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Bach “Schafe können sicher weiden” from BWV 208. “Sheep may safely graze”
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Bach “Schafe können sicher weiden” from BWV 208. “Sheep may safely graze“
This is the sixth album on Deutsche Grammophon of pianist brothers Lucas and Arthur Jussen. Despite their young age, they have been part of the international concert world for years and are praised by both the press and audiences. They have waited some time with recording the music of Bach, but felt ready to do so now. Together with Amsterdam Sinfonietta they play on this album two concertos for two pianos – BWV 1060 and 1061 -, to which they added five Choral Preludes for quatre-mains and one for two pianos. Lucas & Arthur Jussen – Bach: Schafe können sicher weiden, BWV 208.
Like the same composer’s “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring“, Sheep may safely graze is frequently played at weddings. However, the cantata of which it forms a part was originally written for a birthday celebration, that of Christian, Duke of Saxe-Weissenfels. Bach was based at the nearby court of Weimar, and musicians from both courts appear to have joined together in the first performance in Weißenfels. Bach is known to have used the music again for other celebrations, but it remained unpublished until after his death.
The piece’s English title is well known enough for it to evoke a pastoral scene: it has been referenced in discussions of how European culture depicts domestic animals and sheep in particular.
Franck’s words are given to mythological characters, in this case Pales, a deity of shepherds, flocks, and livestock. Pales compares the peaceful life of sheep under a watchful shepherd to the inhabitants of a state with a wise ruler.
Schafe können sicher weiden Wo ein guter Hirte wacht.
Wo Regenten wohl regieren Kann man Ruh’ und Friede spüren Und was Länder glücklich macht.
Sheep may safely graze and pasture In a watchful Shepherd’s sight.
Those who rule with wisdom guiding Bring to hearts a peace abiding Bless a land with joy made bright.
Australian-born composer Percy Grainger wrote “free rambles” on Bach’s “Sheep may safely graze”. He first wrote “Blithe Bells” (as he called his free ramble), for “elastic scoring” between November 1930 and February 1931. In March 1931, he scored a wind band version.
Jacques Loussier (26 October 1934 – 5 March 2019) was a French pianist and composer. He arranged jazz interpretations of many of the works of Johann Sebastian Bach, such as the Goldberg Variations. The Jacques Loussier Trio, founded in 1959, played more than 3,000 concerts and sold more than 7 million recordings—mostly in the Bach series.
Loussier composed film scores and a number of classical pieces, including a Mass, a ballet, and violin concertos. Loussier’s style is described as third stream, a synthesis of jazz and classical music, with an emphasis on improvisation.
When Loussier began applying jazz improvisation and swing to Johann Sebastian Bach’s exquisite symmetries, some jazz pundits and fans dismissed it as a betrayal of an African-American music’s expressive earthiness and blues roots, aimed at an audience that preferred its jazz pretty rather than passionate. And from the classical angle, observers were liable to perceive the young Frenchman’s work as little short of vandalism.
The New York Times critic John Rockwell’s review of a Loussier concert at Carnegie Hall in 1975 reflected that distaste when he proclaimed: “There is a certain sort of sensibility that is actively appalled by the very notion of ‘popularising’ Bach – or any classical composer, for that matter. This listener’s sensibility is one of those, and so he found the Tuesday evening performance at a sparsely attended Carnegie Hall by the Jacques Loussier Trio tiresome and offensive.”
Nonetheless, the success of concerts and recordings by Loussier and his Play Bach trio (originally formed with the eminent Paris jazz sidemen Pierre Michelot on bass and Christian Garros on drums) took off almost overnight from the group’s first appearances in 1959 – shifting millions of Play Bach recordings in the almost two-decade life of the original band.
The group’s suitably chilled-out, languidly hip treatment of Bach’s Air on the G String famously accompanied the Hamlet cigar company’s TV advertising from 1962, with cinema versions finally being banned at the end of the century, though these soundtracks did not include Michelot’s subsequent driving bass-walk and Loussier’s freewheeling improv theme-stretches.
Loussier, however, was no one-trick populist who had chanced on a hit formula and milked it. A piano virtuoso from early childhood, he attended the Conservatoire National de Musique in Paris from his mid-teens under a celebrated mentor – the classical pianist and educator Yves Nat – travelled in the Middle East and Latin America absorbing musical ideas in his early 20s, and composed scores for more than 60 films and TV shows. There was also the tireless touring of the Play Bach trio – and after its breakup, he worked on both acoustic and electronic projects at his own Studio Miraval in Provence.
Born in Angers, in western France, Loussier began piano lessons at the age of 10, and within a year was fascinated by the music of Bach. When he heard a piece from the Notebook for Anna Magdalena at 11, he took to playing it incessantly. “I was studying this piece and I just fell in love with it,” Loussier told an interviewer in 2003. “Then I found I loved to play the music, but add my own notes, expanding the harmonies and playing around with that music.”
In this, as Loussier was later to observe, he was not subverting Bach but paying his respects to an improvising tradition to which the composer also belonged, even if classical music’s subsequent assumptions preferred to bury that unruly element.
Loussier’s potential had been brought to Nat’s attention when he was 13, and Nat supplied him with practice projects that the boy would visit Paris every three months to demonstrate. At 16 he entered the conservatoire, financing his courses by playing jazz in the city’s bars.
In the mid-1950s Loussier then took off on his travels, which included Cuba, where he stayed for a year. Back home, he found work as an accompanist, to the singer and actor Catherine Sauvage and Charles Aznavour.
Loussier later recalled that in 1959 he had told Decca Records that he was a classical pianist and they said they already had plenty. Then he said he was a jazz pianist and they said they had plenty of those, too. “Finally I started to play some Bach with my improvisations and they said, ‘What is that? Why don’t we make a record of that?’ I was still doing it out of fun. I never thought the public would like it. I was wrong.”
With Michelot and Garros, and with the American chamber-musical Modern Jazz Quartet as a significant and celebrated inspiration, the Play Bach trio made four hugely successful Decca albums between 1960 and 1963, launched a performance schedule rarely numbering fewer than 150 shows a year worldwide, and expanded the repertoire to include double-tracked recordings of Loussier parts on organ and piano, and arrangements of Bach concertos.
In the midst of it all, Loussier was also a sought-after composer for film and TV. In 1978, weary of travelling, he wound the trio up and retired to Studio Miraval to explore composition more deeply, experiment with electronics and studio techniques, and play host and offer recording time to visiting rock stars including Pink Floyd, AC/DC and Sade.
He wrote the full-scale symphony Lumières (with the countertenor James Bowman, soprano Deborah Rees and a rock rhythm section on its Paris premiere), concertos for trumpet and violin, strings suites, a ballet score and the crossover fusion works Pulsion, Pagan Moon, and Pulsion Sous la Mer.
But Bach’s 1985 tercentenary had already tempted Loussier back to the piano stool. With the jazz/classical bassist Vincent Charbonnier, followed after illness in the 90s by the comparably virtuosic Benoit Dunoyer de Segonzac and the percussionist André Arpino, Loussier formed a more broadminded, genre-fluid and technically sophisticated version of the Play Bach trio, which if anything amplified just how creatively musical his original vision had been.
Recording for Telarc from 1996, Loussier returned to his beloved Bach, explored Vivaldi’s Four Seasons in improv conversations with Charbonnier and Arpino, with an affectionate nod to the Modern Jazz Quartet’s Django (1997), and Satie, with De Segonzac and Arpino (1998).
Interpretations of Ravel, Beethoven, Mozart and Chopin followed (with the last-named occasioning Loussier’s first solo piano album in his 70th birthday year, on which he breezily threw flamenco, gospel, calypso and stride-piano into the mix), and ambitious Bach homages taking on the Goldberg Variations and the Brandenburg Concertos.
In 2002, the pianist’s life took an unlikely turn when he embarked on a lawsuit against the rapper Eminem for allegedly stealing hooks from Pulsion for the track Kill You from the Marshall Mathers LP – a confrontation eventually settled out of court. In a conversation that year with the writer Sholto Byrnes, Loussier seemed mainly miffed that the Americans had not asked him first, and typically claimed: “I like good music whatever it is.” He later registered an interest in Eminem’s music.
Jazz reference books have not been so generous to Loussier, but, a true jazz improviser rather than an embellisher of the classics, he sidelined the snobberies from both sides in his early years. He paid tribute to the composers he loved with unmistakable and expert devotion, performing long enough to see his inclusive vision of a music with far fewer borders come to pass.
Suite No. 1 In G, BWV1007 16:54 1-1 Prelude 2:28 1-2 Allemande 3:40 1-3 Courante 2:32 1-4 Sarabande 2:22 1-5 Menuet I & II 3:14 1-6 Gigue 1:50 Suite No. 2 In D Minor, BWV1008 19:41 1-7 Prelude 3:43 1-8 Allemande 3:54 1-9 Courante 2:16 1-10 Sarabande 4:06 1-11 Menuet I & II 3:19 1-12 Gigue 2:35 Suite No. 3 In C, BWV1009 20:14 1-13 Prelude 3:28 1-14 Allemande 3:45 1-15 Courante 3:14 1-16 Sarabande 3:30 1-17 Bourrée I & II 3:23 1-18 Gigue 3:04
Suite No. 4 In E Flat, BWV1010 22:29 1-19 Prelude 4:15 1-20 Allemande 3:45 1-21 Courante 3:55 1-22 Sarabande 4:09 1-23 Bourrée I & II 3:37 1-24 Gigue 2:35 Suite No. 5 In C Minor, BWV1011 22:31 2-1 Prelude 7:18 2-2 Allemande 3:17 2-3 Courante 2:03 2-4 Sarabande 2:45 2-5 Gavotte I & II 4:29 2-6 Gigue 2:20
Suite No. 6 In D, BWV1012 27:58 2-7 Prelude 5:06 2-8 Allemande 7:31 2-9 Courante 3:42 2-10 Sarabande 4:17 2-11 Gavotte I & II 3:04 2-12 Gigue 3:59 – 2-13 Adagio In A Minor From Toccata, Adagio And Fugue In C Major, BWV 564 Arranged By – Siloti* 3:53 2-14 Musette (Gavottes I And II) From English Suite No. 6 In D Major, BWV 811 Arranged By – Pollain* 3:45 2-15 Komm, Süsser Tod, BWV 478 Arranged By – Siloti* 3:27 2-16 Andante From Sonata No. 2 For Unaccompanied Violin, BWV 1003 Arranged By – Siloti* 3:36 2-17 Air From Suite No. 3 In D, BWV 1068 Arranged By – Siloti* 3:47 Companies, etc.
