Johann Sebastian Bach Concerto in D Minor for 2 Violins

This was my term paper for Music History and Score Reading at the Pittsburgh Music Academy with Charles Wilson.

Pittsburgh Music Academy
Johann Sebastian Bach Concerto in D Minor for 2 Violins

Music History & Score Reading
Carlos Macasaet
May 6 1997

I. Introduction
II. Prolific Composer
III. Weimer Years 1700-1717
IV. Kothen Years 1717-1723
V. Leipzig Years 1723-1750
VI. Concerto in D Minor for 2 Violins BWV 1043


1. Figure 1

J. S. Bach was born to a family of musicians on March 21, 1685 in Eisenach, Germany. His father Johann Ambrosius Bach was a town musician. He was the youngest of 8 children. His brother Johann Christoph Bach, a former student of Pachelbel looked after him when he was orphaned at the age of 10.

Prolific Composer

Bach spent most of his life writing music for the church services. He also served as an organist and choirmaster for the churches near his birthplace.

His enormous output signals the height of the polyphonic or contrapuntal style.

His versatility and creativity made it possible for him to write magnificent music for the organ, choral groups, clavier, harpsichord, orchestra and for small groups of instruments. He was the master of the technique known as the fugue, where voices or instrumental parts enter at different points, each imitating the first. Each part is varied after the entrance, resulting in a very complex counterpoint.

His works also signaled the end of the Baroque period, during which many new styles and forms were developed. His incredible output includes thousands of compositions, many of which are used in churches to the present day.

He combined elements of the Lutheran chorale, French and Italian orchestral styles and baroque organ music.

Weimer Years 1700-1717

Bach started working in 1700 in the choir of St. Michael’s, Lüneburg at age 15, where he came into contact with French music. He then held various posts such as organist, a choirmaster at different churches, court violinist and eventually became a Konzertmeister in 1714.

In 1708, he wrote a festive cantata. A cantata is a form of devotional music developed in Northern Germany in the 17th century, and was given its greatest stature by J.S. Bach, who wrote them mostly for liturgical use. During these years, he also developed his keyboard interests and continued to write brilliant works such as Fantasia and Fugue in G minor. He also started to widen his musical knowledge by studying Italian concerto style, particularly Vivaldi.

Köthen (Cöthen) Years 1717-1723

In 1717 he began a seven-year tenure as a Kappellmeister with Prince Leopold of Cöthen where his knowledge of Italian and French styles prepared him for his duties. Because Prince Leopold was a Calvinist, he duties did not include composing liturgical music. Instead Bach concentrated on producing instrumental creations. Some of his compositions during these remarkable years were the Well-Tempered Clavier, the Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin, and the Suite for Solo Cello.

He composed stunning ensemble works during this time. His music for ensemble resembled Italian sonatas. The larger ensembles include French-style influence, and Vivaldi-like concertos such as the set of six dedicated to Margrave Christian Ludwig of Brandenburg composed in 1721. These latter concertos are more commonly known as the Brandenburg Concertos.

These years at Cöthen were extremely prolific for Bach, composing many different forms of chamber music and in many different styles. This time is considered the classic period of Bach’s chamber music activities.

Leipzig Years 1723-1750

In 1723, he was appointed as Kantor at St. Thomas’s, Leipzig. In Leipzig, he composed about 150 cantatas between 1723 and 1727. In March 1729, he assumed the directorship of Collegium Musicum. It was at the Collegium Musicum that Bach showcased his chamber music activities, regularly holding coffee house concerts.

By 1730, he was composing fewer cantatas and oratorios, instead composing more keyboard music. In his last years, he composed little, but instead revised and published many of his earlier works. He also completed B Minor Mass during this period. He died in Leipzig on July 28, 1750.

Concerto in D Minor for 2 Violins BWV (Bach-Werke-Verzeichnis) 1043

This orchestral music is scored for 2 violins, strings and basso continuo. Contrary to what one might expect, the dialogue in this concerto takes place not between the two violins, but between both instruments and the orchestra. The music speaks between these two parts, yet the two solo instruments vie with one another to create wonderful melody. The soloists are not supposed to dominate over the orchestra as would be expected in a 19th century violin concerto performance. In Bach’s concertos, the role of the soloist is not of a resplendent virtuoso, but more like a choir soloist performing with a whole choir.

There are three parts to this concerto, namely: Vivace (lively, animated, brisk), Largo ma non tanto (slow and stately movement, but not too much) and Allegro (lively, brisk, rapid).

In this concerto, Bach’s signature creation of overlapping and imitative phrases is highlighted by the two violin soloists.

Concerto in D Minor for 2 Violins is one of Bach’s compositions traditionally regarded as a Cöthen work. However, there is strong evidence that suggests an origin during the Leipzig years, circa 1730-1731.

It is believed that because this piece has an autographed title page labeled by Bach as Concert a 6, it is possible that it originated during the first years of Bach’s Collegium Musicum activities in Leipzig (see Figure 1). If the concerto were composed in Cöthen, it would have been labeled as a replacement for lost sets.

It is also argued that the contrapuntal design shows a maturity of writing, suggesting it was written in the latter years of Bach’s career. The harmony and melodic phrases in the slow movement of this concerto supposedly provides similarities to his progressive style of the middle Leipzig years.

It does not matter much to me when this piece was written, but I do hear the Italian influence (Vivaldi’s) in this work and his signature fugue. Personally, this music reminds me of Vivaldi’s music.

[ Figure 1 ]

Works Cited

Arnold, Denis., E.D. (Ed.) (1983). The New Oxford Companion to Music. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Kadansky, D. (Ed.) (1996). Compton’s Interactive Encyclopedia version 4.0.2M. New York: Tribune New Media.

Miles, Russell H. (1962). JOHANN SEBASTIAN BACH An Introduction to His Life and Works. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc.

Smend, Friedrich. (John Page, trans.) (1985). Bach in Köthen. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House.


Johann Sebastian Bach. Johann Sebastian Bach: Violinkonzerte BWV 1041-1043. Alice Harnoncourt, Walter Pfeiffer. Nikolaus Harnoncourt conducting the Concentus musicus Wien. 1984.

Johann Sebastian Bach. Bach Concerto for Two Violins in D minor Violin Concertos in A minor & E major. Anne-Sophie Mutter and Salvatore Accardo and the English Chamber Orchestra.

Antonio Vivaldi. Vivaldi Six Concertos for One, Two, and Four Violins from L’Estro Armonico, Opus 3. Arcangeli Baroque Strings.

Bach, JS. Konzert für 2 Violinen D moll Edited by Gustav Schreck. New York: C. F. Peters Corporation.

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