J.S Bach, Brandenburg Concerto no.4 in G; movement 1

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Form/Structure

  • Ritornello form - Bach intergrates the solo and tutti sections 
  • Ritornello Form (literally “Little Return Form”) 

Bars 1 – 83 Opening Ritornello G major
Bars 84 – 136 Episode 1 (Violin solo) 
Bars 137 – 157 Second Ritornello E minor 
Bars 157 – 208 Episode 2 (Flute duet followed by violin bravura passage) 
Bars 209 – 234 Third Ritornello C major 
Bars 235 – 322 Episode 3 (3 part stretto imitation) 
Bars 323 – 344 Fourth Ritornello B minor 
Bars 345 – 427 Fifth Ritornello G major 

  • The form is comprehensivly outlined through tonality 
  • There is use of Fortspinnung - spin out - motifs repeated but slightly varied 
  • There is structural use of syncopation/hemiola rhythm, increase in harmonic rhythm and cadential points - bars 82-83
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Melody

  • Scalic, conjunct(bars 35-36) and triadic - Semiquave rising scalic figure followed by falling thirds (bars 13-14)
  • Harmonically charged melodic line 
  • 5 principle motifs subject to fortspinnung and, thus, varied and detailed manipulation; e.g. free inversion:

Sequence - solo violin bars 13-18 is based on a two-bar sequemce, and bars 18-22 a one bar sequence

Free Inversion (1st flute bar 21)

Repetition (bars 7-12 are repetition of bars1-6

  • Use of sequences 
  • Some disjunct leaps 
  • Even the complex virtuoso violin solos are based entirely on arpeggios and scales and are diatonic throughout (but note the use of the melodic minor scale patters in bars 188 and 193-194
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Harmony and Tonality

  • The music modulates frequently to related keys: G (tonic) D (donminant, and C (subdominant) majors and each of their relative minors Eminor, B minor and A minor. Tonality is reinforced bu use of cadences and pedal points 
  • Functional harmony in G major - with the opening motto theme based on the perfect cadence structure of I-V-I
  • Tonality is functional and modulates through related keys with ritornello appearing in all six related keys 
  • Structural use of Cadences 
  • Diatonic; accidentals often for modulation - except for Neapolitan 6th chord which appears twice only in bar 155 (beat 1) and 34 (beat 1), Diminished 7th e.g. bar 195
  • Use of perfect cadences
  • Harmonic sequences such as bars 13-18
  • Circle of fifths e.g. bars 175-178
  • Chords mostly root position and first inversion 
  • varied harmonic rhythms - often one chords per bar (eg opening) but speeds up towards cadences at end of sections e.g. bars 79-83 where there is a chord every quaver 
  • Frequent dominant 7th, including V7d
  • suspensions (4-3/9-8) with decorated resolutions 
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Rhythm

  • The time signature of 3/8 suggests three quavers in a bar, but effectively themusic feels as one dotted crotchet beat per bar, giving a joyous buoyancy to the rhythmic flow. 
  • As with many Baroque pieces, once the rhythmic patterns have been established at the start, there are continuous semiquavers in the melody parts almost throughout the movement, usually over a more slowly moving bass in rhythmic counterpoint 
  • Vitality is increased further with semiquavers in all parts in bars such as 38. 
  • Ties across the bar line, producing syncopation (bars 43 – 46) help to add energy and direction to the melodic shapes.
  • Note especially the hemiola effect as the sense of metre changes from 3 time to 2 time in the final bars of each ritornello section (eg bars 79 – 80). 
  • More subtle changes of stress occur in bars 162 and 164 where the combination of harmonic and textural change with melodic decoration (trills) throw the accent on to the second beat of the bar.
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