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
The harpsichord was a common instrument, but never as popular as string or wind instruments in the concerto role, probably due to its relative lack of volume in an orchestral setting. 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. 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
It was also popular at this time 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. In 1738 Michael Scheuenstuhl published a similar concerto in G minor.
The new harpsichord concerto
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
- Johann Sebastian Bach (all 1720s-1740s) composed several Harpsichord concertos. For a detailed description and samples of the harpsichord concertos see the dedicated article Keyboard concertos by Johann Sebastian Bach
- Thomas Arne - 6 Favourite Concertos for harpsichord, piano or organ (late 18th century)
- Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach - about 50 keyboard concertos, including one for harpsichord and fortepiano.
- Johann Christian Bach - 6 Concertos for Harpsichord, Op. 1; 5 Concertos for Harpsichord; Concerto for Harpsichord in F minor; 6 Concertos for Keyboard, Op. 7; 6 Concertos for Keyboard, Op. 13
- Gianluca Bersanetti - Concerto for Four Harpsichords and Strings in G minor (2009)
- Hendrik Bouman - Concerto for Harpsichord and String Orchestra in D major (1998)
- Manuel de Falla - Concerto for harpsichord (1926)
- Joseph Dillon Ford Concerto for Harpsichord (2006)
- Franco Donatoni Portrait for Harpsichord and orchestra (1977)
- Jean Françaix Harpsichord Concerto (1959)
- Philip Glass - Concerto for Harpsichord and Chamber Orchestra (2002)
- Henryk Górecki - Harpsichord Concerto (1980)
- Frank Martin - Harpsichord Concerto (1951–52)
- Bohuslav Martinů - Harpsichord Concerto (1935)
- Georg Matthias Monn - Harpsichord concerto in G minor, Harpsichord concerto in D major (18th Century)
- Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart - Harpsichord concertos Nos 1–4 (KV. 37, 39, 40 and 41), arrangements of sonata movements by other composers.
- Francis Poulenc - Concert champêtre (1927–28)
- Roberto Gerhard - Concerto for harpsichord, percussion and strings (1956)
- Walter Leigh - Concertino for Harpsichord and String Orchestra (1934)
- Michael Nyman - Concerto for Harpsichord and Strings (1995)
Several other works feature the harpsichord as a solo instrument alongside others, including:
- Elliott Carter - Double Concerto (1959–61, for harpsichord and piano with two chamber orchestras)
- Roberto Gerhard - Concerto for Harpsichord, String Orchestra and Percussion (1951)
- Alfred Schnittke - Concerto Grosso No. 1 (1977, for two violins, harpsichord, prepared piano and orchestra)
- Frank Martin - Petite symphonie concertante for harp, harpsichord, piano and double string orchestra (1945)
- John Rutter - Suite Antique (1979, for flute, harpsichord and string orchestra)
- Iannis Xenakis - À l'île de Gorée (1986, for harpsichord and ensemble of 12)
- 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
- Bach Digital Work 1247
- http://piano-concertos.org/ - a list of classical and romantic piano concertos