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8.550184 - BACH, J.S.: Organ Favourites
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685 - 1750)
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.
Conservatory of Music
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