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Bach Great Organ Works

Bach Great Organ Works

Ref: CDG1273

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Johann Sebastian Bach, possibly the greatest composer ever to have lived, composed a huge amount of organ music, much of which has remained some of the best-known pieces of music of all time. Most of the music was written when Bach was a young man and it retains a dynamism and joy which has never been equalled. So here we have a selection of toccatas, fantasias, preludes and fugues played on a stunning original instrument from 1732.

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Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)
Toccata and Fugue in D minor BWV 565
1 Toccata
2 Fugue
Toccata, Adagio and Fugue in C major
BWV 564
3 Toccata
4 Adagio
5 Fugue
Fantasia and Fugue in G minor BWV 542
6 Fantasia
7 Fugue
Prelude and Fugue in C major BWV 547
8 Prelude
9 Fugue
Prelude and Fugue in A major BWV 536
10 Prelude
11 Fugue
Passacaglia in C minor BWV 582
12 Passacaglia and Fugue
Martin Souter, organ
Garrels organ 1732

Cover image: St Peters Church
C Latitude Stock/Alamy
P & C 2013 Classical Communications Ltd
Made in Great Britain

The organ music of Bach is quite miraculous. Coming from a long line of musicians,
Bach’s first career jobs involved playing the organ, and this is when he wrote most
of his organ music. So the pieces on this album date in the main from the first
two decades of the 18th century. Bach lived and worked in southern Germany
all his life, but he was well aware of musical trends all over Europe. He built on
the traditional forms which he already knew from the music of his family and his
contemporaries, but he always managed to take them to new heights. Apart from his
work on chorale preludes, in which he would set a hymn tune from the repertoire
of his beloved Lutheran church, most of his works for organ come in two halves, a
freestyle first piece and a stricter second piece in the form normally of a fugue. So
apart from the final work in this programme, all begin with, for example, a prelude,
fantasia or toccata. Deriving its name from an Italian word meaning to touch or
play, the toccata is probably the most free of these and certainly the most virtuosic.
The ‘Toccata in D minor’ fits this bill perfectly, with its super dramatic opening and
its frankly flashy keyboard writing. It even has several solo moments for the pedal,
making considerable demands of the organist’s feet! The next toccata is equally
demanding, and after a very fast moving opening has an extended pedal solo before a long and very joyous final section. Each of these toccatas is followed by a fugue. The D minor fugue is of course famous, again incorporating changes of keyboard and more pedal solos. The C major fugue is a delight, and dances along in a triple Bach Great Organ Works metre, once again full of irrepressible joy. It is preceded by the very moving Adagio in which a haunting solo is accompanied by a repeated motif played by the feet. The fantasia was generally slightly stricter than a toccata in its style. So after its rhetorical opening, the ‘Fantasia in G minor’ has several sections which develop counterpoint, which is the use of more than one part at a time, rather like the different voices that can be heard in a choir. The prelude is another varied form which for Bach could mean a gentle piece such as the ‘C major prelude’ with its lilting rhythm, or the inverter, ‘Prelude in A major’ with its gentle and almost pastoral feeling. Counterpoint is the main feature of all fugues. They all begin one voice at the time as a theme is presented. This theme then enters in different voices until the maximum number for the work are all presented. The work then continues to present the theme in many different ways, pitches and even speeds, generally building up to a climax towards the end, when the number of entries of the theme can intensify very significantly. The organ on this recording is quite remarkable. Built in 1732 by Garrels, it sits high on the west wall of a church in Maassluis in Holland. It is a large instrument and a remarkable survival, being very little altered since it was first built. The main organ sits in an elaborate case above the player’s head, but the large pedal pipes are in all cases on either side. The quality of the instrument is more than matched by the glorious acoustic of what is a large church, with quite a considerable reverberation time.

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