About this Recording
8.550679 - BACH, J.S.: Inventions and Sinfonias, BWV 772-801 / Anna Magdalena's Notebook (fragments)

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685 - 1750)

Inventions Nos. 1 -15, BWV 772 - 786
Sinfonias Nos. 1 -15, BWV 787 - 801

Johann Sebastian Bach was born at Eisenach in 1685 into a family of musicians. The early death of his parents left him in the care of his eldest brother Johann Christoph, organist in Ohrdruf, where he remained for five years, until becoming a pupil at the Michaelisschule in Lüneburg in 1700. Three years later he was appointed court musician in Weimar, but a few months later moved to Arnstadt as organist at the Neuekirche. In 1707 he moved to a similar position at the Blasiuskirche in Mühlhausen, where he married his cousin Maria Barbara. The following year brought appointment to Weimar as organist and chamber musician to Duke Wilhelm Ernst, one of the two rulers of the Duchy. In 1714 he was promoted to the position of Konzertmeister, consolidating still further his position as an authority on the construction of the organ and his reputation as a performer. In 1717 he left the service of the Duke, who briefly had him imprisoned for his temerity in trying to leave Weimar, and took a more congenial position as Kapellmeister to the young Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Cöthen. Here he was able to concentrate on secular music, since the Pietist practices of the court obviated the need for elaborate church music. It was only the marriage of the Prince to a woman without musical interests that induced Bach to seek employment elsewhere. In 1723 he signed a contract with the Leipzig authorities as Thomaskantor, with teaching responsibilities at the Thomasschule, some of which could be delegated, and the charge of music in the principal city churches. By 1729 he had also taken the direction of the university collegium musicum, a society established earlier in the century by Telemann, godfather of Bach's fifth child, Carl Philipp Emanuel, and the Leipzig city council's first choice as Thomaskantor. Bach remained in Leipzig as Thomaskantor until his death in 1750. His earlier years involved him in the composition of a quantity of church music, while the demands of the collegium musicum were met by the re-arrangement of earlier instrumental concertos for one or more harpsichords. He continued to write extensively for the keyboard and to collect and edit his earlier compositions, particularly in the four volumes of his Clavierübung.

Bach's Inventions and Sinfonias were written about the year 1723 in Cöthen, included in a collection of pieces designed for the education of his eldest son, Wilhelm Friedemann Bach, later employed as an organist in Dresden and then in Hallé, before his final years in Berlin. It has been suggested that Bach derived the title Invention, for the fifteen two-part compositions, BWV 772 - BWV 786, from the work of the Italian priest and composer Bonporti, a set of Invenzioni for violin and keyboard published in 1712 and known to Bach. The term, however, was not new to Bonporti, as it occurs from the sixteenth century onwards to describe a variety of instrumental compositions. Originally Bach used the title Praeambulum for the first set of pieces and Fantasia for the three-part Sinfonias, BWV 787 - 801. While in The Well-Tempered Clavier, the 48 Preludes and Fugues, Bach used all possible keys, major and minor, in the Inventions and Sinfonias he avoids keys with more than four sharps or flats.

The first four Inventions, in C major, C minor, D major and D minor, and Invention No.8 in F major, open with a direct imitation of the upper part an octave lower, the opening subject providing the basis of the Invention. Inventions Nos. 5, 6 and 7 have both parts starting simultaneously. No.5, in E flat major, is based on the opening figure in the upper part, and No.6, in E major, each half repeated, makes use of syncopation between upper and lower parts, the second section opening with a transposed inversion of the opening. In No.7, in E minor, the lower part continues in imitation of the upper, while in No.9, in F minor both parts start at the same time, the lower later imitating the upper. The compound rhythm subject of No.10, in G major, has imitation at an interval of a compound fourth in the lower part. The remaining Inventions have both parts starting simultaneously, with No. 14, in B flat major, offering rhythms of greater elaboration, at times in consonant intervals between upper and lower parts, moving together.

The fifteen Sinfonias, BWV 787- BWV 801, using the same keys as the two- part Inventions, and often known themselves as Three-Part Inventions, are fugal in texture, although in each of them two parts start together, to be followed by the third voice.

Eleven of the Sinfonias open in otherwise standard fugal form, an accompanied subject is followed by an answer in another part and a later entry of the subject in a third part. Sinfonia No.2, in C minor, and No.15 in B mino have only two entries, and these at the octave, while No.5, in E flat major, uses two upper parts in imitative counterpoint over a repeated bass figure. The Sinfonias, in spite of their apparent clarity of texture and simplicity, conceal technical contrapuntal devices often of some considerable ingenuity.

In the early summer of 1720 Bach accompanied his patron, Prince Leopold, to the Bohemian spa town of Carlsbad (Karlova Vary). On his return to Cöthen he found that his wife Maria Barbara, mother of his four surviving children, had died. Nine months later he married Anna Magdalena Wilcke, daughter of the court trumpeter at Weissenfels and, like her predecessor, a singer. In 1722 Bach provided for his new wife a little book of keyboard pieces, a compilation that included five of the so-called French Suites. Three years later a second collection began, a larger musical family album that included compositions by others, including Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, third surviving child of Bach's first marriage.

The three Minuets, BWV Anh. 114 -116, form a unity in themselves. The first, the best known of all these little pieces, leads to a related G minor Minuet, followed by a third Minuet that is a variant of the first. The Polish dance, the Polonaise in G minor, BWV Anh. 119, is followed here by a D major March, BWV Anh. 122 and a second G minor Polonaise, BWV Anh. 125, by Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach. The Musette, BWV Anh. 126, a dance that takes its name from the French shepherd bagpipe, retains an imitation of the bagpipe drone. The present excerpts end with a transparently simple D minor Minuet.

János Sebestyén
János Sebestyén was born in Budapest in 1931 and studied at the Ferenc Liszt Academy of Music. In 1971 he established the harpsichord department of the Academy, which he has headed since that date. His career as a performer and teacher has taken him as far afield as Japan, his reputation increased by his very successful recordings for a number of record companies, both in Hungary and abroad. A number of important awards in Hungary have added distinction, including in 1984 the title Cavalière of the Italian Republic for services to music.

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