FL 2 3091

J.S. Bach: Toccata & Fugue in D minor and Other Early Works, Vol.1

Release date September 25, 1997
Album code FL 2 3091
Periods Baroque

Album information

Most of the time, we see J.S. Bach under the features of the “old” Cantor of Leipzig (1723-1750), as we know him by the famous (and authentic) 1746 picture by Haussman. In fact, most of his organ works date back to the period preceding his nomination as Capellmeister in Cöthen in 1717, that is to say at the age of 32. And even if Bach was not, as it seems, a child prodigy such as Mozart—perhaps by the very nature of his musical language—he nonetheless composed as early as 17 or 18 years old numerous works in which his genius can already clearly be seen. These works from his youth possess a character of freshness, invention and lyricism which often makes them particularly attractive; moreover, it is of great interest to note in them the various influences at work in his development as a composer. With the exception of a few cantatas, these early works are all written for organ or harpsichord, instruments which he played with great virtuosity and favored throughout his life, and for which he alway wrote, unless his duties obliged him to use another medium. The works recorded here were most likely composed as early as Bach’s sojourn in Lunebourg (1700-1703)—as is the case for the beautiful and introspective F minor Partita BWV 766, written under the influence of Georg Böhm (1661-1733), then organist at St. John’s Church in that city; then in Arnstadt (1703-1707), as with the Prelude and Fugue in C major BWV 531, which is one of the first works in the great series of Bach’s dyptichs in which both the prelude and the fugue acquire their full autonomy; and Mülhausen (1707-1708), or during his first years in Weimar, where he was appointed in 1708. That is to say, these are the works of a young man of probably not more than 25 or 26 years of age. One first finds in them the influence of 17th-century North German composers, and most particularly that of the great Buxtehude, whom Bach visited in Lübeck for four months in 1705. This influence is first illustrated here in the famous Toccata in D minor—generally known under the incorrect appellation of “Toccata and Fugue” when, in fact, it is not a dyptich but, as in Buxtehude, a single continuous piece in which the fugue, not very elaborated as such (and almost monodic most of the time), is only a compositional technique perfectly integrated into this visionary work. The preponderant influence of the baroque North German school stemming from J.P. Sweelinck (1562-1621) is again encountered in the E-major Toccata—probably composed before the D-minor Toccata—a quite elaborated and brilliant piece in four sections, separated one from the other in this case, but without being really autonomous: its first section is a free introduction, the third a transitional recitative, and the second fugue uses a variant of the first one. Otherwise, a very clear French influence—important for Bach as early as the Lunebourg period—is found in the G-major Fantasia, moreover titled in French as Pièce d’Orgue in many sources, with indications also in French for each of the three sections: Très vitement, Gravement and Lentement. This magnificent piece is actually a “Grand Plein-Jeu,” but with a more rigorous polyphonic texture, and framed by two highly decorative sections. As for Italy, the very idea of a Pastorale refers to this country, as does the fact that in many of the sources this work bears the Italian designation of “Pastorella.” This attractive work is in fact a suite in four movements: the Pastorale itself; a binary piece which can be considered a gay allemande; an expressive accompanied cantilena; and finally a true gigue. As well, the singing character and luminosity of the duly famous “little” Fugue in G minor links this piece to Italy. Finally, this recrding includes four examples of organ chorales; from the beginning and during all his creative life, Bach composed a great number of organ chorales in various forms, using the melodies of the Lutheran hymns which were evidently so dear to him. As I found difficult to choose, when editing this recording, between two different registrations for each of the two versions of the choral “Liebster Jesu,” and since the space made it possible, I thought of adding at the end of this recital two other versions to the two heard previously, so as to conclude in an atmosphere of calm and tenderness. The tenderness of Bach… This word is too rarely used, in my opinion, as a characteristic of so many of his works, especially the cantatas and the organ chorales.

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