Capriccio on the Departure of His Most Beloved Brother

Johann Sebastian Bach

Capriccio on the Departure of His Most Beloved Brother in Bb major


About this work

The Capriccio for keyboard in B flat major, BWV 992, described by its composer J.S. Bach as a "Capriccio sopra la lontananza del fratello dilettissimo" (Capriccio on the departure of his most dear brother), is among the earliest surviving Bach keyboard works and was probably composed around the time of his brother Jacob's entrance into the service of King Charles XII of Sweden in 1704. It also boasts the distinction of being a unique example of Bach trying his hand at a programmatic, or at least semi-programmatic, kind of writing. Each of its six movements -- some of which are substantial, others quite brief -- is prefaced by a few words that describe its place in the collective drama of the brother departing.

In the opening "Arioso" (Adagio), a group of loving friends tries to talk the brother out of his journey and in the semi-fugal G minor second movement (no tempo marking, but clearly an Andante-type movement) they continue their efforts by describing all the various catastrophes that could befall him on his way. The third movement is a chaconne in which the repeating bass pattern is played 12 times in all, changing a little each time and growing more active as it goes; just one upper voice is notated, but Bach has provided some figured bass indications to fill out some of the texture. By the time one has reached the slender, 11-bar fourth movement the friends have resigned themselves to the fact of the brother's departure and bid him farewell as the music gropes its way back to the home key of B flat major, by way of some benign chromatic action. An "Aria di Postiglione" (Postilion's Aria; Adagio poco) fully partakes of this rich B flat major broth, and the Capriccio concludes with a fugue built from a brass fanfare-type subject.