Could this be a lost concerto by Bach?

Could this be a lost concerto by Bach?


norman lebrecht

May 27, 2016

I’ve been listening to music by that great composer, Anonymous, for the Lebrecht Album of the Week.

The best fun I’ve had all week is trying to identify the composers of six 18th century concertos that have turned up in the vaults of the Saxon State University library in Dresden. Five of the concertos are for flute, which suggest a possible Frederick the Great connection, the sixth is for cembalo. All are entertaining, accomplished, professional – top-drawer music for a courtly dinner party. But who wrote them?

Read on here, here or here.

bach thomaskirche


  • Steven Holloway says:

    Good luck to whoever may try to pin down the composers! Frederick had the likes of C.P.E. Bach, Quantz and Benda to compose for him, all estimable composers, but I really wouldn’t want to work on this poser knowing Quantz composed 296 flute concertos. Except…Quantz composed, and in this Frederick emulated him in his own four concertos, in a mix of (sensuous) Italian and (rational) French styles. Are these concertos of that nature? If so, it might make the job arduous but feasible, with a lot of elimination to simplify the field.

  • Marg says:

    Very interesting!! The Toronoto review says the tracks can be heard in iTunes but I was unable to find them. However, Presto Classical records in the UK has the CD and a fair chunk of all tracks can be listened to there, and downloaded or purchased.

  • Robert Holmén says:

    I wonder… would the perceived value of these concertos go up or down if research caused the attribution to change from “anonymous” to some very minor composer.

    Same music but less glitz.

    • Hilary says:

      I was certainly disappointed that the exquisite slow movement of Mozart’s 2nd piano concerto was infact by a near-unknown called Johann Schobert.
      Shows how fickle we can be.

  • Whoever says:

    I haven’t heard the concerti in question, but I am not surprised at all that 6 fine exemplars by “Anonymous” were rediscovered in the Sachsische Landesbibliothek, Dresden. Dresden was a musical center of the first order in Bach’s day and until Friederich der Grosse ran Prussia into the ground by joining in the fray of what was actually the first world war, named the Seven Years’ War (1756-1763 in Friedrich’s part of the war theatre).

    You really have to hand it to the Germans. Nobody can commit national suicide by starting world wars yet produce some of the best composers ever. The only positive thing about the Seven Years’ War was that Prussia was allied with Great Britain, so there was no need for bomber command to blow Berlin and Dresden to smithereens. Oh…wait…I think I’m committing an anachronism. Pardon my sarcasm.

    Musicology has discounted the North German school of post-baroque for much too long. the problem is that the style of music performed in Dresden and Berlin in the 1730s-1760s doesn’t fit in neatly with the boxed concepts of “from baroque to rococo to classical styles,” whatever the heck that means anyway.

    Music from Dresden and Berlin sounds nothing at all like 1760s J.C. Bach, Mozart, Haydn et al., who were all writing for Viennese ears, which happened to be tuned into the North Italian (Milanese and Bolognese, primarily) and Mannheim development of the classical style after a quick run-through of Neapolitan rococo.

    Dresden and Berlin were much more in tune with the Neapolitan style through Hasse, Quantz, CPE Bach, Benda, etc. etc. etc. The main difference was that the North Germans developed their own quirky harmonic progressions and idiosyncratic melodic and counterpoint styles, which they then proceeded to call “empfindsam,” “sturm und drang” and “galant.”

    I’m not going to get into a long musicological discussion here. Yes, Bach used the “Affektenlehre,” but he used it in the baroque sense. This demanded a piece start out in one particular affect, contrast it appropriately with a different affect (B section in opera arias), and then recapitulate the original affect. Those who know the music of CPE Bach, Benda, Quantz, et al. will know that they strewed affects around a movement or aria in buckets, without the baroque orderliness that preceded them, and which had been transformed into the Viennese classical style further south.

    In spite of all the ballyhoo about Bach writing Musikalisches Opfer in a modern and gallant style for Friedrich der Grosse, he in fact did very little of the sort. The only part of the works on the King’s Theme that could pass for something CPE Bach or Benda wrote – and only by a long shot at that – is the central trio sonata. Bach didn’t like the “modern” Berlin style and said so about CPE’s works: “Es ist Berliner blau.” Berlin blue was one of the cheapest coloring dyes then available.

    The only other piece Bach wrote that could possibly be mistaken for a CPE Bach concerto written in the 1740s-60s is the first movement of the D minor Harpsichord Concerto BWV 1052, which started out as an instrumental cantata overture in 1726, before they ended up as a harpsichord concerto in 1738 (after being a CPE compositional exercise from 1734, now known as BWV 1052a – guess the kid learned a thing or two from the old man).

    This gets me – finally, thank heavens – to my point. IF one of those 6 newly discovered concerti were indeed by JS Bach, it would be pretty much immediately evident to an expert listener, let alone a JS Bach expert. Yes, I know that some masses, cantatas and motets were given BWV numbers when the first complete Bach Gesellschaft Ausgabe was issued between 1851 and 1900. But we’ve had 116 years more to listen to the music in – not to mention research sources – and I challenge anyone to put in a CD with the “Bach apocrypha” collection into a stereo and try to pass one of those pieces off to a Bach scholar today (assuming, by some miracle, that s/he had never heard anything about the Bach apocrypha). It wouldn’t fly for 2 minutes.

    Hence I must agree with those who say the works are likely to be by CPE Bach, Benda, Quantz or some other more or less forgotten scion of the North German School. Nothing wrong with that. I just adore CPE Bach’s concerti, and Benda’s symphonies are great. I’ll look forward to hearing those concerti, knowing well in advance that they weren’t written by ol’ JS.