Recreating Bach’s Organ Concertos

Bach’s 1738 harpsichord concertos were long thought to be transcriptions of works originally for violin or oboe before their refashioning, mostly during autumn of 1726, as cantata sinfonias with obbligato organ. But recent research into the early history of these works suggests that a few of them began life as organ concertos in the early 1720s. In addition to the sequences of movements better known as the D-minor and E-major harpsichord concertos (BWV 1052 and 1053, respectively), the G-minor keyboard concerto (preserved as BWV 1058) may also have begun life as a concerted organ work. Usefully, the earliest extant layer of the D-minor concerto (BWV 1052a) provides a model for reconstructing the other works: its musical text has more in common with certain 1726 cantata movements than with the eventual harpsichord concerto. The original ensemble for these concertos may likewise be deduced from scattered clues in the sources. Recorded examples from The First Organ Concertos: Reconstructions of Works by G. F. Handel and J. S. Bach (Loft Recordings, 2018) will illustrate this presentation’s major points.


Matthew Dirst is the first American musician to win major international prizes in both organ and harpsichord. Widely admired for his stylish playing and conducting, he was recently described in the Washington Post as an “efficient, extremely precise conductor who has an ear for detail and up-to-date ideas about performing Bach.” His Handel has also made the critics sing: the Dallas Morning News enthused that “conducting both clear and evocative by Matthew Dirst yielded a performance as irresistibly lively as it was stylish. The music danced.” Early Music America celebrated his solo recording of harpsichord works by François and Armand-Louis Couperin as a “stylish, tasteful, and technically commanding performance…expressive and brilliant playing.” As Artistic Director of Ars Lyrica Houston, Dirst leads a period-instrument ensemble with several acclaimed recordings, one of which—the world premiere recording of Johann Adolph Hasse’s Marc Antonio e Cleopatra—was nominated for a Grammy Award in 2011 for Best Opera. In addition to his work with Ars Lyrica, Dirst appears during 2018 with the Washington Bach Consort, the Portland Baroque Orchestra, the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, the Houston Symphony, and San Francisco Early Music Society.Matthew Dirst holds the PhD in musicology from Stanford University and the prix de virtuosité in both organ and harpsichord from the Conservatoire National de Reuil-Malmaison, France, where he spent two years as a Fulbright scholar. Equally active as a scholar, he serves currently as Professor of Music at the Moores School of Music, University of Houston. Dirst is the author of Engaging Bach: The Keyboard Legacy from Marpurg to Mendelssohn  (Cambridge University Press, 2012) and the editor of Bach and the Organ (University of Illinois Press, 2016).