BWV 544

All of Bach: a project by the Netherlands Bach Society

Prelude and fugue in B minor

BWV 544 performed by Elske te Lindert
Bovenkerk, Kampen

"The second theme of the fugue creates a connection with the prelude. Therefore, I think this prelude and fugue belong together."

Impressive and melancholy

Bach mourns the death of a beloved queen.

There is a good chance that Bach played this impressive piece for the first time in St Paul’s Church in Leipzig. That is where, on 17 October 1727, the university held a memorial service for the recently departed Christiane Eberhardine der Starke, who was the Electress of Saxony and the Queen of Poland. For this occasion, Bach wrote ‘funeral music in Italian style’: the cantata Lass, Fürstin, lass noch einen Strahl, BWV 198. During the ceremony, Bach played the organ himself. He opened with this prelude and ended with a fugue, and although nobody can prove it, it seems highly likely that it was this piece. It exudes the same atmosphere as the funeral music and is written in the same key of B minor. In those days, B minor was described as bizarre, listless and melancholy. And Bach used it more often for stately and mournful occasions, such as the aria ‘Erbarme dich’ from the St Matthew Passion, for example.

The despair is almost tangible in the prelude. Bach comes straight to the point with a melancholy lament, which is followed by great leaps in the pedal, repetitive and stubborn, as if you have to keep reminding yourself of what has happened. The whole piece seems to be filled with deep emotion. The fugue, logically, is more rational, although it is no less ingenious. Bach investigates every possibility of the relatively easy to sing theme. On the way to the end, when the pedal returns after a long absence, he adds a second element – once again with relatively large leaps – and so works towards a hopeful ending. 


BWV
544

Title
Prelude and fugue in B minor

genre
organ work

Year
1725-1736

City
Leipzig

Occasion
Memorial service for Christiane Eberhardine der Starke.

First performance
17 October 1727

Cast & Crew

release date 19 May 2017
recording date 2 October 2015
LOCATION Bovenkerk, Kampen
ORGANIST Elske te Lindert
DIRECTOR Jan Van den Bossche, Hanna Schreuders
CAMERA Maarten van Rossem, Gijs Besseling
MUSIC recording, EDIT AND MIX Guido Tichelman
Film editor and interview Gijs Besseling
Producer Jessie Verbrugh

Vocal Texts

Original

Translation

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