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8.550652 - BACH, J.S.: Preludes and Fugues BWV 536, 541, 542, 544, 546

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685 - 1750)

Prelude and Fugue in B Minor, BWV 544
Prelude and Fugue in G Major, BWV 541
Prelude and Fugue in C Minor, BWV 546
Fantasia and Fugue in G Minor, BWV 542
Prelude and Fugue in A Major, BWV 536

Johann Sebastian Bach made his early reputation as an organist. The son of a town and court musician, Johann Ambrosius Bach, he owed much of his early training, after the death of his parents, to his brother, Johann Christoph, organist at Ohrdruf, and began his career as organist at Arnstadt at the age of eighteen, moving to Mühlhausen four years later and in 1708 winning appointment as organist and chamber musician to Duke Wilhelm Ernst at Weimar, the elder of the two rulers of the duchy.

Bach's later career took him in 1717 to Cöthen as Hofkapellmeister to the young Prince Leopold, a position that involved him rather in secular music, owing to the Pietist leanings of the court. His patron's marriage to a woman without cultural interests led Bach to leave Cöthen in 1723 and move to Leipzig, where he had accepted the position of Kantor at the Choir School of St. Thomas. There he was to remain for the rest of his life in a position that brought responsibility for the music of the principal city churches and concomitant difficulties both with the town council and later with the Rector of the Thomasschule, where he was employed to teach the choristers. He assumed responsibility for the University Collegium Musicum, established earlier by Telemann, a preferred candidate for the position of Kantor, and arranged for this group some of his earlier instrumental compositions. He remained in Leipzig until his death in 1750.

It was natural that a musician trained in his craft as Bach had been should write the kind of music for which there was an immediate need. In Weimar he wrote much of his organ music, in Cöthen much of his instrumental music and in Leipzig the greater part of his church music. The Prelude and Fugue in A major, BWV 536, was apparently written during Bach's years at Weimar, and there is an earlier version of the work, written before 1708. The opening arpeggios of the Prelude lead to a four-voice fugue with a triple rhythm subject announced in the tenor, answered in the alto, followed by the soprano and finally the pedals with the bass entry. The Prelude and Fugue in G major, BWV 541, was also originally written during Bach's time at Weimar and was revised in 1742. The Prelude opens with a single melodic line descending, before rising to greet the entry of the pedals and a fuller chordal texture. The Fugue has its subject announced in the alto, answered in the tenor, followed by the bass in the pedals and finally the soprano and continuing on an impressive scale to conclude with a sustained upper note, followed by a final tonic pedal below. The Fantasia of the Fantasia and Fugue in G minor, BWV 542, was written at Cöthen, complementing the earlier Fugue, composed in Weimar. Known as the Great G minor, the Fantasia, with its elaborate embellishment over the initial sustained pedal G, is generally very familiar, with its complex changing harmonies. The Fugue, its subject heard first in the top part, followed in descending order by the other three voices is, as its nick-name "Great" implies, on a grandiose scale, a work of Baroque magnificence. The Prelude and Fugue in B minor, BWV 544, was written in Leipzig between 1727 and 1731. An impressive Prelude is an almost overwhelming preface to a rather less imposing fugue, its brief scale-like subject announced in the alto voice, duly followed by tenor, bass and soprano. In itself, of course, the Fugue is as masterly as any other, certainly a contrast to the complex devices of its Prelude. It seems that the C minor Prelude and Fugue, BWV 546, are the result of a later coupling, with the Prelude possibly written in Leipzig and the Fugue written in Weimar. The Prelude, going on, after its solemn chordal introduction, to triplet movement in contrast, is followed by a Fugue in which the long subject is announced on the manuals in the bass, followed in ascending order by the other three voices, the pedal entry delayed until later, when it must seem all the more impressive, as the texture grows in complexity and grandeur, a feature of the form itself.

Wolfgang Rübsam
A native of Germany, Wolfgang Rübsam received his musical training in Europe from Prof. Erich Ackermann, Prof. Helmut Walcha and Marie-Claire Alain, and in the United States from Dr. Robert T. Anderson. He resides today in the Chicago area holding a Professorship at Northwestern University since 1974 and serving as University Organist at the University of Chicago since 1981. International recognition was established upon winning the GRAND PRIX DE CHARTRES, INTERPRETATION in 1973 and continues to grow through his recording career with over eighty recordings, many of which have received awards. Wolfgang Rübsam performs frequently in major international festivals and concert halls, including the Los Angeles Bach Festival; Wiener Festwochen, Vienna; Lahti International Organ Festival, Finland; Royal Festival Hall, London; Alice Tully Hall, New York, and conducts master classes both in interpretation of early and romantic organ repertoire, and in interpreting the keyboard music of Johann Sebastian Bach on the modern piano.

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