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Easy-Listening Piano Classics
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685–1750) was most famous during his lifetime as a keyboard virtuoso, principally as an organist but also as a harpsichord player, and he composed a significant body of keyboard music. Many of these works (including transcriptions of his organ music) occupy a central place in the repertoire of pianists both amateur and professional, delighting players and listeners alike to this day.
The keyboard music that Bach published falls into four anthologies, each titled Clavier Übung (Keyboard Practice), a rather dry title for what turns out to be an amazing wealth of music! Other works, such as The Well-Tempered Clavier Books I and II, while not published by Bach, circulated widely in manuscript form and have been influential on composers and performers: Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, Mendelssohn, Reger, Schumann, Busoni and many others have fallen under Bach’s spell, using his music to develop their own and their students’ techniques, and inspired by Bach’s extraordinary achievement when composing their own works.
Books I and II of The Well-Tempered Clavier each contain preludes and fugues in all the 24 major and minor keys, from C major to B minor, and are collectively known as ‘the 48’. Sometimes referred to as the ‘Old Testament’ of keyboard music (Beethoven’s 32 piano sonatas being the ‘New’), the preludes explore an astonishing variety of musical forms (including the famous toccata-like Prelude No 1 in C Major from Book I, various dance styles and concerto- or fantasia-like movements) while the fugues range equally broadly from rather formal examples in ‘old fashioned’ academic style to others based on more up-to-date musical forms. The term ‘well-tempered’ refers to the system of tuning, new in Bach’s day, which allowed music to be played in any key and has become the standard in Western music.
Bach’s 15 two-part Inventions and 15 three-part Sinfonias BWV 772–801 were originally written as educational pieces for the notebook Bach prepared for his second wife, Anna Magdalena, herself an accomplished musician.
During the Baroque period collections of ‘overtures’ or ‘dance suites’ were particularly popular. Bach composed three sets of six suites: the so-called ‘English’ Suites BWV 806–811, the ’French’ Suites BWV 812–817 and the keyboard Partitas BWV 825–830. Each suite comprises a basic set of dances based on different national models, Allemande (German), Courante (Italian or French), Sarabande (Spanish/Latin American) and Gigue (French, based on the British Jig) with additional dances included.
The Goldberg Variations BWV 988 presents an aria (that is, a song-like movement) with thirty variations based on the aria’s bass line rather than its tune (Beethoven would work similar wonders with his ‘Diabelli’ Variations Op. 120).
The Italian Concerto BWV 971 was inspired by the exciting new music that was finding its way north during Bach’s lifetime. Bach also transcribed for keyboard several orchestral concertos by Vivaldi and other Italian composers.
In addition, several shorter pieces, including the famous hymn Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring and dances from the Wilhelm Friedemann Bach Notebook are included.
Across the Easy-Listening Piano Classics devoted to Bach, you’ll enjoy an excellent selection of masterpieces by a composer many rank as the greatest who ever lived.
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Easy-Listening Piano Classics: Bach, J.S.