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Concerto in the Italian Style  (1731)

An arrangement by Mark Starr
 for flute solo, string orchestra and harpsichord continuo
of Bach's Konzart nach italienische Gusto, BWV,
originally for 2-manual harpsichord

Johann Sebastian Bach

link to biography of Johann Sebastian Bach

A demo recording of this arrangement -- realized with digital musical sounds -- will begin to play automatically upon opening this page.  The audio may take from a few seconds up to a minute to load -- depending on the speed of your internet connection.  If you do not wish hear it, please click on the STOP button (or PAUSE button) on the media player, below.  Also, you may wish to adjust your volume control to a more comfortable level.

If you would like to download a copy of this audio demo in wma format (playable with Windows Media Player and other media players,) please right-click on this link: here; and then select "Save Target As..." Copies of this wma file may be freely distributed not-for-profit and unaltered.


Mark Starr's orchestral arrangement of J. S. Bach's
Italian Concerto for solo flute, string orchestra and harpsichord continuo is now available only on rental from Noteworthy Musical Editions.  The work has been transposed to the key of G major. The performance materials include:

orchestral score (in G major)
solo flute part (in G Major)
harpsichord continuo Part (in G major)
set of strings (4, 4, 3 ,2, 1 desks)

For additional information about Mark Starr's orchestral arrangement of J. S. Bach's Italian Concerto for solo flute, string orchestra and harpsichord continuo, please click here.

Giovanni Savoldo:  The Flute Player (ca. 1525)

Alternate versions (for solo instrument and orchestra) of Mark Starr's arrangement are now in preparation, and will soon be posted on this website.  They include:

     Italian Concerto in G major, for violin solo, string orchestra and continuo

     Italian Concerto in F major, for oboe solo, string orchestra and continuo

     Italian Concerto in F major, for cello solo, string orchestra and continuo

     Italian Concerto in F major, for piccolo trumpet solo (in high Bb), string orchestra and continuo

     Italian Concerto in G major, for recorder solo, string orchestra and continuo

duration: 13 minutes



Johann Sebastian Bach composed his "Italian" Concerto for two-manual harpsichord (2 hands). It was first published in Volume 2 of Bach's collective work entitled the Klavierübung, together with the Overture in the French Style. Because these two pieces were the first works published by Bach to employ dynamics on the harpsichord, today they are often performed on the piano. However, it is clear -- from both the titles and the nature of the music itself -- that both of these keyboard works are intrinsically orchestral in conception.

In the case of the "Italian" Concerto, Bach combined both a homophonic solo line and a full accompaniment that suggests an orchestra. He reduced all this for the two hands of a harpsichordist -- playing a two-manual harpsichord.

The "Italian" Concerto is an original counterpart to 17 keyboard reductions that Bach made of concertos for solo homophonic instrument and orchestra by other composers. He made these keyboard transcriptions for his own edification, drawing from works by Marcello, Vivaldi, Ernst and others. Bach reduced both the solo part and the orchestral accompaniment for harpsichord or organ (2 hands).

Thus, it is evident that Bach had an orchestra model for his "Italian" Concerto -- in his mind's ear, if not actually written out on paper. The essential difference between Bach's 17 keyboard transcription of orchestral works and the "Italian" Concerto for 2-manual harpsichord is that the 17 transcriptions were based on known orchestral models by other composers, while the "Italian" Concerto was an original work.

One can deny, however, the possibility that Bach himself created an orchestral version of the "Italian" Concerto before publishing his harpsichord version in Volume II of the Klavierübung -- and that the manuscript of the orchestral version did not survive Bach's death. It is known today that a great deal of Bach's manuscripts were lost. It has been estimated by various music historians that perhaps as much as a third of Johann Sebastian's total output has never been never found.  It has been deduced by matching Bach's cantatas to the holidays on which Lutheran festivals fall -- that about one third of his output is now missing.

Following Bach's death, his eldest son, Carl Phillip Emanuel, split up three ways Bach's own collection of manuscripts: for himself, for Johann Christian ("The London Bach"), and for Wilhelm Friedemann Bach. The latter was an organ virtuoso and a brilliant composer. Unfortunately, however, he was also an alcoholic. W. F. Bach died destitute. Whatever Wilhelm Friedemann Bach did with his share of his father's manuscripts, they have never turned up -- except for one: the St. Matthew Passion, which W. F. B. sold to a Jewish family in Leipzig, who, years later, gave it to Felix Mendelssohn.

What works were lost? Aside from the cantatas, it is not possible to speculate about precise compositions. Bach never made a complete catalog of his music. That one of the lost works might be an orchestral model of the "Italian" Concerto is not impossible.

Thus, an "Italian" Concerto for a solo instrument and orchestra is both a hypothetical and an historical possibility.  For those reasons, Mark Starr call his orchestral arrangement a "hypothetical orchestral model," rather than a transcription.