When One is Enough

by George Bozarth
Co-Artistic Director, Musique du Jour Presents

Today we come to Johann Sebastian Bach’s final two concertos for multiple harpsichords, the second Triple Concerto and the Concerto for Four Harpsichords. We know that the latter is a recasting of a Vivaldi concerto, and we suspect that the former may be based on an Italian concerto as well, though its textural density seems uniquely Bachian.

CONCERTO in C major for Three Harpsichords and Strings, BWV 1064

Allegro – Largo – Allegro

This triple concerto survives in nine manuscript copies, but no autograph score in Bach’s hand has been discovered.  In five of the manuscripts the concerto is in C major, in the others four, D major, which, as the key most suitable for violin works, suggests that it may have been based on an Italian violin concerto, possibly one by Giuseppe Torelli or Antonio Vivaldi. As Baroque violinist and conductor Marc Destrubé has observed, “the prevalence of violinistic figuration in the keyboard parts” lends support to this notion.

Right from the start the three harpsichords hunt as a pack to seize the strings’ tutti opening.  Such synchronicity continues throughout, so much so that the players often duplicate each other’s notes and are always weaving their contrapuntal lines into a close fabric to present a constant wall of harpsichord sound. When one voice charges up, another plunges down, sequences of notes spiral around and about, trills and rapid-fire sixty-fourth notes attack, all in all creating a wildly joyous Allegro.  One is left breathless!

Relief from unrelenting dynamism comes with the central movement in A minor, a not-too-dark pearl permeated with sighs – though when the second violin sighs downward, the first violin sighs upwards, creating little relief points that temper depression throughout. For the most part the strings leave the four harpsichord to themselves.

The openly joyous theme of the final Allegro is all sequences, first rising upwards, then cascading downwards in straightforward figures. Soloists and tutti work together throughout much of the movement.  But when the soloists take off on their own, they display supreme virtuosity, with their triplet and sixteenth-note passagework, all swirling and twirling, like the Solomonic columns in Renaissance and Baroque churches, also heard in the 5th Brandenburg Concerto].  Notwithstanding a somber minor-key section just before the last C-major ritornello, if you need to experience a dynamic, life-affirming piece of music, this movement should do the trick.


Solomonic columns, Marktkirche, Paderborn, Saxony – PDF

Our performers are Lars Ulrik Mortensen, Siebe Henstra and Menno van Delft, with the Netherlands Baroque Society.


CONCERTO in A minor for Four Harpsichords and Strings, BWV 1065

Allegro – Largo-Larghetto-Adagio-Largo – Allegro

Scholar Michael Talbot has described Antonio Vivaldi’s set of 12 concertos for strings, L’estro armonico (The Harmonic Inspiration), Op. 3, as “perhaps the most influential collection of instrumental music to appear during the whole of the eighteenth century.” Indeed, when Vivaldi had them published in Amsterdam in 1711, no less a contemporary than Johann Sebastian Bach sat up and took notice. Soon he was at work, seeing how they ticked, literally making them his own by arranging them for organ. (The rest of musical Europe took note too: between 1711 and 1743, twenty reprints of the Amsterdam edition were issued.)  Through this process of copying and reworking, Bach honed his compositional craft and learned the pioneering form of the orchestral ritornello concerto, in which the opening tutti section was repeated, in full or in part, between the modulatory sections of soloistic display.

Anonymous, Portrait, probably of Antonio Vivaldi (Museo Internazionale e Biblioteca della Musica di Bologna)

Antonio Vivaldi, L’estro armonico, Op. 3 (1st edition, Amsterdam, 1711)

Johann Ernst Rentsch the Elder, Possibly the Young Bach (Angermuseum, Erfurt)


Bach, Organ Concerto in D minor, BWV 596

In Vivaldi’s originals, which were first performed by the soloists and members of the composer’s all-girl orchestra at the Ospedale della Pietà in Venice, each concerto consisted of seven independent parts for strings, plus a basso continuo for violoncello/violone and harpsichord.  Within each of the four groups of three concertos in the opus, the first was for four violins, the second for two violins, and the third a solo violin concerto. In each concerto for two violins, the violoncello has soloistic concertante passages, as it did in the traditional Roman concerto grosso, in which a concertino group of two solo violins and cello played in contrast to a tutti of the full string orchestra.


