The MCO understands the importance of music education, which is why we’ve developed a unique instructional resource for teachers and parents. Written by music educator Beryl Peters, Ph.D, MCO’s Listening Guides provide a clear and thorough analysis of the repertoire featured in our concerts. They offer a perfect primer to the great works of Bach, Beethoven, Britten and beyond for K-8 and 9-12 students — with engaging historical anecdotes and simple theory for younger students, and more complex information for older students. Indeed, just about anyone can learn a thing or two from our MTS Future First Listening Guides … so dig in!
JS BACH: CONCERTO FOR TWO VIOLINS, STRINGS AND CONTINUO IN D MINOR, BWV1043
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) composed the Concerto for Two Violins during the late Baroque period (1680-1750), likely between 1720 and 1730 although the exact date of composition has never been verified. This popular work is an exquisite example of Bach’s late Baroque stylistic writing and is often known simply as the “Bach Double.” It is Bach’s only concerto for two violins.
It is possible that Bach wrote the Double Concerto for two principal violinists in Prince Leopold’s orchestra when Bach served as the Director of Music for Leopold, Prince of Anhalt-Köthen (Cöthen, using old spelling) from 1717-1723. The orchestra’s principal violinists, Joseph Speiss and Martin Friedrich Marcus, were both known as talented players at the time. During this period, Bach focused on instrumental music including works for solo violin as well as the Brandenburg Concertos.
Manitoba Music Curricular Connections
9-12 Making: The learner develops competencies for listening by listening critically with discrimination and purpose to:
- situate and contextualize music (e.g., cultural/ ideological/historical/social contexts, music style, genre, tradition, or praxis, etc.)
- support enjoyment and understanding of music
- make and interpret music expressively and creatively
- inform analysis, interpretation, judgement, appreciation, and evaluation
K-8 Understanding Music in Context: Demonstrate awareness of the intended meanings and/or purposes of music encountered in own performance and listening experiences
9-12 Connecting: The learner develops understandings about the significance of music by connecting music to diverse contexts.
Here are some ways to help you listen to this work
1 Music compositions have a certain architecture or musical form. Can you hear that the structure of this concerto is made up of three different sections or movements? Bach was influenced by the Italian composer Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741) who wrote music using a three movement fast-slow-fast structure. In this concerto the movements are titled:
- Vivace (very fast and lively);
- Largo ma non tanto (slowly and broadly but not too much or too strictly);
- Allegro (fast and lively)
Each of the three sections or movements also has a particular form. The first movement is in ritornello form. Ritornello form is based on a recurring theme (ritornello or refrain) that returns in the orchestra part and is interspersed by solo episodes of contrasting or related material played by the soloist(s) or small groups of instruments. Bach’s ritornello also features fugal writing with overlapping and imitative phrases characterized by sophisticated counterpoint, a signature of Bach’s compositions.
In fugal style, a principal theme or fragments of the theme are imitated in other parts or lines (voices) of the music. The imitating parts sometimes vary from the original theme in length and the key in which they are written.
Can you hear the orchestra’s opening ritornello fugal passage repeated in whole or part during the first movement? Do you hear that the ritornello theme is made up of two contrasting parts?
Can you hear the tutti (meaning “all” or whole orchestra) sections alternate with the two solo violinists? The alternation between tutti and solo sections is a common feature of Baroque ritornello concerto form.
The second movement is a slow, singing and very lyrical cantilena (expressive, lyric, smooth flowing vocal style) in F Major that also features fugal writing. Can you hear the beautiful introductory theme in the solo violins later repeated with fugal treatment?
The final Allegro movement is also written in ritornello fugal style with imitation and repetition in both the tutti and solo parts. However, in this movement, the violin soloists open the finale and lead the way in both the ritornelli and episodes. Can you hear the main theme repeated in the various solo and orchestra parts?
2 A concerto is a work of music for a solo performer or a small group of solo performers and an orchestra. Who are the solo performers in this concerto? What instruments can you hear in this concerto? How many musicians are playing onstage? What string instruments do you hear (violin, viola, cello, double bass)? Can you hear that there are two solo violinists in this work and not just one featured soloist? Can you hear a harpsichord playing anywhere?
