Harpsichord concerto

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A harpsichord concerto is a piece of music for an orchestra with the harpsichord in a solo role (though for another sense, see below). Sometimes these works are played on the modern piano (see piano concerto). For a period in the late 18th century, Joseph Haydn and Thomas Arne wrote concertos that could be played interchangeably on harpsichord, fortepiano, and (in some cases) pipe organ.

The Baroque harpsichord concerto[edit]

The harpsichord was a common instrument in the 1730s, but never as popular as string or wind instruments in the concerto role in the orchestra, probably due to its relative lack of volume in an orchestral setting.[citation needed] In this context, harpsichords were more usually employed as a continuo instrument, playing a harmonised bass part in nearly all orchestral music, the player often also directing the orchestra.

Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No.5 in D major, BWV 1050, may be the first work in which the harpsichord appears as a concerto soloist.[citation needed] In this piece, its usual continuo role is alternated with prominent solo obbligato episodes in all three movements. In the first movement the harpsichord, after rapid scales up and down the length of its range, embarks on a solo cadenza which lasts for 3–4 minutes, while the orchestra is silent.

The concerto for solo harpsichord[edit]

It was also popular in the Baroque era to adapt Italian concertos for other instruments (such as violin and orchestra) for solo harpsichord (or organ)—which Bach did with many of Vivaldi's concertos. The concerto transcriptions Bach made for harpsichord are listed as BWV 972–987. Bach's Italian concerto BWV 971 is in this transcription style, though it was written as an original piece for harpsichord. A collection of 25 such concertos [scores] by Christian Petzold was published in 1729.[1][2] In 1738 Michael Scheuenstuhl [scores] published a similar concerto in G minor.[3]

Bach also composed a concerto for two harpsichords without orchestral accompaniment, BWV 1061a, which is the early version of the concerto for two harpsichords and string orchestra, BWV 1061.[4]

The new harpsichord concerto[edit]

With the harpsichord revival in the 20th century, harpsichordists commissioned new pieces for the new 'revival' instrument: Wanda Landowska commissioned concerti from Francis Poulenc and Manuel de Falla. Though the 'revival instruments' have now fallen out of favour, concerti continue to be written for harpsichord, though are now more likely to be played on a copy of a historical instrument, perhaps with a small orchestra or some amplification to ensure it can be well heard.

List of harpsichord concertos[edit]

Early music[edit]

Modern music[edit]

Several other works feature the harpsichord as a solo instrument alongside others, including:


  1. ^ Schulze, Hans-Joachim (1980). "Ein 'Dresdner Menuett' im zweiten Klavierbüchlein der Anna Magdalena Bach: Nebst Hinweisen zur Überlieferung einiger Kammermusikwerke Bachs" [A Minuet from Dresden in the second keyboard booklet of Anna Magdalena Bach: Further, indications regarding the transmission of some of Bach's chamber music compositions]. In Schulze, Hans-Joachim; Wolff, Christoph (eds.). Bach-Jahrbuch 1979 [Bach Yearbook 1979]. Bach-Jahrbuch (in German). Vol. 65. Neue Bachgesellschaft. Berlin: Evangelische Verlagsanstalt. pp. 45–64. doi:10.13141/bjb.v1979.
  2. ^ Petzold, Christian (1729). Recueil des XXV Concerts Pour le Clavecin [Album of 25 harpsichord concertos] (in French). SLUB Dresden.
  3. ^ Philipp Spitta, translated by Clara Bell and J. A. Fuller Maitland. Johann Sebastian Bach: His Work and Influence on the Music of Germany, 1685–1750, Vol. 3 (Book VI). Novello & Co, 1899, p. 151
  4. ^ Bach Digital Work 01247
  5. ^ "Concertino da camera". Boosey & Hawkes. Retrieved 21 October 2022.
  6. ^ "20th Century Harpsichord Concertos". Cedille Records. Retrieved 21 October 2022.

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