Ospedale della Pietà, Venice


Francesco Guardi, Orchestra of the Ospedale della Pietà, Venice

So reducing these orchestral works for organ, Bach quite literally had his hands (and feet) full, but not so much that he couldn’t add even more notes to Vivaldi’s originals!

Most likely in the period from July 1713 to July 1714, while serving as organist at the court of the Duke of Weimar, Bach arranged three of the solo violin concertos for unaccompanied harpsichord:

  • No. 3 —> BWV 978
  • No. 9 —> BWV 972
  • No. 12 —> BWV 976

The-Ducal-Court-of-Weimar – PDF

Artist’s Reconstruction of the Weimar Chapel

During the same period he transcribed two of the double violin concertos for the solo organ:

  • No. 8 —> BWV 593
  • No. 11 —> BWV 596

In the late 1720s or early 1730s he made his final arrangement, of one of the concertos for four violins as a concerto for four harpsichords, strings, and basso continuo, changing the key of the piece from B minor to A minor.

  • No. 10 —> BWV 1065

In the first movement of Bach’s Concerto for Four Violins – which begins with a soloist presenting the ritornello material, before the tutti takes it up – Bach adds to Vivaldi’s original his own punctuating string entries during the solo sections and increases the excitement of the soloists’ passages with fast runs and trills.  He also enriches the string’s long-held notes with trills during the “sliding” modulatory tutti sections and enhances the cello and violone  parts under the soloists with new counterpoint that drives the motion forward.  To the same end, he adds sixteenth notes to the points where the tutti shifts to the soloists and vice versa and deploys one or more harpsichords to fill out the passages where Vivaldi had only one solo violin playing.  In Bach’s version of the first movement, the dynamism never lets up.

The brief, transitional Largo introduces inverted lines not in Vivaldi’s concerto, to create mild dissonance against the soloists’ rising lines in dotted rhythm.  After a Larghetto of rippling harpsichords, the dotted rhythms return, creating the feeling of the opening section of a French overture.

In the Finale, Bach resumes his “improvements” to Vivaldi with extra counterpoint and tutti reinforcement of the solo passages.  And of course he has eight hands at his disposal to fill out the soloists’ soundscape.

Our performers are Siebe Henstra, Menno van Delft, Pieter-Jan Belder, Tineke Steenbrink, with the Netherlands Bach Society:


If you would like to hear to the original version of Vivaldi’s concerto, I would recommend the performance by Boston Baroque, with soloists Christina Day Martinson, Jesse Irons, Sarah Darling, and Asako Takeuchi:



When One is Not Enough, Part 2

by George Bozarth
Co-Artistic Director, Musique du Jour Presents

Let’s continue to listen to Johann Sebastian Bach’s Concertos for 2, 3, and 4 Harpsichords, BWV 1060–1065. Today will focus on the remaining Concerto for Two Harpsichords, in C minor, BWV 1062, and the Triple Concerto, in D minor, BWV 1063.

As with last week’s two Double Concertos, these works stem from Bach’s later years in Leipzig, when, as Telemann’s heir to the position of Director of the Collegium Musicum, he became involved with the regular popular concerts Gottfried Silbermann’s fashionable Coffee House on the posh Catherstraße. During the summer months, the concerts took place in Zimmermann’s Gardens, in the scenic park just outside the Grimma Gate. We learned that  Zimmermann requested no rent from the players and offered free admission to the audience – the profits from the sale of that rare and exotic delicacy, coffee, paid the bills.

Café Zimmermann, Katherinenstraße, Leipzig, 1720 copy

Coffee became popular in the Middle East and the Ottoman Empire during the 16th century, and from there it spread first to Malta and then, up the Adriatic Sea to Venice – where the first coffee house opened in 1645 – and on into Italy and the rest of Europe. In Vienna the first coffee house was established in 1683, after the Christian forces repulsed the Ottoman army at the Battle of Vienna. Using the coffee beans abandoned by the fleeting Turks (who also left their weapons and even their shoes too), a Polish officer who had fought in the battle – one Jerzy Franciszek Kuylczycki – opened a coffee house, and to make the drink more palatable to his customers, he added milk and sugar to it. Today the Viennese love their Melange, a cup of coffee mixed with hot foamed milk, a glass of water on the side.