Composed By – Johann Sebastian Bach Engineer [Restorations] – Ward Marston Liner Notes – Tully Potter Notes Tracks 1-1 to 1-6: Recorded 2.VI.1938, Paris Tracks 1-7 to 1-18: Recorded 25.XI.1936, Abbey Road Studios, London Tracks 1-19 to 1-24: Recorded 13.VI.1939, Paris Tracks 2-1 to 2-6: Recorded 13-16.VI.1939, Paris Tracks 2-7 to 2-12: Recorded 14, 15..VI.1939, Paris Tracks 2-13 to 2-17: Recorded 3.VI.1938, Paris Total playing time: 148:47
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“Music, this marvellous universal language, would have to be a source of communication between all people. “
Pau Casals (Pablo Casals as he was commonly called in English) was one of the 20th century’s greatest cellists, internationally recognized as one of the finest performers and orchestra conductors of his times.
Born in El Vendrell on 29 December 1876, he showed a great sensitivity for music from childhood. His father, himself a musician, taught Pau his first notions of music, which Casals would go on to extend through studies in Barcelona and Madrid. At the tender age of twenty-three, he started out on his professional career and performed in the world’s most famous concert halls. As a performer, he made innovative changes in the way of playing the cello, introducing new technical and expressive possibilities. As a conductor too, he sought depth of expression – the musical essence which he achieved with the cello. Pau Casals was also a teacher and a composer, writing works such as the oratorio “El Pessebre” (The Manger), which became a veritable hymn to peace.
The outcome of the Spanish Civil War obliged him to go into exile, settling first in Prades (France) and later in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
In addition to his extraordinary career as a musician, Pau Casals was always a staunch defender of peace and freedom. His numerous benefit concerts, his commitment to humanitarian actions and his various speeches at the United Nations characterized him clearly as a man of peace.
Pau Casals died in 1973 at the age of ninety-six in San Juan, Puerto Rico. His remains now rest in the cemetery of El Vendrell.
Over the course of his life, Pau Casals struggled constantly for peace, justice and freedom. In recognition of his stance, in 1971 the Secretary-General of the United Nations, U-Thant, awarded Pau Casals the U.N. Peace Medal. The speech that Pau Casals gave to express his gratitude for this distinction, and afterwards his performance of “El cant dels ocells” (The Song of the Birds), form one of the most impressive testimonies to his human dimension.
WORDS OF PAU CASALS AT THE UNITED NATIONS – 24 October 1971
This is the greatest honour of my life. Peace has always been my greatest concern. I learnt to love it when I was but a child. When I was a boy, my mother – an exceptional, marvellous woman -, would talk to me about peace, because at that time there were also many wars. What is more, I am Catalan. Catalonia had the first democratic parliament, well before England did. And the first United Nations were in my country. At that time – the Eleventh Century – there was a meeting in Toluges – now France – to talk about peace, because in that epoch Catalans were already against, AGAINST war. That is why the United Nations, which works solely towards the peace ideal, is in my heart, because anything to do with peace goes straight to my heart.
I have not played the cello in public for many years, but I feel that the time has come to play again. I am going to play a melody from Catalan folklore: El cant dels ocells – The Song of the Birds. Birds sing when they are in the sky, they sing: “Peace, Peace, Peace”, and it is a melody that Bach, Beethoven and all the greats would have admired and loved. What is more, it is born in the soul of my people, Catalonia.
(English translation of the original version in Catalan, from Enric Casals’ book “PAU CASALS, dades biogràfiques inèdites, cartes íntimes i records viscuts”, Ed. Pòrtic, Col. Memòries, Barcelona, 1979.)
“Air on the G String”, also known as “Air for G String” and “Celebrated Air”, is August Wilhelmj’s 1871 arrangement of the second movement of Johann Sebastian Bach’s Orchestral Suite No. 3 in D major, BWV 1068.
The arrangement differs from the original in that the part of the first violins is transposed down so that it can be played entirely on a violin’s lowest string, i.e., the G string. It is played by a single violin (instead of by the first violins as a group).
Bach’s third Orchestral Suite in D major, composed in the first half of the 18th century, has an “Air” as second movement, following its French overture opening movement. The suite is composed for three trumpets, timpani, two oboes, strings (two violin parts and a viola part), and basso continuo. In the second movement of the suite however only the strings and the continuo play. This is the only movement of the suite where all other instruments are silent.
The music of the “Air” is written on four staves, for first and second violins, viola(s), and continuo. The interweaving melody lines of the high strings contrast with the pronounced rhythmic drive in the bass.
In 1871, violinist August Wilhelmj arranged the second movement of Bach’s third Orchestral Suite for violin and an accompaniment of strings, piano or organ (harmonium). On the score he wrote auf der G-Saite (on the G string) above the staff for the solo violin, which gave the arrangement its nickname.
In Wilhelmj’s version the piece is transposed down from its original key (D major) to C major. Then the part of the first violins is transposed further down an octave and given to a solo violin that can play the entire melody on its lowest string, the G string. The dynamic markings added by Wilhelmj are more in line with a romantic interpretation than with the baroque original.
As a violin can’t play very loudly in its lowest register, all the other parts of Bach’s music were firmly reduced in Wilhelmj’s version: the keyboard part is to be played staccato and pianissimo, causing the effects of interweaving melodies and of drive in the bass part to get lost. The accompanying violins and violas play muted (con sordino), and the bass part for cellos and double basses is to be played pizzicato and sempre pianissimo, with the same change in effect compared to Bach’s original.
Later, a spurious story circulated that the melody was always intended to be played on the G string alone. The solo violin part of Wilhelmj’s arrangement is sometimes played on the counter-tenor violoncello.
As a result of the popularity of the piece, on the G string remained in the name of various arrangements whether or not a string instrument playing on its G string was involved. Most of these versions have in common that the original melody of the first violins is played in the low register of a solo instrument, accompanied by a reduction of the material of the other parts of Bach’s piece, although occasionally versions that stay more in line with Bach’s original can go by the same name.
In a period that stretched over three decades, and started in 1905, Henry Wood regularly programmed Wilhelmj’s arrangement at the London Proms. Wood recorded his orchestral rendering (i.e., the G string part performed by a group of violins) of the Bach/Wilhelmj “Air” in the early 1930s.
In Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Cöthen Bach seems to have found in many ways the ideal patron. The prince was not only a good bass singer but also played the violin, viola da gamba, and harpsichord. And in 1713, after his return from a grand tour during which he acquired published copies of much French and Italian music, he took advantage of the dissolution of the Berlin court Capelle under Friedrich Wilhelm I by employing six musicians (and later a seventh) who had been made redundant. By late 1717, when Bach took up his appointment as Capellmeister, Leopold had increased the number of musicians at the Cöthen court to sixteen, of whom about half were players of the front rank.
There were disadvantages for Bach at Cöthen, however. Since it was a Calvinist court, there was no opera—such an enterprise, had it existed, could hardly fail to have attracted Bach’s interest. Furthermore, the Calvinism of the ruling prince meant that there was no regular opportunity for Bach to compose and perform church music, though he did so at least once for the prince’s birthday1 and might have done occasionally at the Lutheran Agnuskirche, which Bach and his family attended.2 As for secular vocal music, one of Bach’s regular duties was to perform a cantata every year for the prince’s birthday and another for New Year’s Day, though very few of these works survive.
In the ﬁeld of instrumental music Bach’s situation was considerably more advanta-geous. In moving from Weimar to Cöthen he had risen from the second-rank post of Concertmeister to the top-rank post of Capellmeister. And as such he directed an instrumental ensemble that few German courts could rival. In addition, the reigning prince was clearly passionate about music and no doubt gave his brilliant Capellmeister all the support he needed. In this favorable atmosphere Bach was able to compose some of his greatest keyboard and instrumental music, much of it never to be exceeded in later years:
The place of composition shows that there were overlaps at both ends of the Cöthen period. Only the ﬁrst of the English Suites can be securely dated within the Weimar period; the remainder most likely originated during the early Cöthen years. The small manuscript books Bach dedicated to his eldest son Wilhelm Friedemann and his second wife Anna Magdalena, though begun in Cöthen, continued to be ﬁlled in after the move to Leipzig in 1723. And two of Bach’s most important collections, the Violin and Harpsichord Sonatas and the French Suites, were left ﬁnished when he moved away from Co¨then in 1723, with the result that he had to return to them in the early Leipzig years.
The keyboard collections were partly designed for teaching purposes. Tuition, which comprehended keyboard playing and composition alike, began in Bach’s own family circle and then spread outwards towards the private instruction of individual students. Thus, the Clavierbüchlein of 1720 and 1722, representing the domestic phase, included drafts of preludes destined for The Well-Tempered Clavier, of the Inventions and Sinfonias (then called ‘praeambula’ and ‘fantasias’), and of the French Suites. Later, fair copies were made of the ﬁrst two of these collections, representing the public phase, and, like the Orgelbu¨chlein, revived from the Weimar years, they were furnished with title pages that clariﬁed their didactic purpose. These title pages reveal the holistic nature of Bach’s musical philosophy: he is concerned not only with education but with pure delectation.
Thus, The Well-Tempered Clavier and the Aufrichtige Anleitung, as the fair copy of the Inventions and Sinfonias is entitled, are written not only for ‘those desirous of learning’ (‘denen Lehrbegierigen’) but for ‘those already skilled’ (‘als auch derer in diesem studio schon habil seyenden beson-derem ZeitVertreib’) and for ‘lovers of the clavier’ (‘denen Liebhabern des Clavires’). In addition, these title pages are concerned with issues of playing and composition alike. The Orgelbu¨chlein gives ‘instruction in developing a chorale in many different ways’ (‘Anleitung gegeben wird, auff allerhand Arth einen Choral durchzufu¨hren’), but also ‘in acquiring facility in the study of the pedal’ (‘anbey auch sich im Pedal studio zu habilitiren’). And the Aufrichtige Anleitung on the one hand shows how ‘to play clearly in two [and three] voices’ (‘mit 2 Stimmen reine spielen zu lernen, sondern auch . . . mit dreyen obligaten Partien richtig und wohl zu verfahren’) and how ‘to arrive at a singing style of playing’ (‘eine cantable Art im Spielen zu erlangen’), but, on the other hand, how ‘to have good ideas [and] develop them well’ (‘gute inven-tiones nicht alleine zu bekommen, sondern auch selbige wohl durchzufu¨hren’) and how ‘to acquire a strong foretaste of composition’ (‘einen starcken Vorschmack von der Composition zu u¨berkommen’).