When do you first hear the solo violins? Do you hear the way that Bach focuses on the solo violins and gives them special parts to play in the concerto? Can you hear the two solo violins in equal musical dialogue with each other? Can you hear how it is sometimes hard to distinguish which solo violin is playing because their parts are so entwined together?
For much of this concerto, the two soloists are featured in musical conversation over the harmonic and rhythmic background playing of the orchestra. When the orchestra plays with the solo violinists, can you hear how Bach uses the orchestra as an accompaniment for the solo violins?
Can you hear when the orchestra plays by itself, for example, the opening “tutti” (all/whole orchestra) heard at the beginning of the first movement of the concerto? Can you hear the tutti repeated in the middle and at the end of the first movement?
3 Bach uses tempo (the speed of the music), dynamics (the volume of the music), and expression (musical elements that express certain feelings or dispositions) to create contrast and different moods throughout the concerto.
Can you identify a particular mood for each movement? What kind of mood is created by the energetic dialogue between the two solo violins in the first and third movement? Can you hear a distinct change in mood when the opening melody is heard in the second movement?
Which movements use mostly fast music? Which movement uses mostly slow music? Can you hear when the tempo of the music changes and gets faster or slower? How does that affect the mood of the work?
Was the music played at all the same volume (dynamics)? When do you hear music played loudly? Quietly? What dynamic level is mostly used for the slow second movement? When do the dynamics change and what effect does that create? When does the music get louder (crescendo) or get quieter (decrescendo)?
Do you hear musical sounds that are short sounding (staccato) or very smooth sounding (legato)? Which movement features legato sounds? Where do you hear suddenly loud sounds (accents)? Listen to the opening of the first movement to hear the first five notes played smoothly followed by shorter sounding staccato notes that move in an arpeggio (broken chord) pattern. Can you hear this kind of treatment elsewhere in this movement?
Can you hear long, legato lines and quieter dynamics in the slow, second movement contrasted with louder, more dynamic expressive treatment in the final movement?
4 How is rhythm used in this concerto? Do you hear sections that have a steady rhythm or beat that you could tap to? The underlying pulse heard throughout the first and third movements is a feature of Baroque music and this concerto.
The opening movement begins with an upwards scalic rhythmic pattern of sixteenth notes that sounds like “please let me come in” followed by a downwards rhythmic pattern of arpeggiated eighth notes that sound like “and let me tell you what I’ve seen.” If you say these words so that the words “please let me come in” are twice as fast as the words “and let me tell you what I’ve seen” then you will reproduce the rhythmic pattern of the opening ritornello theme. The final word “seen” ends on a note of long duration. Do you hear that pattern or parts of that pattern imitated in other parts in the first movement?
Can you hear any other repeated rhythmic patterns in other movements? Did any particular rhythmic pattern stand out for you that you could listen for in this concerto?
Can you hear how the rhythmic patterns change in the second slow movement? In the duet between the two solo violins do you hear notes of longer duration? Bach composed this movement in a gently rocking 12/8 time signature with Siciliano sounding rhythms; can you count 12 beats per bar?
5 How is melody or pitch used in this concerto?
The melodies in this concerto may be familiar to you if you have ever seen the movie “Hannah & Her Sisters.”
Do you hear high sounds or pitches? Do you hear low sounds or pitches? Can you pick out a particular melody played by the orchestra instruments or by the two solo violins in each of the three movements? Can you hum or sing that melody?
If you listen carefully to the opening orchestral ritornello can you hear that the main theme begins with an scalic upward moving passage, followed by a downwards melodic section with arpeggiated jumps and leaps in the melody? Can you hear any especially large leaps in this theme’s melody? Could you draw the shape of the melody in the air? When does it move up higher and when does it move lower? When does it move one note at a time in a scale pattern and when does it jump or leap up or down?
Can you hear this theme or fragments of this melodic theme repeated throughout the first movement in both the tutti and the solo sections?
