Compare and Contrast: JS Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto 4 (First Movement – Allegro) and Joseph Haydn’s London Symphony (No.104 First Movement)

The two music pieces chosen for this exercise are JS Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto 4 (First Movement – Allegro) and Joseph Haydn’s London Symphony (No.104 First Movement). These two pieces were chosen on account of the sharp differences between them in terms of style, texture, genre, period, etc.  For example, Bach’s piece is written for a chamber orchestra of not more than 17 players.  This was roughly the common size for the Baroque concerto format.  Haydn’s piece, on the other hand was written to be performed by a much larger symphony orchestra comprising around 40 musicians.  It is perhaps due to the limited resources at Bach’s disposal that constant invention in music was a matter of necessity than of will.  In contrast, the bolder, simpler style of Haydn is typical of the Classical era.  The following observation by Igor Stravinsky’s in his 1947 work Poetics of Music (1947) applies to both the works in question:

“All music, whether it submits to the normal flow of time or whether it disassociates itself there from, establishes a particular relationship, a sort of counterpoint between the passing of time, the music’s own duration, and the material and technical means through which the music is made manifest” (p.32)

The most obvious difference between the two pieces is their musical style.  JS Bach’s music is synonymous with the Baroque style, with a high contrapuntal texture.  The parallel melody lines are tightly and finely woven in Bach’s music.  This is evident in the first allegro of Brandenburg Concerto 4.  The Brandenburg Concertos contain an assortment of pieces with varying styles.  Some were courtly dances like the first concerto, whereas some others invoke a poignant romance like the sixth concerto.  Concerto 4 is full of zestfulness and vivacity, particularly the Allegro. It contains many of typical features of Bach’s music, namely, precisely constructed harmonies, harmonic progression, polyphony and intricate part writing.  The six concertos as a whole were conceived as experimentation in form.  Conventionally the concerto forms identified a solo lead instrument and the other instruments were assigned the status of accompaniments.  Such an arrangement is mostly evident in the works of two eminent contemporaries of Bach – George Frideric Handel and Antonio Vivaldi.  But unlike Handel or Vivaldi, the musical texture of Bach is such that the distinction between ‘main’ and ‘accompanying’ instruments is constantly challenged. (Kanny 2013)  This is deduced from the fact that each melody line can exist on its own accord – they stand as perfectly whole compositions. When two such melodies were brought to harmony the music takes on an altogether new dimension.  To express in common parlance the sum is much greater than the parts.  The greatness of Bach lies in the fact that the parts are themselves complete and rich. This is very much the case in the Allegro of Brandenburg Concerto 4.  Here, the flute and two Oboes work in counterpoint to the other, producing a rich and finely knit texture.  The other feature of the Allegro in Brandenburg Concerto 4 is its beautifully crafted alternations of tempo.

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