Because the Prelude and Fugue in C major, BWV 547, is
known only from copies Bach made while in Leipzig, it
is generally assumed to have been composed while Bach
worked in that city. Some scholars, however, believe it
originated early, in Weimar.
The 9/8 meter of the prelude is unusual, as are the
repeated notes in the midst of the rising scale that
begins the theme, allowing Bach to cover the range of
an octave while playing ten notes. Its tame, pastoral
atmosphere continues throughout, supported by masterful
polyphony. The quasi-ostinato pedal part gives a
constant reminder of the 9/8 meter and derives from the
soprano voice in the second measure of the prelude. At
times, the manual writing looks forward to some of the
textures we hear in the Goldberg Variations.
From a single-measure subject, old-fashioned in its
squareness, Bach creates a seventy-two-measure fugue.
This results in a highly concentrated work that is
intensely imitative. Because the last note of the
subject itself initiates a push to the dominant, it
becomes an active participant in the developmental
passages. Thus the subject is part of both the
harmonically straying and stable sections of the fugue.
This makes it difficult for the listener to find a
foothold in the piece, as an appearance of the subject
is not necessarily a return to familiar territory.
Unlike some of Bach's earlier fugues, the repetitions
of the subject are not simply that--references to the
opening material--but provide a subtle way of working
through the fugal process. The harmony moves toward
"flat" keys, finally resting on the tonic minor for a
time. Bach delays the entry of the pedal until roughly
two-thirds of the way through the fugue. When it does
appear, it begins with the subject in augmentation and
in stretto with both the primary version of the subject
and its inversion. After this dramatic entry of the
pedals, the path back to the tonic begins. As if to
make up for the earlier harmonic peregrinations, the
fugue closes over a sustained tonic pedal.
Although originally composed for Organ, I created this
modern intrepretation for Double-Reed Quartet (2 Oboes,
English Horn & Bassoon).