Chromatic Fantasia & Fugue

Johann Sebastian Bach

Chromatic Fantasia & Fugue in D minor


About this work

Much of J.S. Bach's keyboard music has, over the course of the last several decades, been transplanted from its nineteenth century home in the piano repertoire back to the care of harpsichordists, its original interpreters. There are really just a few Bach keyboard works that are still widely and actively performed by the world's pianists: the Well-Tempered Clavier and the Goldberg Variations, certainly, and the English and French Suites -- and the Chromatic Fantasia and Fugue in D minor, BWV 903, a work of such color and vitality that it would be foolish to ever expect pianists to completely let it go (even if that nature of the writing, especially in the Fantasia portion, makes for a piece that works better on a plucked keyboard instrument such as the harpsichord).

The Chromatic Fantasia and Fugue survives in several slightly different versions. BWV 903a dates from some time before 1720; the version we know as BWV 903 dates from about 1720, when Bach was living and working in Cöthen; and around 1730, after having moved to Leipzig, Bach revised the piece again. The work's name is not a random one: there is indeed chromaticism in profusion throughout both the wild, flowing arpeggiations and rich recitative-like passagework of the Fantasia and the comparatively lean counterpoint of the following fugue, whose subject is built around a sequential chromatic ascent. The work is a sizable one -- 79 measures for the Fantasia, 161 for the Fugue -- and one that takes strong, dexterous fingers to articulate clearly.