It is 1713, and seventeen-year-old Prince Johann Ernst is returning to his hometown Weimar in Germany after studying music in Utrecht for two years. During his stay in The Netherlands, the Prince regularly visited the New Church in Amsterdam to hear the blind organist Jan Jacob de Graaf, who had a reputation for his performances of the latest Italian concertos for organ solo. Amsterdam was a centre for music printing around the turn of the century, and the first edition Vivaldi’s L’Estro Armonico (‘Harmonic Inspiration’) was published in 1711.
Prince Johann Ernst, a talented musician and composer, was known to be an avid music collector and upon his return to Weimar he introduced JS Bach to Vivaldi’s concerti. Bach transcribed six of the twelve concerti from L’Estro Armonico for different instruments, arranging Vivaldi’s Concerto in A minor, of which the first movement is this Sunday’s postlude in church, for solo organ. In doing so, Bach became intimately familiar with a new style of writing: contrasting a small group of instruments (the ‘concertino’) with the rest of the orchestra (the ‘ripieno’). On the organ this is achieved by using the different manuals: the concertino on one of the manuals contrasts with the full organ.