In 1720 Bach suffered the heavy blow of the sudden death of his ﬁrst wife Maria Barbara. It might have been partly for this reason that in November of that year he sought a new start in different surroundings, travelling to Hamburg as a candidate for the post of organist at the Jacobikirche. During the same visit, perhaps, Bach’s obituary (by C. P. E. Bach and J. F. Agricola) informs us that ließ sich daselbst, vor dem Magistrate, und vielen andern Vornehmen der Stadt, auf der scho¨nen Catharinenkirchen Orgel, mit allgemeiner Verwunderung mehr als 2 Stunden lang, h¨oren. Der alte Organist an dieser Kirche, Johann Adam Reinken, der damals bey nahe hundert Jahre alt war, ho¨rete ihm mit besondern Vergnu¨gen zu, und machte ihm, absonderlich u¨ber den Choral: An Wasserﬂu¨ssen Babylon, welchen unser Bach, auf Verlangen der Anwesenden, aus dem Stegreife, sehr weitla¨uftig, fast eine halbe Stunde lang, auf verschiedene Art, so wie es ehedem die braven unter den Hamburgischen Organisten in den Sonnabends Vespern gewohnt gewesen wahren, ausfu¨hrete, folgendes Compliment: Ich dachte, diese Kunst wa¨re gestorben, ich sehe aber, daß sie in Ihnen noch lebet.
(he was heard for more than two hours on the ﬁne organ of St. Catherine’s before the magistrate and many other distinguished persons of the town, to their general astonishment. The aged organist of this church, Johann Adam Reinken, who at that time was nearly a hundred years old, listened to him with particular pleasure. Bach, at the request of those present, performed extempore the chorale An Wasserﬂu¨ssen Babylon at great length (for almost half an hour) and in different ways, just as the better organists of Hamburg in the past had been used to do at the Saturday vespers. Particularly on this Reinken made Bach the following compliment: ‘I thought this art was dead, but I see that in you, it still lives.’)
In the event Bach decided not to take the Hamburg post; and circumstances at Cöthen in any case soon changed for the better. Bach hired the young soprano Anna Magdalena Wilcke for the court in the summer of 1721, and he and she were married later in the same year (on 3 December). Only about a week after the wedding Prince Leopold also married. His bride, Friederica Henrietta of Bernburg, was unfortunately quite uninterested in music. Bach described the situation nearly ten years later in a letter to his former school friend Georg Erdmann:
6parti die mutation, so mich als Capellmeister nach Co¨then zohe. Daselbst hatte einen gna¨digen und Music so wohl liebenden als kennenden Fu¨rsten; bey welchem auch vermeinete meine Lebenszeit zu beschließen. Es muste sich aber fu¨gen, daß erwehnter Serenißimus sich mit einer Berenbur-gischen Princeßin verma¨hlete, da es den das Ansehen gewinnen wolte, als ob die musicalische Inclination bey besagtem Fu¨rsten in etwas laulicht werden wolte, zumahln da die neu¨eF¨urstin schiene eine amusa zu seyn ([a] change in my fortunes . . . took me to Co¨then as Capellmeister. There I had a gracious prince, who both knew and loved music, and in his service I intended to spend the rest of my life. It must happen, however, that the said serenissimus should marry a princess of Berenburg, and that then the impression should arise that the musical interests of the said prince had become somewhat lukewarm, especially as the new princess seemed to be unmusical)6 For this and other reasons Bach sought the post of Cantor and Music Director at Leipzig, which had become vacant upon the death of Johann Kuhnau on 5 June 1722. Telemann and Graupner in turn were both chosen to ﬁll the post by the Leipzig authorities, but neither could gain release from their current employment. Mean-while, Bach performed his audition cantatas Du wahrer Gott und Davids Sohn (BWV 23) and Jesus nahm zu sich die Zwo¨lfe (BWV 22) in the Thomaskirche on Quinquages-ima (Estomihi) Sunday, 7 February 1723. According to the local press, Bach’s music was ‘amply praised …by all knowledgeable persons’.7 After Graupner had declined the post, it was offered to Bach, who was elected on 22 April 1723. Bach and his family moved to Leipzig on 22 May, and his ofﬁcial duties began on the First Sunday after Trinity (30 May), when he performed his inaugural cantata before the Leipzig public, Die Elenden sollen essen,BWV 75. According to a Leipzig chronicle,8 its performance was regarded as a ‘great success’. Leipzig, the second city of Saxony after the capital Dresden, had long been renowned for its trade and commerce, for its fairs, which took place three times a year, at New Year, Easter, and Michaelmas, and for its university, which had been founded in 1409. At this lively, thriving city Bach had a prominent post as ‘Cantor et Director Musices’—above all, he was responsible for music at the four main Leipzig churches. The pupils at the Thomasschule, where Bach taught, were divided into four cantorates, which provided the music at the four churches. At those with modest musical provision, the Neue Kirche and the Peterskirche, the two less able cantorates sang, and Bach was able to delegate their direction to others. The two leading cantorates, however, alternated on Sundays between the two principal churches, the Thomaskirche and the Nicolaikirche. The second cantorate had to sing relatively simple cantatas by composers other than Bach. The ﬁrst cantorate, on the other hand, which had long been celebrated throughout Lutheran Germany—Schu¨tz’s Geistliche Chormusik had been dedicated to it—was given the task by Bach of
introduction 7 performing only his own exceptionally demanding compositions (this was not in his contract—compositions by others would have sufﬁced). As a result, during much of his ﬁrst three or four years in Leipzig, while he was engaged in building up a new repertoire of church music, Bach composed a new cantata virtually every week, not to mention the task of having the performing parts copied and undertaking the neces-sary rehearsal. Only occasionally did the revival of an older composition from the Weimar years give him some respite. The reward for such diligence was the regular performance of his church works on Sundays and feast days at the Thomaskirche or the Nicolaikirche before a congregation of well over 2,000 people.9 The services concerned were without question the biggest musical events in Leipzig at the time. Like his predecessors Schelle and Kuhnau, Bach was also responsible for the Old Service at the Paulinerkirche, the university church, which involved performing a cantata on the three High Feasts—Christmas, Easter, and Whit—as well as at the Reformation Festival (31 October). On these occasions Bach gave a repeat per-formance of the cantata that had already been performed that day in the Thomas-kirche or the Nicolaikirche. The Kirchenstu¨ck, or cantata, as cultivated by Bach, was usually based on a biblical dictum or chorale text (most often from the Reformation period), whose theme, related to the Gospel or Epistle of the day, was then expounded in free verse. Generally, Bach would set the biblical or chorale text as an opening chorus of large dimensions, whereas the free verse would be set, in accordance with Neumeister’s reforms,10 as alternating recitative and arias. This ‘modern’ Italianate element, derived from opera and secular cantata, was thus wedded to the old German ecclesiastical element of dictum and chorale. The latter provided a foundation of sermon-like authority, whereas the more subjective, free-verse element allowed individual members of the congregation to relate the overall theme, or aspects thereof, to their own personal experience. Bach’s setting of the ecclesiastical texts would no doubt appeal to the church authorities; to what extent his pseudo-operatic treatment of the free verse did is a moot point,11 though it is interesting to note that on the occasion of his election, one of the councillors, Dr Steger, while voting for Bach, added that ‘he should make compositions that were not theatrical’.12 Furthermore, it was a condition of Bach’s appointment that in church he should ‘die Music dergestalt einrichten, daß . . . sie nicht opernhafftig herauskommen, sondern die Zuho¨rer vielmehr zur Andacht aufmuntere’ (‘so design the music that it should not create an operatic impression, but rather incite the listeners to devotion’).
