Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Gardiner on Bach's Brandenburgs

Conductor Sir John Eliot Gardiner on J.S. Bach's "Brandenburg Concertos," discussing their highly varied nature, their conversational structures, and "exploring Bach's language."

Gardiner conducted the English Baroque Soloists performing the Brandenburgs and their recording for the SDG label came out in 2009.

Part I | Part II | Part III


  1. Great link. I enjoyed your post from a few weeks back on Gardiner's cantata pilgrimage also.

    It looks like they did a cd recording of the Brandenburg performances, but no dvd recording. That's too bad... Watching adds a lot to the experience imo.

  2. Thanks for stopping by and reading, and I'm glad you enjoy these videos. I do too and I'm pleased to see Gardiner has done a number of them for his recent recordings. I just wish they were longer and, as you say, accompanied by recordings of the actual performances (like his DVDs of the Mozart operas, the Requiem/C Minor mass, and the Monteverdi Vespers.)

    And yes there is a recording and it sounds great from my limited preview of it: it's faster than I'm used to but the distinction amongst the voices is impeccable. It is hard to balance, say in the first movement of No. 2, the earthly vivaciousness in rhythm and the sublimity from its sense of perfect proportion.

  3. I don't have the expertise to make any meaningful critical comments - I just know I like Bach. I've got old vinyl records of the brandenburgs. This Gardiner snippet is more articulated, at the least. And I'm sure there is a lot more to say... I just don't know enough yet to say it.

    PS - speaking of Bach, and Masses, and things I wish they'd have released on dvd - have you seen the teaser for Marc Minkowski's B Minor Mass recording
    ? I already paid money for the cd. I'd pay again for the dvd.

  4. I'm no expert either, far from it. That's why I find these discussions with conductors and performers so insightful: their elucidating, and often beautiful, descriptions of how this music works.

    I haven't seen that Minkowski teaser, thanks for sharing. I think the recording came out last year also (evidently a good year for Bach recordings.) I heard and liked the movement or so I heard of it, but unfortunately I don't think there is a DVD of the performance.

  5. That's why I find these discussions with conductors and performers so insightful: their elucidating, and often beautiful, descriptions of how this music works.

    As it happens, I became interested in the Brandenburgs when I found the following quote on this page. It is more of a description of what the music is about, rather than of how it works:

    ...others view the Brandenburgs as an inextricable facet of Bach's overall religious bent. Thus, Karl Richter stresses that Bach's universality can only be understood in terms of the theological, mystical and philosophical foundations that infused all of his art, and Fred Hamel asserts that Bach was able to develop all the resources of his craft only after years of work in the devotional sphere and that Bach never distinguished religious and secular music, as his entire body of work was aimed for the glory of God. From that perspective, Bach's magnificent interplay of diverse musical elements can be seen as a reflection of his pervasive belief in the Divine harmony of the universe. Thus, Wilhelm Furtwängler sees Bach's music as symbolizing divinity by exuding supreme serenity, assurance, self-sufficiency and inner tranquility that transcends any personal qualities to achieve a perfect balance of its individual melodic, rhythmic and harmonic elements. Albert Schweitzer, too, views the Brandenburgs in metaphysical terms, unfolding with an incomprehensible artistic inevitability in which the development of ideas transverses the whole of existence and displays the fundamental mystery of all things. Yet, despite the philosophical depth of such analyses and the extraordinary density and logic of Bach's conception that leads academics to fruitfully dissect his scores, commentators constantly remind us that the Brandenburgs were not intended to dazzle theorists or challenge intellectuals, but rather for sheer enjoyment by musicians and listeners.

    For someone like me who is not sure what to believe about God anymore, but who finds our prevailing relativism and scientific materialism to be empty and depressing, this gives hope.

  6. That is exceptionally well put, and Peter Gutmann's site is excellent though I have not yet read all of his essays there. I had no idea of those conductors' views, either; thanks for sharing it.

    Indeed describing precisely what it is about Bach's music that draws us in is always somehow elusive. There is, I think at least, something of the transcendent in it. Something profound and universal. Such is indeed very uplifting, and of course enjoyable.

  7. Thanks for posting--fascinating as always. I like the slightly quirky orchestration and tempos, but these recordings still fail to answer the unanswerable question: If you were stuck on a desert island and could only choose one, which of the Brandenburgs would you choose?

    @Brian--I like that quote--thanks!