WJEC AS LEVEL - Notes on Brandenburg II - First Movement, JS Bach

Almost everything you'll need to know about Brandenburg II (First Movement) for Music AS Level when studying on the WJEC board

  • Created by: Angharad
  • Created on: 10-02-12 14:30


This set of six concertos were dedicated to the Duke of Brandenburg in 1721. They are called 'concerti grossi' because of the accompanying 'ripieno' (mainly strings and continuo) combined with a select group of soloists, the 'concertino'.

Bach loved experimenting with new sound combinations in these three movement compositions. Fun fact: concertos three and six do not have any solo instruments.


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Texture and Form

The texture of this piece is mainly dense. Bach was the master of polyphony and contrapuntal writing.

This piece is in Quasi ritornello form, but there is no clear cut distinction between ripieno and concertino. Both sections seem to play most of the time (tutti). Ritornello is a series of short themes re-appearing (rondo-like) in various keys, with soloists (the concertino) playing episodes in between.

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Tonality and Key Structure

The home key of this piece is F major, however it is occasionally minor.


  • 01-14: F major
  • 15-28: C major
  • 29-30: F major
  • 31-39: D minor
  • 40-41: D minor
  • 42-45: C major
  • 46: F major
  • 50-55: Modulation
  • (52): C major feel
  • 56-59: B flat major


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Examples of Modulations

C major (dominant): bars 15-28

D minor (relative minor): bars 56-59

B flat major (sub-dominant): bars 56-59

E flat major (flattened leading note): bar 65

C minor (dominant minor): bars 68-71

G minor (supertonic): bars 75-84

A minor (mediant minor): bars 94-102

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Harmony - Chords


Dominant 7th (root position): bar 51 (V7)

Dominant 7th 4/2 (third inversion): bar 52

Major triad 6/3 (first inversion): bar 72


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Examples of Compositional Techniques and Devices

Rising sequence: bars 96-97
Sequence: bars 33-34 (flute)
Sequence: bars 76-79 (solo trumpet)
Falling Sequence: bars 77-79 (viola)
Syncopation: bars 50-55; 107-112 (Violin I - ripieno)
Perfect cadences: - bars 8, 28, 39, 83, 93
Imitation: bars 96-98 (solo violin and flute)
Arpeggio-based bars: 1-2 (trumpet)
Reduced instrumentation: bars 60-67

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Concertino soloists:

Tromba: Trumpet (no valves in Bach's day). It's a transposing instrument because it's written a fourth lower than it sounds.

Flauto: Recorder


Violino: Violin

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Instrumentation (Continued)


Violin I

Violin II



Double Bass

Harpsichord/Cembalo Continuo


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Score Indications

Tasto Solo: bars 102-103 - Harpsichord to play notes without filling in the harmonies

All Unisono: Cello/Bass and Harpsichord play in Unison

Piano: Softly

Pianissimo: Very softly

Forte: Loudly

No speed or dynamic indications given on the score, but this movement is generally played Allegro and Forte.

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Points of 'Interest'

  • Brilliant use of counterpoint - Three part counterpoint between flute, viola and continuo (1-2)
  • Continuous semiquaver and quaver movement throughout the piece in ripieno or solo
  • Four very different high register solo instruments contrasted in the concertino, but each instrument's melodic line is audible.
  • Opening semiquaver motive in continuo (bars 1-2) appears in other parts, e.g. Trumpet (bars 19-20) and Oboe (bars 40-41)
  • The solo violin introduces a new, exclusive motif in bars 9-10 and all other solo instruments play it - the ripieno doesn't play this motif at all. (Oboe: bars 13-14; Flute: bars 17-18; Trumpet: bars 21-22)
  • Imitation (bars 60-67) for all four soloists using the new, exclusive idea
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Points of 'Interest' (continued)

  • Bach used cadence points to draw attention to new musical ideas
  • Use of 8 motifs, sometimes in concertino and sometimes in ripieno, mostly with an anacrusis (upbeat)
  • This concerto is the only Brandenburg concerto to feature a trumpet
  • Fanfare style motif in trumpet (bars 1-2) and continuo (bars 5-6)
  • Running bassline in continuo - a device often used by Bach
  • Continuo given original concertino theme (bars 1-2) in bars 56-57 and bars 88-89, as a relief from continuous quaver and semiquaver support
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A little bit of theory (yay!)



C – nothing

G – F#

D – F# and C#

A – F#, C# and G#

E – F#, C#, D# and D#

B – F#, C#, G#, D# and A#

F# - F#, C#, G#, D# AMD A#

G flat – C flat, G flat, D flat, A flat, E flat and B flat

D flat – G flat, D flat, A flat, E flat and B flat

A flat – D flat, A flat, E flat and B flat

E flat – A flat, E flat and B flat

B flat – E flat and B flat

F – B flat

C - nothing

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Another little bit of theory

IV – Sub-dominant

V – Dominant

vi – Sub-mediant

vii – Leading Note

VII – Tonic

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