BWV 548

All of Bach: a project by the Netherlands Bach Society

Prelude and fugue in E minor

BWV 548 performed by Reitze Smits
St Jacob's Church, Leeuwarden

"As if you're driving a wedge into something and the wood splits."

A two-part symphony for organ

Bach intended this superior work for an equally superior audience

Besides being one of the longest organ works by Bach, the Prelude and fugue in E minor is also one of the most complicated. It dates from his Leipzig period and is especially highly valued by lovers and connoisseurs of Bach’s organ music. Maarten ’t Hart describes the prelude as a forerunner of the lament of the wounded Amfortas in Wagner’s Parsifal, and thinks the fugue is ‘bewildering’, while the nineteenth-century Bach researcher Spitta even refers to it as ‘a two-part symphony’. The sombre prelude does indeed labour tortuously onwards, while the four-part fugue with its soloist passages, scale fragments and – last but not least – da capo structure leaves you simply perplexed.

One might wonder if such a superior work could have been composed for a special occasion. Unfortunately, nothing is known about Bach’s organ performances in Leipzig, although we do know about his extensive organ recitals in other cities, where he like to present himself as a virtuoso. A superior work, however, requires a superior organ. Bach biographer Christoph Wolff therefore put forward the organ of the Paulinerkirche as a candidate. This Scheibe instrument, inspected by Bach himself in 1717, had 53 registers, three manuals and pedal, and was one of the largest and finest organs in Germany. As the Paulinerkirche also served as a university church, it would have been attended by an audience that really appreciated this composition. To quote Wolff: ‘In this university auditorium; this seat of learning, people sat with bated breath before the absolute authority in the area of music in Leipzig’.

 


BWV
548

Title
Prelude and fugue in E minor

genre
organ work

year
between 1727 and 1731

city
Leipzig

Cast & Crew

release date 20 March 2015
recording date 16 September 2014
LOCATION St Jacob's Church, Leeuwarden
ORGAN Christian Müller, 1727
ORGANIST Reitze Smits
ORGAN REGISTRATION Mayuko Banno
PRODUCER Frank van der Weij
FILM DIRECTOR Jan Van den Bossche
DIRECTORS OF PHOTOGRAPHY Diderik Evers, Ruben van den Broeke
MUSIC PRODUCTION, EDITING AND MIX Holger Schlegel
FILM EDITOR Dylan Glyn Jones
COLORIST Jef Grosfeld
PRODUCTION ASSISTANT Hanna Schreuders
interview Onno van Ameijde
interview Onno van Ameijde
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS Rob Tigchelaar

Vocal Texts

Original

Translation

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