Part of Bach’s greatness was his willingness to embrace and learn from new influences and styles. When Vivaldi and other Italian composers burst upon his consciousness in the early eighteenth century, Bach set to work transcribing several of their concertos in order to further his understanding of this new and vigorous way of composition. He arranged sixteen concertos for solo harpsichord and four for solo organ. Until quite recently, there was a debate about the authorship of some of these, luminaries such as Mendelssohn attributing the Concerto in D minor to Bach’s son, Wilhelm Friedemann. During the journey from Vivaldi to Murdoch, via whichever Bach is currently in favour, this concerto has made several notable detours, particularly in the relative tempi. Although Vivaldi’s directions are quite clear, the tempi of Bach’s outer movements are unspecified, allowing Murdoch to translate Vivaldi’s fluid Allegro opening as a dark and weighty overture. The short series of chords which usher in the fugue have been transformed and extended into a highly dramatic episode, whilst keeping the harmonic progression intact. Here is the pivotal point—stylistically this transcription is light years away from the ‘galant’ style of the original, but it stays true to its essential structure. Bach, indeed, embroidered and filled out the melodies and accompanying figures to suit his chosen instrument, so one can reasonably say that William Murdoch is simply following in his footsteps.
from notes by Piers Lane © 2003