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8.553032 - BACH, J.S.: Orgelbuchlein (Das), Vol. 2
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685 - 1750)
Orgelbüchlein / The Little Organ Book Volume II
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 Orgelbüchlein or 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. The later chorale preludes in the collection are for the seasons of Passiontide, Easter and Pentecost, with an additional ten preludes that provide a parallel, in number at least, to the ten commandments. Bach's Fantasia in C minor, BWV 562, written, it is thought, at Weimar, and here providing an introduction to the second part of the Orgelbüchlein, opens majestically over a tonic pedal. The first chorale prelude, O Lamm Gottes, unschuldig (O Lamb of God, guiltless) offers a canon at the fifth, the melody appearing first in the bass, to be imitated in the alto. Christe, du Lamm Gottes (Christ, Lamb of God) opens with an accompanying canonic texture, before the chorale is introduced in a canon at the twelfth between an inner part and the upper voice. Christus, der uns selig macht (Christ, who makes us blessed) again offers a canon, the pedals entering in imitation of the upper part. Da Jesus an dem Kreuze stund' (When on the cross Jesus hung) is followed by O Mensch, bewein' dein' Sünde groß (O man, bewail your great sins), which offers a considerable elaboration of the chorale melody. The next prelude, Wir danken dir, Herr Jesu Christ, daß du tür uns gestorben bist (We thank you, Jesus Christ, that you died for us) retains the melodic line relatively unmodified and the final prelude of the group, Hilf Gott, daß mir's gelinge (Help, God, that I may achieve) is a canon at the fifth between the upper parts, with a semiquaver triplet inner part against a slower moving bass line.
Empty pages left for missing chorale preludes are followed by the Easter Christ lag in Todesbanden (Christ lay in the bonds of death). Jesus Christus, unser Heiland (Jesus Christ, our Saviour) is in triple metre, to be followed by Christ ist erstanden (Christ is risen), its three verses variously treated. Erstanden ist der heil'ge Christ (Risen is the holy Christ), accompanies the chorale melody with a predominantly rising melodic line, while Erschienen ist der herrliche Tag (Now appears the glorious day) is a canon two octaves apart between the top and bottom parts, with the beginning of a canon at the unison in the inner parts. Heut' triumphieret Gottes Sohn (Today triumphs the Son of God) ends the celebration of Easter.
Further empty pages are left in the autograph for other chorales, with those for Pentecost starting with Komm, Gott Schöpter, heiliger Geist (Come, God, Creator, Holy Ghost), the familiar Veni Creator melody in the upper part, with a triple rhythm inner part accompaniment. More empty pages lead to Herr Jesu Christ, dich zu uns wend' (Lord Jesus Christ, turn to us) presents the chorale melody in dotted rhythm and Liebster Jesu, wir sind hier (Dear Jesus, we are here) has a canonic imitation of the melody a fourth below, in the alto part. A second version of the same chorale, again with the same canon, is less elaborate in form. Empty pages suggest the omission of nine chorales.
The last section of the Orgelbüchleinopens with a prelude on Dies sind die heil'gen zehn Gebot (These are the holy ten commandments), its simple melody prefigured in diminution in the pedals, imitated in the tenor part. Further blank pages for three missing chorales lead to a chorale version of the Lord's prayer, Vater unser im Himmelreich (Our Father in Heaven), the inner parts, as so often, in elaborate imitation of each other. Durch Adams Fall ist ganz verderbt (Through Adam's fall is all destroyed) illustrates the fall of man in the descending intervals of a seventh in the pedal part. It is followed by Es ist das Heil uns kommen her (Salvation has come to us) and empty pages for some thirteen more chorales. Ich rut' zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ (I call on you, Lord Jesus Christ) accompanies the chorale with a pedal part of repeated quavers and a middle part of running semiquavers. A space for six more chorales is followed by In dich hab' ich gehoffet, Herr (In thee have I hoped, Lord), an alternative version to a prelude now missing. The next empty page leads to Wenn wir in höchsten Nöten sein (When we are in direst need), with a much ornamented melodic line. Empty pages for other preludes occur between all the following works. Wer nur den lieben Gott läßt walten (Who now lets dear God guide him), with its elaborate accompanying parts, is followed by a surviving alternative version of Alle Menschen müssen sterben (All men must die), the simple melody preserved in the upper voice. The Orgelbüchlein ends with Ach wie nichtig, ach wie flüchtig (Ah how vain, ah how fleeting), its inner part entering at first in contrary motion imitation. Bach's Prelude and Fugue in D minor, BWV 539, composed after 1720, here serves as a magnificent postscript to the Little Organ Book. The fugue itself is familiar in its earlier form as the G minor fugue from the first of the sonatas for unaccompanied violin.
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