Fugue for Organ

Johann Sebastian Bach

Fugue for Organ in C minor


About this work

Scanning J.S. Bach's catalog of authentic organ compositions, one finds that there are four fugues to which no prelude, fantasia, toccata, or other type of introductory piece has been attached. Two of these organ fugues are early exercise pieces, composed using subjects written by other composers (Legrenzi and Corelli). Removing these leaves just two bona fide freestanding organ fugues, one of which is the Fugue for organ in C minor, BWV 575 (the other, BWV 578, one of Bach's truly famous pieces, probably dates from the Arnstadt years, ca.1705). BWV 575 is a contrapuntal masterwork, taking up one of the most peculiar fugue subjects anywhere in the repertory and spinning it out into a 76-bar essay on the undying virtues of the North German High Baroque.

The four-bar subject of BWV 575 begins with two wonderfully stumble-footed bursts of 16th notes (one burst for each of the first two bars), and then, gaining traction, propels itself through the third and fourth bars in a more typically winding fashion. For most of the piece, the pedal bass acts just as any of the other voices, but it takes up a more traditional pedal role during the final dozen bars or so of the piece, during which the strict contrapuntal texture is completely abandoned in favor of an electrifying quasi-cadenza; here all four voices are thrust into the virtuoso limelight.