Movement 1: [Allegro]
Movement 2: Andante
29 September 1931, Cincinnati; commissioned by Harriet Cohen and first published by Oxford University Press in A Bach Book for Harriet Cohen; first performed at the Queen's Hall on 17 October 1932
Movement 3: Allegro assai
The first movement follows the ubiquitous ritornello style, in which the opening, tutti section is restated in various keys and environments, like the pillars of a building or the central point of a speech. But this skeleton is fleshed out in a highly individual way: the ‘subsidiary’ material is often central to the solo episodes and much of this returns at later junctures – so it is thus of equal importance to the ritornello theme (interestingly the final iteration of one of these passages reveals a prominent B-A-C-H pattern in the bass). In other words, Bach shows the same subtlety in the pacing out the events of the movement as he does in his ability to combine themes simultaneously; he produces a much weightier level of musical discourse than the age would normally require.
The central movement is a rare example of a quartet by Bach (virtually all his chamber music presents a trio texture) in which the melodic line is shared among the upper three instruments. Their work rather resembles a mosaic in presenting a picture that would more usually be created by much simpler means. Should the trumpeter feel peeved at being excluded from the slow movement, the final movement provides ample compensation since here the trumpet takes the lead with the fugal subject. Of all Bach’s fast movements, this one most belies the belief that the fugue is a dry, academic process; it works more like a sparkling conversation or a spirited chase in which we always expect the next entry of the subject but are somehow surprised when it arrives. Here the accompanying string parts are more or less cosmetic; while they provide some shading and emphasis, much of the time they could be omitted without major damage to the musical argument.
from notes by John Butt © 2013