BWV 588

All of Bach: a project by the Netherlands Bach Society

Canzona in D minor

BWV 588 performed by Dorien Schouten
Bovenkerk, Kampen

"What unites the two movements in the piece is a chromatic line, a descending chromatic line; a lament bass."

Stile antico

Bach sharpens his pen on the leading instrumental genre of the Baroque.

While musical tastes around him rejuvenated, Bach kept revisiting elements from his musical youth (and earlier) throughout his life. If only by persisting in his consistently brilliant counterpoint, he exhibited a certain archaism. But such genius, of course, did not arise from nowhere. On the contrary, it had to mature thoroughly. For a glimpse of that process, we are fortunate in being able to consult some surviving early works. They are often style exercises, such as this Canzona, and demonstrate Bach’s chameleonic spirit.

With the eruption of the Baroque in sixteenth-century Italy, composers became more interested in instrumental music. The main genre was the canzona, a solo or ensemble work in various movements, which evoked a whole range of moods. Loyal to Renaissance counterpoint, but released from the natural restrictions of singers’ voices, masters like Girolamo Frescobaldi enjoyed composing difficult intervals and searching out the extreme registers of their instruments. The genre’s flexibility meant that it soon gained popularity all over Europe. It flourished quite late in the north, represented by Johann Jakob Froberger and Dietrich Buxtehude.

Bach followed the archetype in detail, possibly inspired by a Frescobaldi edition from 1635 that he owned. However, he restricted himself to two movements, which moreover are both fugues. The themes, in double and triple time respectively, use the ‘sequence’ technique (repetition of a motif one tone lower or higher), while the answers are chromatic in timbre (intervals of a semitone). Strictly according to the rules of the art, Bach wrote a work that almost appears to be an exercise. Yet the two contrasting themes, inviting the use of different registers, make this unique piece a successful test of skill.


Canzona in D minor

organ work

before 1714


Special notes
The separately notated pedal part is superfluous from a technical point of view. In fact, the work can be played in full on any keyboard instrument. Bach’s manuscript, which may have provided an explanation, has not survived.

Cast & Crew

release date 12 August 2016
recording date 1 October 2015
LOCATION Bovenkerk, Kampen
ORGANIST Dorien Schouten
FILM DIRECTORS Jan Van den Bossche, Hanna Schreuders
CAMERA Maarten van Rossem, Gijs Besseling
Film editor and interview Gijs Besseling
Producer Jessie Verbrugh

Vocal Texts




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