All of Bach: a project by the Netherlands Bach Society

Sonata No. 3 in D minor

BWV 527 performed by Matthias Havinga
St-Bavokerk, Haarlem

"The trio sonatas are difficult to play; partly because there's a very active pedal part which is equal to the two manual parts."

Simple conversation

Bach’s simplest trio sonata is a great duet.

To the ears of seventeenth and eighteenth-century musicologists like Mattheson, Rousseau and Schubart, the key of D minor represented melancholy, devotion, solemnity and seriousness. And Bach must have had similar ideas, as the opening of this sonata in D minor has an uncertain and emphatically andante sound. Following this tentative start, Bach launches into experimentation, by juggling motifs almost wildly and searching for new keys.
The whole piece is constructed like a simple conversation between the two upper parts, accompanied by a continuo bass. The Adagio (the time signature later became Adagio e dolce) seems to be an elegant, uncomplicated flute duet. Bach reused it himself in his Concerto in A minor, BWV 1044, and Mozart used it in his String trio, KV 405a.
The final movement, an exuberant Vivace, definitely makes more technical demands on the organist. In its form, this two-part fugue resembles a rondo, with a catalogue of imitating triplet figures jumping from part to part, in between the repetitions of the theme.

This recording was made on the famous Müller organ in the Cathedral of Saint Bavo, in Haarlem. It is a very special instrument from 1738. Both Georg Friedrich Händel and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart travelled to Haarlem to play this organ! Händel was particularly delighted by the unusual Vox Humana register. The organ has over 5000 pipes, divided over 64 registers, with three manuals and a pedal.

Six sonatas, BWV 525-530
Around 1727-1730, Bach introduced a new organ genre: the trio sonata. This type of sonata – with two melodic instruments and bass, or a soloist and keyboard – had long been a fixture in Baroque chamber music, but the three parts had never been heard before on one instrument. Through clever registration, it is possible to attain a wealth of sounds on the organ, but this is merely the beginning, as the six sonatas are regarded as extremely difficult. Schweitzer, for instance, says that “those who have practiced these sonatas thoroughly will not actually encounter any more problems in either the old or the modern organ literature. [...] He has achieved absolute precision in his playing – the ultimate condition of the true art of organ-playing. In this complicated trio piece, even the smallest irregularity can be heard with terrifying clarity”.
Biographer Forkel remarked that Bach wrote the collection (or transcribed it from earlier material) for the studies of Wilhelm Friedemann, whom he “thus trained to be the great organist he later became”. Maybe this context is also the reason he adds galant touches to the Italian concerto style here and there, inspired by the operas in Dresden of which Friedemann was apparently a great fan. The sonatas remained influential for a long time, also on the young Mendelssohn, for example. Notwithstanding its chamber music origins, this is out-and-out keyboard music, with a unique interaction between both hands. The almost endless variation of form makes the collection a world of its own.


Sonata no. 3 in D minor

organ work (trio sonata)

six sonatas



Bach arranged the second movement for the Concerto in A minor for flute, violin and harpsichord, BWV 1044.

Cast & Crew

release date 10 Maart 2017
recording date 21 September 2016
Location St Bavo's Church, Haarlem
Organist Matthias Havinga
Organ Christian Müller, 1738
Director Bas Wielenga
Music recording, edit and mix Guido Tichelman, Bastiaan Kuijt
music edit and mix Guido Tichelman
camera Bas Wielenga, Jeroen Simons
lights Gregoor van de Kamp
Producer Jessie Verbrugh
Interview Onno van Ameijde

Vocal Texts




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