A Triple Concerto for the citizen and visitors of Leipzig

Meet you at the Grimmaische Tor! (Picture courtesy Staatliche Kunstsammlung Dresden)

The father of the Protestant faith, Martin Luther, was what the Germans call a “Menschenfreund”, a friend of mankind. Through his faith he loved his next as he should, of course, and man’s salvation was his lifelong obsession. But above all, he loved to socialize. He would gather teachers and student in his dining hall in Wittenberg, they would eat, drink, sing, recite poems, read from the gospel and discuss religious and worldly matters until late at night.

Public concerts with the Collegium Musicum

Johann Sebastian Bach was a “Menschenfreund” too. He might have been a severe teacher, an uncompromising composer and musician, but he too enjoyed good company. His biography is full of occasions were family members would travel from afar to come together to celebrate a happy family event, to perform together. In Leipzig he pushed the evolution of the Collegium Musicum to become a regular venue for friends of secular music, music that quite often he would compose himself for this specific venue. However, music from other composers, especially when they happened to visit Leipzig, were most welcome.

Oxford Music Online quotes Bach’s son Christian Philipp Emmanuel C.P.E. who remembered that “it was seldom that a musical master passed through [Leipzig] without getting to know my father and playing for him.” This refers to performances of the Collegium Musicum, which took place on Wednesdays between 4 and 6 p.m. in the coffee-garden at the “Grimmaisches Tor”1 in the summer and on Fridays between 8 and 10 p.m. in a coffee-house in the winter. In addition, there were additional concerts to mark special events.

A supreme example of bourgeois culture

Sometime between 1729 and 1741 Bach wrote a very unusual Baroque piece of music, one that shows him as the leading composer in Europe of his time, one that is considered a supreme masterpiece until this day: the Triple Concerto for Flute, Violin, Harpsichord and Strings in A minor, BWV 1044. Since only copies of the score exist today, a precise dating is impossible, but the set-up makes it highly likely that its purpose was to be performed by the Collegium Musicum to give the citizen and passing visitors of Leipzig an occasion to enjoy an outstanding example of the highly developed bourgeois cultural life in the city.

When he wrote the concerto, he did not start from scratch, he used earlier models, in this case the Prelude and Fugue BWV 894 and the Organ Sonata BWV 527. Organ music with complex fugues so typical for Bach are the roots for the most beautiful parts of the concerto, the last third of the first movement for example, and above all the finale. I can get quite ecstatic about this piece, and it is with never-ending delight that I listen to the recording by the Lucerne Festival Strings and I am glad to share this with you. May it embellish your day.

© Charles Thibo

1 The “Grimmaische Tor”, the eastern city gate, stood until its demolition in 1834  very close to where Leipzig’s current concert hall, the “Gewandhaus”, and the opera are located.

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de Chareli

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