Prelude & Fugue

Johann Sebastian Bach

Prelude & Fugue in D major


About this work

Bach composed most of his organ works in Weimar, where he worked between 1708 and 1717; after he left that city, his duties did not involve the composition of works for the organ. His years as organist there witnessed important stylistic developments in his freely composed preludes and fugues. Bach had not yet codified the clear two-section prelude and fugue of the type we find in the Well-Tempered Clavier. Instead, the D major prelude and fugue, BWV 532, features a lengthy, complex, self-contained fugue preceded by a multisectional prelude. The prelude opens with a rhapsodic passage initiated by a rising scale in the pedals. Busy figurations for the manuals proceed over sustained pedal tones as the passage moves away from D major and comes to a stop. When the ensuing Alla breve section begins, we realize that all that has come before is introductory, and the prelude continues in D major. Harmonic sequences and block chords dominate the texture of this, the most substantial part of the prelude, which closes with new material in an adagio tempo that emphasizes E major before a final cadence on the tonic.

After seven complete entries of the subject that remain in the tonic and dominant, the Fugue in D major becomes one of the most interesting of Bach's fugues in terms of harmony. Bach takes his subject, eight measures long and consisting of tight figurations that encompass an entire octave, through first the relative minor and mediant minor (not unusual) and then, at about the middle of the piece, the minor harmony built on the leading tone (C sharp) and the major harmony on the supertonic (very unusual). After these adventurous excursions we hear an extended episode with a flurry of figures on the dominant and then a welcome, full entry of the subject on the tonic that is so powerful in its resolution of the preceding tension that the coda has the nature of an afterthought. As in the prelude, block chords are prominent in this unusual fugue.