Johann Sebastian Bach

Fantasia and Fugue, for organ in G minor ("Great"), BWV 542 (BC J42, 57, 67)

    Description by Blair Johnston

    Evidence suggests that J.S. Bach completed and revised the Fantasia and Fugue in G minor for organ, BWV 542 (the "Great" G minor, as opposed to BWV 578, the "Little" G minor), as an audition for an organist position in Hamburg in 1720. Bach didn't get the job, but, happily enough, posterity did get the piece; generations of organists since then have considered it one of their repertoire's crown jewels. The two parts of BWV 542 (the fantasia -- sometimes titled Prelude instead -- and the fugue) are thought to have been composed separately: the fugue is assigned Bach's Weimar years (1708-1717) and the fantasia to his time in Cöthen (1717-1723, but, if the audition theory is correct, not later than 1720).

    The fantasia opens spaciously and in recitative-like style, but as it unfolds Bach finds room for dense passages in upper-voice imitation. There are five more or less balanced sections to this fantasy; intensely dramatic sections are interwoven with quieter, more even passages. The wide tonal scope of the fantasia has been a subject of fascination for two centuries of musicians: just when some kind of harmonic stability seems to arrive, Bach shoots off on a mock-improvised cadenza that jolts the music into a whole new pitch realm. Thus the fantasia both lives up to its name and contains quite a bit of contrapuntal rigor, and then, on top of that, more than one worthy mind has deemed the fugue to be Bach's ultimate accomplishment in the field of organ counterpoint. The task of selecting a king from that noble crowd, however, is not an enviable one. Though it provides the sense of a stable answer to the fantasia in its predominantly even sixteenth note rhythms, it is similarly ambitious harmonically: Bach makes two revolutions through the entire circle of fifths. The fugue makes a fine contrast with the later music of the fantasia while nevertheless seeming of a piece with it

    Parts/Movements

    1. Fantasia
    2. Fugue

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2017 Azica Records ACD 71314
    2016 Brilliant Classics 95310BR
    2016 Exton 83
    2016 Sony Classical / Sony Music Distribution 88875032272
    2016 Onclassical OC 150B
    2016 Brilliant Classics 95166BR
    2016 La Dolce Volta LDV 201
    2016 British Military Music Archive BMMACG 1614
    2015 Ligia LIDI 0104274
    2015 K-Tel 136437
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    TOCCATA
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