8parti According to the obituary by C. P. E. Bach and Agricola,14 Bach wrote ﬁve cycles of cantatas for the whole church year, each of which would have numbered some ﬁfty-nine compositions. Only three cycles survive in a virtually complete state, however, and all three originated during Bach’s ﬁrst few years in Leipzig, when his enthusiasm for the project must have been at its height. They are:
Cycle IV might have originated in 1727–8 (see Part I Ch. 4), but very few cantatas from this period have been transmitted. Of Cycle V (1728–9) only eight cantatas survive.15 The texts are drawn from a complete set for the whole church year by Bach’s regular librettist Picander, who stated in his preface of 24 June 1728 that they were to be set to music by Bach. The fate of the remaining settings is not known. In general Bach’s lost cantatas, which might have numbered over 100, were probably for the most part inherited by W. F. Bach, who according to Forkel16 later had to sell them off. Occasionally, for various reasons, Bach resorted to the performance of cantatas by respected contemporaries. In the period 1724–5 he performed Telemann’s cantata Der Herr ist Ko¨nig (TVWV8:6); and in the early Trinity period of 1725 (Third to Sixth Sunday, 17 June to 8 July) a series of ﬁve Telemann cantatas might have been performed in the two main Leipzig churches, perhaps during Bach’s absence.17 In the following year Bach’s Meiningen cousin Johann Ludwig Bach provided him with a printed cycle of cantata texts, Sonntags- und Fest-Andachten (Meiningen, 1704) and with the scores of at least some of his own settings of these texts. Bach and assistants wrote out the parts and performed no fewer than eighteen of Johann Ludwig’s settings between 2 February (Feast of the Puriﬁcation) and 15 September (Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity).18 Bach seems to have been so impressed with the librettos (and perhaps with Johann Ludwig’s settings) that he set seven of them himself during the latter half of this period, from Ascension Day, 30 May, onwards: BWV 43, 39, 88, 187, 45, 102, and 17. On Good Friday of the same year, 19 April 1726, Bach revived an anonymous setting of the St Mark Passion (Hamburg, 1707) that he attributed, perhaps wrongly, to Reinhard Keiser. Bach had already performed this work in 1713, during his Weimar period. Its 1726 revival was the ﬁrst of several Bach performances of Passions by other composers during the Leipzig years (see Part II Ch. 1 and Part III Ch. 1). Not long afterwards he might have performed Telemann’s setting of the Brockes Passion, for a copy from the 1720s was apparently in the library of the Thomasschule, Leipzig till the end of the Second World War.19 As for his own settings, the obituary informs us that he wrote ﬁve Passions, but only two survive: the St John and the St Matthew (of the St Mark Passion, ﬁrst performed in 1731, only Picander’s libretto is extant). In Leipzig, according to J. C. Rost, sexton of the Thomaskirche, ‘on Good Friday of the year 1721, in the Vespers service, the Passion was performed for the ﬁrst time in concerted style’,20 in a setting by Bach’s predecessor Johann Kuhnau. Bach continued this practice, and in musical terms the performance became the biggest event in the entire church calendar. The St John Passion was ﬁrst performed on 7 April 1724, in the context of Cycle I, and then revived in a modiﬁed form—signiﬁcantly including several elaborate chorale arrangements—on 30 March 1725, during the chorale-cantata cycle (Cycle II). The St Matthew Passion was ﬁrst performed at Good Friday Vespers (11 April) 1727 and revived in 1729, though it did not acquire its deﬁnitive form till 1736. There is much in Bach’s two great oratorio-Passions—the seventeenth-century Lutheran genre to which he adhered—that could be described as dramatic or even theatrical, though we do not hear of objections raised by the clergy or members of the congregation. However, it is clear from the following account, published in Leipzig only a few years after the ﬁrst performance of the St Matthew Passion, that strongly antagon-istic feelings were raised by Passion music in an operatic style: When in a large town [such] Passion music was done for the ﬁrst time . . . many people were astonished and did not know what to make of it. In the church pew of a noble family, many ministers and noble ladies were present, who sang the ﬁrst Passion chorale out of their books with great devotion. But when this theatrical music began, all these people were thrown into the greatest bewilderment, looked at each other, and said, ‘What will come of this?’ And an old widow of the nobility said, ‘God save us, my children! It’s just as if one were at an opera comedy!’ The Leipzig opera had closed in 1720, before Bach’s arrival in the city, but other forms of secular music were frequently heard, in some cases performed by the Collegium musicum (music society) that had been founded by Telemann in 1701. Bach took over the directorship of this organization in 1729, but it is not unlikely that he was able to avail himself of its resources even before then. At any rate during the 1720shewas already composing and performing a good deal of secular music that anticipates the Collegium musicum period: drammi per musica (the equivalent of one-act operas), such as Der zufriedengestellte Aeolus (Aeolus Placated), BWV 205 (1725), Vereinigte Zwietracht,BWV207 (1726), and Die Feier des Genius (The Celebration of Genius), BWV 249b(1726); the Trauer-Ode (Mourning Ode), or Tombeau de S. M. la Reine de Pologne,BWV198 (1727); the solo cantata Von der Vergnu¨gsamkeit (On Contented-ness), BWV 204 (1727/8); and the wedding cantata Vergnu¨gte Pleißenstadt,BWV216 (1728). He also composed birthday cantatas for courts with which he had strong connections from of old: the pastoral cantata Entﬂiehet, verschwindet, entweichet, ihr Sorgen,BWV249a, for Weißenfels (1725) and Steigt freudig in die Luft,BWV 36a, for Cöthen (1726). During these early Leipzig years, despite the huge demands made upon him by church music, Bach also engaged in concert activities outside the church. This is clear from an account by Ernst Ludwig Gerber, who informs us that in 1724 his father Heinrich Nicolaus ‘hatte . . . manche vortreﬂiche Kirchenmusik und manches Conzert unter Bachs Direktion mit angeho¨rt’ (‘had heard much excellent church music and many a concert under Bach’s direction’.)23 Music that he might have performed at this time includes the ouverture-suites in C and D, BWV 1066 and 1069, the Violin Concerto in E, BWV 1042, the Brandenburg Concertos, and perhaps the lost originals of some of the harpsichord concertos. At the same time Bach maintained contact with the court of Co¨then and the Saxon capital Dresden. He gave two extremely well-received organ recitals at the Sophienkirche, Dresden, in 1725. And in 1724, 1725, and 1728, alongside his second wife Anna Magdalena who was an able soprano, he gave guest performances in Co¨then in his capacity as Honorary Capellmeister. His ﬁrst keyboard Partita (BWV 825) was dedicated to Prince Leopold’s newborn son in 1726; and ﬁnally he undertook the sad duty of composing and performing the prince’s funeral music in March 1729. As we have seen, alongside his teaching duties at the Thomasschule, Bach under-took much private tuition in keyboard playing and composition—it is clear that he regarded the two as inseparable. For this purpose he made use of the two great collections that had been completed at Co¨then, The Well-Tempered Clavier I and the Aufrichtige Anleitung (the Inventions and Sinfonias). In addition, the French Suites were completed in the early Leipzig years and became popular among Bach’s pupils, and the English Suites now became available for teaching purposes. Prominent pupils, such as Bernhard Christian Kayser,24 Heinrich Nicolaus Gerber, and Johann Caspar Vogler, made their own copies of these works or selections from them. The very act of copying might have given them insight into the compositional techniques involved in their creation, while they no doubt gained practical knowledge of the music by learning to play it at the keyboard from their own copies. According to E. L. Gerber, his father Heinrich Nicolaus studied Bach’s music under the composer in the order: Inventions, suites, Well-Tempered Clavier. In 1725 Bach began a new Clavierbu¨chlein for his wife Anna Magdalena, entering two new keyboard suites at the start as a form of dedication. In revised versions these two compositions were later included in the set of six keyboard partitas that Bach published in separate instalments between 1726 and 1730, and then reissued in a collected edition as the First Part of the Clavieru¨bung (Leipzig, 1731). These partitas return to the large scale and considerable technical demands of the English Suites; and, like them, they were not primarily intended for teaching purposes. Instead, they were composed, according to the title page, ‘denen Liebhabern zur Gemu¨ths Ergoet-zung’ (‘for music lovers, to delight their spirit’);26 in other words, for the skilled amateur or connoisseur. By publishing these works one by one in the late 1720s, Bach made tentative steps towards one of the great projects of his later Leipzig years—the dissemination of his keyboard works in print in order to bring them to a far wider audience than he had hitherto been able to command.
The Well-Tempered Clavier I and other keyboard works
These two works represent the summit of Bach’s achievement in the free-fantasy style that he cultivated mainly in his earlier years. In the D minor composition, fugue might have been present from the outset; in the G minor, it was added at some later stage.1 But in both cases the fantasy element forms the main content of the work and deﬁnes its character. While neither work can be securely dated, an origin in the Co¨then (D minor) and Leipzig years (G minor) seems most likely.2 The Chromatic Fantasia and Fugue in D minor, BWV 903, one of Bach’s most extraordinary keyboard works, exists in three versions, though substantial changes are conﬁned to the fantasia—the fugue seems to have remained largely unaltered. Nota-tional and stylistic features of the early version, BWV 903a, suggest an origin in the Co¨then period, around 1720.3 An intermediate version, transmitted by J. T. Krebs and S. G. Heder, is of uncertain date. The ﬁnal, deﬁnitive version, copied by Agricola while he was a student of Bach’s, perhaps dates from the 1730s.
It has been observed that the work is not found in copies by Bach’s early Leipzig pupils, which suggests that the composer might have kept it to himself at ﬁrst and not used it regularly for teaching purposes till the 1730s; or else he might have returned to it then after a long interval. If so, a possible use of the work might have been as a virtuoso showpiece in Collegium musicum concerts. In spite of its singular qualities, highlighted in Forkel’s oft-quoted remark that ‘this fantasia is unique and never had its like’, the Chromatic Fantasia may be viewed as the culmination of Bach’s writing in pseudo-improvisatory style for the harpsichord (according to the title pages of some of the chief sources,6 it is speciﬁcally written ‘pour le clavecin’).
Not only is it a brilliant, virtuoso showpiece, with which Bach must have dazzled his ﬁrst audiences, but it is also a chromatic and enharmonic tour de force. It exhibits a fully chromatic command of the keyboard and of the resources of tonality, of the kind that Bach is said to have displayed in his improvised fantasies. ‘When he played from his fancy,’ Forkel informs us, ‘all the 24 keys were in his power; he did with them what he pleased.’
The chromatic element in the great fantasia is progressively intensiﬁed in the course of its three paragraphs and coda. The ﬁrst paragraph is an extended passaggio that half-closes in the tonic at b. 20. The second (bb. 21–49) introduces arpeggiando chords in alternation with further passaggi. The third (bb. 49–74) modulates to the furthest reaches of the tonal system and back within the context of an instrumental recitative (so designated)—a style of writing that Bach had attempted before (in BWV 912a and 922) and would also have encountered in the slow movement of Vivaldi’s ‘Grosso Mogul’ Concerto (RV 208), which he transcribed for organ (BWV 594). The modulations of the fantasia’s recitative produce the effect of astounding, spon-taneous strokes of genius, despite the careful tonal planning that clearly underlies the passage. We encounter here the contradiction that lies at the heart of the pseudo-improvisatory style from Frescobaldi to Bach—that great art has to be deployed in order to conjure up the impression of spontaneity. In the coda (b. 75), the treble descends chromatically through an octave, while the rich, full chords of the accompaniment simultaneously undergo their own fully chromatic descent—total chromaticism prevails. Yet the entire coda is underpinned by a tonic pedal. We thus meet the further contradiction here that, at the point in the fantasia where Bach’s chromaticism is most explicit, it is also most ﬁrmly grounded in the home key.
By its very nature, the great fantasia is quite athematic. In comparable earlier cases, however (BWV 912a, 922, etc.), Bach had often introduced music structured around a 14 deﬁnite theme as a counterbalance to the improvisatory freedom that otherwise prevailed. This was no doubt the raison d’eˆtre for the fugue that follows the fantasia, whether or not it was part of the original conception—the different key signatures of fantasia and fugue (the one without ﬂat, the other with) might be signs of separate origin. Certain aspects of the fugue seem to represent the opposite pole from free fantasy: the clearly articulated subject, with its sequential headmotive (a recurring feature of Bach’s Weimar fugues) and its inversion halfway; the use of a well-deﬁned, regular countersubject; the substantial element of reprise, an import from concerto form; and the clear division of the modulatory phase into sharp-side and ﬂat-side zones (as in the fugues from BWV 542 and 894, etc.).
