Prelude & Fugue

Johann Sebastian Bach

Prelude & Fugue in D minor

BWV539 • “Fiddle”

About this work

This Prelude and Fugue derives its nickname, "Fiddle," from its source work, the Sonata for unaccompanied violin, BWV 1001. That work, conceived in G minor, is cast in four movements, but this Prelude and Fugue in D minor is largely a transcription of just its second-movement Fugue. As one can imagine, however, there is considerable expansion here of the original material, since the organ's registers allow Bach far greater freedom to explore contrapuntal and rhythmic lines that the solo violin could not. Thus, this version of the Fugue is generally viewed as the superior one.

The Prelude section of the Prelude and Fugue in D minor is somber and paced slowly, imparting an almost funereal sense, with counterpoint that neither enlivens nor offers brighter colors or mood. But it is the ensuing Fugue that occupies more than two-thirds of the approximately seven-minute duration of this piece. It begins at a lively tempo, but while rhythms are energetic and the writing more colorful and busy, the mood remains serious. Gradually, especially as there is increasing activity in the upper registers, the music takes on a triumphant, glorious sense, beaming with rays of sunshine from the main line, as well as from inner voices. In the closing measures the work briefly detours to a more philosophical realm, before resolutely and triumphantly ending.

Done