On the 24th March 1721, German composer Johann Sebastian Bach dedicated what were to become known as the Brandenburg Concertos to Margrave Christian Ludwig of Brandenburg-Schwedt, the younger brother of King Frederick I of Prussia. The six works now rank among the world’s most famous pieces of orchestral music, and are widely considered to be some of the best compositions of the Baroque period.
Bach was born into a family of musicians and, from 1708, began to quickly earn a reputation as a talented organist and composer. It was while employed as the Kapellmeister, or director of music, for Leopold, Prince of Anhalt-Köthen that he sent the bound manuscript of six concertos to Margrave Christian Ludwig. Two years previously, in 1719, Bach had performed for him during a visit to Berlin after which he commissioned Bach to write him some music.
It’s unclear why Bach waited until 1721 to send the manuscript to the Margrave, especially as it’s generally accepted that the six pieces were drawn from compositions possibly dating back as far as 1708. What is clear, however, is that Bach never received any acknowledgement or pay from the Margrave. In fact the concertos may never have even been performed since Christian Ludwig didn’t have good enough musicians to perform the complex pieces.
The manuscript therefore languished in the Margrave’s library until his death in 1734 when it once again disappeared. It was finally rediscovered over a century later, in 1849. However, the pieces only became known as the ‘Brandenburg Concertos’ after the term was coined by Philipp Spitta in his later 19th Century biography of the composer.