About this work
Of the 16 instrumental concertos by other composers that J.S. Bach transcribed for harpsichord alone during the early 1710s (BWV 972-987), six are originally works of Antonio Vivaldi, and three are from the pen of Duke Johann Ernst of Saxe-Weimar. And if we include the concerto transcriptions for solo organ (BWV 592-597), Vivaldi and the Duke hold an even more persuasive monopoly on Bach's transcription sources: just one of the organ transcription sources is the work of a composer other than Vivaldi or Ernst, and the authenticity of that one has been doubted. So when we learn that the Concerto for keyboard No. 3 in D minor, BWV 974, is based on an oboe concerto composed by Alessandro Marcello, it seems most curious -- Marcello was not the skilled, stylish, and innovative composer Vivaldi was, nor was he the nephew of Bach's employer, as was young Duke Johann Ernst. And the fact of the matter is that, though Marcello had a certain influence in Italian music circles, he was not really a particularly fine composer (he was as much mathematician as musician), and, unlike Vivaldi, cannot be said to have exerted any real influence on Bach. One is therefore tempted to speculate that Bach chose to transcribe the Marcello oboe concerto perhaps even just to test his own skill -- with an inferior source, his adaptive acumen would have to be all the sharper. And as he was not at all averse to altering Vivaldi's music when making the transcriptions, imagine how much more willing he would be to edit, refine, and rewrite the music of a really second-rate composer!
The Marcello-Bach concerto is in the usual three movements of an Italian instrumental concerto. Here they are: 1. unmarked (Allegro assumed), 2. Adagio, 3. Presto. The shell of the first movement is very clearly Marcello's work; but Bach is quick to thicken the lean, open textures of the original -- at the center of the movement things grow very dense indeed, with imitative, hand-against-hand sixteenth notes building up to eight-voice chords. The Adagio has a limber solo line atop steady eighth notes, while the Presto finale is a 3/8 time romp in near-continuous sixteenth notes, and almost exclusively in two contrapuntal voices.
Curated by Anna Lachegyi, Viola da gamba player and Cellist