Bach's Violin Concertos - Where To Start

J.S. Bach may have been light on concertos, but when he did compose them he made sure they were special. Here's where to start with his violin concertos.

Concertos don't take up a huge amount of room in the Bach canon, and the violin concertos take up even less room. In fact, you can count his completed violin concertos on one hand. So why, if they're so insignificant in his career, do we still cherish, hear and play these works so often? What's the best one to start with? And where do we go after that?

Two 'proper' violin concertos

Bach wrote two traditional violin concertos, one in A minor and one in E major. They've both got some fantastic melodies in them, and you can really hear how they prefigure the more traditional concerto sound that developed in the following century. The concerto in A minor is particularly popular. Listen to how the solo violin melody completely takes over after the introduction - Bach meant for this piece to be a showing-off session.

The E major concerto is just as loveable as the A minor, with the first movement cycling gently through some gorgeous melodies. Performers often love to put in the occasional 'twiddle' to embellish the themes a little bit, which can make each performance different and really maximise the way that Bach wrote it. Listen to Yehudi Menuhin having fun with it below.

The Double Concerto

So, you've written two violin concertos - what's next? Stick two violin concertos together and make a double concerto! This is a total showpiece in concert - the audience gets to see two violins duelling, duetting and generally interacting throughout. Take a look at this great performance (and try not to get distracted by the male violinist's floppy shirt).

What's left?

Well, not much, but it's all interesting. A fragment of a concerto in D major exists, but whether it was completely written by Bach himself or whether it's adapted from another work is the subject of intense Bach-ian debate. Aside from that, there is a whole other concerto in G minor that was originally composed for the violin, but has since been more popularly played on the harpsichord. 

We'd recommend the full violin concerto in G minor, which you can compare with the harpsichord version below. Which instrument suits it better, do you think?