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Discussions of Bach’s Instrumental Works - No. 2

Italian Concerto in F mahor BWV 971



Francis Browne wrote (April 28, 2002):
The work chosen for the second monthly discussion is one of Bach's most famous and most frequently recorded keyboard works,the Italian Concerto published in 1735 as part of the second volume of Bach's Clavierubung (Keyboard practice) with the French Overture BWV 831 (Contributors might well want to consider both works together : that was clearly Bach's intention.)

Italian Concerto Online

Most list members will know the work well, but I suggested that we might make use of the music online on the Naxos website so that anyone who has not yet heard the work may follow the discussion either now or in the archive.For everybody also this might be a point of reference available to all. If you go to the site at you will need to log on, go to labels - Naxos Classical - Numerical catalogue, and then find the following reference numbers :

8.550571 or 8.55041 Janos Sebestyen, piano
8.550709 Wolfgang Rübsam, piano
Extracts -frustratingly! - from a performance on harpsichord by Wanda
Landowska can be heard at:


Background Notes

A far better account of the work than anything I could write can be found at:

where Angela Hewitt writes an excellent introduction to her own recording.

Downloadable Scores

The score of the Italian concerto ( and much more keyboard music of Bach) can be down loaded from:

At the following site there are midi, scorch (Sibelius) and pdf files of the score to download of the first two movements:


The J.S Bach Home Page has a list of some of the available recordings at:


Kirk and Don review Angela Hewitt (and others) at:

For a different view of Hewitt's playing of the Italian concerto see:

Some Suggestions for Discussion:

1. Piano or harpsichord ?
2. First impressions : can list members remember what they thought of the work the very first time they heard it, and how their views have changed? It would also be particularly interesting to hear from who anyone has heard the work first time for this discussion.
3. Which recording gives you the most pleasure? Which the least?
4. What do you look for in particular in performances. eg how to tackle the opening bars; the treatment of the repeated rhythmic figure in the slow movement; the tempo of the finale?
5. Why did Bach publish the Italian Concerto with the French Overture ?
6. In what way is the Italian Concerto Italian ?

I have chosen the Italian Concerto as a well known and accessible introduction to Bach's keyboard work and as a piece that raises general questions about Bach's music as well as particular issues of its own. The suggestions above are only suggestions : please feel free to discuss whatever aspects you please.

(To make it easy to pick out - or avoid - the discussion, please prefix any posting with MD2)

Francine Renee Hall wrote (May 2, 2002):
[To Francis Browne] My experience with the Italian Concerto goes back to the '70's when I purchased an Alfred Brendel LP which was coupled with Bach's Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue. Since I had very little Bach at the time (including Kempff's wonderful, but incomplete WTC and some Helmut Walcha playing grand Bach organ Preludes and Fugues), my first explorations into Bach were extremely 'romantic' and un-HIP. But it seems that the Italian Concerto and Chromatic Fantasy were perfect 'romantic' pieces, quite unlike Bach's more 'controlled' works like the WTC. To this day, Brendel is the most 'romantic' interpreter of Bach in my collection. I've never intentionally bought the Italian Concerto again except when I purchased a Glenn Gould set about a year ago, the Italian Concerto happened to be a part of it. For some reason I always had this strange reaction that this was not the 'real' Bach, that this was 'romantic' Bach, an anomaly. I don't play it often enough. Can someone suggest a really good piano version with a more HIP approach?

Trevor Evans-Young wrote (May 3, 2002):
[To Francis Browne] My first experience with this piece was Gould. Unfortunately, it was on a cassette tape and I clearly remember that they quality of the I.C. was much worse than the rest of the tape. Maybe this has colored my opinion of the piece because I don't like it that much. I have heard a few other versions and it doesn't really strike me as one of the Master's best works. Maybe after I read the future comments I will give it another 'go'.

Francis Browne wrote (May 3, 2002):
[To Francine Renee Hall] You asked about a piano version of the Italian concerto with a more HIP approach than Brendel.

There is a performance by Rosalyn Tureck included on 'The Keyboard Album' on Sony Essential Classics. (This is worth getting anyway for The Art of Fugue played by Charles Rosen). If you enjoy her work, you will enjoy this.

