Prelude and Fugue in D major, BWV 532

December 5, 2021: Paul Jacobs, organ

Bach’s astounding proficiency as an organist not only earned him legendary renown in his lifetime but contributed immeasurably to his unique position for posterity as an idolized composer of boundless inventiveness, mind-boggling intellect, and technical wizardry. His more than 250 compositions for organ span his entire lifetime, from his earliest pieces written as a student with his father’s cousin, organist Johann Christoph Bach, to an organ chorale, one of his last pieces, composed when he was nearly blind. Most originated during his employment at the Duke of Weimar’s court, 1708–17, the last period of his long life when he held an actual post as organist.

The present Prelude and Fugue in D major is thought to be an early Weimar work from about 1710. This was a time during which he had absorbed influences from German predecessors such as Buxtehude, Böhm, and Pachelbel, as well as Italian masters such as Legrenzi and Corelli, but before he encountered Vivaldi’s works, which brought about a significant style change c. 1713–14. Bach’s early organ works show an impassioned exuberance if a generally less polished harmonic and polyphonic technique.

Bach’s organ works can be easily categorized in two groups—those based on chorale melodies and those freely invented, such as toccatas, fantasias, preludes and fugues. The two categories do not separate music intended for church—the vast majority of his organ works—from that for any other purpose such as teaching or recitals, rather, there was considerable crossover. The Prelude and Fugue in D major, BWV 532, is one of those formally varied, exuberant “free” pieces, which unfolds on an especially large scale. The Prelude consists of a brilliant and wide-ranging introduction, a contrapuntal “Alla breve” (two beats to a bar) in Italian style with slowly shifting harmonies, and a slow section that ends with recitative-like passages in preparation for the Fugue. The fugue subject shows Bach’s fascinating inventiveness in shaping something extraordinary out of repetitions and sequences (the same material at a different pitch). He was clearly fascinated by this remarkable subject because he reused it in his Toccata in D major, BWV 912, which may date from around the same time.

© Jane Vial Jaffe

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