Johann Sebastian Bach

Three-Part Inventions (Sinfonias) (15), for keyboard BWV 787-801 (BC L42-56)

    Description by Blair Johnston

    J.S. Bach composed his 15 Three-Part Inventions (he actually called them Sinfonias) for keyboard at the same time as their 15 two-part counterparts. They first appear along with the Two-Part Inventions in the 1722 Clavier-Büchlein for Wilhelm Friedemann, Bach's then pre-teen son, and then reappear, slightly revised, in an 1723 volume which Bach prefaces with a detailed description of the 30 pieces' instructional purpose. An excerpt: "to play cleanly in two voices...[and] deal correctly with three obbligato voices...but, above all else, to acquire a true cantabile style of playing, and, with it, to get a good foretaste of the art of composition." And instructional these sinfonias are: many is the young piano student who, riding high and triumphant after conquering the Two-Part Inventions, has discovered by moving on to the Three-Part Sinfonias just how truly difficult is the task of mastering that true and beautiful "cantabile style" -- and, furthermore and fully in realization of Bach's purpose, as studies in counterpoint, miniature form, and efficient motivic invention they are without equal.

    The Three-Part Sinfonias' value, however, like the value of the Two-Part Inventions, goes well beyond simple pedagogy; for, like the Art of the Fugue or the Well-Tempered Clavier, both of which are also superficially instructional in nature, the Sinfonia is as wonderful, beautiful and, frankly, difficult to the expert as it is to the student -- and there are not many exercise-books that can claim such.

    The 15 sinfonias follow the same order of keys as the 15 inventions (an order similar in kind to that used in the Well-Tempered Clavier, though of course in the WTC there are more keys to explore). Fugal procedure is used very frequently throughout the sinfonias (the most striking case is No. 9 in F minor, a true triple fugue!), and even in the cases where the music unfolds in freer fashion, the opening gesture is invariably one of imitation between the top two voices. Bach chose to limit himself to two pages when composing the inventions and sinfonias so that the student would not need to turn pages, and so the pieces are all on the short side; but they are wealthy miniatures indeed.

    Parts/Movements

    1. Sinfonia No. 1 in C major, BWV 787
    2. Sinfonia No. 2 in C minor, BWV 788
    3. Sinfonia No. 3 in D major, BWV 789
    4. Sinfonia No. 4 in D minor, BWV 790
    5. Sinfonia No. 5 in E flat major, BWV 791
    6. Sinfonia No. 6 in E major, BWV 792
    7. Sinfonia No. 7 in E minor, BWV 793
    8. Sinfonia No. 8 in F major, BWV 794
    9. Sinfonia No. 9 in F minor, BWV 795
    10. Sinfonia No. 10 in G major, BWV 796
    11. Sinfonia No. 11 in G minor, BWV 797
    12. Sinfonia No. 12 in A major, BWV 798
    13. Sinfonia No. 13 in A minor, BWV 799
    14. Sinfonia No. 14 in B flat major, BWV 800
    15. Sinfonia No. 15 in B minor, BWV 801

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2017 Nimbus Alliance NI 6223
    2017 Analekta AN 28771
    2016 Archiv Produktion 0002894795814
    2015 Deutsche Grammophon
    2015 Deutsche Grammophon
    2015 Deutsche Grammophon
    2015 Maria Guaraldi RN 428039
    2015 Archive / Deutsche Grammophon
    2014 Sony Classical G010003050894A
    2014 Masterworks / Sony Classical 88843009102
    2012 IDIS 6643
    2012 Camerata Records CMCD 15121
    2012 Nimbus NI 6199
    2011 Decca
    2011 Gall (formerly Gallo) / Gallo CD 1308
    2010 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099968582
    2010 Hyperion 4442135
    2010 Brilliant Classics 94050
    2010 Decca
    2010 DA Records / Zebralution
    2009 Denon Records 00795041942562
    2009 Dynamic 629
    2009 ECM 0012789
    2009 Denon Records
    2009 Document 231568
    2008 Decca 4759968
    2008 Musica Omnia 0208
    2007 Analekta 24022-43
    2007 Decca 0009905
    2007 Decca
    2007 Cascade Records 2100
    2007 Querstand 6
    2007 CBC Records PSCD2030
    2006 Brilliant 99697
    2006 Brilliant 93102
    2006 Analekta 23093
    2006 Analekta 3089
    2006 Sony Music Distribution 678766
    2006 Romeo Entertainment 7255
    2006 Aeolus Music 10034
    2005 Brilliant Classics 92217
    2004 Alpha Productions 034
    2003 Motette 12831
    2001 Haenssler 92568
    2000 Capriccio Records 51072
    2000 Orfeo 416001
    2000 Haenssler 92106
    2000 Sony Music Distribution 60278
    2000 Lyrichord 8047
    1999 Philips 456925
    1999 Sony Music Distribution 61869
    1999 BIS 1009
    1999 Teldec 3984-25714-2
    1999 Music & Arts 4743
    1999 Philips 454987
    1997 Astree 8603
    1997 RCA 902668594
    1997 Olympia (Classical/Jazz) 627
    1996 Concord 42025
    1996 Decca 452279
    1995 Capriccio Records 210
    1995 Gasparo Records 304
    1995 Naxos 550960
    1994 ESS.A.Y. 1039
    1994 Hyperion 66746
    1994 Naxos 550679
    1994 CBC Records 2005
    1993 Sony Music Distribution 52596
    1992 Nonesuch 79121
    1992 BMG 60919
    1990 Decca 411974
    Brilliant 93102-VOL2
    Brilliant 99702
    Brilliant 93102/46
    Analekta 4035
    Digital Concerto 712
    Brilliant 99702/23
    London 411974
    Pilz 160134
    Archiv Produktion 415112
    Mezhdunarodnaya-Kniga 418023
    Intercord Klassische Diskothek 830810
    Sound Starton 30180
    Cascade Records 2117