Mar 242019

On this date in 1721 Johann Sebastian Bach dedicated the Brandenburg Concertos (BWV 1046–1051, original title: Six Concerts à plusieurs instruments) to Christian Ludwig, Margrave of Brandenburg-Schwedt. They are widely regarded as some of the best orchestral compositions of the Baroque era. Bach wrote out the music himself for presentation to the Margrave rather than leaving it to a copyist. While he took the opportunity to revise the music, most likely, it was not freshly composed. He appears to have selected the six pieces from concertos he had composed over a number of years while Kapellmeister at Köthen, and possibly extending back to his employment at Weimar (1708–17).

Bach’s dedication to the Margrave (in French), begins:

As I had the good fortune a few years ago to be heard by Your Royal Highness, at Your Highness’s commands, and as I noticed then that Your Highness took some pleasure in the little talents which Heaven has given me for Music, and as in taking Leave of Your Royal Highness, Your Highness deigned to honor me with the command to send Your Highness some pieces of my Composition: I have in accordance with Your Highness’s most gracious orders taken the liberty of rendering my most humble duty to Your Royal Highness with the present Concertos, which I have adapted to several instruments; begging Your Highness most humbly not to judge their imperfection with the rigor of that discriminating and sensitive taste, which everyone knows Him to have for musical works, but rather to take into benign Consideration the profound respect and the most humble obedience which I thus attempt to show Him.

Bach’s reference to his scoring the concertos for “several instruments” (Concerts avec plusieurs instruments) is a slight understatement. He actually used a wide spectrum of orchestral instruments in novel combinations, and each of the six concertos set a precedent in scoring. The overall forces required tallies exactly with the 17 players Bach had at his disposal in Köthen. This link is to all six played on period instruments:

I have always been partial to the 3rd for various reasons, one being that it was played by Wendy (then Walter) Carlos on Moog synthesizer back in the days when electronic music was a novelty:

Because King Frederick William I of Prussia was not a significant patron of the arts, Christian Ludwig seems to have lacked the musicians in his Berlin ensemble to perform the concertos. The full score was left unused in the Margrave’s library until his death in 1734, when it was sold for 24 groschen of silver (as of 2019, about US$ 30). The autograph manuscript of the concertos was only rediscovered in the archives of Brandenburg by Siegfried Wilhelm Dehn in 1849; the concertos were first published in the following year. The manuscript was nearly lost in World War II, when being transported for safekeeping to Prussia by train in the care of a librarian. The train came under aerial bombardment, and the librarian escaped the train to the nearby forest, with the scores hidden under his coat.

The cuisine of Brandenburg is considered by some to be, let us say, pedestrian. A well-known dish from the region of Priegnitz is Knieperkohl, a kind of pickled cabbage similar to sauerkraut but made with not only white cabbage but also collard greens (or leaves of red cabbage), kale and grape leaves and cherry leaves. They serve it with pork or sausages, but it can also be made into a casserole similar to choucroute garnie, called Knieperkohl mit Kohlwurst. This video will give you the idea, and even though the chef speaks German it should be understandable even if you are German-challenged (as I am):