About Bach’s Concerto for Two Violins in D minor

On Sunday, April 28, 2019, the Toronto Mozart Players, led by conductor David Bowser, welcome some talented guests. Tickets and information here.

April 28 2019 concert

The Concerto for Two Violins in D minor, BWV 1043, also known as the Double Violin Concerto, is one of the most famous works by Johann Sebastian Bach and considered among the best examples of the work of the late Baroque period.

Bach may have written the concerto between 1717 and 1723 when he was the Kapellmeister at the court of Anhalt-Köthen, Germany, though the work’s surviving performance materials were created for the concert series that Bach ran as the Director of the Collegium Musicum in Leipzig and are dated c. 1730–31. Later in 1739, in Leipzig, he created an arrangement for two harpsichords, transposed into C minor, BWV 1062.

When Bach arrived in Leipzig in 1723, he inherited a professional music staff of four town pipers, three violinists and one apprentice. At the age of 48, he had taken what seemed to him to be a backward move in his career, becoming Kantor of St Thomas’s. He built up his force of musicians by recruiting from his school and the nearby university.

Many of Bach’s orchestrations were for purely pragmatic reasons, so we might presume that none of the three fiddlers were up to playing it in its original form. However, when the Anhalt-Köthen version of the work was lost, Bach specialists were able to reconstruct it from the harpsichord version. The slow movement is surely one of Bach’s most sublime creations.

It is possible that Bach wrote the Double Concerto for two principal violinists in Prince Leopold’s orchestra when Bach served as the Director of Music for Leopold, Prince of Anhalt-Köthen from 1717-1723. The orchestra’s principal violinists, Joseph Speiss and Martin Friedrich Marcus, were both known as talented players at the time. During this period, Bach focused on instrumental music including works for solo violin as well as the Brandenburg Concertos.