BWV 542

All of Bach: a project by the Netherlands Bach Society

Fantasia and fugue in G minor

BWV 542 by Leo van Doeselaar
St. Martin's Church, Groningen

"The Fantasia is a very free composition with incredible dissonances and an incredible rhetoric."

An unsolicited application in Hamburg

Bach paid tribute to the Deventer-born organist Reincken with a fugue theme derived from a Dutch folk song.

Many of Bach’s organ works can only be dated approximately, but it is different in the case of this Fantasia and fugue. Bach performed these works in Hamburg, where the post of organist at St Jacob’s Church became vacant in 1720. During a recital lasting over two hours, he demonstrated his skills as an organist and struck his audience dumb. One member of that audience was the former organist Reincken, the eminence grise of the Hamburg music scene, who praised Bach’s improvisational art as follows: ‘I thought this skill had died out, but I see it lives on in you’. Yet Bach was not really planning to take up the vacant position. Only three years beforehand, he had accepted a position as Kapellmeister in Köthen precisely in order to stretch his wings vocally as well, and to rid himself of the too restrictive label of ‘organ virtuoso’. However, Bach probably did have an eye on the post of cantor at St John’s School in Hamburg, which was shortly to become vacant. In the end, Telemann was appointed to that post and not long afterwards Bach was given a similar appointment in Leipzig.

Whatever the case, Bach confirmed his reputation with the ambitious scope and structure of his Fantasia and fugue. The breathtaking fantasia starts off as a completely free improvisation, but then reveals itself as a rhetorical argument. Overwhelming, rather ominous passages are alternated with measured, punctual annotations. All the registers are opened, from chromatic successions to all sorts of surprising harmonic twists and turns, which are finally finished off by the pedal. The virtuoso fugue that follows appears to contain an extra tribute to old Reincken, who was born in Deventer, as its theme is derived from a cheerful Dutch song, ‘Ik ben gegroet van’, from the collection Oude en Nieuwe Hollantse Boeren Lieties. The brisk footwork required by the piece takes it to its festive climax.


BWV
542

Epithet
'Great'

Title
Fantasia and fugue in G minor

Genre
organ work

year
ca. 1720

city
Hamburg

Special notes
Handed down independently and only put together around 1800.

Cast & Crew

release date 20 June 2014
recording date 8 October 2013
Location St. Martin's Church, Groningen
ORGAN Arp Schnitger, 1692
ORGANIST Leo van Doeselaar
ORGAN REGISTRATION Tim Knigge
PRODUCER Frank van der Weij
FILM DIRECTOR Jan Van den Bossche, Frank van der Weij
DIRECTORS OF PHOTOGRAPHY Jorrit Garretsen, Sal Kroonenberg
MUSIC PRODUCTION, EDITING AND MIX Holger Schlegel
FILM EDITOR Dylan Glyn Jones
Colorist Jef Grosfeld
PRODUCTION ASSISTANTS Marco Meijdam, Zoë de Wilde
interview Onno van Ameijde
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS Jan Haak

Vocal Texts

Original

Translation

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