As I think is clear by now, Bach only needed a single instrument to create a complex world of sound. You could study these for a lifetime and still hear new things every day. That would have been enough, but, fortunately for us, Bach was Baroque to the core and liked it big and loud too.
So let’s start expanding the number of performers and take a look at Bach’s orchestral works. Let’s start with his great concerto grosso series, The Brandenburg Concertos. Other than Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, Bach’s cycle is by far the best known of the form. My favorite is this selection, No. 3.
This concerto is scored for 3 violins, 3 violas, 3 cellos and basso continuo. There is no designated soloist, as each instrument is afforted periods of ensemble versus solo in the score. The concerto also deviates from the now-standard fast-slow-fast structure. The “slow” movement is really just a bridge–a short adagio of one measure in length. The “fast” movements are propulsive, displaying Bach’s strong command of rhythm.
J.S. Bach, Brandenburg Concerto No 3 in G:
As previously noted here, Bach’s music fell out of favor until Mendelssohn and Schumann revived his legacy in the Romantic Period. Yet Bach’s influence is most pronounced in the Modern Period. This concerto, in particular, makes me think of Philip Glass. But maybe that’s just me.
Philip Glass, Violin Concerto
One final note. Bach reused themes across multiple compositions. Here is the first movement theme recast in another Bach composition. Here is the theme recast as the opening Sinfonia to a Bach cantata.
J.S. Bach, Ich liebe den Höchsten von ganzem Gemüte, Sinfonia: