About this Recording
8.550184 - BACH, J.S.: Organ Favourites
English 

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685 - 1750)

Organ Favourites
Prelude and Fugue in E Flat Major, BWV 552
Pastorale in F Major, BWV 590
Toccata in D Minor, BWV 565
Prelude and Fugue in D Major, BWV 532
Prelude and Fugue in E Minor, BWV 548

Johann Sebastian Bach was a member of a family that had for generations been occupied in music. His sons were to continue the tradition, providing the foundation of a new style of music that prevailed in the later part of the eighteenth century. Johann Sebastian Bach himself represented the end of an age, the culmination of the Baroque in a magnificent synthesis of Italian melodic invention, French rhythmic dance forms and German contrapuntal mastery.

Born in Eisenach in 1685, Bach was educated largely by his eldest brother, after the early death of his parents. At the age of eighteen he embarked on his career as a musician, serving first as a court musician at Weimar, before appointment as organist at Arnstadt. Four years later he moved to Muehlhausen as organist and the following year became organist and chamber musician to Duke Wilhelm Ernst of Weimar. Securing his release with difficulty, in 1717 he was appointed Kapellmeister to Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Coethen and remained at Coethen until 1723, when he moved to Leipzig as Cantor at the School of St. Thomas, with responsibility for the music of the five principal city churches. Bach was to remain in Leipzig until his death in 1750.

As a craftsman obliged to fulfil the terms of his employment, Bach provided music suited to his various appointments. It was natural that his earlier work as an organist and something of an expert on the construction of organs, should result in music for that instrument. At Coethen, where the Pietist leanings of the court made church music unnecessary, he provided a quantity of instrumental music for the court orchestra and its players. In Leipzig he began by composing a series of cantatas for the church year, later turning his attention to instrumental music for the Collegium Musicum of the University, and to the collection and ordering of his own compositions.

In Leipzig Bach began work on his Clavieruebung, adopting the title from the work of a predecessor in Leipzig, Johann Kuhnau. The third of the four volumes appeared in 1739 and consists very largely of organ music for the Lutheran Mass. The collection opens with an impressive and majestic Prelude in E flat, and the whole collection ends with a fugue in the same key, known to the English as the St. Anne Fugue because of the similarity of the subject to a well-known Anglican hymn-tune of that name.

The Pastorale in F major seems to have been written in 1710 or thereabouts and belongs to the period when Bach was employed as organist at Weimar. It opens with an Italian-style pastoral movement, familiar from the Christmas Concerto of Corelli, and continues with three further, apparently disparate movements for manuals only, with a sequence of keys that is, at the very least, unusual.

The famous D minor Toccata is an early work, probably written while Bach was organist at Arnstadt or at Muehlhausen, that is in 1706 or 1707, before he moved to Weimar. The D major Prelude and Fugue that follow were written in the Weimar years, the latter making energetic and ingenious use of a relatively simple subject.

The Prelude and Fugue in E minor belong to the first years of Bach's employment in Leipzig. The fugue is popularly known in England as the Wedge, because of the shape of the subject. It is preceded by a prelude of particular magnificence.

Oberlin Conservatory of Music
The Oberlin Conservatory of Music, established in 1865, was the first such institution in the United States of America and is now among the most distinguished, offering its 500 students training in performance and in other branches of music. The facilities at Oberlin include two concert halls, 173 practice rooms, and, in its instrument collection, over 300 pianos, of which 171 are Steinway grand pianos, and 25 organs. There are electronic and computer music studios containing the most advanced modern equipment for work in this field, and a library with the largest holding of all undergraduate institutions in the country.

The Flentrop Organ
The Flentrop Organ, designed and constructed for Oberlin by the distinguished Dutch organ-builder Dirk Flentrop, was made possible by Frank Van Cleef, whose family has a long association with the College. It is dedicated to the memory of George Whitfield Andrews, who taught at the Conservatory for nearly fifty years, until his death in 1932. The instrument follows the principles established by Flentrop and his father in emulation of the earlier great European organ-builders, making use of tracker action, slider chests and traditional casing. The organ was inaugurated in 1974 with an opening recital by Marie-Claire Alain.

Wolfgang Ruebsam
Wolfgang Ruebsam had his early musical training in Germany, France and the United States of America, and won international recognition when he was awarded first prize at the organ competition in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and the Grand Prix de Chartres. He has given recitals in many important centres and has taken part in the Los Angeles Bach Festival, the Lahti Festival in Finland and the Vienna Festival. In 1974 he was appointed to the staff of Northwestern University, Evanston, and in 1981 to the University of Chicago.


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