Concerto for two harpsichords in C major

Concerto for two harpsichords in C major

BWV 1061 performed by Francesco Corti, Siebe Henstra
and the Netherlands Bach Society
Muziekgebouw aan 't IJ, Amsterdam

  • Menu
  • 1. [Allegro]
  • 2. Largo
  • 3. Presto

Behind the music

Extra videos
Extra videos

A spectacular tête-à-tête

So much skill in the keyboards means a raw deal for the strings

Just listen to how busy the two harpsichordists are! Classic Italian concertos open with a tutti introduction, followed by virtuoso variations on the theme for the soloist(s), alternating with passages for the whole ensemble. But here the two keyboards actually do everything themselves. In the second movement, they do not even need anyone else, and in the finale the rest do not get a look in for a very long time. The key to this mystery lies in the history of the origins of the piece, which – this is Bach, after all – is filled with speculation.

The only source that can be directly linked to Bach is a manuscript from 1732-33 by Anna Magdalena, with corrections and additions by her husband. What are the instruments? Two harpsichords, of course. And there is such virtuosity in this true masterpiece! Maybe the composer played this piece with his son Wilhelm Friedemann, when he had just arrived in Dresden. Or maybe father and son played it even earlier, in Zimmermann’s coffee house, for example. And might the spartan string parts that were added later have been the work of said son, rather than that of the father? The source that includes the string parts, from the second half of the eighteenth century, provides no clarity. Stylistically speaking, there are indications for both interpretations, as the boundless playfulness of Wilhelm Friedemann and the rhythmic ingenuity of Johann Sebastian are closely related.

But whoever wrote the accompaniment did not exert himself too much. Almost everywhere, the strings double the soloists exactly, apart from the odd independent motif. For example, ‘Bach’ (you can decide which one) lets the quartet break in a couple of times with the opening motif, as well as providing harmonic and rhythmical accents. So the skill lies in the keyboards. Listen, for instance, to how they do not lose the tension for a moment in the many minutes of the second movement, and to the originality of how the closing fugue develops into a five-part explosion.

Concerto for two harpsichords in C major
harpsichord works, orchestral works
Special notes
There is an earlier version for two harpsichords with no accompaniment, BWV 1061a.

Extra videos

Harpsichordists Francesco Corti and Siebe Henstra

“You see in the writing that it's a thick dialogue between the two keyboard instruments, let's say, it's like a small fight.”

Vocal texts




  • Release date
    20 August 2020
  • Recording date
    3 February 2017
  • Location
    Muziekgebouw aan 't IJ, Amsterdam
  • Harpsichords
    Bruce Kennedy, 1989 after Michael Mietke and Geert Karman after J.H. Gräbner, 1774
  • Harpsichordists
    Francesco Corti, Siebe Henstra
  • Violin
    Shunske Sato, Noyuri Hazama
  • Viola
    Pieter Affourtit
  • Cello
    Lucia Swarts
  • Double bass
    Hen Goldsobel
  • Director and editor
    Lucas van Woerkum
  • Music recording
    Guido Tichelman, Bastiaan Kuijt, Pim van der Lee
  • Music edit and mix
    Guido Tichelman
  • Camera
    Jochem Timmerman, Rene Holbrugge, Kenneth Dirkzwager
  • Camera assistant
    Klazina Westra
  • Lights
    Zen Bloot
  • Assistant director
    Stijn Berkhouwer
  • Set technique
    Justin Mutsaers
  • Data handling
    Jesper Blok
  • Project manager nep
    Peter Ribbens
  • Interview
    Onno van Ameijde, Marloes Biermans
  • Producer concert
    Marco Meijdam
  • Producer film
    Jessie Verbrugh

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