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Because they were conceived on an intimate scale, to be played to the Queen as chamber music in the privacy of Buckingham House, the Opus 1 concertos are scored for the modest forces of two violins, cello and harpsichord. They enjoyed huge popularity in England and abroad for over a century, and when they were performed in public concerts it was not uncommon for violas (an octave higher) and double-bass (an octave lower) to double the cello line, and for horn parts to be added, although these were frequently inauthentic—even in those concertos where Bach specifically wrote for horns he evidently considered them optional.
Four of the concertos in the set employ the two-movement format favoured in the chamber music of the period, with an opening allegro being followed by a graceful minuet, but in the D major concerto which concludes the set Bach inserts after the elegant opening allegro a charming middle movement, in which the harpsichord’s lilting melody is accompanied by pizzicato strings. The finale is indeed a minuet of sorts, but his choice of theme on which to build a relatively unassuming set of variations would no doubt have amused as well as curried favour with the queen to whom the concertos were dedicated. God Save the King, whose musical provenance is unclear, had been established as England’s unofficial national anthem as recently as 1745, when it was first published (in Gentleman’s Magazine) and sung on the stages of London’s leading theatres as an expression of loyalty to the Hanoverian King George II in defiance of the looming threat from Charles Stuart in Scotland.
from notes by Ian Page © 2018