J.S. Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in G Major, BWV 541 springs to life with a leaping upward triad. This simple motivic cell unleashes a playful, dancing musical line which opens the door to torrents of sparkling and boldly-spirited virtuosity. Filled with an infectious sense of joy and exuberance, BWV 541 is a sunny companion to the music we heard in a post that I published earlier this year, J.S. Bach and the Joy of G Major. The fugue’s subject is built on repeated notes that might remind you of the Fugue from Bach’s G minor Sonata for Solo Violin. Thrilling contrapuntal and harmonic adventures follow, punctuated by a brash Neapolitan cadence which launches the Fugue into its euphoric final bars. (Listen to the way the bass line takes over beginning around 7:20, propelling us into the mighty final pedal tone).
BWV 541 is music of youth. In its original form, the Prelude and Fugue was probably written around 1712 when Bach was in his 20s in Weimar. Years later in 1733, Bach provided it to his son, Wilhelm Friedemann, as an audition piece for the music director post of Sophienkirche in Dresden. As the Netherlands Bach Society notes, J.S. Bach wrote a letter of recommendation for his son “on the same paper as a fresh copy of BWV 541.” They add,
This was no coincidence, as the prelude and fugue form the ideal audition piece: virtuoso, light-hearted and energetic from start to finish, and furthermore completely on-trend; i.e. in Italian style. Wilhelm Friedemann passed the audition with it and remained in Dresden for over twelve years.
Here is a performance by Bernard Winsemius, recorded in June, 2014 at Walloon Church, Amsterdam. The organ was built by Christian Müller in 1734.
This clip is part of the Netherlands Bach Society’s ongoing All of Bach initiative. The project will conclude with a complete catalogue of J.S. Bach’s works in time for the Netherlands Bach Society’s centenary in 2022.
Featured Image: The Bach Window at St. Thomas Church in Leipzig