Gonzales Franciscus Casteels, The Battle of Vienna copy


Melange at Cafe Sperl, Vienna

CONCERTO for Two Harpsichords and Strings, in C minor, BWV 1062

  1. (No tempo indication)
  2. Andante

III. Allegro assai

The lyrical Andante, one of Bach’s most famous works, is a cousin of the somber aria “Ombra mai fu” from Handel’s three-act opera Xerxes.  Heart-felt single-note sighs in this dreamy siciliano lend emotional sympathy to the harpsichords’ descending melodic lines.  To Bach’s 19th-century biographer Philipp Spitta, the Andante was “a very pearl of noble and expressive melody.”  The sublime movement ends simply, with a humble chordal cadence.

Opening with a tutti (full-ensemble) attaca on the downbeat, the hard-driving, fugal ritornello, with its jagged theme, launches the first movement on a trajectory that never ceases until its final chord. Hung between abridged tutti restatements of the ritornello section are energetic vyings of the two solo harpsichords, as one player scrambles over the other.

The lyrical Andante, one of Bach’s most famous works, is a cousin of the somber aria “Ombra mai fu” from Handel’s three-act opera Xerxes.  Heart-felt single-note sighs in this dreamy siciliano lend emotional sympathy to the harpsichords’ descending melodic lines. To Bach’s 19th-century biographer Philipp Spitta, the Andante was “a very pearl of noble and expressive melody.” The sublime movement ends simply, with a humble chordal cadence.

A head-motive of two quick anacrusis notes pitches the ritornello of the closing Allegro assai forward, and now the harpsichords just cannot wait for the strings to finish. Indeed, they take over the action, casting the strings into a supporting role of punctuating head-motives.  Surging triplet sixteenth-note passagework, thumping harpsichord chords, and stretto (overlapping close imitation) between the soloists, “hot on the heels of each other,” all restlessly modulating amongst keys, make this movement one of the most exciting of Bach’s Finales.

Many of you “Early Music Lifers” will remember the excitement we felt when, back in 1968, we first heard this work played entirely on period instruments by Gustav Leonhardt and Eduard Muller with the Concentus Musicus Wien and the Leonhardt-Consort. For old-times sake, here is that recording once again:


Now, if all the while you were listening to this work, your mind’s ear kept hearing violins rather than harpsichords, you were right on the mark, for Bach’s Concerto for Two Violins, BWV 1043, is the very same work, only pitched a step higher, in the more string-friendly key of D minor.

Bach, Double Violin Concerto, BWV 10432, mvt. 1, Solo Violin part

Here is a dynamic performance by violinists Shunske Sato and Emily Deans with the Netherlands Bach Society:


So which was the chicken, which the egg? Or might it have all started off as a Sonata for two violins and continuo, as a piece of virtuosic chamber music from Bach’s Cöthen period, 1717–23, as some have speculated? The consensus is that the Double Violin Concerto came first, during the Cöthen years. As Beryl Peters informs us, “The orchestra’s principal violinists, Joseph Speiss and Martin Friedrich Marcus, were both known as talented players at the time.”

CONCERTO for Three Harpsichord and Strings in D minor, BWV 1063

  1. (No tempo indication)
  2. Alla Siciliana

III. Allegro

The origin of the Triple Concerto in D minor is unknown.  Like the double harpsichord concertos, it may originally have been scored for other instruments and in another key. Friedrich Konrad Griepenkerl, in his foreword to the first edition of the work (1845), speculated that the composition in this version owes its existence “presumably to the fact that the father wanted to give his two oldest sons, W. Friedemann and C. Ph. Emanuel Bach, Opportunity to exercise themselves in all kinds of playing.”  It’s easy to imagine Papa Bach in the middle on first harpsichord, with the Boys as his wingmen on either side – the configuration used on our video.