On the other hand, certain other features of the fugue make it seem a perfectly natural and consistent outcome of the fantasia that precedes it. The most obvious of these is, of course, the chromatic nature of the sequential headmotive. No less signiﬁcant, however, is the tonally unstable character of the subject, its refusal to settle into a clearly deﬁned key till after the halfway point. To this we must add the bold, unprepared 7th that bursts upon the scene at the answering entry of the subject (b. 9) and the inexactness of that answer due to the dotted rhythm that opens it, which is later taken up in an episodic sequence (bb. 72–5). Finally, during an E minor subject entry (b. 90) the three-part fugal texture suddenly explodes into an eight-part dominant-9th chord (b. 94)—among the sharpest dissonances known to Bach—which recurs with climactic effect during the last stages of the fugue (bb. 135–9 and 158).
If the Chromatic Fantasia in D minor represents the ne plus ultra of Bach’s free-fantasy works for harpsichord, the Fantasia in G minor (BWV 542 no. 1) occupies a similar position among his organ works. The two works differ, however, in the role played by fugue. Whereas that of the D minor composition was either present from the outset or else added at a very early stage, there is no incontrovertible evidence that the pairing of fantasia and fugue in the G minor work goes back to Bach at all.8 The G minor Fantasia is very clearly articulated into ﬁve paragraphs as follows:
Unlike the Chromatic Fantasia, this composition incorporates a fully structured element within itself, namely the triple-counterpoint episodes b and b1, which alternate with writing in improvisatory style. The overall form is rondeau-like, not only in its contrasting episodes and (admittedly, very free) returns, a1 and a2, but also in its key structure, returning repeatedly to the tonic. In addition, whereas the Chromatic Fantasia is entirely through-composed, this work incorporates signiﬁcant elements of reprise, even within its free passages. Thus paragraph 5 recapitulates much of para-graph 3 in reverse order and in different keys (bb. 36–8 = 21–3; 44–6 = 15–17). To a far greater extent than in the Chromatic Fantasia, then, improvisatory freedom is here checked and modiﬁed by structural restraint, which would be consistent with a later dating for this composition.
The links that can be established with the harpsichord work are, however, no less obvious than the differences. Among them are the totally athematic character of the improvisatory-style passages, and the recurring ‘sigh’ ﬁgure, whether it takes the form of single appoggiaturas (D minor Fantasia) or multiple suspensions (G minor). Again, while only the harpsichord work is actually termed ‘chromatic’, the term might have been quite aptly applied to the organ work too: some of its most intense and mysterious passages of all are built on the basis of a chromatic ascent (pedals: bb. 20–3, 36–8; manuals: bb. 31–4). Among the most obvious resemblances between the two pieces are the startlingly abrupt, seemingly spontaneous modulations to unrelated keys, brought about by enharmonic change or by the changing tonal function of pivot notes. In stylistic terms the organ fantasia shares with its harpsi-chord counterpart two different species of improvisatory-style writing, namely pas-saggio (para. 1) and instrumental recitative (paras. 3 and 5). But the incorporation of these rhapsodic elements within the highly structured overall framework of the G minor Fantasia suggests, as has already been noted, a later date of origin than that of the D minor—perhaps Leipzig (1720s?) rather than Cöthen. Improvisatory freedom is now no longer possible except in conjunction with tight control.
Prelude, fugue, and invention
A new approach to keyboard music is clearly evident in Bach’s Co¨then and early Leipzig years. In their initial or early stages new compositions were often entered into small manuscript keyboard books called ‘Clavierbüchlein’ (equivalent, in name at least, to ‘Orgelbüchlein’), dedicated to Bach’s eldest son Wilhelm Friedemann or to his second wife Anna Magdalena.
Family members were thus the ﬁrst to beneﬁt from Bach’s newest ideas. As his compositions developed, they would be copied by pupils from Bach’s immediate circle, such as Heinrich Nicolaus Gerber, who could then proﬁt from them in their keyboard and composition studies. Finally, a deﬁnitive autograph fair copy would be produced, from which (at least indirectly) large the well-tempered clavier i etc. numbers of copies could be made, allowing dissemination of the work over a more extensive area. In its ﬁnal form the work would consist of a standard set of six compositions, as in the suites or violin solos, or a multiple of six, as in the twenty-four Preludes and Fugues or the thirty Inventions and Sinfonias. Collecting together compositions in sets of six or more was, of course, customary at the time, but for Bach around 1720 it had a special signiﬁcance: a new desire—no doubt linked to the arrival of full creative maturity—to be fully comprehensive and exhaustive in his approach to any keyboard form, whether it be dance suite, prelude and fugue, or the newly devised ‘invention’.
The early exposure of family and pupils to these compos-itions is closely bound up with their very conception: they are designed not simply for pure delectation but as composition models and keyboard studies. These aims cannot be dissociated from each other: they are entirely integrated within the fabric of each composition.
Among the ﬁrst items in the Clavierbu¨chlein for W. F. Bach are ﬁve praeludia or praeambula, BWV 924, 926–8, and 930, all but one of which were entered by J. S. Bach in 1720,9 the year in which the book was dedicated to his son (the exception is BWV 927, which was entered by W. F. Bach in 1722/6). The ﬁrst two preludes are numbered 1 and 2, and are in the keys of C major and D minor, which suggests that Bach might originally have planned a set of preludes in ascending key order. The ﬁve existing preludes, clearly designed speciﬁcally for the musical education of the young Wilhelm Friedemann, proceed from the simplest type, the arpeggiation of a chord sequence; hence the ﬁrst two pieces, BWV 924 and 926, may be described as arpeggiated preludes. The other three preludes are also built on arpeggiated chords, but this material is now used thematically in sequence (BWV 927), motivically in imitation (BWV 930), or as the thematic material of a miniature ritornello design within an overall ABA1 structure (BWV 928).
The preludes thus offer an instructive course of progressively increasing difﬁculty. That it was partly intended as a composition course is suggested by the three praeludia in the key order C, D, e (BWV 924a, 925, and 932) that W. F. Bach entered in the book in 1725/6 in imitation of his father. J. S. Bach’s preludes were clearly intended for keyboard instruction too, however, hence the ornamentation, which refers back to the ‘Explication’, a table of ornaments that Bach wrote out in imitation of D’Anglebert and Dieupart; hence, too, the four-bar cadenza in the D minor Prelude (BWV 926,bb.39–42) and the ﬁngering that Bach supplied throughout the G minor (BWV 930).
Some months later, probably in 1721, W. F. Bach, with the help of his father, started copying into the Clavierbüchlein a series of preludes that would eventually be incorporated in The Well-Tempered Clavier I (henceforth WTC I). A second series followed in 1722–3. The two series are as follows:
As shown, the keys of the ﬁrst series are those of the diatonic tetrachord C–F, while those of the second series ﬁll the chromatic gaps (except for E♭, which is missing). The versions of the ﬁrst series are similar to those of the Forkel manuscripts, the chief sources of the early version of the WTC I, though slightly revised. The versions of the second series are similar to those of Bernhard Christian Kayser’s copy of the WTC I (Berlin, Mus. ms. Bach P 401), made in 1722–3, which represents the stage immediately before the autograph fair copy.
The ﬁrst series, like the ﬁve preludes of 1720, represent a progressive course of instruction in composition and keyboard technique. Again, Bach begins with the arpeggiated prelude, ﬁrst in simple form (no. 1 in C), then with ﬁgured arpeggios (the so-called arpègement ﬁguré; no.2 in c); triplet arpeggios against a quaver bass (no. 3 in d); broken chords decorated by an ostinato motive in two-part texture with running treble and spaced-quaver bass (no. 4 in D), then the same with interchanged parts (no. 5 in e); thematic use of an arpeggio ﬁgure as the basis of a cantabile piece in three-part texture (no. 6 in E); and ﬁnally, motivic use of an arpeggio ﬁgure in exchanges between treble and bass (no. 7 in F). The ﬁrst series of preludes, then, are not only numbered 1–7 and arranged in a logical key order, but they are also technically graded, both as keyboard and composition studies, and closely interrelated in style, theme, and motive.
All this suggests that they might have been composed as a group. This is not to say that they were necessarily composed with W. F. Bach’s musical education in mind, as the earlier set of preludes (BWV 924, 926–8, and 930) obviously were. It is more likely that, around 1720–1, Bach was working on the beginnings of the WTC I and simultaneously assisting his young son, and that there was a substantial overlap between the two tasks. The second series of WTC preludes were entered in the Clavierbu¨chlein at a later stage (1722–3), when the WTC I was nearing completion. Here the child would learn to play in double counterpoint, with perfect equality of the two hands (no. 1 in C♯), and in cantabile style within a freistimmig (free-voiced) texture (nos. 2–4). It is notable that three of the four preludes have tonics on the black keys, in accordance with Werckmeister’s prediction that eventually musicians would be able to play equally ‘aus dem coder cis’, which was certainly part of Bach’s achievement, if not part of his intention.
In the end the Clavierbüchlein contained all twelve preludes from the ﬁrst half of the WTC I, copied out by the son with his father’s assistance, with the exception of no. 7 in E♭, which was no doubt felt to be excessively long and hard for the young Wilhelm Friedemann.
Alongside other manuscripts the Clavierbüchlein offers certain hints as to how the WTC I might have evolved in its early stages. The Clavierbüchlein, B. C. Kayser’s copy (P 401), and J. G. Walther’s copy (P 1074), taken together, suggest that Bach might have originally composed a series of preludes (and fugues?) in the diatonic key order Cc, dD, eE, fF, gG, aA, subsequently ﬁlling in the gaps to create a fully chromatic series. This theory is supported by the later date of the second series of WTC preludes in the Clavierbüchlein and by the observation that there would have been room there for between seven and ten additional preludes. The early versions of Preludes 1–15 in the Forkel manuscripts, seven of which recur in the Clavierbüchlein, are mostly a good deal shorter than the deﬁnitive versions, whereas the earlier and later versions of the fugues differ only in matters of detail.
