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ClassicsOnline Home » BACH, J.S.: Italian Concerto / Chromatic Fantasia and Fugue / 12 Little Preludes
"This doesn't distract from Janos Sebestyen's elegant phrasing and fine technique"
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685 - 1750)
Italian Concerto, BWV 971
Fantasia and Fugue in A Minor, BWV 904
Twelve Little Preludes
Two-part Invention in F Major, BWV 779
Fantasia in C Minor, BWV 906
Prelude, Fugue and Allegro in E Flat Major, BWV 998
Chromatic Fantasia and Fugue in D Minor, BWV 903
Johann Sebastian Bach was born in 1685, the youngest child of the town trumpeter and director of town music of Eisenach. After the early death of his parents he was brought up by his eldest brother, organist at Ohrdruf, studying subsequently at Lüneburg. In 1703 he became court musician at Weimar and later the same year was appointed organist at the Neuekirche in Arnstadt. Four years later he moved to the position of organist at the Blasiuskirche in Mühlhausen, where he married his first wife. In 1708 he entered the service of Duke Wilhelm Ernst, one of the joint rulers of Weimar, as organist and chamber musician, becoming Konzertmeister in 1714. Three years later, after a brief period of imprisonment in Weimar when he attempted to leave, he became director of court music to the young Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Cöthen. This happy period at Cöthen came to an end in 1723, two years after the Prince's marriage, and Bach's second marriage, after the death of his first wife. He spent the rest of his life in Leipzig as Thomascantor, with responsibility for the music of the principal city churches. In 1729 he took over the direction of the university collegium musicum. Although he enjoyed considerable esteem in Leipzig and in the musical world beyond the city, his position was not without its difficulties in his relationships with the city authorities and with his immediate superior at the Thomasschule. He died in 1750.
In his music Bach represents the culmination of Baroque tradition, stiffened by the intellectual discipline of German polyphony. The period at Weimar between 1708 and 1717 naturally brought a number of major compositions for the organ, while the time he spent at the Pietist court of Prince Leopold at Cothen, where there was no place for elaborate church music, saw the composition of a quantity of instrumental music. Leipzig involved the initial composition of several cycles of cantatas for Sundays and major Feast Days in the Lutheran year, while work with the collegium musicum allowed appropriate instrumental compostitions. During the last 25 years of his life Bach also began to set in order many of his earlier works, with particular attention to compositions for keyboard, for organ, clavichord and harpsichord.
The Italian Concerto, Concerto nach italienischen Gusto, was published as part of the second volume of Bach's Clavierübung in 1735, with the contrasting suite, the French Overture, or Ouvertüre nach franzosicher Art. At Weimar Bach had arranged a number of Italian orchestral concertos by Vivaldi and others for keyboard. The Italian Concerto, an original work, follows the current Italian form, the ritornello form of the outer movements framing a slow movement aria.
The Fantasia and Fugue in A minor, BWV 904, was written during Bach's earlier years in Leipzig, a fine example of the form. The Twelve Little Preludes are drawn from various sources. They were generally intended for the instruction of pupils, six of them for his eldest son, Wilhelm Friedemann Bach, for many years organist of the Liebfrauenkirche in Halle. One, the Prelude in C minor, BWV 999, was originally for lute and was written at Cöthen about the year 1720. The Two-Part and Three-Part Inventions were also part of the Clavier-Büchlein for Wilhelm Friedemann, sets of fifteen pieces in different keys and offering various technical problems to the pupil.
The C minor Fantasia, BWV 906, companion piece to an unfinished fugue, was written about the year 1738 in Leipzig. The Prelude, Fugue and Allegro in E flat major, BWV 998, was written in the early 1740s for the lute, probably for the distinguished lutenist Silvius Leopold Weiss, a member of the court musical establishment in Dresden. The Chromatic Fantasia and Fugue in D minor, BWV 903, with its remarkable harmonic exploration in both opening Fantasia and formal Fugue, was composed in Cöthen but revised about the year 1730 in Leipzig.
János Sebestyen was born in Budapest in 1931 and studied at the Ferenc Liszt Academy of Music. In 1971 he established the harpsichord department of the Academy, which he has headed since that date. His career as a performer and teacher has taken him as far afield as Japan, his reputation increased by his very successful recordings for a number of record companies, both in Hungary and abroad. A number of important awards in Hungary have added distinction, including in 1984 the title Cavaliere of the Italian Republic for services to music.
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