The first two Brandenburg concerti have shown us that Bach is not afraid to embrace new styles (such as the Italian concerto grosso format) and is a master creating texture (remember the strange assortment of solo instruments in the second concerto?). As we will see, he will continue this exploration of new styles and sounds throughout the rest of the concerti.
Brandenburg #3 is no exception. Bach returns again to the concerto grosso format, but this time he does so without featuring a soloist. Is every instrument a soloist? Are none of them soloists? We’re not really sure, but we do know that the structure of the piece is unmistakably similar to concerti written by Antonio Vivaldi only a few years earlier. In Bach’s Germany, where the concerto format was seen as a remote and distasteful musical style, his embrace of it would have been very controversial.
Bach must have really loved controversy, because he didn’t just stop with his use of the concerto format. He also added a cadenza, another musical convention that was almost unheard of at this time. A cadenza is an opportunity for the solo instrumentalist to impress the crowd by improvising on top of the composition’s main themes. In this concerto, the cadenza replaces the middle movement and is played by the lead violinist.