It is possible, then, that the WTC I might have been compiled from a collection of preludes in the keys C–G (or C–a) and that, in the ﬁrst place, the fugues might have formed a separate collection. Gaps might have been ﬁlled not only by composing new pieces ad hoc but by adapting existing pieces. There is some evidence in the sources that the more remote keys might have been catered for by transposition. Praeludium et Fuga 8 in e♭/d♯, for example, might have been transposed from e/d, which would imply separate origin for prelude and fugue; no. 18 might have been transposed from g to g♯, and no. 24 from c or g to b. There are signs in the sources that some preludes and fugues originally had the old modal key signatures (one ﬂat or sharp fewer than today’s signatures); for example, in Kayser’s copy Fuga 2 in C minor has a key signature of two ﬂats. In addition, among the early sources the title ‘Pre´lude’ is found, as well as ‘Praeludium’, and ‘Fughetta’ in place of ‘Fuga’.
On the evidence of Kayser’s copy the WTC I was probably compiled by collecting together separate bifolios, each of which would have contained a single prelude-and-fugue pair under its own title. These bifolios would have been combined to form a composite manuscript (now lost), within which folios could be inserted or replaced at will, serving as a vehicle for the compilation process in much the same way as the British Library autograph did for the WTC II about twenty years later. The existing autograph fair copy of Part I (P 415) was probably begun in late 1722,when the compilation process and the main revision of the text were complete. The object of this manuscript was clearly to bring the work into its deﬁnitive form. A further revision of the text was undertaken. The key order became fully chromatic, with major preceding minor throughout. Modern key signatures were invariably used. Individual titles throughout took the form ‘Praeludium 1’or‘Fuga 1’ and so on. The word ‘ﬁne’ now occurs only at the end of the whole collection, not after each prelude-and-fugue pair, as it did originally. Finally, after ‘ﬁne’ Bach writes ‘SDG’, soli Deo gloria, his customary sign of completion.
The elaborate ornamental title page of the autograph fair copy reads:
Das Wohltemperirte Clavier oder Praeludia und Fugen durch alle Tone und Semitonia, so wohl tertiam majorem oder Ut Re Mi anlangend, als auch tertiam minorem oder Re Mi Fa betreffend. Zum Nutzen und Gebrauch der Lehr-begierigen Musicalischen Jugend, als auch derer in diesem studio schon habil seyenden besonderem Zeit Vertreib auffgesetzet und verfertiget von Johann Sebastian Bach p. t. Hoch Fu¨rstlich Anhalt-Co¨thenischen Capellmeistern und Directore derer Cammer Musiquen. Anno 1722. (The Well-Tempered Clavier, or Preludes and Fugues through all the tones and semitones, both as regards the tertia major or Ut Re Mi and as concerns the tertia minor or Re Mi Fa. For the use and proﬁt of the musical youth desirous of learning, as well as for the pastime of those already skilled in this study, drawn up and written by Johann Sebastian Bach, p. t. Capellmeister to His Serene Highness the Prince of Anhalt-Cöthen and director of his chamber music. In the year 1722.)
Bach’s circumlocutory terminology for the major and minor modes is borrowed from Kuhnau. ‘Clavier’ in this context most likely means simply ‘keyboard’, the commonest meaning of the word at the time. In other words, Bach is deliberately non-prescriptive as to the type of instrument that should be used. This is in keeping with the restriction of the work to C–c3, the standard keyboard compass at the time, which made it as widely playable as possible on the instruments then in use.
The epithet ‘wohltemperirte’ (well-tempered) was clearly borrowed from the leading contemporary authority Andreas Werckmeister, who frequently made use of it in his theoretical works. His treatise of 1691, for example, is entitled Musicalische Temperatur, oder deutlich und warer mathematischer Unterricht, wie man . . . ein Clavier . . . wohl temperirt stimmen ko¨nne (Musical Temperament, or clear and true mathematical instruction how to tune a keyboard well-tempered). Here, as elsewhere in Werckmeister’s writings, ‘wohl temperirt’ evidently means ‘appropriately tuned’. But in his later writings he increasingly advocated equal temperament on account of its unlimited possibilities of modulation, transposition, and enharmonic change. It is not necessary, however, to adopt entirely equal temperament in order to play in all keys. And many theorists of Bach’s day, such as Neidhardt, Mattheson, Sorge, Marpurg, and Kirnberger, advocated a slight deviation from absolute equality in order that the distinctive colourings of different keys could be maintained. It may well be that something approaching equal temperament, but subtly nuanced in this way, was what Bach had in mind. Or else he might have meant by ‘wohltemperirte’: use whatever temperament you ﬁnd appropriate for playing music in all keys.
The didactic purpose of the work is clear from the words ‘for the use and proﬁt of the musical youth desirous of learning’. And indeed for Bach’s pupils it became the prime vehicle for advanced study in both keyboard playing and composition. The work was also intended for pure delectation, however, as is clear from the words ‘as well as for the pastime of those already skilled in this study’.
By including a prelude and fugue in every one of the twenty-four major and minor keys, Bach gave a practical demonstration of the full range of the tonal system. There were at least partial precedents, of course, of which only the most prominent can be mentioned here. Since the traditional function of the prelude was to establish the mode of the work that followed, each prelude in sixteenth- and early seventeenth-century published collections tended to be in a different mode. By the late seventeenth century this procedure was applied to keys rather than modes. For example, the Tabulatura 12 Praeambulorum . . . durch alle Claves und Tonos auff Clavichordien und Spinetten zu gebrauchen (Tablature of 12 Praeambula through all the keys and tones, to be used on clavichords and spinets) of 1682 by the Dresden court organist Johann
Heinrich Kittel contains one prelude in each of the twelve most common major and minor keys, those with up to three sharps or ﬂats. An even greater range of keys was occasionally in use at that time—for example, in the seventeen anonymous suites of 1683, formerly attributed to Pachelbel, whose keys include a major and/or a minor on every degree of the chromatic scale. By the turn of the century it was possible to list all twenty-four keys, with modern key signatures and in fully chromatic order, as did the organist T. B. Janovka in his inﬂuential treatise Clavis ad thesaurum magnae artis musicae (Prague, 1701). Since this work was known to Johann Bernhard Bach and Johann Gottfried Walther, it is quite possible that Bach was acquainted with it.
The nearest precedent to the WTC I was published in the following year, 1702: Ariadne musica, a collection of twenty preludes and fugues in nineteen different keys by the South German composer Johann Caspar Ferdinand Fischer. Here only ﬁve remote keys are missing from the complete cycle of twenty-four: g♯,b♭,e♭,F♯, and C♯. Certain rather conservative, seventeenth-century features of the collection, how-ever, distance it from the WTC I. Fischer’s preludes and fugues are tiny miniatures, reﬂecting the South German verset tradition; and the frequent ‘modal’ key signa-tures show that he was often thinking in terms of transposed modes rather than modern keys.
Despite these antiquated features, there is no doubt that Bach was acquainted with the work and that it exerted a powerful inﬂuence upon the conception and composition of the WTC I. Although Ariadne ﬁrst appeared in 1702,as already noted, it is known today only from a later edition (Augsburg, 1715). Bach, too, might have known only this 1715 edition. That would account for the absence of any trace of the inﬂuence of Ariadne on Bach’s keyboard music prior to 1715. In addition, it would square with the likely date of the WTC’s conception—some time within the period 1715–20. The overall structure of the two works is remarkably similar: a ‘Praeludium et Fuga’ in all the major and minor keys (or nearly all, in Fischer’s case), chromatically ordered from C to b. Fischer places minor before major through-out, a relic of modal theory that recurs in the early stages of Bach’s work on the WTC I. Later, we shall have occasion to notice how often even the substance of Fischer’s preludes and fugues resonates in the later work.
If anyone might be said to have had music in his blood, it is Johann Sebastian Bach. In the central German region of Thuringia where he was born, the Bachs were known as musicians, and had been for generations, in the same way that other families might be known as bakers or shoemakers. Sebastian’s father Johann Ambrosius was a professional musician-director of the Stadtpfeifer, or town musicians, at Eisenach-and the family home must have been a veritable beehive of musical activity, filled with the sound of practising, tuning, instrumental repair work, and music-making of all kinds.
Great versatility was expected of the Stadtpfeifer: despite their name (literally ‘town pipers’), they were expected to master string, wind, and brass instruments alike.
This cannot have escaped the notice of the child Bach, who might even have learned the rudiments of a variety of instruments himself. In any case, it is likely that he learned the violin, which he is said to have played as a youth ‘cleanly and penetratingly’, from his father, who was first and foremost a violinist.
Bach’s childhood musical experience
was by no means restricted to instrumental playing, however. As a member of the chorus musicus at Eisenach (presumably), Ohrdruf, and Liineburg, he would have taken part in elaborate polyphonic and concerted music at church services, thereby gaining experience that would prove invaluable in later years. And in view of his natural musical talent and ‘uncommonly fine soprano voice’, he was no doubt at some stage assigned the role of concertist (soloist).
The repertoire of the chorus musicus at Eisenach included fifteenth- and sixteenth-century a cappella music by Walter, Senft, Josquin, Obrecht, and others, as well as seventeenth-century German music by Michael Praetorius, Schein, Schutz, Hammerschmidt, and Johann Christoph Bach. Still greater riches were available to the Michaelisschule, which Bach attended in Liineburg. Its great choir library is lost, but according to an inventory of 1695 it contained over a thousand pieces drawn from seventeenth-century Germany and Italy. Composers represented include Schiitz, Hammerschmidt, Buxtehude, Rosenmiiller, Krieger, Strunck, Weckmann, Monteverdi, and Carissimi.
Since the Mettenchor (Matins choir) of which Bach was a member drew its repertory from this library, he must have become familiar with a vast amount of music both ancient and modern, from a cappella motets in the polyphonic style of the sixteenth century to relatively up-to-date concerted music for voices and instruments.
It is against this background of constant vocal and instrumental activity that we must view the young Bach’s decision to specialize in the organ and harpsichord. This should not be regarded as a sign of narrowing interest, but rather as the emergence of a specific focus amid ongoing wide-ranging musical experience. Between the ages of ten and fifteen (1695-1700) he received a thorough training in the playing of keyboard instruments in Ohrdruf from his elder brother Johann Christoph, who had studied with the family friend Johann Pachelbel in Erfurt and might be supposed to have passed on what he had learnt.
