The Capriccio in B flat major ‘on the Departure of his Beloved Brother’
, BWV992, was always thought to have been written in honour of another older brother, the oboist Johann Jakob, who went off in 1704 to join the band of the Swedish king, Charles XII. Christoph Wolff, in his book Johann Sebastian Bach: The Learned Musician
(New York, 2000), puts forward the theory that for various reasons the farewell was more likely for a friend, no doubt Georg Erdmann, with whom he set out for Lüneburg. This would bring the date forward by two years to when Bach was seventeen years old. It is his only piece of programme music (one with a specific story attached to it), and shows an already imaginative and skilled composer. The six movements outline the story: in the first a tender, supplicating melody paints a picture of his friends trying to dissuade him from leaving. In perhaps the least inspired musical moment of the piece (a short fugue), they then warn him of misfortunes that could arise on his journey. Having failed in their efforts, his imminent departure is then lamented. Marked Adagissimo, this movement is in the form of a passacaglia and requires the interpreter to fill in a figured bass. The key of F minor is prophetic: he would later use it for some of his most sorrowful, expressive music. The fourth movement (where some embellishment is also surely required at the beginning) shows the friends giving in to what is inevitable, and saying goodbye. Then the postal coach arrives, blowing its horn (translated into music by a downward octave leap). The piece then ends with a fugue combining two motives: the subject suggesting trumpets, and the countersubject imitating the posthorn. Hubert Parry called this Capriccio
‘the most dexterous piece of work of the kind that had ever appeared in the world up to that time’. It is certainly unique in Bach’s output.
from notes by Angela Hewitt © 2001