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YHIHF: Bach's Double Violin Concerto BWV 1043 is Really Vivaldi's

2012-08-04 3 min read Musings marco
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Every culture loves its heros. To Italians, the Poet is Dante – to Germans it’s Goethe, to English-speakers it’s Shakespeare. This is nearly universal. What is not universal is that some of the greats disappear or fade because the culture they belong to does.

It is infernal how many “minor” cultures have brought forth amazing artists and scientists that don’t register for all their worth simply because we are not used to their culture producing genius of universal proportions. We simply make fun of people that come from those cultures for always trying to show how everything was done there.

In Germany, people used to make fun of Poles for claiming that everything was invented in Poland. In America, when I mention that something was invented in Italy, I hear the same thing about my fatherland.

Yet, truth is, sometimes genius does come from unusual places. And sometimes genius doesn’t come from the place we think it does come from. For instance, a number of Anglophones are not aware of the fact that some of Shakespeare’s most famous sonnets are virtually translations from Petrarch. With the interesting bit that Petrarch lived over 200 years prior to Shakespeare.

In the realm of music, something similar has happened. The great masters of German circa-classical music are undoubtedly of universal greatness. But some of their works are not their own. This is particularly true for Johann Sebastian Bach, whose work disappeared from view for a period of time and who has been reintroduced to the canon of music about a hundred years after his death and near-disappearance from memory.

One of his works that is particularly famous, the Toccata and Fugue in d minor, most likely isn’t his at all. From all that we know, it’s probably a much later work. That conclusion has been reached by several music historians based on circumstance, performance history, and stylistic elements.

Another work of his, though, seems to have escaped notice. I am talking about the concerto for two violins, BWV 1043, whose first movement sounds entirely like a work by Vivaldi.

The problem with this attribution is that there is no corresponding concert by Vivaldi, while with a number of other Bach transcriptions, we have the original Vivaldi score or at least have a whiff of a hint that Bach transcribed. With this concert, we don’t have the original score of either the actual Bach work or the putative Vivaldi work.

What makes me say that it could be a Vivaldi transcription? Mostly style. In particular, the first movement is stylistically entirely different from the third movement – which would indicate that the first movement might be a transcription, while the third movement is original.

What about the style is different? In essence, Vivaldi’s concerti tend to have a “wall of sound” approach: the fast movements all tend to have instruments playing at all times, as if time was something that needs to be filled. Bach’s, instead, tend to play a lot with pauses for accentuation.

Of course, this is not even a hypothesis. It is simply a conjecture. But You Heard It Here First!