Johann Sebastian Bach (1685- 1750)
BWV 714, 717-718, 720, 722, 724-725,
733, 734-735, 737-738, 741
Preludes and Fugues
BWV 551, 533, 569, 575,
Fantasia BWV 563
Johann Sebastian Bach was a member of a family that hadfor generations been occupied in music. His sons were to continue thetradition, providing the foundation of a new style of music that prevailed inthe later part of the eighteenth century. Johann Sebastian Bach himselfrepresented the end of an age, the culmination of the Baroque in a magnificentsynthesis of Italian melodic invention, French rhythmic dance forms and Germancontrapuntal mastery.
Born in Eisenach in 1685, Bach was educated largely byhis eldest brother, after the early death of his parents. At the age ofeighteen he embarked on his career as a musician, serving first as a courtmusician at Weimar, before appointment as organist at Arnstadt. Four yearslater he moved to Muhlhausen as organist and the following year became organistand chamber musician to Duke Wilhelm Ernst of Weimar. Securing his release withdifficulty, in 1717 he was appointed Kapellmeister to Prince Leopold ofAnhalt-C6then and remained at C6then unti11723, when he moved to Leipzig asCantor at the School of St. Thomas, with responsibility for the music of thefive principal city churches. Bach was to remain in Leipzig until his death in1750.
As a craftsman obliged to fulfil the terms of hisemployment, Bach provided music suited to his various appointments. It wasnatural that his earlier work as an organist and something of an expert on theconstruction of organs, should result in music for that instrument. At Cothen,where the Pietist leanings of the court made church music unnecessary, heprovided a quantity of instrumental music for the court orchestra and itsplayers. In Leipzig he began by composing series of cantatas for the churchyear, later turning his attention to instrumental music for the Collegium musicum
of the University, and to the collection and ordering of his own compositions.
In 1705 Bach had visited Buxtehude in Lubeck, walkingthere on foot, anxious to hear the greatest organist of the older generationand perhaps interested in seeking to succeed him, something that would haveinvolved unacceptable marriage to Buxtehude's thirty-year-old daughter, an honourhe preferred to decline. The Prelude and Fugue in A minor are thought,on internal evidence, to pre-date this visit. The Prelude opens withscale-like figuration for the right hand, joined by the left in sixths andthirds, before the entry of the pedals, ending the opening and leading at once,in the twelfth bar, to the Fugue, its subject stated in the soprano,answered in the second soprano, followed by alto, tenor and finally bass, inthe pedals. A slower five-part passage leads to a second chromatic fugalsubject, starting with the descending notes of the tonic triad, beforeascending chromatically. The work is something in the early style of toccata,with its prelude, first fugue, intervening section, second fugue and postlude.
The organ chorale Christ lag in Todesbanden, BWV 718,(Christ lay in the bonds of death) may again be dated to the period beforeBach's employment as organist at Weimar. It is based on Martin Luther's hymn,itself derived from the Latin Victimae paschali laudes. Descent to Hellis depicted in the descending bass line with which the chorale opens, followedby an ornamented version of the chorale theme. This two-part texture continuesuntil the fifteenth bar, with its added third voice. The melody is treated intriplets, followed by a passage that allows echo effects between manuals. Thefinal section brings an augmented version of the end of the chorale, at firston the manuals and then in the pedals.
The chorale per canonem, Ach Gott und Herr, BWV 714
(O God and Lord), the melody of a Lenten hymn by Martin Rutilius, is presentedin an accompanied canon between the upper voice and tenor. It has beenconjecturally dated to the period Bach spent at Weimar between 1708 and 1717.
Ach Gott, vom Himmel siek' darein, BWV 741, (O Godlook down from Heaven), in organa pleno, is from the period before Weimar,but was revised in 1740. The text by Luther, published in 1524, has a melodyfrom the same date. Here the chorale melody is given in seven separate phraseson the pedals, with a preceding imitation in one or other of the four otherparts. It ends with a double pedal part.
The Prelude and Fugue in E minor, BWV 533, wasagain written before 1708. The opening is improvisatory in nature, followed bya passage in which chords on the manuals are answered on the pedals, which takea more active role in the final section. The fugue subject is stated in thetenor, to be answered in the voice immediately below. A soprano entry follows,answered in the alto, leaving the pedals to conclude the five-voice exposition.
A brief episode leads to a tonic entry in the tenor, duly answered in thesoprano, followed by the subject in the alto. A further episode leads to thefinal pedal entry.
Allein Gott in der Hoh' sei Ehr', BWV 717, (To Godalone on high be praise) is based on a melody derived from plainchant, withwords that paraphrase the Gloria in excels is of the Mass. The organ chorale isfor manuals only and in 12/8 time. It opens with a fugal subject in the lowerpart, answered above, before the appearance of the chorale melody itself in thetop part as a cantus firmus. This version of the chorale belongs to the Weimarperiod.
Ein' feste Burg ist unser Gott, BWV 720, (A firmstronghold is our God) takes one of the best known of Martin Luther's hymns,for which he himself adapted the melody from plainchant. The words are derivedfrom Psalm XL VI. For three manuals and pedals, the organ chorale opens with adecorated version of the beginning of the chorale, to which an upper partreplies, with another version of the melody, now with contrasted registration.
There follows a short section of two-part imitation, with pedal accompaniment, beforethe appearance of the chorale as a cantus firmus in the pedals. A section oftwo-part imitation with pedal accompaniment treats another line of the melody,followed by a plainer version of the last line of the hymn, with accompanyingcounterpoint. The chorale ends with a four-voice texture in which the last lineof the hymn appears again, leading to a conclusion over a tonic pedal-point.
The Prelude in A minor, BWV 569, was probablywritten before 1708. It opens over a tonic pedal, which, with the leap of anoctave, provides a figure that re-appears throughout the work, with a four-noterhythmic figure that assumes equal early importance. Affinity has beensuggested with the chaconne, a dance-variation form. This is implied by the 3/4metre and the tendency to offer a series of short variations over a descendingharmonic pattern