In the 19th century the concerto was championed by Felix Mendelssohn, who played it with Franz Liszt and Ferdinand Hiller at the Leipzig Gewandhaus in 1849. Clara Schumann also took up the work, performing it variously with Ignaz Moscheles, Sigismond Thalberg, and Hiller. What lineups!  (The Mendelssohn–Liszt–Hiller trio used three Èrard grand pianos, which would have yielded a full, yet clear sound, not as sustained as modern Steinways.)

In the first movement of the Concerto, as the annotator for the Netherlands Bach Society has observed:

Bach plays with monophony [the unison opening gesture, heard again at the end] and polyphony [throughout].  It is a solo concerto, but then for three harpsichords. Somketuim4w all the instruments play the same melody, but then they go off on their own. [Yet] even when they follow their own paths, there are still always lines played by two, three, or four hands  together. When the harpsichordists are actually all playing something different, their instruments still sound like one big combined instrument.

The result is an uniquely rich texture, as dense and tasty as a chocolate decadence cake. The dizzying virtuosity of the soloists is astonishing.

Again we turn to the Netherlands Bach Society, with soloists Lars Ulrik Mortensen, Siebe Henstra, and Menno van Delft. The pitting of just a solo quintet of strings versus the three solo harpsichords creates the perfect mix.

The central movement is again a siciliano, which the 18th-century theorist Johann Mattheson defined as a song “à la barqueriole,” that is, “boat music.” By applying their buff stops the three harpsichordists conjure the sound-image of mandolin-strumming gondoliers.

The rip-roaring fugal Finale on a jazzy syncopated theme brings Bach’s Boys to the fore as soloists. This ritornello theme can later be heard in stretto in the strings. Long strings of rapid-fire thirty-second notes raise the excitement to a fevered pitch.  The proceedings culminate in a wild trill that all three soloists are somehow expected to play exactly in unison!


(For a discussion of the perils performing the Triple Concerto by the soloists, see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lhhbRwFj1YM.)

When One, Two, or even Three are Not Enough!

by George Bozarth
Co-Artistic Director, Musique du Jour Presents

My offerings today and the next two Sundays will feature Johann Sebastian Bach’s Concertos for 2, 3, and 4 Harpsichords, BWV 1060–1065, works that, whether in minor or major, convey unsurpassed vitality. Bach composed these pieces afresh or adapted them, either from his own earlier works, likely written during his period as Capelmeister at the Princely Court of Cöthen, or from the works of other composers like Antonio Vivaldi. The final versions stem from during his later years in Leipzig, when, as Georg Philipp Telemann’s heir to the position of Director of the Collegium Musicum, Bach became involved with the regular popular concerts at Gottfried Zimmermann’s fashionable Coffee House on the posh Catherstraße; located just to the right of the centerfold, next to the Military Governor’s Palace).  In the summer months, they moved to Zimmermann’s Gardens, set in the scenic countryside just outside the Grimma Gate; the gate is at the top of the city plan. These weekly Friday-evening events were enjoyable, almost festive occasions, yet serious too, held outside the coffee house’s normal hours. Zimmermann requested no rent and the audience entered free of charge – the profit was in the coffee, still a rare and exotic delicacy.

Café Zimmermann, Katherinenstraße, Leipzig, 1720


Leipzig City Plan

(To orient you on the City Plan, the Thomaskirche is at the bottom center, in the “Peiters Viertel,” the Town Hall and Market Place are near the center of town, and the Nikolaikirche, Bach’s principal church, is near the center top, in the “Grimmische Viertel”. Bach lived next to the Thomaskirche, in the Thomasschule, which also housed the choir boys; he and his family entered through the door on the left, in 1723, before the old building’s much-needed renovation, and, after the renovation, with its new facade and the addition of two upper stories and three attic levels]. Bach’s study was located on the third floor, on the backside of the building, with a lovely view overlooking the garden promenade outside the Thomas Gate, which adjoined the school.)



Thomaskirche und -schule, 1723


Thomaskirche und -schule, after 1730 renovation


Thomaskirche und -schule, outside the city gate

We have three concertos for two harpsichords and strings, two of which appear to be arrangements of earlier works for other forces. We’ll listen to two of them today, designated BWV 1060 and 1061 in Wolfgang Schmieder Catalogue of Bach’s Works (1950).