The younger Bach seems to have made astonishing progress: ‘In a short time he had fully mastered all the pieces his brother had willingly given him to learn’; and in 1702, at the age of seventeen and only a couple of years after leaving Ohrdruf, he was unanimously elected to the post of organist at the Jacobikirche, Sangerhausen (an alternative candidate was, however, imposed by the reigning duke). In the following year he gave the inaugural recital at the new Wender organ in the Neuekirche, Arnstadt, and so impressed the local citizens that he was offered the post of organist there. Before the recital, he had been invited to examine the new organ-a testimony to the reputation he had already established, at the age of eighteen, as an organ expert.
The question arises how he had acquired that knowledge when so young. The organ at the Georgenkirche, Eisenach, which his uncle Johann Christoph played, and the two organs at the Michaeliskirche, Ohrdruf, played by his elder brother (also Johann Christoph) were in constant need of repair; and the child Bach no doubt learnt much from discussing the problems with his relatives ( and perhaps with organ builders called in to carry out repairs) and from assisting them with routine maintenance work. Later on, at least by 1708, this direct, ‘hands-on’ knowledge would be backed up by detailed study of Werckmeister’s Orgelprobe of 1681, the best-known authority on the organ of the time, covering organ building, renovation, testing, tuning methods, and the duties of the organist.
It is not at all clear when Bach began to compose,
or to study composition, nor what form that study took. It seems reasonable to pinpoint the period of formal keyboard tuition in Ohrdruf, but there is no evidence that his teacher-brother Johann Christoph was a composer; and C. P. E. Bach told Forkel that ‘the instruction [he] received … in Ohrdruf may well have been designed for an organist and nothing more’. It has even been suggested13 that the young Bach might have sought primarily a virtuoso organist’s career rather than that of a composer.
On the other hand, he might have been inspired to pursue keyboard playing and composition in tandem by the example of two illustrious relatives of his father’s generation, the brothers Johann Christoph and Johann Michael Bach. Johann Christoph was not only church organist and court harpsichordist at Eisenach, where the child Bach, before the age of ten, would have come into close contact with him, but a ‘profound’, ‘great and expressive’ composer. Johann Michael, whose daughter Bach later married, was both church organist at Gehren and an ‘able composer’ of sacred vocal music and organ chorales.
A still more illustrious model for the young organist-composer was Bach’s brother’s teacher Johann Pachelbel, organist at Erfurt and Gotha during Bach’s childhood. Furthermore, during the first five or six years of the eighteenth century Bach would encounter three highly significant role models in the North German towns of Luneburg, Hamburg and Lubeck: Georg Bohm, Jan Adam Reincken and Dieterich Buxtehude. Reincken and Buxtehude, in particular, were versatile musicians of great professional expertise-at once virtuoso organists and erudite, technically accomplished composers.
Bach could hardly fail to observe that, unlike his Thuringian relatives-who earned their living simply as humble servants of town, church or court-these two North-German masters commanded considerable status and independence as artistic personalities in their own right. Nor, incidentally, could he have remained unimpressed by the rich musical life of the Hanseatic trading cities in which they dwelt, Hamburg and Lubeck. Hamburg, which Bach visited several times in 1700-2, was not only a great centre for organ and church music but home to the first German civic opera house, founded in the Gansemarkt in 1678.
Lubeck was the scene of Buxtehude’s Abendmusiken, events in which sacred works on the scale of oratorios were performed publicly in an extra-liturgical context on five successive Sundays each autumn. On 2 and 3 December 1705 Bach must have heard, and possibly taken part in, two such performances: Buxtehude’s funeral music for Kaiser Leopold I, Castrum doloris (Bux:WV 134), and his homage music for Kaiser Joseph I, Templum honoris (Bux:WV 135).
As for the study of composition,
there is no evidence in Bach’s case of formal tuition such as Handel received from Zachow; and C. P. E. Bach may well be stating no more than the truth when he declares that his father ‘learned chiefly by the observation of the works of the most famous and proficient composers of his day and by the fruits of his own reflection upon them’.
His insatiable curiosity, which he attempted to satisfy by the time-honoured method of copying music by hand, is illustrated by the well-known story of his copying out by moonlight a book of keyboard pieces by the South-German composers Froberger, Kerll and Pachelbela book that belonged to his teacher-brother Johann Christoph and that for some reason had been withheld from him. The book presumably reflected something of the repertoire that Pachelbel taught his pupils, for all three composers are also represented in a tablature manuscript belonging to another pupil, Johann Valentin Eckelt.
In Llineburg, at the very beginning of the eighteenth century (1700-2), Bach must have encountered the music of Georg Bohm, organist at the Johanniskirche; and in a letter C. P. E. Bach at first described him as his father’s ‘teacher’ before crossing the word out and replacing it with ‘the Liineburg organist’. C. P. E. Bach can hardly have conjured the word out of thin air, and it might perhaps hint that Bohm occupied some kind of informal supervisory role.
In any case, it is clear from Bach’s early music how much he must have learnt from Bohm, as well as from the other North-German composers he encountered around the same time, in particular Reincken, Buxtehude, and Bruhns. Many of their keyboard works are included alongside the early works of Bach himself in two manuscript volumes compiled by his Ohrdruf brother Johann Christoph between about 1704 and 1713, namely the Moller Manuscript and the Andreas Bach Book.
It is more than likely that the young Bach was himself responsible for bringing these works south to Thuringia upon his return from Liineburg in 1702, and again, perhaps, after his Lubeck visit in the winter of 1705-6. In addition to North-German works, the two volumes include music from other parts of Germany, notably by Kuhnau, Zachow, Telemann, Pachelbel, and J. C. F. Fischer, as well as a certain amount of French and Italian music. Again, much of this music might have been made available to Johann Christoph by his younger brother, who seems to have had a voracious appetite for acquainting himself with music written in as many different styles and genres as possible.
The presence of Albinoni trio sonatas in the Moller Manuscript ties in with the youthful Bach’s study of Albinoni, Corelli, and Legrenzi, to which his works of the time bear witness. The French ensemble works in the two volumes, by Lully and Marais, are no doubt similar in style to the music Bach heard at Liineburg Castle, played by the French orchestra kept by the Duke of Celle. From this experience the young Bach is said to have ‘acquired a thorough grounding in the French taste’.
Moreover, in works by him, Bohm, and Telemann in the Andreas Bach Book we encounter the contemporary German vogue for transferring the Lullian style to the keyboard. At the same time, works by Lebegue and Marchand in Johann Christoph’s volumes show the youthful Bach making the acquaintance of original French keyboard music.
All these works, whether French, Italian, or German, contributed to the formation of Bach’s style and technique; and their gradual assimilation helps to explain the extraordinary richness and density of his mature music in all its manifestations.
Describing Bach’s first attempts at composition,
his first biographer Johann Nikolaus Forkel talks of his tendency ‘to run or leap up and down the instrument, to take both hands as full as all the five fingers will allow, and to proceed in this wild manner till he by chance finds a resting place’.
Despite the obvious element of caricature (like many later writers, Forkel tended to denigrate Bach’s early works, comparing them unfavourably with his mature masterpieces), one can recognize here a certain type within Bach’s early music: that which has its roots in his own developing virtuosity as a player and improviser. But contrary to Forkel’s implication, these works seldom degenerate into empty passage-work. For the young Bach, as for other playercomposers, ideas emerged from the very possibilities of his instrument, and from his own skill at exploiting them.
Thereby he made contact with a rich vein of fantasy that, pace Forkel again, imparts ideas of genuine value to the early keyboard works. There is an obvious affinity here with the so-called stylus phantasticus, or fantastic style, as exemplified by Buxtehude’s praeludia.
Here again, the composer’s own free fantasy, called forth on the spur of the moment by direct contact with his instrument, is the decisive factor. North-German praeludia of this kind no doubt made a powerful impact on the youth from Thuringia; but free fantasy is too spontaneous to be easily imitated, and the rhapsodic effusions of the D major Toccata, BWV 912, for example, are highly personal, which perhaps explains why they sound so romantic to our ears.
It is easy to see how this ‘most free and unrestrained manner of composing’ might have emerged of its own accord out of Bach’s training as an organist under Johann Christoph at Ohrdruf, particularly as improvisation would have been involved as an essential prerequisite for an organist’s career. But his aspirations to be a composer also have another, quite different source.
At an early stage he seems to have shown a remarkable aptitude for fugal and contrapuntal writing-though it must be confessed that we find nothing in early Bach to approach the contrapuntal achievements of the 25-year-old Frescobaldi in his Il primo libro delle fantasie of 1608, or of the 21-year-old Purcell in his ensemble fantasias of 1680. And although subject-based music, such as fugues and chorale arrangements, were often improvised at the time, their advanced pursuit in the long run required tuition or, at the very least, a careful, patient study of models.
This the youth willingly undertook, according to C. P. E. Bach: ‘Through his own study and reflection alone he became, even in his youth, a pure and strong fugue writer’.
Here we catch a glimpse of the studious Bach who, rather than using his fingers to call forth fantasy, set his mind to the art of construction in sound. From an early age he seems to have been drawn towards the learned, academic side of music-never for its own sake, however, but in the service of a strong, expressive content, for, as we are told by his son, he was ‘no lover of dry, mathematical stuff’. The development of the mind plays a key role here, and the young Bach showed exceptional intellectual ability, his school work repeatedly outperforming that of his older fellow students at the schools in Eisenach, Ohrdruf, and Liineburg where he was educated.
The two opposing elements of intellectual control and spontaneous fantasy tend to jostle for the upper hand in Bach’s early music. In time, however, the intellect would increasingly predominate to the extent that the composer’s reliance on his own instrument for inspiration gradually diminished. No weakening of fantasy was involved in this process, but that element no longer arose primarily from the interaction between player and instrument; instead, it emerged from within.
Even the player-composer of Bach’s early years, however, must have composed according to his own inner lights, so it is worth asking what personal resources he could call upon beyond agile hands and feet and a fine intellect.
Already we find some evidence of the personal characteristics that we tend to associate with Bach in his maturity. Considerable independence and single-mindedness are shown by the long, arduous journeys he undertook in pursuit of his educational and musical goals. Leaving his native Thuringia, home of the Bach family of musicians, in March 1700, just before his fifteenth birthday, he travelled over 200 miles north to Liineburg in order to complete his education.
