sonata's recapitulation, the ritornello and the soloist's triplets are restated, finally concluding in a compressed eight-bar ritornello. The main sense of contrast in the first movement is conveyed not by variation of keys or of a primary and secondary theme, but by the distinction between the soloist's triplets and the orchestra's sturdy ritornello.

The slow movement, in the relative major of A flat, begins with a lengthy and elaborate 21-bar arabesque, lightly accompanied by a sparse bass figure of eighth notes. The frequent and extensive ornamentation in the melody make this movement somewhat rococo in character. The F minor finale is a vigorous, flowing movement in triple time that gives it an air of constant motion. The ritornello is 24 bars in length and can be divided into two distinct parts. In the first section, a scalar passage of sixteenth notes is traded between the upper and lower voices against a more triadic accompaniment of eighth notes. The second section consists of a series of contrary and parallel scale passages, leading to a firmly declared cadence. The soloist next develops the ritornello, without introducing any substantially new material. After the ritornello is restated in A flat, there is an episode based on a figure of descending trills. Included in this passage is a curious passage in which crashing chords -- alternating between the tutti and the soloist -- build up tension which is finally released in a decisive C major cadence. The soloist recapitulates the first main solo in C, but there is no definitive restatement of the ritornello as a whole until the final recapitulation at the close of the concerto.