BWV 533

All of Bach: a project by the Netherlands Bach Society

Prelude and fugue in E minor

BWV 533 performed by Dorien Schouten
Bovenkerk, Kampen

"The Prelude is written in the 'stylus fantasticus' - it's improvisational in origin and the composition is free, not linked to the chorale melody or another melody."

Strange notes

An excellent piece for testing an organ, but maybe a touch too modern for the Arnstadt church council.

This piece originates from the time when Bach was still in his twenties. He had just got his first real job in Arnstadt. This position as a highly paid organist had fallen into his lap in 1703, after a brilliant performance when testing the new organ. But a couple of years later, it was actually criticism of his organ playing that was given as one of the reasons for letting him go. He was supposed to have used too many curious variationes and strange notes in his chorale preludes. The church council believed that this confused the congregation.

In this concise Prelude and fugue, we hear both sides of the coin. In the prelude, there are short pedal solos, shaking tremolos for both hands, and series of full chords for keyboard and pedal simultaneously – all exciting musical elements which can also be used, if necessary, to test an organ’s sound and speed of response.

These elements return in the fugue, which opens with a moving theme – first modestly and almost hesitantly, but later with increasing assurance. Towards the end, there is a passage where Bach makes the left hand stand out rather dissonantly against the right hand, in opposition to the rules of composition. This is precisely the sort of “frembde Thone” (strange notes) to which people later objected in Arnstadt. Here, we see a youthful and rather impetuous Bach. On the one hand, an excellent job application, and on the other a reason for dismissal.


Prelude and fugue in E minor

organ work

ca. 1704-1709


Special notes
There is an even earlier version: BWV 533a.

Cast & Crew

release date 29 April 2016
recording date 23 June 2013
LOCATION Bovenkerk, Kampen
ORGANIST Dorien Schouten
Organ Reil choir organ
FILM DIRECTORS Jan Van den Bossche, Hanna Schreuders
CAMERA Maarten van Rossem, Gijs Besseling
Film editor and interview Gijs Besseling
sound interview Kasper Koudenburg
Producer Jessie Verbrugh

Vocal Texts




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