Concerto in F major

Concerto in F major

BWV 971 performed by Christine Schornsheim
at the Bartolotti House, Amsterdam

  • Menu
  • 1. Allegro
  • 2. Andante
  • 3. Presto

Behind the music


Nach Italiaenischen Gusto

Bach tests out the keyboard with a Vivaldian solo concerto

Bach was an Italian, and a Frenchman, and a German – musically speaking. In the eighteenth century, the skies were tinged with goûts-réunis, a utopian mix of national styles, while down on earth the latest music criss-crossed the whole of Europe, thanks to the publishing houses. For instance, Vivaldi’s brand-new innovative concertos inspired Bach to make arrangements of the new genre and write his own contributions to it. Take the Violin Concerto in D minor BWV 1052r, for example, or his other concertos with orchestra.

The most famous example of this is a concerto where the whole edifice rests on the shoulders of a single harpsichordist, without orchestra: the ‘Italian’ concerto, BWV 971. The idea was not new to the German-speaking regions. Bach had probably taken the example of Christian Pezold’s extensive Recueil des XXV Concerts pour le Clavecin (1729). It was also in vogue to combine an ‘Italian’ and a ‘French’ work in one edition – in Bach’s Clavier-Übung II, the Ouvertüre nach Französischer Art BWV 831 forms the second part alongside the ‘Italian’ concerto. This edition, however, was no sinecure. The publisher Weigel, who was unexperienced in music, had the print set by engravers who could not read music, and it was only in the second edition that the composer could personally see to correcting all the mistakes.

Bach’s ‘Italian-style’ concerto follows the model from across the Alps, having three parts (fast-slow-fast), imitating the continual alternation between tutti sections and solos, and using ritornello (a sort of refrain to keep up speed) in the opening section. The closing section has a typical rondo form. The loud-soft effects, of course, demand possibilities that are only afforded by a harpsichord with two manuals. The concerto never becomes a slavish copy of the Italian models, however, as Bach is too partial to writing steady ‘un-modern’ counterpoint. And whereas an Italian would gave plenty of scope to the soloist in a lyrical middle section, Bach actually limits her freedom down to the smallest detail. Thorough precision… he could not do otherwise.

In Leipzig, between 1731 and 1741, Bach published four parts of Clavier-Übung, a title used previously by Johann Kuhnau, his predecessor as cantor at the Thomasschule, for similar collections of works for organ and harpsichord. The compositions are very varied in nature and, although the title suggests otherwise, were difficult to play. Bach addresses all the styles, genres and techniques for harpsichord and organ that were prevalent at the time, but then in the superior form to which only he had the patent.

Clavier-Übung I (1731) contains the six partitas, BWV 825-830; Clavier-Übung II (1735) the Concerto nach italienischen Gusto, BWV 971 and the Ouverture nach französischer Art, BWV 831; and Clavier-Übung IV (1741) the Goldberg Variations, BWV 988. The largest part, Clavier-Übung III (1739), is the only one devoted to organ, containing mostly chorale arrangements, or organ preludes based on Lutheran hymns. Bach made two versions of each chorale: one for great organ and one for a smaller type of organ. Most of the chorales refer to the six parts of the catechism. It is unclear whether Bach also played them during the services, or whether he developed his musical ideas in them for his own use, with no intention of performing them in public.

Concerto in F major
‘Italian’ concerto
harpsichord works
Clavier-Übung I, II, IV
printed in 1735

Extra videos

Vocal texts




  • Release date
    19 March 2020
  • Recording date
    15 February 2019
  • Location
    Bartolotti House, Amsterdam
  • Harpsichordist
    Christine Schornsheim
  • Harpsichord
    Bruce Kennedy, 1989 after Michael Mietke
  • Director, camera and lights
    Gijs Besseling
  • Music recording
    Guido Tichelman, Bastiaan Kuijt
  • Music edit and mix
    Guido Tichelman
  • Camera, lights
    Nina Badoux
  • Data handling, camera and lighting assistant
    Eline Eestermans
  • Producer
    Jessie Verbrugh
  • Acknowledgement
    Vereniging Hendrick de Keyser

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