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8.553031 - BACH, J.S.: Orgelbuchlein (Das), Vol. 1
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685 - 1750)
Little Organ Book Volume I
The New Year
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 Mühlhausen 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-Cöthen and remained at Cöthen 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 Cöthen, 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 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.
The Orgelbüchleinor Little Organ Book includes chorale preludes for the church year and written during Bach's time at Weimar and, in part, during the subsequent period he spent at Cöthen. Each prelude provides a musical meditation on the theme of the chorale on which it is based. As a prelude to the Orgelbüchlein, the present release starts with Bach's Fugue on a Theme of Corelli, BWV 579, a miraculous transformation of a subject derived from the older composer, and a tribute to an Italian master whose work influenced Bach. The book itself opens with the season of Advent, the beginning of the church year. Nun komm' der Heiden Heiland (Now come, Saviour of the Gentiles) elaborates the chorale melody, which is heard in the top part. Golf, durch deine Gate (God, through Thy Goodness), has an alternative title, Gottes Sohn ist kommen (The Son of God has come). The chorale starts in the upper part, echoed, in canon at the octave, by the pedals, which enter one bar later. The steady moving rhythm of the inner parts provides accompanying elaboration. The third of the chorale preludes, Herr Christ, der ein'ge Gottessohn (Lord Christ, the only Son of God), with its alternative title Herr Golf, nun sei gepreiset(Lord God, now be praised), each half of which is repeated, keeps the chorale melody in the upper part. The preludes for Advent end with Lob sei dem allmächtigen Golf (Praise be to almighty God), where the four-voice texture again keeps the melody in the upper part.
The chorale preludes for Christmas are preceded here by the Prelude and Fugue in C major, BWV 531, another work that, like the Fugue on a Theme of Corelli, seems to date from the period before Bach's appointment to Weimar as court organist. The triple time Puer natus in Bethlehem (A Boy is born in Bethlehem) is a prelude of brief simplicity, its melody in the upper part. A missing page in the autograph is followed by Gelobet seist du, Jesu Christ (Praised be thou, Jesus Christ), its melody elaborated, and prefigured in preceding inner parts. Der Tag, der ist so freudenreich (The day that is so joyful) preserves the characteristic rhythm of its accompanying part throughout and leads to the well known Vom Himmel hoch, da komm' ich her (From Heaven on high I come), its melody ornamented. Vom Himmel kam der Engel Schar (From Heaven came the angel host) echoes the descent of the angels in its descending scales, rapid in the middle part and of greater solemnity in the bass. In dulci jubilo (In sweet jubilation) miraculously conceals its art, which involves a canonic treatment of both melody and accompanying triplet rhythm. Lobt Gott, ihr Christen, allzugleich (Praise God, you Christians, all together) presents the melody only in the upper part, against an initially descending bass, and Christmas continues with Jesu, meine Freude (Jesus, my joy), its accompanying parts finely interwoven. Christum wir sollen loben schon (Christ we should all praise) has its melody in the alto part, imitated by the more elaborate tenor part. The celebration of the season ends with Wir Christenleut' (We Christian people), its beat divided in three, with a repeated accompanying figuration.
The New Year is introduced here by Bach's Prelude in G major, BWV 568, a work again conjecturally dated to the period before 1708 and Bach's appointment as Weimar court organist. The Prelude opens with descending scales and offers scope for dexterous pedal-work. The first of the New Year chorale preludes is Helft mir Gottes Güte preisen (Help me praise God's goodness). As often in these preludes, the contour of the chorale melody is initially followed in the accompanying parts. The old year is dismissed in Das alte Jahr vergangen ist, (The old year has gone), followed by the imitative entries of voices in In dir ist Freude (In you is joy).
Bach's C major Fantasia, BWV 570, provides here a transition to chorale preludes for the Feast of the Purification. The first prelude is on Mit Fried' und Freud' ich fahr' dahin (In peace and joy I now depart), echoing the words of Simeon, the Nunc dimittis. Once again the accompanying rhythmic figures assume importance, one first heard in the tenor part, the other in the bass. Herr Gott, nun schleuß den Himmel auf (Lord God, now open Heaven wide) accompanies the chorale with a running semiquaver inner part and a triplet quaver bass. Bach's Prelude and Fugue in F minor, BWV 534, dating probably from the Weimar period, serves here as a postlude.
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