There is also Angela Hewitt on Hyperion. I have enjoyed this, and the disc also includes the French Overture, the work Bach published with the Italian Concerto. Kirk and Don review Angela Hewitt (and others) at :

For a different view of Hewitt's playing of the Italian concerto see:

When I did a search for the Italian Concerto on the catalogue of a mail order firm, there were over 60 entries. I hope other members of the list will be able to tell us about some of these recordings.

Juozas Rimas wrote (May 3, 2002):
[To Trevor Evans-Young] I dislike Gould's staccato in the left hand in the Andante of IC. Generally I like him mixing and alternating staccato/legato but in this case that left hand detaches somehow from the flow of the composition.

I'm suprised that you regard the IC as being not among the best works of JSB. Its Andante has arguably the best ratio between musical means used (in Bach's clavier works) and the result delivered - notes are very scarce but with a huge emotional charge that perhaps only Mozart could equal.

The IC shows Bach as an extremely versatile composer who could achieve wonderful results both using complex polyphony and minimalism.

Jim Morrison wrote (May 3, 2002):
Just for the record, there are at least 3 different recordings of Gould playing the Italian Concerto.
1955 CBC, 1959 Columbia/CBS/Sony, and 1981 Sony.

The 59 is my favorite and probably the one we're all talking about.

You can also see Gould involved in the making of this recording on the video On and Off the Record.

Francine Renee Hall wrote (May 3, 2002):
[To Francis Browne] Thanks for the Tureck and Hewett recommendations! (and Kirk's and Don's reviews, of course!!!)

Donald Satz wrote (May 3, 2002):
[To Juozas Rimas] I agree with Juozas. Thebest Andante from IC that I've ever heard comes from Angela Hewitt - her DG disc, not the Hyperion.

John Grant wrote (May 3, 2002):
[To Donald Satz] Another worthy but not well-known interpretation of the Italian Concert is by Stanislav Bunin: an EMI recording from 1991, paired with English Suite No 3 and a number of Bach transcriptions by Kempff and Myra Hess. I'm very tempted to pick up Hewitt's DG version, given what's been said here!

Pete Blue wrote (May 3, 2002):
[To John Grant] My first exposure to the Italian Concerto was piano transcriptions by Rosalyn Tureck (not the Sony) and Gyorgy Sandor on early-1950s LPs, almost certainly NLA (and no tragic loss). The most exhilarating rendition I know is by Ralph Kirkpatrick, playing a harpsichord that sounds like Schroeder's toy piano (sound samples at ("Great Virtuosi of the Harpsichord, Vol. II" on Pearl).

Though the IC is one of the most-recorded of Bach's keyboard works, and fun to listen to once in a while, I think it is not top-flight Bach, and is surely inferior to the French Overture. I believe it could initially have appeared (plausibly, IMO) in the
form of a Vivaldi Mandolin Concerto and none would have been the wiser.

Thomas Boyce wrote (May 3, 2002):
I've always been quite fond of Trevor Pinnock's IC.

A good CD with that, the Chromatic Fantasy, and the French Overture, and a Toccata, I think.

Bernard Nys wrote (May 3, 2002):
Me too I consider the Italian Concertos as one of my favorite keyboard compositions. It's so refreshing and vital. It's not for nothing that you can find it on nearly every Bach piano mix : Brendel "Keyboard Music", The Complete Partitas + French Overture + Duets + Italian Concerto by Steuerman (very strong Partitas), Stanislav Bunin's "J.S. Bach", Huguette Dreyfus' Works for Harpsichord,... But my favorite, I cannot repeat enough, is Fazil Say, the Turkish piano virtuoso.

Italian Concerto BWV 971: Review Italian Concerto and more – Terence Charlston | Review Harpsichord Works by Richard Egarr | Angela Hewitt Bach’s Recital Disc on Hyperion | Bach Keyboard Works From Koroliov | Elena Kuschnerova’s Bach | Scott Ross performs Bach Keyboard Works | Bach Keyboard Recordings from Wolfgang Rübsam, Part 1 | Bach Keyboard Works from Jean Louis Steuerman | MD – Italian Concerto

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