The essential element in the Sixth Brandenburg Concerto that inspired this work comes from its very first measure the opening passage with two spiraling solo violas, like identical twins following each other breathlessly through a hall of mirrors the echoing of the title. Also in mind were other works of Bach’s that I think of constantly, such as the Ricercar (also on tonight’s program), keyboard Toccatas, C Minor Organ Passacaglia, etc. But it also echoes other recent work of mine and reminiscences of other composers I love who also paid homage to Bach in their music.
Each of the Brandenburgs is exceptional in its use of instruments, and this concerto mirrors the Sixth by using only violas, celli and basses, while gradually adding reeds and horns into a loop back to the sound world of First Brandenburg Concerto (and extending it with trumpet and percussion).
The first movement begins with a soft introduction which lays out some of the important building blocks of the concerto’s harmony, followed by a fiery, toccata-like virtuosic display. The lines in the movement are constantly mirrored and layered in an often dense maze of sound.
The heart of the piece, the slow movement, is essentially a Passacaglia built on slowly moving bass lines, mirrored layers of melody and open harmonic spaces. Strongly consonant in nature, its harmonies are built in imitative spirals, while the more angular climax uses compressions of the work’s opening harmonies.
Rather than closing with a faster dance movement, the brief, slow Aria suggests a courtly dance, and is expressive and pensive, ending with a sigh rather than a flourish.
Concerto with Echoes was written in the spring and summer of 2009 and was commissioned for Orpheus for the New Brandenburg project.
Aaron Jay Kernis