Organ Music of the Day: J.S.Bach Fugue in G Minor, BWV 542/2 (Hans Andre Stamm on the Trost organ in Waltershausen)
Pièce d'Orgue in G, BWV 572, also known as Fantasia in three parts, is written in a French style. It originated rather early in Bach's career (before 1712). The first part is entitled as Tres vitement (very fast), the second - Gravement (heavy) and the final part - Lentement (slow). Because of fast runs and passages, the opening and closing parts remind of a toccata, and the central solemn episode is written in a 5 part polyphonic texture.
The Italians would call the opening section the Passagio which was also a common feature in the North German Praeludia. However, it is questionable whether the Italian term is approprate in the French style composition. Basically it is a virtuosic episode written in a monophonic texture where we can find both the elements of arpeggio and scale-based passages. At any rate, even at this early stage of Bach's career, the composer shows a unique angle of blending multi-cultural elements in one work.
In the longest main central section we can hear very imposing stepwise rising theme in long note values which is treated in a fugal manner in various voices. This is a typical French 5 part texture, because the French employed 5 stringed instruments in an ensemble (2 violins, 2 violas, and a violon). Therefore, many of the French classical type of compositions are written in this texture as well (especially the fugues). Can you guess what kind of ominous chord sounds at the end of this section?
Pièce d'Orgue ends with a virtuosic but a little slower and heavier texture which have 5 voices encoded: 4 voices could be percieved in both hands and pompastic and magnificent Dominant pedal point in the pedal line.
Although the most popular of all organ toccatas by Johann Sebastian Bach is the legendary Toccata and Fugue in D minor, BWV 565, perhaps even more masterful is the splendid and brilliant Toccata and Fugue in F Major, BWV 540. This composition might have been created in Weimar when the true compositional style of a master composer was formed. Virtuosic Toccata and Fugue in F Major usually is a true technical and mental challenge for many skilled organists. If performed well, it is a real treat for every organ music lover and listener. Otherwise, it has the potential to create a sense boredom.
The Toccata leaves the impression of a chase between voices and begins with a prolonged and playful two voice canon over a long tonic pedal point (Idea A). After this canon Bach writes another virtuosic episode - a pedal solo in the tonic key which leads to a cadence in the Dominant - C major. Now the voice parts switch places and the canon begins all over again, only this time in the Dominant key (C major). These two sections serve to establish both the Tonic and the Dominant keys and have a function, similar to the North German Passaggio in a Praeludium.
After this episode, the chase stops but all voices begin a long and tiring journey (for the performer, that is) through various related keys in descending and ascending sequences (Idea B based on arppeggio figure). Through the course of this Toccata, canonic idea A and sequencial idea B alternate and create an intriguing structural balance. In developing the idea A, Bach evidently shows his mastery of a double and sometimes even triple invertible counterpoint at the interval of an octave. This basically is a technique allowing voice switching. It only works if the composer uses the suitible intervals (most of the time 3rd and 6ths, avoiding 5ths which in inversion become a forbidden 4th). Suspensions of a 2nd and 7th are welcomed in this technique, too.
Because of reccuring two musical ideas, this Toccata shows the influence of the Italian Ritornello form. Bach learned to use this form in Weimar from transcribing for keyboard the concertos of Vivaldi and his contemporaries.
The fugue, on the other hand, provides a welcomed relaxation for the organist from the technical point of view. However, Bach provides another challenge, e.g. old-fashioned "Palestrina" style fugue with alla breve meter (cut-time) in Style antico. This is a double fugue, which means that a composer has to develop two musical themes. Both of the themes must work in invertible counterpoint with each other. In the exposition and counter-exposition of the first theme, Bach develops the solemn, slow, and vocal musical idea in all four voices.
The second theme appears to be playful, dance-like, which reminds of a Baroque dance Gavotte. During this section, the pedal part remains silent and waits its entrance until the powerful combination of both themes towards the close of a fugue. While listening of the fugue in this wonderful video, feel free to count the number of appearences of the first theme.