BACH, J.S.: Preludes and Fugues BWV 536, 541, 542, 544, 546
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Johann Sebastian Bach (1685 - 1750)
Prelude and Fugue in B Minor, BWV 544
Prelude and Fugue in G Major, BWV 541
Prelude and Fugue in C Minor, BWV 546
Fantasia and Fugue in G Minor, BWV 542
Prelude and Fugue in A Major, BWV 536
Johann Sebastian Bach made his early reputation as an organist.
The son of a town and court musician, Johann Ambrosius Bach, he owed much of his earlytraining, after the death of his parents, to his brother, Johann Christoph, organist atOhrdruf, and began his career as organist at Arnstadt at the age of eighteen, moving toM??hlhausen four years later and in 1708 winning appointment as organist and chambermusician to Duke Wilhelm Ernst at Weimar, the elder of the two rulers of the duchy.
Bach's later career took him in 1717 to Cothen asHofkapellmeister to the young Prince Leopold, a position that involved him rather insecular music, owing to the Pietist leanings of the court. His patron's marriage to awoman without cultural interests led Bach to leave Cothen in 1723 and move to Leipzig,where he had accepted the position of Kantor at the Choir School of St. Thomas. There hewas to remain for the rest of his life in a position that brought responsibility for themusic of the principal city churches and concomitant difficulties both with the towncouncil and later with the Rector of the Thomasschule, where he was employed to teach thechoristers. He assumed responsibility for the University Collegium Musicum, establishedearlier by Telemann, a preferred candidate for the position of Kantor, and arranged forthis group some of his earlier instrumental compositions. He remained in Leipzig until hisdeath in 1750.
It was natural that a musician trained in his craft as Bach hadbeen should write the kind of music for which there was an immediate need. In Weimar hewrote much of his organ music, in Cothen much of his instrumental music and in Leipzigthe greater part of his church music. The Prelude andFugue in A major, BWV 536, was apparently written during Bach's years atWeimar, and there is an earlier version of the work, written before 1708. The openingarpeggios of the Prelude lead to a four-voice fugue with a triple rhythm subject announcedin the tenor, answered in the alto, followed by the soprano and finally the pedals withthe bass entry. The Prelude and Fugue in G major, BWV541, was also originally written during Bach's time at Weimar and was revisedin 1742. The Prelude opens with a single melodic line descending, before rising to greetthe entry of the pedals and a fuller chordal texture. The Fugue has its subject announcedin the alto, answered in the tenor, followed by the bass in the pedals and finally thesoprano and continuing on an impressive scale to conclude with a sustained upper note,followed by a final tonic pedal below. The Fantasia of the Fantasia and Fugue in G minor, BWV 542, was writtenat Cothen, complementing the earlier Fugue, composed in Weimar. Known as the Great Gminor, the Fantasia, with its elaborate embellishment over the initial sustained pedal G,is generally very familiar, with its complex changing harmonies. The Fugue, its subjectheard first in the top part, followed in descending order by the other three voices is, asits nick-name "Great" implies, on a grandiose scale, a work of Baroquemagnificence. The Prelude and Fugue in B minor, BWV 544,was written in Leipzig between 1727 and 1731. An impressive Prelude is an almostoverwhelming preface to a rather less imposing fugue, its brief scale-like subjectannounced in the alto voice, duly followed by tenor, bass and soprano. In itself, ofcourse, the Fugue is as masterly as any other, certainly a contrast to the complex devicesof its Prelude. It seems that the C minor Prelude andFugue, BWV 546, are the result of a later coupling, with the Prelude possiblywritten in Leipzig and the Fugue written in Weimar. The Prelude, going on, after itssolemn chordal introduction, to triplet movement in contrast, is followed by a Fugue inwhich the long subject is announced on the manuals in the bass, followed in ascendingorder by the other three voices, the pedal entry delayed until later, whenit must seem all the more impressive, as the texture grows in complexity and grandeur, afeature of the form itself.
A native of Germany, Wolfgang R??bsam received his musicaltraining in Europe from Prof. Erich Ackermann, Prof. Helmut Walcha and Marie-Claire Alain,and in the United States from Dr. Robert T. Anderson. He resides today in the Chicago areaholding a Professorship at Northwestern University since 1974 and serving as UniversityOrganist at the University of Chicago since 1981. International recognition wasestablished upon winning the GRAND PRIX DE CHARTRES, INTERPRETATION in 1973 and continuesto grow through his recording career with over eighty recordings, many of which havereceived awards. Wolfgang R??bsam performs frequently in major international festivals andconcert halls, including the Los Angeles Bach Festival; Wiener Festwochen, Vienna; LahtiInternational Organ Festival, Finland; Royal Festival Hall, London; Alice Tully Hall, NewYork, and conducts master classes both in interpretation of early and romantic organrepertoire, and in interpreting the keyboard music of Johann Sebastian Bach on the modernpiano.