BWV 894

All of Bach: a project by the Netherlands Bach Society

Prelude and fugue in A minor

BWV 894 performed by Menno van Delft
Concertgebouw, Amsterdam

Menno van Delft on one of his favourite pieces by J. S. Bach.

Spectacular virtuosity

Bach provides entertainment for princes and courtiers, but then with a subversive little smile.

Bach was mainly known, especially at the bigger courts like Dresden and Berlin, for his dexterous harpsichord playing and his improvisational talent. Although we do not know precisely what and how he played, a work such as this gives us a good idea. We continually hear “walking or jumping up and down on the instrument”, as Johann Nikolaus Forkel described Bach’s early works, in 1802. But the description also applies well to a later work like this Prelude and fugue in A minor.

Of course, Bach’s real improvisations have not survived, but works like BWV 894 come pretty close to what they would have sounded like. The pieces in which Bach appears to be improvising are not his most subtle compositions or best fugues. But as always in Bach’s day, the musical style was adapted to the location and occasion. And the entertainment of princes and courtiers just so happened to consist, in part, of musical competitions, challenges and spectacular virtuosity. Bach was still Bach, of course, so here too it concerns a prelude and fugue in form, although in fact BWV 894 sounds like a virtuoso concerto with the slow middle movement removed. In the prelude, the opening melody alternates with increasingly virtuoso passages. Then the fugue carries on the “eternal walking and jumping” without pause. It is almost as if Bach is responding to the demand for spectacle by simply removing all the moments of calm, with a subversive little smile.


BWV
894

Title
Prelude and fugue in A minor

genre
keyboard work

year
1715-1725

city
Weimar/Köthen/Leipzig

special notes
Bach later used both movements for his Triple Concerto, BWV 1044.

Cast & Crew

release date 15 April 2016
recording date 17 October 2015
location Concertgebouw, Amsterdam
harpsichord Geert Karman after J.H. Gräbner, 1774
harpsichordist Menno van Delft
Film director and editor Dick Kuijs
Music production, editing and mix Everett Porter
Camera Martine Rozema, Caroline Nutbey
Studio assistent Marijn Kooy
GAFFER Tim Groot
Producer concert Imke Deters
Producer Jessie Verbrugh
Interview Gijs Besseling, Kasper Koudenburg

Vocal Texts

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Translation

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