Why is Bach’s Italian Concerto referred to as a concerto? This is a really good question. A concerto is generally a solo instrument or small group of soloists along with a larger ensemble and almost every concerto you encounter meets this definition. Yet, Bach’s Italian Concerto is a solo keyboard work! So, how can this possibly be considered a concerto? The reason for this is that it is written with the Italian style of a concerto grosso and the way Bach achieves this is by doing something he rarely did in any of his keyboard music which is, he wrote in dynamics in the entire three movements every single note; in the right hand and the left hand. Either they’re both forte or they’re both piano or one or the other is forte. This is what achieves the feeling of a concerto of the larger group and the smaller group.
The entire concerto was built upon the juxtaposition of the sound of a solo group against the entire group and it gives the feeling of an Italian concerto. It’s so fascinating to realize two things about Bach. One is that there is a tremendous amount of music that we’ll never know because he was undiscovered until years after his death. There’s an old wives tale that many of his scores ended up being used to wrap fish. I don’t know if this is true, but we do know that he wrote a lot of music that we have never gotten to hear and probably never will. The other thing about Bach is that he lived in Leipzig, Germany and did very little travelling, yet he wrote a magnificent Italian concerto, a set of beautiful English suites as well as French suites. How is it possible that he wrote all this music? After all, there was no recording back then. Being in a major city, any time any artists from other places would come to visit, he made a point of listening to many different styles of music. Being the genius that he was, he could assimilate those styles and could write some of the greatest Italian, French and English music as well as his native German music,
So that’s a bit of a lesson on Bach’s Italian Concerto for you. I hope this has been helpful! Again, this is Robert@LivingPianos.com