Bach and the organ at Easter

by , under Composers

JS Bach and music for Easter have become almost synonymous. At this time of year, concert halls everywhere echo with Bach’s Easter Oratorio and his two stunning settings of Christ’s Passion. This year, Bach’s birthday (21st March) also falls in Holy Week.

Image: via Wikipedia

Image: via Wikipedia

Even Bach’s works which are not nominally intended to celebrate Easter are full of a joy, intensity and dynamism that seem perfectly suited to the festival of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection. This is particularly true of his works for organ, an instrument to which he dedicated much of his life and talent.

In this blog post, we hope to take you beyond the usual Easter pieces from Bach and introduce a few alternatives for your Easter morning listening. Here are some of our favourite Bach works for organ:

Toccata and Fugue in D Minor BMV 565

This work by Bach probably constitutes the most famous piece of organ music ever written. It might surprise you, therefore, to know that some musicians believe the piece was not originally written for the organ; some people don’t even think it was written by Bach! Nevertheless, everyone will be familiar with its dramatic opening:

“The Great Fantasia”

Bach’s fantasia and fugue in G minor (BMV 542) was named “The Great Fantasia” in order to distinguish it from the “little” fantasia and fugue in the same key, which is much shorter. It opens with a particularly dramatic and free fantasia, before settling into a virtuosic fugue that reportedly derives its theme from a Dutch folk song.

Prelude and Fugue in C Major 

Bach’s prelude in C major is written in a cheerful and lilting style, whilst the fugue is a masterpiece of counterpoint, a musical device which Bach helped to develop. In this work, Bach makes use of the organ’s capacity for lightness and joy, proving it an instrument capable of something other than the thunderous drama it is usually associated with.

Toccata, Adagio and Fugue in C Major

Not to be confused with the above, this work in C major is similarly joyful and even more virtuosic. The adagio includes a haunting solo accompanied by a repeated motif played by the feet, whilst the fugue dances along in triple metre. All this is fronted by the wonderful toccata. Listen to a sample:

Passacaglia and Fugue in C Minor

For something a bit different, try a Bach passacaglia. Robert Schumann once said of this work that its variations are “intertwined so ingeniously that one can never cease to be amazed.” Passacaglia is a term taken from the Spanish pasar (to walk) and calle (street). Bach’s version has 20 different variations and is followed by a double fugue, a form where two subjects are developed simultaneously. The effect is complex but magical.

For more Bach for Easter morning, or any other day of the year, try Bach Great Organ Works performed by Martin Souter on an original 1732 organ. Click here to see more.