CONCERTO for Two Harpsichords and Strings in C minor, BWV 1060

  1. Allegro
  2. Adagio

III. Allegro

The first and last movements of this jolly-minor concerto are in ritornello form, whereby the opening musical gestures return over and over again, like pillars, throughout the movement, lending great cohesion to the proceedings. In between, the harpsichords emerge from the full texture (the tutti) to play their solo passages, only to rejoin the tutti until their next solo appearances.  (In Romantic concertos, the soloists remained silent during the opening tutti sections, appearing on their own when the tutti backs away. In Bach’s concertos, the keyboard soloists play along with the tutti.)  The ritornello appears in the home key to launch the piece and again to close it. During the rest of the movement, the ritornello appears in a variety of keys, usually reached by passages that modulate to the next key via stepwise Vivaldian sequences.

In the first bar the initial sighing gesture is immediately varied with the addition of sixteenth notes that push us forward to a cadential variant, ending in a large sigh. This distinctive set of gestures is easy for us to discern throughout the rest of the movement and as such is always greeted with pleasure.

The lovely second movement, based on a cantabile melody in 12/8 time and in the contrasting dominant major key (G major), is a lyrical Siciliano evoking a pastoral mood. (In contrast, the Sicilianos composed by Alessandro Scarlatti for his operas were typically lamenting, melancholic arias in minor keys.) Forward motion is achieved by an anacrusis (“pickup”) motive embedded within the lyrical theme and consisting of five sixteenth-notes that lean forward to a stable quarter note.  One marvels at how Bach never exhausts the variety of ways in which he deploys this motive: as solos; in imitation between the hands and between the two soloists; in duets in parallel and contrary motion; and with all sorts of combinations of these. At a point, the two harpsichordists in the Pinnock-Gilbert recording, no longer content to adhere to the written page, begin to add elegant arabesques of their own invention, as Baroque players were expected to do. A poignant moment occurs when the strings abandon their off-beat pizzicato accompaniment to sustain long notes, in a style not unlike the accompanied recitatives when Christ sings in Bach’s passions.

The leaping violinistic figure that opens the final movement immediately captures our attention and is readily recalled each time it appears in its numerous solo and ritornello entries.

Scholars have speculated since 1886 that this concerto is a transcription by Bach of a lost concerto, in the same key, for violin and oboe, mentioned in a 1764 Breitkopf catalogue. That version has been reconstructed by Max Sieffert (1920), Max Schneider (1924), and, for the New Bach Edition, Wilfried Fischer (1970).

To follow a scrolling score – soloists on the left, orchestra on the right – see the recording by Trevor Pinnock and Kenneth Gilbert with the English Concert (Archiv label):


For a bit more jolly performance, see the one by Christophe Rousset and Christopher Hogwood with The Academy of Ancient Music:


For the version with oboe and violin, see the live performance by Emma Black and Shunske Sato for The Netherlands Bach Society’s All of Bach project:


CONCERTO for Two Harpsichords and Strings in C major BWV 1061

  1. [No tempo marking]
  2. Adagio ovvero Largo [Adagio or Largo]

III. Fuga

So constantly busy are the two harpsichordists in this Concerto that little is left for the strings to do, other than punctuate the starts and cadences of ritornellos, and even there they double the soloists exactly, apart from the odd independent motif. This unique unbalance has led to speculation that perhaps Bach’s eldest son, Wilhelm Friedemann, added the spartan string parts to a composition by his father for harpsichords alone. (The sole manuscript from the Bach circle, written by the composer’s wife, Anna Magdelena, with corrections by Bach himself, is for just the two harpsichords [BWV 1061a]. The manuscript with strings dates from the second half of the 18th century.) Bach also composed a concerto for harpsichord alone, the popular Italian Concerto, BWV 971.

The first movement, which opens with the launch of an elegant yet powerful rising dotted-rhythm figure, is a perpetual motion machine, with the soloists constantly vying for supremacy as they bounce the rising motive back and forth in tight imitation, in what at times sounds like a cat fight!

The flowing slow movement, in 6/8 time and A minor, evokes the Siciliano, with all the descending sixteenth-notes adding a touch of melancholy. The finale is a rip-roaring fugue in which the strings play the more important role of crowning the pileup of fugal keyboard entries with its own, to create a great climax. But this sort of intervention happens only rarely, and otherwise, except for some punctuating pitches, the strings stay out of the fray.

