9th Biennial Conference on Baroque Music


The Prelude to J. S. Bach's First English Suite BWV 808/1: An Allegro Concerto Movement in Ritornello Form

Gregory Butler

Except for the First English Suite, whose prelude stands apart with regard to formal structure, the preludes to the other five suites, according to the leading Bach scholar, Alfred Dürr, are all cast in ABA da capo form. In this context he remarks that "they present a certain opposition to the concerto movement type." This view has been reinforced recently by David Schulenberg who states that "the preludes of Suites Nos. 2-6 are not in concerto form - that is, ritornello form - as such." In fact, only four of the remaining five are in da capo form. In fact, BWV 808/1 is not cast in da capo form at all but ironically, given Dürr's reference to it as among those works in opposition to the concerto movement type, in ritornello concerto form.

In this paper the movement is analysed in terms of ritornello concerto form. Its ritornello is seen to conform to the standard Vivaldian type and its episodes are related to the trio type seen in Bach's Weimar organ fugues. The movement is then viewed in the context of Bach's other allegro ritornello form movements and a striking structural similarity is demonstrated with the second movement of the Fifth Brandenburg Concerto BWV 1050/2. A comparison with the through-composed arias of Bach's Weimar period suggests that the movement may have been composed toward the end of 1716.

It is tempting to see the BWV 808/1 as a direct consequence of Bach's transcription for keyboard of twenty-two concerto movements by Antonio Vivaldi, Alessandro Marcello, Georg Philipp Telemann, Duke Johann Ernst of Saxe-Weimar, and other anonymous composers (BWV 592-597, 972-987) following his reception of the concertos of Vivaldi in the period around 1713/14 and by extension, as a link between those transcriptions and Bach's own early essays for orchestra in the Vivaldian style. Clearly it is a forerunner of the Italian Concerto BWV 971.

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Last updated on 17 April 2000 by Yo Tomita