Bach's "Coethen"Concertos?

The Composer's Datebook from American Public Media
Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Music history, like your parents, often reminds us that "Life is NOT fair." On today's date in 1721, Johann Sebastian Bach, Kapellmeister at the Court of Prince Leopold of Coethen, wrote a flowery dedication (in rather bad French) on the title page of his manuscript score for six concertos and sent them off to Margrave Christian Ludwig of Brandenburg, perhaps angling for a job offer in response. To this day, these pieces are known as the "BRANDENBURG Concertos," although in all probability they were composed for and played at Leopold's court. By all rights, they should be known as the "Coethen Concertos," especially since it appears the Margrave of Brandenburg's orchestra never performed them. Bach's concertos require virtuoso performers, and if the Margrave's musicians ever did look at the scores, they probably just bowed deeply and said, "With respect, your Highness, IN YOUR DREAMS." The Coethen musicians might have been less intimidated by Bach's demanding scores, but perhaps Johann was already looking to move on. Prince Leopold's new bride was no music lover (and said so, rather pointedly) and Bach, a devoted church musician, perhaps felt frustrated by Coethen's strict Calvinism, which didn't even permit organ music during church services. In any case, Bach didn't get a job offer from the Margrave, the Prince didn't get the credit, and on all the CD jewel box spines, it reads: "The BRANDENBURG Concertos."