We’ll listen to the performance by Francesco Corti and Siebre Henstra, with the Netherlands Bach Society.

You might enjoy starting with the players’ discussion on preparing this virtuosic work:

Their live (and lively!) performance is at:

Online Performance: A Step Forward

by Tomoko Sugawara

Tomoko Sugawara is an historical harp specialist living in New York City. She teaches and performs internationally and is a co-founder of the Eurasia Consort. Ms. Sugawara, frustrated with online performances that rely on musicians recording separately to click tracks or other pre-recorded material, is exploring new ways to make online performance interactive and natural. 

On March 19th, I presented a concert sponsored by Country Dance New York called “The Sound of Five harps, III”.  I played a Modern pedal harp, a Baroque Triple harp, an Irish harp, a Renaissance harp and an ancient Asian harp, known as Kugo.  It was my third concert in the series, presented in the midst of the pandemic, and this time I collaborated with Lisa Terry, a masterful player of the viola da gamba.

It was an online concert, but I didn’t want to present it the way musicians often handle this situation: one player first records his/her part, and the second player listens to it and adds his/her part. In my opinion this approach results in something that is not comfortable for me, because the musicians cannot really respond to each other in a natural way.

Lisa and I had worked using programs designed for interactive online music performance,  JackTrip and JamKazam.  For this concert we used JamKazam.  But even with the program working properly, we found the latency (time lag between our two audio signals) intolerable in the final JamKazam recording.

To get around this problem I decided to work this way: we played together through JamKazam and at the same time, we recorded ourselves individually on our home equipment.  Then later I edited the two parts together using Adobe Premiere Pro to adjust for latency. The results were acceptable, see the video below.

Fortunately, we could work this way because both of us live in New York.  If we had resided on the East and West Coasts, it might be more difficult to perform together through JamKazam or JackTrip.

Still, I dream of playing online with video and sound even with Japanese musicians!  For that, we have to await more advanced technology.

See the video with Tomoko Sugawara and Lisa Terry.:


For more about Tomoko Sugawara, visit:

Dynamic Flux

By George Bozarth

Each of those little French Rococo “bird” pieces to which we listened conveyed a single mood or “Affect.”  In that regard they are like nearly all individual movements during the late Baroque period. This approach is termed “The Doctrine of the Affections” and was advanced by Aristotle (Rhetoric), who believed there exist discrete states, Affections, such as fear, love, hate, anger, and joy. In The Passions of the Soul (1649) René Descartes wrote a comprehensive study of the Affections , and ninety years later Johann Mattheson included a discussion of how the Affections can be represented in music in his Der vollkommene Kapellmeister or The Perfect Music Director (1739), with each movement exploring a single Affection (Affekt).

Frans Hals, Portrait of René Descartes (Louvre)

Johann Mattheson

In 1769 the Irish writer on aesthetics Daniel Webb advanced a new theory in his Observations on the Correspondence between Poetry and Music. For Webb the feeling of pleasure was “not, as some have imagined, the result of any fixed or permanent condition of the nerves and spirits, but springs from a succession of impressions, and is greatly augmented by sudden or gradual transitions from one kind or strain of vibrations to another.” Composers of the mid-18th century found the portrayal of one Affection per movement to be too static, intellectual, and lifeless, and were enticed by the possibility of continuous dynamic flux and transition of sentiment.

Pianoforte by Bartolomeo Cristofori (1720; Metropolitan Museum of Art)

ENTER the fortepiano, C. P. E. Bach, Mozart, and Haydn!

The pianoforte or fortepiano was invented by Bartolomeo Cristofori in Florence (by 1700) to fill a need – to be able to control with your hands how loudly you are playing impossible on a harpsichord, so that you can make sudden or gradual changes in dynamics.  To refresh your memory of “the Cristofori sound,” here’s a Giga, played by Andrea Coen on a replica of a Cristofori piano: Presto by Lodovico Giustini (1685–1743), from his Sonata in G minor, Op. 1 No. 1 (1732) (the first publication of music designated specifically for the piano:

Lodovico Giustini


Giustini, Sonate (1732)


You’ll note that, although this piece still conveys just one Affect, it employs dynamic changes, as specifically indicated in the score.

