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8.550708 - BACH, J.S.: Toccatas, BWV 910-916
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685 - 1750)
Johann Sebastian Bach was born in Eisenach in 1685, one of a large family of musicians. After the death of his parents he moved, at the age often, to Ohrdruf, with his 13-year-old brother Johann Jacob, to live with the eldest of their brothers, Johann Christoph, an organist. Bach's own early career was as an organist, from 1708 until 1717 in the service of Duke Wilhelm Ernst, eider of the two brothers ruling the duchy of Weimar. From 1717 until 1723 he was Court Kapellmeisterto Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Cöthen, with different musical responsibilities, largely secular. Thereafter he served as Thomas-Kantor in Leipzig, with responsibility for music in the principal city churches, continuing there until his death in 1750. This final period of his life involved him in activity with the Collegium musicum of the University, for which he arranged earlier instrumental concertos for solo harpsichord or harpsichords, and in the assembly and publication of a number of his compositions, in particular a series of four volumes of keyboard music, the Clavierübung.
The word toccata first appears in a publication of 1536 in an Italian collection of lute music. It was not until the 1590s, however, that the term came into more general use to describe keyboard pieces that called for a measure of dexterity in per1ormance, involving, as they did, runs and arpeggios, decorating a basic chordal structure. By the time of Bach the toccata had come to encompass possible fugal movements, within its generally free structure, while still generally preserving the elaborate runs and arpeggios of earlier times. Bach's organ compositions include monumental use of the toccata, principally in compositions of his Weimar period. His seven toccatas for the harpsichord are variously dated between 1706 and 1717, but fall largely into the period of his service as court organist in Weimar.
The Toccata in F sharp minor, BWV910, and the Toccata in C minor, BWV911, have been variously dated, but were probably written in Weimar, rather than during Bach's stay in Cöthen, as some have supposed. The first of these two works opens with the expected flourish, followed by the introduction of a measured descending chromatic figure, followed by a more rapid fugue. The final section, in 6/8 metre, makes use of the descending chromatic figure in a three- voice fugue. The C minor Toccata also opens with a brilliant prelude, leading to an Adagio and then a fugue, no won a much longer subject, interrupted briefly by the freer figuration of the opening, before the fugue resumes, now with a second theme added. The Toccata ends with the embellished chords linked by runs that provide a common feature of the form.
The five toccatas, BWV 912-916, may have been written during Bach's first year sat Weimar, or possibly earlier, in Arnstadt, where he was organist from 1703 unti1 1707, or Mühlhausen, where he had a similar appointment for one year, from 1707 until his appointment to Weimar in June 1708. The Toccata in D major, BWV 912, opens with a brief preamble, followed by a fugal Allegro. This is followed by an Adagio and ended by a fugue on a subject in 6/16 metre. The Toccata in D minor, BWV 913, traditionally regarded, on the evidence of a pupil of Bach, as his first use of the form, starts with a longer introductory prelude followed by a double fugue in which the two overlapping subjects are very nearly identical. There is a slow movement, marked Adagio, leading to a final double fugue.
The best known of the toccatas is the Toccata in E minor, BWV914. This opens with a short prelude, leading to a double fugue for four voices. The embellished Adagio is followed by a final three-voice fugue on a more extended subject. The Toccata in G minor, BWV 915, opens in the unusual metre of 24/16, to move, in the fifth bar to a short Adagio, followed by a double fugue in B flat major. Eleven bars of Adagio then lead to a final fugue of some energy. The last of the toccatas, at least in listing, if not in date of composition, is in G major. Its opening has been compared to that of a Vivaldi concerto Allegro, and lacks the runs and flourishes expected. This rather more extended first movement, not fugal in its texture, leads to an Adagio slow movement and a final fugal movement in 6/8 metre, ending a composition that has about it much of the mood and structure of a concerto.
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