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Hyperion Records

CDA67263 - Bach: Attributions
CDA67263

Recording details: April 1999
Pfarrkirche St Michael, Kaisten, Switzerland
Produced by Paul Spicer
Engineered by Paul Niederberger
Release date: October 2000
Total duration: 76 minutes 24 seconds

GRAMOPHONE CRITICS' CHOICE

'Superlatives all round for the last instalment in this exuberant, outstandingly played series … excellent documentation, superbly recorded sound, an enchanting instrument and, of course, outstanding playing. The freshness and joie de vivre that Herrick brings to all Bach’s music makes this cycle a winner' (Gramophone)

'This is a most rewarding recital, very highly recommended' (The Penguin Guide to Compact Discs)

Attributions

The music of Bach has been of central importance to Christopher Herrick throughout his career. This recording is the final volume of his series which surveys all of Bach's organ works on Metzler organs in Switzerland. All of the music on this disc has at one time or another been attributed to J S Bach, but it is now generally thought to be the work of others. However, in only a few cases has it been possible to identify positively the actual composer. The nature of transmitting music in manuscript form during this period and the many members of the Bach family who composed has only added to the confusion. Many of the present pieces have come down to us in manuscript collections which also contain works which are verifably the work of Johann Sebastian—hence the title of this recording, 'Bach Attributions'.


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Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
All of the music on this disc has at one time or another been attributed to J S Bach but is now generally thought to be the work of others. However, in only a few cases has it been possible to identify positively the actual composer. The fact that until well into the latter part of the eighteenth century most music was transmitted in manuscript is sufficient explanation in itself for the widespread confusion over authorship of works from this period. One only has to think how many members of the Bach family were writing music at this time to see how the slightest confusion over the forename on a piece could be magnified every time the work was copied. As always, the lack of autograph material for much of Bach’s organ music makes identification of disputed pieces difficult. Many of the present pieces have come down to us in manuscript collections which also contain works which are verifiably the work of Johann Sebastian; this means that much of the work of attribution has necessarily to be based on stylistic comparison and, ultimately, conjecture. The arguments against accepting many of these pieces into the canon are essentially negative ones, based on the fact that they display characteristics and a level of technique which are not discernible elsewhere in Bach’s output. While such theses can be quite persuasive, in the absence of any positive identification they must remain, for the moment, speculative.

The principle source for the Eight Short Preludes and Fugues, in fact the only one of any significance, is a collection dating from the second half of the eighteenth century, which may have emanated from the Bach circle. Another copy, now lost, belonged at one time to Bach’s biographer, Forkel. This lack of sources is one of the major stumbling-blocks for scholars who do not believe in Johann Sebastian’s authorship; surely, if he were the composer there would have been many more copies in circulation. Equally perplexing for commentators is the gulf between the quality of the ideas and their working-out. The motifs are generally quite striking, well defined and characterful, but there are moments of harmonic infelicity and clumsy part-writing. In his ground-breaking biography of the composer, Philipp Spitta wrote that they ‘bear the stamp of a commanding master of composition’ and were therefore not the product of his musical youth. More recently the scholar and editor Alfred Dürr has asserted that ‘it can be presumed’ that Bach did not write them. This is the most widely held view, though not universally so, among Bach scholars today. While some people are still prepared to admit the possibility that they are, at least in part, apprentice works of Bach, others will not even entertain the idea.

Although they have come down to us as a collection, in view of the widely diverging stylistic influences they display – some of which Bach could not have known when his technique was still as unformed as here – perhaps they should not be regarded as an integral set at all, but instead simply as a group of pieces which were gathered together over many years as convenient teaching material. Perhaps Bach could have been involved to varying degrees in their composition. It could be that he did indeed write some of them, while others possibly originated as composition exercises set for his pupils – ideas jotted down to stimulate their imaginations and act as a spur to their creative efforts. The only thing that is clear is that until more source material becomes available they will continue to generate lively debate.

However, even if the music does turn out to be the work of others, should that change our perception of it? Just as the sensuously entwining voices of Nero and Poppea in the final duet of Monteverdi’s L’incoronazione di Poppea still weave their magic, even though we now believe it to be the work of one Benedetto Ferrari, so the geniality and grace of the Eight Short Preludes and Fugues, which have provided an introduction to the organ works of Bach for generations of aspiring organists, remain undimmed.

Eight Short Preludes and Fugues
The music displays elements of many different styles: the stylus fantasticus of north German composers such as Buxtehude and Böhm, the more easy-going melodic style of Pachelbel in southern Germany, and the Italian concerto.

Prelude and Fugue in C major, BWV553: We immediately see this juxtaposition of different influences in the prelude. The opening motif of this binary work – semiquaver figuration over punctuating chords – has a flavour of the north German praeludium, while the chugging chord accompaniment of its continuation is typically Italianate. The lively fugue, whose subject is built on two short motifs, is one of the least developed of the set.

Prelude and Fugue in D minor, BWV554: The prelude is in concerto form with a vigorous ritornello framing a more extended concertante section. The use of the rising scale figure from the opening in the central episode as well as in the lead back to the repeat of the ritornello, gives the piece cohesion. The fugue is based on a subject with a strong melodic profile and displays a much more rigorous approach to part-writing than its predecessor. The similarity between the ends of the prelude and the fugue could be considered as the musical equivalent of a rhyme.

