BACH, J.S.: Schubler Chorales / Toccata and Fugue in D Minor (Teije van Geest/ Wolfgang Rubsam) (Naxos: 8.553150)
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Johann Sebastian Bach (1685 - 1750)
Schübler Chorales, BWV 645 - 650
Fantasia and Fugue in C minor, BWV 537
Toccata and Fugue in D minor, BWV 538 (Dorian)
Pièce d'orgue, BWV 572
Prelude and Fugue in C major, BWV 545
Johann Sebastian Bach was a member of a family that had for generations been occupied in music. His sons were to continue the tradition, providing the foundation of a new style of music that prevailed in the later part of the eighteenth century. Johann Sebastian Bach himself represented the end of an age, the culmination of the Baroque in a magnificent synthesis of Italian melodic invention, French rhythmic dance forms and German contrapuntal mastery.
Born in Eisenach in 1685, Bach was educated largely by his eldest brother, after the early death of his parents. At the age of eighteen he embarked on his career as a musician, serving first as a court musician at Weimar, before appointment as organist at Arnstadt. Four years later he moved to Muhlhausen as organist and the following year became organist and chamber musician to Duke Wilhelm Ernst of Weimar. Securing his release with difficulty, in 1717 he was appointed Kapellmeister to Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Cöthen and remained at Cöthen until 1723, when he moved to Leipzig as Cantor at the School of St. Thomas, with responsibility for the music of the five principal city churches. Bach was to remain in Leipzig until his death in 1750.
As a craftsman obliged to fulfil the terms of his employment, Bach provided music suited to his various appointments. It was natural that his earlier work as an organist and something of an expert on the construction of organs, should result in music for that instrument. At Cöthen, where the Pietist leanings of the court made church music unnecessary, he provided a quantity of instrumental music for the court orchestra and its players. In Leipzig he began by composing series of cantatas for the church year, later turning his attention1o instrumental music for the Collegium musicum of the University, and to the collection and ordering of his own compositions.
The Schübler Chorales, known by this title because of their contemporary publication by J.G. Schübler, were written in the Leipzig period of Bach's life. The first of the six, Wachet auf, in E flat major, is possibly the most familiar of all, not least from its appearance in the cantata of the same title, for the 27th Sunday after Trinity in 1731. The chorale melody appears in the tenor part, after the well known violin and viola obbligato played by the right hand, over a simple pedal part. The second, Wo soil ich fliehen hin or Auf meinen lieben Gott, in E minor, has the chorale melody in the pedals, with imitative counterpoint between the two manual parts. The third of the set, Wer nur den lieben Gott lässt walten, in C minor, again has the ch9rale melody in the pedals, with three-voice imitative counterpoint on the manuals and derived from the chorale. It is based on the fourth movement of Cantata 93 for the fifth Sunday after Trinity 1724, where the chorale is entrusted to violins and viola and the other melodic content to a vocal duet of soprano and alto. Meine Seele erhebt den Herrn, in D minor, with the text of the Magnificat, presents its three-voice counterpoint in the lower parts in 6/8 metre, starting with the pedals. The right hand is entrusted with the chorale melody. It is based on a movement from Cantata 10, for the Visitation in 1724, with the original instrumentation entrusting the chorale to oboes and trumpet and other melodic material to a vocal duet of alto and tenor. Ach bleib bei uns, Herr Jesu Christ, in e flat major, opens with a melodic element derived from the chorale melody and played on the manuals over a pedal part that at first offers a series of suspensions. It is drawn from a movement of Cantata 6 for the second day of Easter 1725, where the obbligato is provided by oboes and violino piccolo and the chorale entrusted to the soprano. The last of the Schübler Chorales, the G major Kommst du nun, Jesu, vom Himmel herunter, is taken from Cantata 137 Lobe den Herren, den mächtigen Konig der Ehren for the twelfth Sunday after Trinity 1725. The chorale melody is in the pedals, against relatively lively upper parts of independent melodic interest.
The Schübler collection of chorale compositions has been the subject of some speculation. The choice of works seems to represent a varied and not undemanding group of pieces, intended, it has been suggested, for the amateur market.
The Fantasia and Fugue in C minor, BWV 537, was written after 1723 and opens with imitative manual parts over a sustained pedal C, leading to a final pedal entry. The fugue is introduced by the alto statement of the subject, followed by soprano, bass and tenor. The famous Toccata and Fugue in D minor, BWV 538, (Dorian), offers a brilliant toccata based on the opening figure and providing a series of impressive antiphonal effects. The fugue, with its extended and syncopated subject, is introduced by the alto, followed by soprano, tenor and bass. It was written either at Weimar or Cöthen, before 1723.
The Pièce d'orgue in G, BWV 572, sometimes known as a Fantasia is in three sections, the first marked Tres vitement, the second Gravement and the third Lentement. The outer sections are very much in the manner of the toccata, with a statelier central section over a solid pedal bass. This is a relatively early work, written before 1712. The final Prelude and Fugue in C major, BWV 545, belongs to 8ach's period in Weimar and exists in two versions. The Prelude opens with a descending arpeggio figure in the pedals, answered by the left hand, the substance of the movement, with an impressive fugue in which the alto voice again states the subject, followed by tenor, bass and soprano entries.
A native of Germany, Wolfgang Rübsam received his musical training in Europe from Erich Ackermann, Helmut Walcha and Marie-Claire Alain and in the United States from Robert T. Anderson. Living today in the Chicago area, he has held a professorship at Northwestern University since 1974, and since 1981 has served a~ University organist at the University of Chicago. International recognition was established it! 1973 when he won the Grand Prix de Chartres, Interpretation, and has grown through his recording career, with over eighty recordings, many of which have received awards. Wolfgang Rübsam performs frequently in major international festivals and concert halls, including the Los Angeles Bach Festival; Wiener Festwochen, Vienna; Lahti International Organ Festival, Finland; Royal Festival Hall, London; Alice Tully' Hall, New York, and conducts master classes both in interpretation of early and romantic organ repertoire, and in interpreting the keyboard music of Johann Sebastian Bath on the modern piano.