YR3 Week5: J.S. Bach — Brandenburg Concerto #3; The Low Anthem



Heliodor Recording. Printed in Canada // Johann Sebastian Bach (1685–1750) // Brandenburg Concerto #3

Group of the Schola // Cantorum Basiliensis // Conducted by August Wenizinger

Brandenburg Concerto #3 in G, BMV 1048:

  • Allegro

  • Adagio (slow)

  • Allegro

the last fibre of my hot-boy-summer i was holding onto slipped out of hand on wednesday evening with a phone call from Sonic Boom telling me my copy of Iron & Wine’s The Shepherd’s Dog i ordered had arrived; there was something in her tone of voice that told me it was time soon to put away my strap-sandals and felt hat. coincidentally the cafe wherein i’m typing this happens to be playing that same album. ‘In the failing light of the afternoon / Lucy in the shade of the dogwood blooms…’(Lovesong of the Buzzard). 

likewise: i’ve been using this recording of half of bach’s Brandenburg Concertos to bookend the transition of musical indulgences between summer and autumn, for reasons that i find both inexplicable and obvious. of the three, the third of these concertos especially exemplify the characteristic atmosphere of music around this time of year: a quickening of pace and a deepening of hues. not to mention how well it pairs with the monotonic screech of the friendly (horny) neighbourhood cicadas, which along with the harpsichord’s drone creates interlocking textures akin to the seemingly never-ending trance-like effect of javanese Gamelan.  

It is most exhilarating to sit close to a performance, as the theme leaps around the group from side to side (something of the same effect can be enjoyed on a stereo recording, but seeing the musicians pass the themes adds an extra dimension). “” robert philip on the 3rd Concerto, The Classical Music Lover’s Companion to Orchestral Music  

these three concertos were as well my introduction to bach. though baroque music is a taste i haven’t acquired, the initial reaction years ago to the third movement of the third concerto was a visceral one. as a musician, or artist of any kind, you must be on to something essentially human if the energy in your music can survive three centuries of interpretation and simultaneous generations of improvements upon the instruments you wrote them for (as it happens, the Brandenburg Concerto #3 turns 300 years old this year).  

it’s no question that bach intended the third of his Brandenburg Concertos to be party music, a hellova good time, even his adherence to the usual fast-slow-fast structure of movements seems perfunctory. the slow movement is a hilariously brief ten-second interlude before heading into the carnival and fanfare of the third movement.

Between the two movements, rather than a slow movement there are two chords, marked Adagio, with a pause. It is not known quite what Bach intended by this, though it is widely assumed that he intended a moment of improvisation to link the two movements. “” robert philip on the 3rd Concerto, The Classical Music Lover’s Companion to Orchestral Music 

the third movement is one of the most cheerful and optimistic stretches of music i know--perhaps the peculiarly electric din of period instruments have something to do with it--all of it seems to contain everything inherently enchanting about the quickening of pace of this time of year: wherein who we resolved to become in january reaches some kind of ripening and revs up to take one final swing at actualization. with the harpsichord playing continuo as the same phrases are repeated over and over between three sets of string instruments, that last movement is perhaps what dubstep might have sounded like if it was invented in the early 1700’s.

(new download, #784: Ticket Taker - The Low Anthem) 

on the list of marvellous portable things, a good song can’t be topped. concertos and symphonies are too much in their own landscapes to bring along with you for the daily commute (the quotidian beasts, if you will). except for in rare and oft discouraged contemporary exceptions, poems used to be written primarily to be read aloud, and were therefore engendered by a certain hearability, a certain sing-songiness, and as such were the perfect companion for the road——a memorized stanza can fork a lightning flash of wonderment here and there, without the necessary adjustments of pitch and the fantasy of instrumentation required to recite a song from memory. as an alternative to that, a good song is simply indispensable.  

(as to the parameters of a ‘good song’, i’m at the moment satisfied with a working definition of whenever a song or a melody is realized consciously as a profound interruption to the chugging onwardness of our stream of consciousness, of our thoughts and inner narratives that are amputated before they can grasp any rope of beauty...)and being as i am, at bottom, a pious excel-loving horder, i’ve been collecting these little good songs for the better part of the last decade.

to that effect ‘Ticket Taker, the third song on the album Oh My God Charlie Darwin, was the profound interruption to a streetcar ride on king street on some evening this past february. it was one of those shuffling, dreary and faceless winter evenings to which spring owes much of its magic. at first i was almost certain it was something off of leonard cohen’s last album, You Want it Darker, indeed the voice of the band’s lead vocalist, ben knx miller, croaks like cohen’s and their lyrics likewise wallow in that same irresistible inertia that orients much of cohen’s stanzas. but i should have recognized knox’s voice because you couldn’t talk to me this time last september without me bringing up Give My Body Back, another gem by The Low Anthem. their musicality and poetic lyricism, however, are unique enough to survive conversation sans comparison. then there’s that delightful ability in songwriting to seamlessly transition between abstract narration to compelling imagery in the same verse: 

They say the sky's the limit
But the sky's about to fall
Down come all them record books cradle and all
They say before he bit it
That the boxer felt no pain
But somewhere there's a gamblin' man
With a ticket in the rain

the instrumentation is simple and unimposing: an introduction on acoustic guitar (reminiscent of the introduction of conor oberst’s Lua) with a percussive beat on the standing base. the star of the trio is the accompanying clarinet melody at an eerie distance (as that instrument always seems to be in folk tunes) giving a warm colour to the staccato of strings and talk-singing vocals.