Prelude and Fugue in E minor, BWV555: With its sequences and suspensions this prelude is an example of durezza style. The fugue, the longest in the group, again has a very strong subject which furnishes rich material for development and demonstrates a sure grasp of the use of fugal devices, such as stretto and inversion.

Prelude and Fugue in F major, BWV556: Like No 2 in D minor the prelude is cast in ternary form. The similarity of the opening motif to that in the last movement of the Pastorale, BWV590, has often been noted. The fugue subject has the characteristics of a north German fugue, particularly the rocking semiquavers of the second bar. As with the C major fugue the part-writing is not particularly developed.

Prelude and Fugue in G major, BWV557: The extrovert prelude again shows the influence of Buxtehude in its plethora of virtuosic motifs and its extended pedal solo. The strong contours of the syncopated fugue subject make it particularly suitable for stretto writing, with entries tumbling one on top of another.

Prelude and Fugue in G minor, BWV558: Like several others, the prelude is in ternary form but here it is not the tutti-solo-tutti pattern of the concerto; the central panel of this triptyque continues to develop the motif of the much longer opening section. The fugue is one of the most highly developed and wide-ranging harmonically. While it doesn’t have a strict countersubject there is much use made of an additional motif.

Prelude and Fugue in A minor, BWV559: The several disparate elements which make up the prelude include figurations typical of the south German toccata style of Pachelbel as well as reminiscences of the Prelude and Fugue in A minor, BWV543, and the Aria, BWV587. The dancing fugue at first appears to be destined to be built on a large scale but is cut off somewhat abruptly after the first entry of the pedals.

Prelude and Fugue in B flat major, BWV560: Like No 5 in G major the prelude includes a substantial pedal solo, although here the consistent use of one motif gives a much greater sense of unity. At the end of the triple-time fugue contrapuntal writing is abandoned in favour of a carillon-like ending, based on the second half of the subject.

Chorale Preludes
The miscellaneous chorale preludes fall into several categories.The simplest are the unassuming little canonic settings of Jesu, der du meine Seele BWV752 and Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern BWV763 with two parts in canon (at the fifth in the first and at the octave in the second) over a continuo bass. BWV763 has a rather perky feel to it owing to the foreshortening of the chorale melody in the leading voice, in order to avoid unpleasant clashes. Slightly more complex is the setting of Auf meinen lieben Gott BWV744. The canon is at the octave with two freely composed accompanying voices. On an altogether grander scale is the prelude on Gott der Vater wohn uns bei BWV748 which is possibly the work of J G Walther, Bach’s distant relative and colleague in Weimar. Here the canon is between the upper voice and the pedals, with imitative inner parts in motet style.

The chorale fughetta, a short imitative movement based on the first line of the chorale cultivated particularly by Pachelbel, was used as a means of introducing the hymns for congregational singing. Christ ist erstanden BWV746 is a fairly lengthy and expressive example. Much simpler are the three short ones on Nun ruhen alle Wälder BWV756, Herr Jesu Christ, dich zu uns wend BWV749, and Herr Jesu Christ, meines Lebens Licht BWV750. They are all very slight and could just possibly date from the period when Bach was living in Ohrdruf with his brother, himself a pupil of Pachelbel.

The two preludes on Ach Gott und Herr, BWV692 and BWV693, are now thought to belong to a partita by Walther. In both, the melody is in the top part with imitative accompaniment; in the first it is ornamented while in the second it is left unadorned. The pair of preludes on Vater unser im Himmelreich, BWV760 and BWV761, is possibly the work of Georg Böhm, whom Bach would probably first have encountered as a schoolboy in Lüneburg. In the first verse the melody is richly ornamented while the bass line at the beginning and end is reminiscent of an aria ritornello. The second is in motet style with the cantus firmus in the pedals and highly elaborated motifs in the other parts. Aus der Tiefe rufe ich BWV745 is also a two-verse work, the first being a particularly sonorous harmonisation of the chorale and the second akin to a fantasia.

Of the remaining three preludes, Schmücke dich, o liebe Seele BWV759 is a trio, O Herre Gott, dein göttlich’s Wort BWV757 has the melody in the bass below freely invented upper parts, and In dulci jubilo BWV751 is in the Italian pastoral tradition, complete with bagpipe drone.

The little three-part Fugue in G major, BWV581, survives on a single manuscript sheet which also contains an anonymous chorale prelude. The fugal working is not very developed but the composer creates variety by ocasionally omitting the first three notes of the theme. An alteration to the rising interval at the end of the second bar also serves to heighten its expressive effect.

Partita ‘Allein Gott in der Höh sei Ehr’ BWV771: Opinion is divided over the authorship of these seventeen variations based on the chorale tune which Bach probably set more than any other. Some scholars assign just the third and eighth variations to Nicholaus Vetter, a pupil of Pachelbel who succeeded his teacher in Erfurt, while others feel that the whole piece could be his work. Whoever the composer was, the work employs most of the techniques for varying chorales and displays unbounded energy and invention.

Stephen Westrop © 2000


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