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ClassicsOnline Home » BACH, J.S.: From the W.F. Bach Notebook / 5 Little Preludes
J. S. Bach
From the W. F. Bach Notebook
(W. F. Bach Clavierbüchlein)
Five Little Preludes BWV 939-943
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
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 Muhlhausen 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-Cothen
and remained at Cothen unti11723, 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 fulfill 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 Cothen,
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.
Nevertheless throughout his career he took seriously the education of his
children, an attention amply justified by the distinction of his second son
Carl Philipp Emanuel, his youngest, Johann Christian, and, in a more
controversial career, of his eldest boy, Wilhelm Friedemann.
Wilhelm Friedemann Bach was born in Weimar in 1710, the
son of Johann Sebastian and his first wife, his cousin Maria Barbara. He was
taught music by his father and was a pupil at the C6then Lateinschule, moving,
when his father went to Leipzig, to the Thomasschule, where he completed his
studies in 1729, going on to study for four years at Leipzig University. He
worked as an assistant to his father before moving to Dresden as an organist
and thence, in 1746, to Halle, where he served as organist at the Liebfrauenkirche
until 1764, his relationship with his employers becoming increasingly
unsatisfactory. He spent the remaining twenty years of his life in insecure
independence and mounting eccentricity.
Johann Sebastian had reason to entertain great hopes for
his first son. It was with him in mind that he wrote the first book of The Well-
Tempered Clavier and direct evidence of the care he took in training the
boy is seen in the Klavierbiichlein fur Wilhelm Friedemann Bach, the
surviving manuscript to which father and son contributed, not as a coherent
volume intended for publication, but as a notebook, in which Johann Sebastian
supervised the instruction of the ten-year-old Wilhelm Friedemann, not only as
a keyboard-player but also as a composer.
The G minor Partia by Gottfried Heinrich Stolzel,
for thirty years Kapellmeister to the court of Saxe-Gotha and prefered by some
contemporaries to Bach, starts with a French Ouverture, its slow dotted
rhythms in the opening section, duly succeeded by a brisker fugal section.
There is a simple Air Italien, a Bourree and a Menuet
before Johann Sebastian Bach's model Trio, continuing with the soprano
clef for the right hand and with the alto clef for the left. The Allemande, BWV
836, is the apparent work of father and son, one assisting the other.
The three minuets, in G major, G minor and G major, BWV
841-3, are models of their kind in their simplicity, examples of composition
rather than keyboard exercises for a pupil who was already a proficient enough
performer. These are here followed by seven Preludes, BWV 924-30, the
second presumably by Wilhelm Friedemann, taking the first as his model. A
further group, BWV 847-57, contains Preludes familiar from their
re-appearance as part of Book 1 of The Well-Tempered Clavier, assembled
in 1722. The three-voice Fugue, BWV 953, here leads to an Allemande,
Courante and Gigue from a Suite by Johann Sebastian's
older contemporary Telemann, godfather of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach.
The present release ends with five Little Preludes,
BWV 939-43, which do not appear in the W. F. Bach Clavierbachlein
but clearly have a similar purpose.
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