FL 2 3096

J.S. Bach: Fantasy and Fugue in G minor and other mature works, Vol.1

Release date March 07, 1997
Album code FL 2 3096
Periods Baroque

Album information

In recording the complete organ works of Bach—including keyboard works usually ascribed to the harpsichord but well suited for the organ—my intention is not only to give each CD the caracter of a recital in which the sequence of works offers contrasts of forms, registrations, tempi, or even tonalities, but also to present a chronological overview of fifty years of organ compositions. It is not easy, however, to determine which year marks the beginning of Bach’s “mature style.” Concerning the organ works, we know that a great number of them—works, for instance, as important as the Fantasy and Fugue in G minor and the Fantasy and Fugue in C minor recorded here—have reached us solely through copies that are not in Bach’s hand, often undated, and completed later than the actual date of composition; moreover, Bach often revised, modified or developed earlier works; finally, the Preludes and the Fugues of the dyptics have not been always, or not necessarily, composed at the same time.The precise dating of such works therefore becomes hypothetical and approximative. That being said, I tend to settle on the middle years of Bach’s Weimar stay, around 1712, as marking the beginning of the composer’s maturity. According to Philip Spitta, Bach’s first great biographer after Forkel, and whose monumental study dates from 1873-1879, the Fantasy and Fugue in G minor was written during Bach’s trip tp Hambourg in 1720, and performed by the composer in the presence of the old Adam Reinken. Whether this is the case or not, the work nevertheless quickly acquired an everlasting popularity: Mattheson already refers to it in 1731, and a contemporary copyist notes that it is Herr Johann Sebastian Bach’s greatest work for the organ “pedaliter.” I thought it would be interesting to put side by side the G-minor Fantasy and Fugue and the Trio in D minor BWV 583. This last work, little known even though it presents remarkable features, was probably written around the same period, since its thematic material is quite similar to that of the G-minor Fugue (BWV 542). Fuga sopra il Magnificat is the usual designation given to what is actually a choral-prelude on Meine Seele erhebt den Herren (My soul glorifies the Lord). The mastery and density of the four-part texture (to which is added as fifth voice, in the last page, the cantus firmus on the pedalboard, a writing technique also found in the great Fugue in C, BWV 547) point to the probable belonging of his work to Bach’s mature style. The six Trio-sonatas BWV 525-530 have also been part of Bach’s most admired works ever since their completion. Numerous copies were made during Bach’s lifetime, and Forkel, fifty years after the composer’s death, described them as works “of which one cannot praise enough the immense beauty.” An autograph manuscript dating from Bach’s first years in Leipzig is still extant, as is a partial copy in the hand of the composer’s son, Wilhelm Friedemann, for whom, according to Forkel, the Trio-sonatas were composed, works to which, always according to Forkel, he owned his tremendous organ technique. Much has been said about their difficult execution, but more important to me are their charm, their inventive richness, and their lyrical variety and beauty. I have therefore attempted to particularily underline, in the two Trio-sonatas presented on this recording, their profound musicality, the fluidity and elegance of the writing, and the powerful emotion of the slow movements. The Prelude and Fugue BWV 545 also dates from Bach’s first years in Leipzig, at least in its definitive form. Of note is the similarity between the Prelude and the first Prelude of Book II of the Well-Tempered Clavier, as is the similarity between the theme of the Fugue with that of the C-major Fugue of Book I. The inspiration for the five-part Fantasy in C minor (BWV 562) was no doubt Nicholas de Grigny’s Fugues à 5. Bach had copied Grigny’s Livre d’Orgue (1699), probably in 1713, and the Fantasy could have been written around the same time. I do not believe, however, that we should apply to this work the typical two-keyboard registration of Grigny’s fugues, favoring, instead, the assumption that Bach conceived this work pro Organo Pleno, which enhances its grandiose dramatic atmosphere. Moreover, I thought it would be interesting to include, as an Appemdix at the end of this recording, another version with only the Principal 8′ of the Grand-Orgue, giving the work a meditative character full of pathos. Although it is not as well-known as the G-minor Fantasy and Fugue that opened this recital, the Fantasy and Fugue in C minor BWV 526, is certainly worthy of figuring as its closing counterpart. The Fantasy is rigourously constructed from two contrasting themes, the second being a wonderful example of a musical representation of suffering, and ends in the dominant, with two bars of transition; the link with the Fugue, which must follow without pause, is therefore very strong. This fugue, heroic in character, also has two sharply-defined themes (even three, if we count the chromatic countersubject of the second theme), but instead of ending with a section in which the two themes would have been superposed, it closes with a true da capo (a litteral restatement of the first part), a composing process rarely found in a fugue. In brief, this recital is one masterwork after another… The music-lovers will be happily nourished, and, perhaps, some of these works will be revealed to them for the first time. Bernard Lagacé

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