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.
J.S. Bach was one of the most renowned keyboardists of
his day, and he left a rich legacy of music for
harpsichord originally intended for instruction and
‘spiritual refreshment’. This recording of mostly
lesser-known works includes several early examples
which afford fascinating insights into the young
composer’s experimentation with counterpoint, harmony
and form. They are all compelling, emotionally powerful
works in their own right, with virtuoso content and an
expressive range that easily matches that of Bach’s
more famous keyboard pieces.
Much of J.S. Bach's keyboard music has, over the course
of the last several decades, been transplanted from its
nineteenth century home in the piano repertoire back to
the care of harpsichordists, its original interpreters.
There are really just a few Bach keyboard works that
are still widely and actively performed by the world's
pianists: the Well-Tempered Clavier and the Goldberg
Variations, certainly, and the English and French
Suites -- and the Chromatic Fantasia and Fugue in D
minor, BWV 903, a work of such color and vitality that
it would be foolish to ever expect pianists to
completely let it go (even if that nature of the
writing, especially in the Fantasia portion, makes for
a piece that works better on a plucked keyboard
instrument such as the harpsichord).
Not to be confused with an earlier piece in the same
key and going by the same title (BWV 944, ca. 1708),
J.S. Bach's Fantasia and Fugue in A minor for
harpsichord (or perhaps clavichord), BWV 904, is an
early Leipzig-period work probably composed ca. 1725.
The fantasia opens with a dramatic, thickly chordal
phrase, built upon a descending bass line; this turns
out to be a kind of informal refrain theme between
statements of which can be heard intertwining
contrapuntal passages much like those usually found in
the episodes of a fugue. The fugue itself is really a
double fugue: the first subject -- a long, winding idea
with nearly as many spaces as notes -- is put through
the full expository works but is then cast aside in
favor of a new subject -- this one pungently chromatic,
steadily dripping downwards. Although one would never
at first imagine it, these two seemingly incompatible
musical ideas (the one absolutely diatonic and full of
rhythmic holes, the other absolutely chromatic and
rhythmically solid) were contrived from the start to
fit together like a jigsaw puzzle; Bach demonstrates
this in vintage fashion throughout the final third of
Although originally written for Harpsichord. I created
this Arrangement of the Fugue in A Minor (BWV 904 No.
2) for String Quartet (2 Violins, Viola & Cello).