Prelude & Fugue

Johann Sebastian Bach

Prelude & Fugue in F minor


About this work

J.S. Bach may have left the city of Weimar disappointed in 1717 -- he moved to Cöthen after being passed over for Kapellmeister at the Duke of Weimar's court -- but he certainly had no reason to be disappointed in his musical product of the years spent there. The bulk and quality of his organ music from Weimar alone would be enough to please even the most exacting self-critic.

The Prelude and Fugue for organ in F minor, BWV 534 is one of those many Weimar organ works; it boasts one of the most splendid fugues in all of Bach's organ catalog -- a dense and intricate piece of polyphony, of flash-and-dazzle virtuosic episodes like those found in so many of his earlier organ fugues. It is not a very user-friendly fugue (for performer or listener), but one whose plentiful treasures are slowly revealed as time and familiarity unfold them.

The Prelude of BWV 534 follows a form found in many such preludes: an opening paragraph of music finds its way to the dominant key (in this case C, or really C minor); that paragraph is repeated in that new key (freshly developed, however), and finds its way to a cadenza-like passage which thrusts towards the final cadence (and with it the beginning of the Fugue). A stern ostinato figure in the pedals announces the beginning of the common musical paragraph on both its appearances. The Fugue employs a subject with a very dramatic and prominent downward leap of a diminished seventh, and it is in five voices. One of Bach's much-loved mathematical structural delineations is to be found in the piece, as the pedal enters after a long absence, with a statement of the subject in the tonic key at the precise midpoint of the fugue (bars 64-69 of 138).