Johann Sebastian Bach

Canzona in D minor


About this work

In this fugal piece, Bach melds new musical techniques with old and joins north to south. Around 1715, Bach copied out Frescobaldi's Fiori Musicali, a canzona collection published in 1635. Frescobaldi's model was a series of vigorous fugal sections, in contrasting rhythms and tempos but using related themes, separated by chordal adagios. Bach set out to put his own mark on this style of canzona, going so far as to devise a theme closely related to the bass line of Frescobaldi's fourth canzona. The opening theme is slow, dark, and mysterious, very gradually falling down the scale despite several efforts to lift itself up, especially in the opening notes. This three-voice fugue is in 4/4; after a transition of a few chords -- very much in the manner of Frescobaldi -- Bach fugues very similar material in 3/4 at a faster tempo. Bach uses a countermelody that employs a chromatically descending fourth; this was old news by the beginning of the eighteenth century, but by turning it into a constant, chromatic undertow, Bach gives what was then a very modern coloration to fugues that are otherwise following austere and archaic harmonic patterns. Thus, he infuses an old Italian style with a new German sensibility.