After the opening orchestral tutti theme in the first movement, can you hear a new melody played by one of the solo violins when it is first heard? This new melody also features running scale patterns of sixteenth notes as well as wide melodic leaps, including large leaps of tenths.
How could you describe the lyrical melodies heard in the slow, second movement? Can you hear a gentle downward melodic fragment that consists of just four notes? Could you draw the shape of this melody in the air as you listen? Can you hear how the two solo violins play together so that their melodies overlap and imitate each other?
6 Can you hear different kinds of texture in this work? Musical texture refers to the layers of sound that are heard in the music. Where do you hear lots of instruments playing different lines together so that the sound is thick? Where do you hear just a few instruments playing sparser sounding texture?
Can you hear that the texture of this concerto is often many-layered with different independent busy lines or voices played by the orchestra and solo musicians? This kind of texture is called polyphonic or “many voiced.” In this concerto, the musical texture is also known as contrapuntal, a term that refers to a particular compositional technique based on rules associated with the treatment and relationships of the independent melodic lines. Listen for the polyphonic, contrapuntal texture heard at the opening of the concerto.
Now listen for the texture at the beginning of the second movement. Can you hear a different and contrasting texture in this section? Can you hear that the texture in this section does not have as many busy, layered parts?
Can you hear that the orchestra plays fewer notes with sparser layers so that the orchestra serves as a background or accompaniment to the featured soloists? Do you hear that at times, the orchestral sounds or chords that accompany the soloists sound similar or “like sounding” and move in the same rhythm rather than as independent melodic lines with their own rhythms and characters? Chords that are like sounding and are used to support a main, independent melody line such as the solo violins play in the second movement, are known as homophonic in texture.
7 What kinds of instrumental timbre do you hear? Timbre is the different qualities of sound created by different instruments. For example the kinds of sounds that the string instruments make when they play together is a different quality of sound to that produced by brass instruments like the trumpet or French horn. Can you hear how the timbre changes when the harpsichord plays with the strings?
When does the timbre of the music change because Bach adds or takes away different instruments? Can you hear when the orchestra is playing alone and when the orchestra musicians are playing together with the two solo violins? Can you hear different qualities of sound depending on what instrument or instruments are playing? Can you tell which instruments are playing just from hearing them?
Reflections and Responses (K-8 Valuing; 9-12 Responding)
Grades 9-12 Responding
The learner develops and uses critical reflection and thinking for music learning:
- the learner generates initial reactions to music experiences
- the learner critically listens to, observes, and describes music experiences
- the learner analyzes and interprets music experiences
- the learner constructs meanings about music experiences
Grades K-8 Valuing
Students analyze, reflect on, and construct meaning in response to their own and others’ music:
- students analyze their own and others’ musical excerpts, works, and performances
- students form personal responses to and construct meaning from their own and others’ music
1 What is your immediate response to this music? Does this music sound like any other music you have heard before? What does this music make you think of?
2 What adjectives might describe the mood that you felt when listening to the double concerto? Can you identify what musical elements may have created that mood for you? When did the mood change and why?
3 What musical elements did you enjoy or find interesting? Did you enjoy the melodies that you heard? Did the rhythms, dynamics, or tempos used by Bach help make this work energetic? Did you hear parts of the double violin concerto that made you feel peaceful or calm and if so, what part of the concerto were they in? Were there any parts that sounded playful to you? If so, which movement did you hear them in?
4 Were there parts of the double violin concerto that you did not enjoy? Why or why not? Can you identify which music elements made you enjoy or not enjoy the music?
5 Different people often have different responses to the same music. Ask someone else who heard the same music about their response to Bach’s double violin concerto.
6 What feelings did it seem that Bach was trying to communicate to his audience about this work? What music elements seemed to be important to him?
7 Is there other music by Bach that you could listen to and compare to the sounds and experience of the Double Violin Concerto in D minor? Perhaps you could listen to other music by Bach written about the same time as the Double Concerto, such as the Brandenburg Concertos? It might also be interesting to listen to music written by Bach from an earlier period, such as his Toccata and Fugue in D minor for organ. Try listening to any of the Antonio Vivaldi concertos, since Bach used the Vivaldi concertos as inspiration.