Movement 1: [untitled]
Movement 2: Andante
Movement 3: Presto
Scheibe was a follower of the new ‘Art Galant’ which favoured the more melodic style of Bach’s sons rather than the formal counterpoint of their father. Perhaps that is why he was so taken with the Italian Concerto, as it leans more in this direction. All through his life, Bach learned by copying out works of other composers, among them Vivaldi, Albinoni, Corelli and Marcello. He was particularly drawn to the concerto grosso and transcribed many by Vivaldi for keyboard. Writing for a two-manual harpsichord gave him the opportunity to distinguish between tutti (full orchestra) and solo passages, indicating them with the words forte and piano. A pianist, having only one keyboard, must do this by changing dynamic level and tone colour. This distinction, however, is far from clear-cut all the time, and still requires a great deal of imagination on the part of the player. Often one hand is marked at a different dynamic level from the other.
The opening bars of the Italian Concerto, which could not be more affirmative, are immediately repeated in the dominant key, and separated by rests that are too often cut short by the anxious student. In the solo passages, the right hand generally takes the role of soloist, with the left accompanying and occasionally adding some more melodic material. The jewel of the piece is the slow movement, marked Andante (so not too slow). A rhapsodical melody of great beauty soars freely over a highly organized and at times sequential bass which, except for the two cadential bars, constantly repeats the same rhythmic figure. This movement is perhaps the closest to its Italian models, although its florid embellishments are completely written out by Bach rather than left to the performer’s fancy. Again Bach was criticized by Scheibe for this: ‘Every ornament, every little grace, and everything that one thinks of as belonging to the method of playing, he expresses completely in notes; and this not only takes away from his pieces the beauty of harmony, but completely covers the melody throughout.’ In his defence, Birnbaum makes the point that only very few performers have a sufficient knowledge of ornamentation not to spoil the composer’s intentions, and that Bach is fully entitled ‘to set the wanderers back on the right path by prescribing a correct method according to his intentions, and thus to watch over the preservation of his own honour’. How fortunate for us that he did! To conclude the work, Bach writes a high-spirited Presto, combining all his brilliance at the keyboard with a sense of fun. In the episodes the melodic material jumps from one hand to the other, allowing no let-up whatsoever. Pianists especially tend to let this movement run away completely, forgetting that even in a Presto Bach is agile enough to dance!
from notes by Angela Hewitt © 2001