BWV904 does seem like an organ piece at times. It is not hard to imagine the descending bass at the opening of the fantasia doubled by the pedals, giving it even more gravity and weight than it already has. (Some pianists try to imitate this by adding the extra octave, but this is a case where that can only be done with the addition of a lot of sustaining pedal, thus blurring the wonderful counterpoint.) It is marked alla breve and resembles the stile antico style of writing (the Baroque adaptation of Renaissance polyphony). The opening ritornello appears four times with three interspersed episodes, all emphasizing the contrapuntal nature of the piece. The fugue has two subjects: the first boldly characterized by leaps and punctuated by rests; the second a slow, descending chromatic scale that makes a dramatic appearance halfway through. They could not be more different. But that is exactly what Bach wants, especially when he combines the two in the final section. That way there are easily distinguishable. Making that audible to the listener, however, is not easy as his counterpoint in this case is awkward and doesn’t lie well under the fingers. It is thought that Bach was not responsible for placing these two movements together; in fact they don’t appear that way until early in the nineteenth century – and then only by accident. However, I don’t think we would realize this if we didn’t already know, as they make such good companions.
from notes by Angela Hewitt © 2004