About this Recording
8.553033 - BACH, J.S.: Organ Works, BWV 535, 550, 584, 588-589, 736, 740

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685 - 1750)

Prelude and Fugue in G Minor, BWV 535
Partita diverse sopra: O Gott, du frommer Gott, BWV 767
Trio in G Minor, BWV 584
Fantasia super: Valet will ich dir geben, BWV 736
Prelude and Fugue in G Major, BWV 550
Canzona in D Minor, BWV 588
Wir glauben all' an einen Gott, Vater, BWV 740
Allabreve in D Major, BWV 589

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.

Bach's Prelude and Fugue in G minor, BWV 535, seems to have been written during the composer's period at Weimar as court organist. The Prelude contains an extended passage of modulation on a chromatically descending bass. In the fugal exposition the four voices enter in descending order, the whole work culminating in a dramatic climax, introduced by the pedals, before the final extended tonic pedal-point.

O Gott, du trommer Gott, BWV 767, (O God, thou good God), is one of an early set of Partite diverse, chorale variations, written probably during Bach's school-days at Lüneburg, but later much revised. The chorale is first stated, the first section repeated with ornaments, as in its third appearance at the end. The first variation, Partita II, in a two-part texture, sets fragments of the chorale melody over an active lower part. In Partita III a three-voice texture is used, the chorale melody appearing in a more elaborate form. The following variation, again in two-voice texture, has continuing semiquavers over a simple broken bass-line. It is followed, in Partita V, by a three-voice texture in which scale patterns have an important part to play. Partita VI preserves a two-voice chorale in the upper register, with a syncopated bass. The following variation, with its descending scale patterns, is in triple time, leading to Partita VII, in a more complex four-voice texture. The work ends with a variation of contrasting dynamics, calling for dexterous changes of manuals, an Andante and a final Presto.

The Trio in G minor, listed as BWV 584, is thought by many to be the work of another composer, although it has traditionally been included among the compositions of Bach. It is a contrapuntal composition in that three-voice texture that reaches its height in the six Bach organ Trio Sonatas.

The Fantasia on Valet will ich dir geben, BWV 736, (Farewell will give you), is an alternative working of the chorale, with the melody in the pedals, and an antiphonal triple rhythm above. As with so much of Bach's organ music, it is thought to belong to his Weimar period.

Bach's Prelude and Fugue in G major, BWV 550, thought to predate Bach's appointment at Weimar, opens with figuration that allows a later extended pedal passage, before a prolonged pedal-point. The final bars of the Prelude modulate to the dominant, before the introduction of the fugal subject in the tenor, answered by alto, then soprano, before the final pedal entry of the subject, now duly worked out in a style giving full prominence to each voice.

Bach's D minor Canzona, BWV 588, more precisely dated to a later period of the period at Weimar, about the year 1715, builds on an opening pedal cantus firmus, an extended subject, answered first in the tenor voice, then in the alto and finally in the soprano. The second section changes the subject into triple metre. Here the alto introduces the subject, the chromatically descending countersubject heard in the tenor and then the bass, while the alto subject is answered by the soprano in a composition of increasing contrapuntal elaboration.

Wir glauben all' an einen Gott, Vater, BWV 740, (We believe all in one God, the Father) is less usual in its treatment of the original chorale, in that it uses a five-part texture, with two parts entrusted to the pedals. The chorale melody remains in the upper part, although earlier adumbrated in the upper notes of the pedals. The authenticity of the work has been doubted, as has that of the Allabreve in D major, BWV 589. These are, nevertheless, compositions of interest, the Allabreve a model of contrapuntal construction, with its opening subject, in the top voice, accompanied by the alto with the second part of that subject. In the duple metre implied in its title, the Allabreve comes to an end over a prolonged tonic pedal-point, after varied use of stretto, as entries of the subject are made to overlap.

Wolfgang Rübsam
A native of Germany, Wolfgang Rübsam received his musical training in Europe from Erich Ackermann, Helmut Walcha and Marie-Claire Alain and in the United States from Robert T. Anderson. Living today in the Chicago area, he has held a professorship at Northwestern University since 1974, and since 1981 has served as University Organist at the University of Chicago. International recognition was established in 1973 when he won the Grand Prix de Chartres, Interprétation, and has grown 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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