It is indisputable that Johann Sebastian Bach appears as one of the greatest composers, musicians, artists, of our history both in terms of artistic, human and technical impact. His influence on his contemporaries, disciples and descendants, was unquestionable and guided the evolution of musical composition almost uninterrupted until today.
However, would Bach's influence have been the same without him experiencing the influences of his teachers?
The first part of this recording opens a door to the region that guided the language and musical vision of Johann Sebastian Bach, namely the countries of northern Europe, northern Germany in particular.
We know today that Johann Sebastian Bach was totally shocked by his meeting with Diederich Buxtehude in Lübeck, but also when he played in Hamburg around 1720 where he was influenced by Johan Adam Reincken organist of the "Jakobikirche" of Hamburg. The great Fantasia and fugue in G minor dating from this time is one of the pillars of the organ works of J.S.Bach. It seemed natural to open this program with this gigantic diptych whose structure was strongly influenced by this Nordic legacy.
The other facet of Bach's works for organ recorded on this disc is transcription. We know that the art of transcription or reuse of thematic material was common in Bach, whether in cantatas or in instrumental works (a good example being the sinfonia of the 146 cantata common to the first harpsichord and orchestra concerto in D minor). The program will highlight several forms of transcriptions or adaptations used by Bach throughout his life, whether in early works such as the toccata in D minor (originally intended for violin), the fugue in D minor BWV 539 transcribed from the hand of Bach with the addition of a part for the pedals, or at the very end of his life the six transcriptions of arias from cantatas known as the "Schübler" chorales.
Fantasy and fugue in G minor BWV 542
Diptych emblematic of the organ works of Bach, this fantasy is full of contrasts and multiple influences. Dating more than likely from the time of a trip to Hamburg around 1720, this grandiose fresco highlights two very contrasting feelings and events in the life of Johann Sebastian Bach. That year, his first wife died and according to son Carl Philipp Emanuel, brought grief and infinite pain. This Fantasy is undoubtedly a poignant homage to Maria Barbara. Tortured, nourished by many chromaticisms and tones uncommon at this time. Based on the concepts of the masters of North Germany with its improvised flights alternating with sections to the more rigorous counterpoint. The fugue makes us see immediately another character and their appears a lively, dancing writing, the subject being based on an old Flemish song (ik ben gegroet ... I am greeted). Since Reincken was of Dutch origin and had been fed all these Nordic influences himself, it seemed normal for Bach to make this wink to Reincken, who had complimented him a short time before. This fugue is finally a brilliant answer that totally contrasts with the suffering evoked in fantasy.
6 Schübler chorals BWV 645-650
Edited between 1746 and 1749, these six organ chorales have an unusual history. Indeed, around 1740, Johann Sebastian Bach had a certain Johann Georg Schübler as a student, the latter was organist but also publisher and printer and commissioned six pieces for organ from Bach. The latter having neither the time nor the desire to embark on new compositions, being concentrated on the finalization of the musical offering and the art of the fugue, he preferred to transpose to the organ six arias of cantatas already existing to honor the order. These chorales all come from cantatas written between 1724 and 1731 and take up the principle of writing in trio or quartet with the canticle taken in cantus firmus.
Wachet auf ruft un die Stimme BWV 645 (Wake, Awake for Night is Passing).This excerpt from the cantata BWV 140, is probably one of the most famous of the Master of Leipzig. The configuration of this chorale resumes the trio structure of the original aria with the tenor part played in the left hand without any denaturation of the original musical material.
Wo soll ich fliehen hin BWV 646 (Whither shall I flee). Plausibly drawn from the BWV 188 cantata, many unknowns remain about this chorale and this unfortunately incomplete cantata, but everything suggests that these origins are founded; this chorale would indeed be based on a viola tune missing in this BWV 188 cantata. Also of trio structure, it is based on an imitation writing such as the two voiced inventions. This writing, less rigorous than a canon allows some very useful liberties in order to perfectly marry the cantus firmus played here on the pedal.
Wer nur den lieben Gott lässt walten BWV 647 (Who allows God alone to rule him). From the BWV 93 cantata dating back to 1724, a duet between soprano and viola, we are in the presence of a writing much tighter than the previous piece, the hymn being grafted on the manual counterpoint in the purest tradition of figured chorales of the time. Everything here is delicacy and subtlety in keeping with the quintaton stop.
Meine Seele erhebt den Herren BWV 648 (My soul doth magnify the Lord). Coming from the BWV 10 cantata, it is actually the text of the fifth verse of the Magnificat. Initially in the form of a duet between viola and tenor, Bach creates here an intimate fresco, delicate in dialogue, imitation between pedal and left hand on flute sets. The language used here reminds us of the merciful text of Sulcepit Israel, a dark text, which, however, is cleared up by the cantus firmus played here by the soprano with the sesquialtera.
Ach bleib bei uns, Herr Jesu Christ BWV 649 (Lord Jesus Christ, with us abide). With this chorale, we return to the trio writing that we discover in its original musical text that is the cantata BWV 6, which dates from 1725. Here, the extremely virtuoso solo piccolo cello part is played by the left hand with a bass accompaniment supported by the pedal, while the cantus firmus is simply "deposited" to the soprano by the hand right. Once again, we are witnessing a particularly faithful transcription by Bach, which allows us to speak of literal transposition to the organ, given the few modifications made.
Kommst du nun, Jesu, vom Himmel herunter BWV 650 (Come thou, Jesu, from heaven to earth). The last chorale of this cycle is from the cantata BWV 137 "Lobe den Herren, den mächtigen König der ehren" (Praise to the Lord, the Almighty). This music, as light as it is virtuoso by its writing, makes us listen to the arabesques and ornamentations, entrusted to the violin in the original version, played here with the right hand and supported by a voluble continuous bass in the left hand. The cantus firmus is played on the pedal with a 4' stop, often in this collection. Bach took care to choose here a famous hymn of the Lutheran church.
Prelude and fugue in D minor BWV 539
This prelude and fugue is not a work conceived to be a coherent diptych. Prelude and fugue have nothing to do with each other. The fugue finds its origin in the first suite for solo violin in G minor. Bach transposed it to D minor enriching the part of the pedal, giving consistent harmonic support. The interpretation is intentionally played here on the 8' principal in order to imitate the original violonistic stamp. The prelude is, for its part, the only one of Bach's works to be played "alla française" because it is based on the compositional codes of the French preludes of this time. Regularly played on the full organ, the choice has been made here to highlight the quintaton to give a more unitary atmosphere with the fugue.
Partita "Sei Gegrüsset, Jesu Gütig" BWV 768 (I greet Thee, merciful Jesus)
Composed in Bach's early years, the series of eleven variations of this chorale often raised questions about the period in which it was composed. It is certain today that it was composed in one go but reworked many times, both from the point of view of musical writing and the order of the pieces. The version chosen here is the original order ending with the five voiced variation for full organ.
Toccata in D minor BWV 565
Certainly the most popular work by Bach, even if doubts persist about its authenticity. Dating from around 1705, this brilliant fresco was certainly written for the violin and then re-adapted for the organ. This Toccata imitates many stylistic processes used by Buxtehude in such secular works (we note the non-interruption of the discourse between the toccata and the fugue). The brilliant toccata with great soaring themes is relatively brief, giving way to a fugue whose theme is clearly violonistic. It ends with an extravagant postlude including recitatives that will finally bring us back to a darkness evoked at the beginning of the fantasy in G minor. The darkness is accentuated by a plagal cadence, a conclusion extremely rare in Bach.