BWV 541

All of Bach: a project by the Netherlands Bach Society

Prelude and fugue in G major

BWV 541 performed by Bernard Winsemius
Walloon Church, Amsterdam

Bernard Winsemius on Bach's trick "of shifting one note and giving a different direction to a theme through a change in the tonality".

Musical visiting card

Wilhelm Friedemann Bach made a stunning impression with his father’s music

After growing up under the wing of his father, the eldest Bach son, Wilhelm Friedemann, had to leave his parental home. Johann Sebastian’s lessons had achieved their goal, as the young organist and harpsichordist was already famous at the age of 20 (around 1730). The only question was which organ seat he was to call his own for the next few years. Although he did not pass an audition in Halberstadt, in 1733 a post became available for the new Silbermann organ in the Sophienkirche in Dresden. His father wrote the letter of application on the same paper as a fresh copy of BWV 541. This was no coincidence, as the prelude and fugue form the ideal audition piece: virtuoso, light-hearted and energetic from start to finish, and furthermore completely on-trend; i.e. in Italian style. Wilhelm Friedemann passed the audition with it and remained in Dresden for over twelve years.

A flamboyant opening solo leads to an imposing tutti, which is reminiscent of the solo concertos of Vivaldi, music that Bach knew intimately and found inspiring. Listen, for example, to the repeated chords and virtuoso bass runs in the concertos after Vivaldi, BWV 593 and 972. Bach’s direction ‘Vivace’ leaves us in no doubt as to the intended mood, and the prelude maintains its hectic fervour right up to the closing bars.
In his fugue themes, Bach keeps all his options open, for example by gradually increasing the number of dissonant intervals throughout the piece. The harmonic excitement reaches its peak with a sustained chord shortly before the end (which is lent extra poignancy in this performance by a vigorous trill). Afterwards, the themes tumble, as if on a rollercoaster, towards not one, but two organ points (fundamental tone) - first as a surprise in the upper part, and then in the bass.


Prelude and fugue in G major

organ work

Special notes
The manuscript was once in the library of Wilhelm Friedemann Bach.

Cast & Crew

release date 7 November 2014
recording date 25 June 2014
LOCATION Walloon Church, Amsterdam
ORGANIST Bernard Winsemius
Organ Christian Müller, 1734
PRODUCER Frank van der Weij
FILM DIRECTOR Jan Van den Bossche
DIRECTORS OF PHOTOGRAPHY Sal Kroonenberg, Ruben van den Broeke
Grip Antoine Petiet
FILM EDITOR Dylan Glyn Jones
COLORIST Jef Grosfeld
PRODUCTION ASSISTANTS Marco Meijdam, Zoë de Wilde

Vocal Texts




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