The second “Brandenburg” Concerto has a most unusual solo ensemble in Bach’s presentation manuscript, consisting of trumpet, flute, oboe, and violin. We tend to think of the trumpet as a particularly loud instrument and the recorder as very soft, though the instruments of Bach’s day would have been better balanced in terms of volume, and in the modest-sized rooms in which this music was performed, the flute would project quite well. While it is possible that Bach composed for these four solo instruments simply because they were there, it is equally likely that he chose them precisely for their diversity. The fact that each sounds so different from the other makes it easier to keep track of their doings throughout the concerto.

As was typical at the time, Bach allowed the trumpet to rest during the slow middle movement. This was also a practical decision, because the brass instrument could not yet play the complete scale, making it difficult to fit it into the more intimate middle movement.

© Steven Ledbetter