Monday, September 26, 2011

J.S. Bach - Passacaglia And Fugue In C Minor BWV 582

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) was a German composer and a contemporary of Domenico Scarlatti and George Handel. He was a virtuoso organist and harpsichordist and also played the viol and violin. He was the culmination of the Baroque era of music and was a master of counterpoint. He composed secular and sacred music for orchestra,  chorus and solo instruments. He came from a very musical family, for over 200 years there were more than 50 members of the Bach family that held various musical posts throughout the state of Thuringia.   J.S. Bach had over 20 children, with those surviving infancy taught music by Bach himself.  Four of his own sons became influential composers in their own right.

The amount of music Bach wrote in his lifetime is enormous, with over 1,000 items listed in the Bach-Werke-Verzeichnis  (Bach Works Catalog). Bach was a master organist and improvisor on the instrument so it's only natural that his organ works are considerable in number.

The Passacaglia and Fugue in C minor is believed to be an early work written between 1706-1713.  The passacaglia is a type of music usually written in triple time with one part, usually in the bass, being repeated throughout the piece (called an ostinato) with a set of continuous variations played over it. Bach's ostinato is heard all by itself at the beginning of the piece in the pedals of the organ. This ostinato 'tune' is then woven through the rest of the passacaglia like a golden thread while a set of variations are played.  The Fugue follows without a pause, and takes as one of its subjects the ostinato tune of the passacaglia. It is a tribute to the creativity and intellect of Bach's mind that even after all that has happened to the ostinato in the passacaglia that Bach is not through with it. The fugue is actually a double fugue and the two themes are developed as only a master of counterpoint could do.

Bach's Passacaglia and Fugue in C minor, BWV 582:

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