For a composer who fully embraced the new approach to conveying emotion in music, we can turn to J. S. Bach’s second musical son, Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (1714–88; who composed keyboard pieces in the Empfindsamer Stil or “sensitivity style” that were in a constant state of intense emotional flux.  Haydn was a great fan of this style and C. P. E. Bach’s music, as was Beethoven too.

Franz Conrad Löhr, Portrait of CPE Bach

C.P.E. first worked as keyboardist in the orchestra of Frederick the Great in Berlin/Potsdam, before moving to Hamburg to succeed his godfather, Georg Philipp Telemann, as Kapellmeister.  C.P.E.’s favorite keyboard instrument was the ultra-sensitive Clavichord; he also had access to Frederick the Great’s several fortepianos built by Gottfried Silbermann (late 1740s).  In 1753 and 1762 he codified his ideas on performance in An Essay on the True Art of Playing Keyboard Instruments.

C.P.E. composed a series of “character pieces” reflecting the personalities of his friends.  Here is the one for Dr. Georg Ernst Stahl, godfather of two of his children, played by Lorenzo Ghielmi on a replica of a 1749 Silbermann fortepiano:

Gottfried Silbermann, Fortepiano (1749; Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Nuremberg)

La Stahlhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yr52a6y89OI

C.P.E.’s virtuosity is on display in his Solfeggio in C Minor, Wq. 117/2, H. 220, performed here on a clavichord by Miklós Spányi:


The ability to shift emotions at a moment’s notice greatly enhanced music’s power to convey dramatic situations, especially for contrasting comic and serious situations, to create comedies without words that employ known forms vs. unexpected gestures. In a musically informed society, with well-known musical forms and styles, and also with well-acknowledged social norms and practices, it was thus possible to achieve humorous effects.  And Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was the man for the job.

Portrait of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

In the humorous finale of his first Piano Sonata (in C major, K. 279; 1774), Mozart wrote in the “serious” sonata form known to his audiences, but filled it with all sorts of youthful hijinks – boisterous and mischievous merrymaking, manic scurrying, rude bass notes, scrunched pitches, silly cadences, odd halts, abortive counterpoint – what Robert Levin calls “Bad Boy Mozart!”  Here is Levin performing this movement on a replica of a Johann Andreas Stein fortepiano (south German, late 1770s, the precursor of the Viennese fortepiano of the next decade with delightful extra ornamentation during the repeated sections:

Ludwig Guttenbrunn, Portrait of Joseph Haydn (ca. 1770)


When you employ a quartet of string instruments – as Joseph Haydn [Attachment 9] first did, and as he and Mozart raised to great musical heights – you can create a witty, intimate conversation among musical friends that we then delight in witnessing.

Anonymous, Haydn Playing String Quartets (before 1790; StaatsMuseum, Vienna)

In the opening Scherzo portion of the third movement of his String Quartet in G major, Op. 33 No. 5 (1784), Haydn “seems to stick his tongue out,” as Richard Wigmore writes, “constantly fooling the listener with displaced accidents, and then inserting a malicious pause just when we seem to have found our feet.”  The sly cadence never fails to delight.  In contrast, the central Trio section is a well-behaved minuet, all prim and proper.  But aren’t we glad when the nonchalantly tripping Scherzo returns!  Here is the period-instrument Festetics String Quartet, milking each cadence for full effect.


The humor of the Rondo Finale of Haydn’s String Quartet in E-flat major, Op. 33 No. 2, The Joke, is when will it end?!  Mark Steinberg characterizes the movement as “a merry romp of a rondo, quicksilver and pure good spirits” – like a carefree stroll in the park. The progression of the cheerful theme is interrupted by sudden changes of speed. “Pompous, regal music announces itself” toward the end, in a last-ditch, almost farcical and ultimately futile effort “at stately orchestral dignity.”  But Haydn’s funny bone cannot be suppressed. Then comes the closing. Since we’ve heard this A section of the rondo several times already, we know exactly when it will end . . . yes? no? (keep listening– “past the end”!). Again we are entertained by the Festetics String Quartet: