Bach’s Concerto for Two Violins

Johann Sebastian Bach

Last month I recommended an exciting new recording of Bach violin concertos, just released by Anne Akiko Meyers.  Now, let’s listen to a much older performance of the Bach Double Concerto featuring two of the twentieth century’s greatest violinists, Yehudi Menuhin and David Oistrakh.

This music was written around 1730 when Bach was working in Leipzig.  Bach’s main instrument was the organ, but he was also a fine violinist and he was influenced by Vivaldi’s concertos.*

As you listen, pay attention to the way the two solo violin parts interact with each other and with the orchestra.  You’ll notice that they constantly trade off between taking the spotlight and having a supporting role.

Listen to the beginning of the first movement and see if you can keep track of the main motive as it appears in different voices, first in the second violins, then the first violins (0:15) then the lower strings (0:29) then the second violins again (0:41) and finally returning to the first violins (0:51).  This may remind you of what you heard when we listened to the Passacaglia and Fugue in C minor.

As the second movement unfolds, moving into ever changing musical landscapes, notice the repeating “heart beat” in the orchestra.  Do you get the sense that the music is searching for its ultimate goal?

Compare the second movement’s sense of musical “heart beat” to the feel of the third movement.  Are there moments here where your sense of the downbeat is dangerously and excitingly less predictable?

Concerto for Two Violins, Strings and Continuo in D Minor, BWV 1043…J.S. Bach (1685-1750)

Largo ma non tanto

Now that you’ve heard the Double Concerto more or less as Bach intended, you might enjoy this comedy sketch that the legendary Jack Benny did with violinist Isaac Stern.  Also, check out this impressive jazz fiddle adaptation performed by the group, Time For Three:

*Great Masters of the Violin, Boris Schwarz (pg. 110)