About this work
This Prelude and Fugue in C minor probably dates to the earlier part of Bach's years in Arnstadt, where he served as the organist at the Neue Kirche. The work likely came before for his intense study of the music of Buxtehude, an activity he commenced in 1705. While not as well-crafted as many of the later Preludes and Fugues, this one is nevertheless rewarding for the listener, not least for the composer's trademark brilliant contrapuntal writing.
The Prelude half of the work begins in a rather austere mood, the theme presented in the lower register, its contour tilting mostly downward. The music here foreshadows the opening of the famous Toccata and Fugue in D minor, BWV 565, replete with a similar three-note idea permeating the first measures. The mood brightens a bit when the writing enters higher ranges, the music becoming somewhat stately but still not quite dispelling its somber character. The Fugue begins quietly and modestly, building energetically from skeletal, unassuming textures at the outset to meatier but still lean sonorities in the latter portions. The mood here does not substantially break from the darkness and seriousness of the opening, though the mixture of brilliance and busyness, of rhythmic and persevering drive in the writing imparts a resolute, triumphant sense, especially in the glorious ending. This Prelude and Fugue in C minor typically lasts just over five minutes.