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ClassicsOnline Home » BACH, J.S.: Organ Transcriptions
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"Rubsam always has something different to say about Bach, like it or not"
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685 - 1750)
Concerto in C Major, BWV 594
Concerto in A Minor, BWV 593
Aria in F Major, BWV 587
Concerto in D Minor, BWV 596
Trio in G Major, BWV 586
Concerto in C Major, BWV 595
Trio in C Minor, BWV 585
Concerto in E Flat Major, BWV 597
Concerto in G Major, BWV 592
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.
As a craftsman obliged to fulfil the terms of his employment, Bach provided music suited to his various appointments. It was natural that his earlier work as an organist and something of an expert on the construction of organs, should result in music for that instrument. At Cöthen, where the Pietist leanings of the court made church music unnecessary, he provided a quantity of instrumental music for the court orchestra and its players. In Leipzig he began by composing series of cantatas for the church year, later turning his attention to instrumental music for the Collegium musicum of the University, and to the collection and ordering of his own compositions.
During his years at Weimar Bach made a number of keyboard arrangements of concertos and instrumental movements by other composers. His arrangements of concertos by Vivaldi, six of them for harpsichord and three for organ, remind us of the strong influence Vivaldi exercised over Bach's Instrumental compositions. The sixteen arrangements for harpsichord include a keyboard version of an oboe concerto by Alessandro Marcello, a violin concerto by Telemann and three concertos by Prince Johann Ernst of Saxe-Weimar. The six concertos transcribed for organ also include arrangements of two concertos by Duke Johann Ernst. The latter was a nephew of Bach's employer and a pupil for keyboard and for composition of Johann Gottfried Walther, organist of the Weimar Stadtkirche. His principal instrument was the violin and Telemann wrote for him a set of six sonatas for violin and clavier. Johann Ernst died in 1715 at the age of nineteen, leaving nineteen instrumental works. Of these six concertos were published posthumously by Telemann in 1718.
The Concerto in C major, BWV 594, is a transcription of Vivaldi's Grosso Mogul (Grand Mogul) Concerto in D major, RV 208, for solo violin, strings and continuo. This opens in emphatic style, with an elaborately ornamented melodic line in the A minor slow movement and a final movement largely based on a recurrent use of the triad. Bach's Concerto in A minor, BWV 593, is an arrangement of a concerto in the same key for two violins, strings and continuo, RV 522, by Vivaldi, the eighth of the set published in 1711 as Opus 3. In the usual three-movement form, it has a D minor slow movement, here transcribed for two manuals only, without pedals, and a final movement based on the descending scale. The third transcription of Vivaldi is a version of the latter's Concerto in D minor, RV 565, Opus 3, No.11, listed as BWV 596 in the index of Bach's compositions. Based on an original work for two solo violins, strings and continuo, full use is made of the possibilities of two manuals of the organ. A brief Grave section, three bars in length, introduces a fugue, followed by a Siciliano slow movement and a final fast movement.
The concertos of Prince Johann Ernst are represented in Bach's organ transcriptions by a single movement Concerto in C major, BWV 595, evidence of the Prince's ability as a composer in a style heavily influenced by Italian fashions. BWV 592, in G major, transcribes another violin concerto by Johann Ernst, with a first movement of rhythmic contrast of triple and duple, a short E minor slow movement and a rapid last movement that makes much use of the notes of the arpeggio. BWV 597, in E flat major, is an arrangement of a work by an unknown composer.
Other movements transcribed for organ by Bach include an F major Aria, BWV 587, from Couperin's Les nations, a movement for trio, with the two melody instruments entrusted to the manuals and an imitative bass part to the pedals. A Trio in G major, BWV 586, based on a work by Telemann, is much simpler in texture, with contrapuntal imitation between the upper parts. An Adagio and Presto in C minor are based on two movements of a trio sonata by Johann Friedrich Fasch, a well known contemporary, friend of Telemann and former pupil of the Leipzig Thomasschule and student at Leipzig University. Some have suggested that the C minor Trio is, in its form for organ, the original work of Fasch and not of Bach.
The Flentrop Organ of St. Mark's Cathedral, Seattle, Washington, U. S. A.
The organ of St. Mark's Cathedral, Seattle, Washington, U. S. A., designed and built by the Dutch firm of organ-builders D. A. Flentrop, was installed in 1965 and, thanks to a generous donation, renovated in 1991. The instrument has 3, 776 pipes, ranging from 32 feet to less than one inch and made of either tin and lead alloy, cured copper and African or Brazilian mahogany, with an African mahogany case in the form of an eighteenth century instrument. With four manuals and a pedal-board, the organ has 56 speaking stops, one of the largest twentieth century organs using mechanical key action, the success for which has had a strong influence on organ-building in the United States. Each division of the organ has its own pipes and windchest. The Pedal division, split either side of the main case, has the longest pipes, while the lowest manual plays the Rugwerk (Rückwerk), with pipes behind the player, the third manual plays the Hoofdwerk (Hauptwerk), which includes the horizontally mounted Trompets, similar in style to those found in Spanish organs of the seventeenth century. The second manual, the Bovenwerk, has above it, on the top manual, the smallest division, the Borstwerk (Brustwerk). Additions in 1991 include a 32- foot reed stop. The instrument is tuned to A-440.
A native of Germany, Wolfgang Rübsam received his musical training in Europe from Erich Ackermann, Helmut Walcha and Marie-Claire Alain and in the United States from Robert T. Anderson. Living today in the Chicago area, he has held a professorship at Northwestern University since 1974, and since 1981 has served as University Organist at the University of Chicago. International recognition was established in 1973 when he won the Grand Prix de Chartres, Interpretation, and has grown through his recording career, with over eighty recordings, many of which have received awards. Wolfgang Rübsam performs frequently in major international festivals and concert halls, including the Los Angeles Bach Festival; Wiener Festwochen, Vienna; Lahti International Organ Festival, Finland; Royal Festival Hall, London; Alice Tully Hall, New York, and conducts master classes both in interpretation of early and romantic organ repertoire, and in interpreting the keyboard music of Johann Sebastian Bach on the modern piano.
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BACH, J.S.: Organ Transcriptions