I find the idea of a concerto somewhat suspect. Why create a piece of such clear hierarchy, where the listener focuses on one (or in some instances, two or three) characters? Is it a ritual? Is it a glorification of physical virtuosity? Or is it simply a way to explore the multiplicity of musical consciousness?
Valid as these reasons may be, what interests me most about the concerto is its ability to reflect social structures – like the harpsichord in Johann Sebastian Bach’s Fifth Brandenburg Concerto, a humble servant who usurps the supremacy of the orchestra with a florid, extended cadenza – a moment that could be understood as a musical “storming of the Bastille”. Or the violin in Benjamin Britten’s Violin Concerto, whose rhapsodic figurations, refusing to bend to the hegemony of the orchestra, suggest Britten’s pacifism as manifest through sound.
Samuel Adams. Photo © Todd Rosenberg
The Baroque concerto grossois a strange bird, an exception to the one versus many archetype. This form reflects cooperation and flexibility – a kind of “we’re all in this together” attitude. The concertino (a small...