These elegant and delicious transcriptions for solo harpsichord I have been listening to much the last
couple days; I am indebted to Pappa Bach for distracting me from a good deal of chaos over the week. Sophie Yates plays this music with such precision and mastery; something to behold indeed!
Around 1714 J.S. Bach suddenly (and apparently without provocation) transcribed and adapted a number of Italian instrumental concertos, mainly by Antonio Vivaldi, for the keyboard. Why he did so is subject to some speculation, though it is often suggested that he had become aware of the publication a couple of years earlier in Amsterdam of Vivaldi’s op. 3 L’estro armonico, possibly through the efforts of his patron, Prince Johann Ernst of Saxe-Weimar. While it's true that his main duties in Weimar at the time were mainly as an organist, he also provided a host of other musical services, including secular concerts, for which these transcriptions were probably most adaptable. Moreover, they offered him the opportunity to absorb thoroughly the popular Italian style.
Clearly, a simple transcription would not suffice for the sort of work that Bach envisioned, and moreover there are inevitable difficulties in arranging the various orchestral ritornellos, though of course the unison openings offered an immediate solution. His arrangements often transpose the works to fit the keyboard compass better. Nowhere is this better demonstrated than in the version of Alessandro Marcello's Oboe Concerto, now transposed up a whole step to D Minor, or in the C-Minor Concerto by his brother Benedetto, which was originally in E Minor. The result is to bring the works into a more intimate and manageable focus, even though they do not lose their often virtuoso lines. The result is somewhat of a tour de force that has intrigued keyboardists (mainly harpsichordists) for a long time. Moreover, the art of the transcription reaches pretty much its apex here, for one cannot deny that Bach has essentially turned these concertos into brand-new works, in essence deconstructing and recomposing already well-known and acknowledged significant pieces, thus giving them an alternative life.