On several occasions during his stay there he traversed the 30 miles from Liineburg to Hamburg in order to hear Reincken play the great four-manual organ of the Catherinenkirche. And later on, after his return to Thuringia, he journeyed over 250 miles on foot from Arnstadt to Lubeck in order to hear Dieterich Buxtehude, organist of the Marienkirche, and his famous Abendmusiken, lingering there for about three months ‘in order to comprehend one thing and another about his art’ despite having been granted only one month’s leave of absence. We encounter here a single-minded determination to further his personal aims as a musician, even at the expense of his public obligations.
The other side of this purposefulness, however, is an obstinacy and truculence, a tendency to take offence, which makes itself felt much later in Leipzig, but is already evident in his first post at Arnstadt (1703-7) in difficulties with students and the church authorities: he ‘had a reputation for not getting on with the students’, and even got involved in a brawl with one of them; and he fell foul of the local consistory for refusing to perform concerted music with the students, and for outlandish chorale playing (by local standards) during services.
We are told that he played for too long, but after being reproved by the superintendent, ‘had at once fallen into the other extreme and made it too short’. Again, in Bach’s letter of resignation from his second organist’s post, at Miihlhausen (1707-8), he complains of the ‘hindrance’ and ‘vexation’ he had experienced during his year there -words that bring to mind his endless disputes with the Leipzig town council in later years.
Although it may be right to impute Bach’s sense of annoying impediments at least partially to a municipality that ‘clung to old fashions and customs’, it seems most unlikely, in view of what we know of his failure to get on with the authorities elsewhere, that he was entirely blameless in the matter. And it seems natural to suppose that this stubborn, pugnacious side of Bach’s personality-his fighting spirit, to put it in a more positive light-was to some extent sublimated into the immense energy of his music. As a child Bach was no stranger to sorrow.
When only six years old,
he had to come to terms with the death of his eighteen-year-old brother Johann Balthazar, whom he must have looked up to as an apprentice of his father’s; and only three years later, at the age of nine, he had to confront an even greater calamity when he lost both parents within the space of about nine months (May 1694-February 1695). It is reasonable to assume that the deeply moving expressions of grief and meditations on death in his music, from the early Actus tragicus cantata ( Gottes Zeit ist die allerbeste Zeit, BWV 106, c. 1707) onwards, had their roots in these devastating childhood experiences.
They may also have contributed to that ‘serious temperament’ that ‘drew him by preference to music that was serious, elaborate and profound’. Bach’s capacity for serious thought and feeling must have fostered the spiritual depth that we recognize in his mature music, but which is already apparent in some of the early cantatas, especially the funeral cantata No. 106, mentioned above, and the Easter cantata No. 4, as well as in certain early organ chorales, notably Ach Gott, vom Himmel sieh darein, BWV 741. This deeply spiritual side of Bach’s nature was, of course, channelled into the Lutheran Church, with which he was intimately associated from his earliest years and almost continually throughout his life.
He would have gained early familiarity with the liturgy of the main service, the Hauptgottesdienst, structured around the Mass Ordinary (including German paraphrases such as ‘Allein Gott in der Hoh sei Ehr’ and ‘Wir glauben all an einen Gott’), with the words of the Lutheran Bible, and with the rhythm of the church year. And he would have become aware that the church, whether in words or music or in both combined, was capable of giving expression to our deepest feelings, either on occasions of great sorrow, such as the family funerals he had to attend, or of great joy, such as the wedding of his elder brother Johann Christoph in October 1694.
The church, whether in Eisenach, Ohrdruf, Liineburg, Arnstadt, or Miihlhausen, was beyond question his spiritual home, and it is in this light that we should understand his almost continuous involvement in church music from Eisenach onwards.
The divorcing of Bach’s sacred music
from its liturgical context and even from the meaning of its words is a modern, secular phenomenon that bears no relation to its true origins. The very depth of response, which cannot be overlooked in his church music, testifies to the intimacy of his involvement with the texts and with what they signify. From early childhood he must have dwelt on the meaning of the increasingly familiar biblical words he heard in church, begun to evaluate and compare different musical settings of them, and in time noticed that, in the context of the whole church year, they covered the entire gamut of states of the soul in relation to the divinity.
We approach here one of the most profound sources of Bach’s life as a creative artist. Through regular and intimate involvement with the church and its music, he must have learnt by experience that music, linked to appropriate words, could reach the very depths of our being and thereby offer fulfilment to the soul.
In the various churches where Bach was active in the 1690s and 1700s, he would have encountered a vast quantity of music, whether for organ, congregation, a cappella choir, or combined vocal and instrumental ensemble. At the heart of this music lay the Lutheran chorale, the German congregational hymn, with which he would have been acquainted from a very early age, having grown up with the Eisenach hymnal of 1673, the Neues vollstiindiges Eisenachisches Gesangbuch, which contained no fewer than 612 chorales. Hymnals of this kind formed the staple diet of Lutheran church music, and the child Bach must have been struck by the association of the old familiar melodies with sacred verse that constantly echoed the Bible and tied in with the specific occasion, the readings, and the sermon.
Much of the more elaborate church music that he heard or participated in, either for organ or for choir, would have been based on a chorale cantus firmus, employing time-honoured techniques of deriving a new composition from an existing melody.
The most popular chorales were employed in this way countless times by various composers, and at a very young age Bach must have learnt to evaluate and compare the different versions. This would no doubt act as a spur to his own creativity, for he must have been filled with a desire to emulate the best composers and their work. An organist’s duties typically included not only accompanying the congregational singing of chorales but introducing them with an improvised or pre-composed piece of music based on them. Bach would have learnt this art of ‘preluding’ from his elder brother Johann Christoph in Ohrdruf; some of his very earliest compositions, such as the organ chorales attributed to him from the Neumeister Collection, might have been written with this function in mind.
Organists also had to play preludes, fantasias, fugues and the like at the beginning and end of the service, and some of Bach’s early non-chorale-based organ music must have been designed to serve this purpose. Not all of it, however, for some of the preludes and fugues, alongside the suites, sonatas, capriccios, and toccatas, must have been written for performance in the home. It is impossible to draw clear dividing lines here, either in the function served by the music or in the instrument for which it was written.
The sources, rather than naming a specific instrument, merely describe the work concerned as ‘manualiter’ or ‘pedaliter’-that is, playable on manuals only, or requiring a pedalboard. Thus Bach, like his older contemporaries, was in many cases not writing with a particular keyboard instrument in mind, but for whichever instrument the player had to hand, either in church or in the home. All the composer had to do was to stipulate whether or not pedals were required; the player could then choose whether to perform the music on church organ, house organ, pedalharpsichord, manuals-only harpsichord, spinet, or clavichord.
The elaborate vocal music in which Bach participated at Eisenach, Ohrdruf, and Liineburg was of two kinds: on the one hand, a cappella motets in a traditional polyphonic style; and on the other, concerted vocal and instrumental music (sacred concertos, cantatas and so on) in a much more up-to-date idiom. Motet style and the closely related stile antico clearly made a deep impression on him, for he would return to it for certain movements of his church works throughout his career. But it soon became clear that his aspirations as a composer lay primarily within the field of concerted vocal and instrumental music.
Opportunities for this were limited in Arnstadt and Miihlhausen, mainly because, as elsewhere, concerted music was primarily the responsibility of the local cantor, while the organist, by contrast, was normally able to perform it only at weddings, funerals, or other special occasions. However, there were also local difficulties. At Arnstadt Bach found the student choir unruly and hard to get along with, and he consequently failed to perform concerted music with them-an omission for which he was repeatedly taken to task by the church authorities.
He may have done so, however, towards the end of his tenure: the two cantatas he would have had to submit for his Miihlhausen application might have been drawn from a stock he was building up in Arnstadt, rather than newly composed for the purpose. At Miihlhausen, Bach not only composed and performed occasional cantatas himself (among them, BWV 71, 106, and 131); he also ‘acquired from far and wide, not without cost, a good store of the choicest church compositions’ by other composers, for use not only in his own town church, the Blasiuskirche, but in local village churches too.
Here in Miihlhausen, as later in Weimar and Leipzig, his central goal was, in his own words, the provision of ‘a well-regulated church music to the glory of God’.40 It is obstacles to that goal that he cites, without going into details, as the grounds for his resignation after only one year.
THE BEST OF BACH Johann Sebastian Bach 1. Brandenburg Concerto No. 1 in F major, BWV 1046 Allegro (00:00) Adagio (4:43) Allegro (9:10) 2. Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 in G major, BWV 1048 Allegro (13:40) Allegro assai (19:11) Allegro (24:05) 3. Brandenburg Concerto No. 4 in G major, BWV 1049 Presto (31:42) Andante (36:37) Affettuoso (39:32) 4. Brandenburg Concerto No. 6 in B flat major, BWV 1051 Allegro (45:02) 5. Concerto for Violin and Oboe in C minor, BWV 1060 Allegro (50:38) Largo (54:59) Allegro (59:32) 6. Orchestral Suite No. 2 in B Minor, BWV 1067: Menuet (1:02:35) 7. Orchestral Suite No. 3 in D Major, BWV 1068: Air on the G String (1:05:35) 8. Cantata BWV 147: Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring (1:10:07) 9. Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, BWV 565 (1:13:32) 10. Harpsichord Invention No. 1 in C major, BWV 772 (1:22:23) 11. Harpsichord Invention No 8 in F major, BWV 779 (1:23:43) 12. Orchestral Suite No. 2 in B Minor, BWV 1067: Badinerie (1:24:42) 13. Notebook for Anna Magdalena Bach: Minuet in G major, BWV Ahn. 114 (1:27:24) 14. Notebook for Anna Magdalena Bach: Musette in D major, BWV Anh.126 (1:28:59) 15. Violin Partita No. 3 in E Major, BWV 1006: Bourée (1:30:06) 16. Sonata for Viola da Gamba & Harpsichord, BWV 1028 (1:31:48) 17. Concerto in D minor, BWV 1059: 2nd Movt. (1:35:44) 18. Cello Suite No. 4 in E-flat major, BWV 1010: Courante (1:38:54) 19. Cello Suite No. 6 in D major, BWV 1012: Gavotte (1:42:32) 20. Cello Suite No. 6 in D major BWV 1012: Prelude (1:46:42)