BACH 727

PASSACAGLIA, FUGUE & FANTASY
BACH ON THE PEDAL-HARPSICHORD

Nicholas Danby, Feldberg pedal-harpsichord
Isolde Ahlgrimm, Ammer pedal-harpsichord


Click linked movements
for music samples.

Prelude in e minor, BWV 548
Passacaglia & Fugue in c minor BWV 582
Trio Sonata IV in e minor BWV 528
Nicholas Danby, Feldberg pedal-harpsichord

Fantasy & Fugue in a, BWV 904
Prelude & Fughetta in d, BWV 899

Fugue in G Major BWV 577
Fugue in c minor BWV 575
Fugue in G Major BWV 576

Chromatic Fantasy & Fugue BWV 903
Fantasy in c, BWV 906
Fantasy in g, BWV 917
Isolde Ahlgrimm, Ammer pedal-harpsichord

Total Time: 75:44

The pedal-harpsichord, a harpsichord with an organ-type pedalboard as illustrated above, was invaluable as a domestic organ practice instrument. But performance of pieces written for keyboard only could always benefit from the availability of pedals either to add bass, or to assist with a long hand-span. On this disc we offer a selection of works written for organ (BWV 548, track 1), for pedal-hrpsichord, and for keyboard only. The organ pieces benefit here from greater clarity, while judicious use of the pedal introduces extra drama into the keyboard works.

Like the Fugue, the Passacaglia was a popular format during the baroque era, in which the melody is generally featured as a repeating bassline, though it can appear in any voice. In his Passacaglia & Fugue in c minor, Bach shows us clearly the two forms, of Passacaglia, and Fugue side by side in a piece of music which has rarely been excelled in contrapuntal and musical power. The bass motif is stated at the outset. Throughout the variations which follow it remains clearly discernible, either in the pedal, or on the manuals. When all the possibilities of variation on the bass tine have been exhausted, Bach repeats the theme with an added counter-theme, and proceeds to create one of his most magnificent fugues. This work is not only a musical masterpiece, it is also a master-lesson for those who seek a clear and easy-to-follow initiation into these two important forms of baroque musical pattern. We would also add that in this particular rendition by Nicholas Danby on the pedal-harpsichord, the inherent clarity of the instrument, the interpretation, choice of registration and steady tempo make this one of the clearest, most transparent performances of this great work we have yet encountered.

The Trio Sonata IV in e minor BWV 528 is one of six which Bach wrote for practice by his son Wilhelm Friedemann. All three movements are extremely melodic, and the tunes soon become enjoyably familiar. One might think that Wilhelm Friedemann must have had some very enjoyable lessons - but do not be deceived! These Trio Sonatas are immensely difficult to play; Wilhelm Friedemann must have reached a considerable degree of proficiency to succeed in playing these works at all, particularly on the pedal-harpsichord, which requires much greater accuracy than the organ. All six are now available on BACH 759

The Passacaglia and the Trio Sonata were intended for organ or pedal-harpsichord, as were the three fugues BWV 575, 576 and 577 which are regarded as early works dating from Bach's Arnstadt period. The catchy melody of the last of the three nicknamed the Jig Fugue, has become understandably popular in arrangements for orchestra or brass group (BMC 35).

The remaining items in our program may be regarded as pure harpsichord works, that is, intended for manuals only, though the stately Fantasy & Fugue in a minor, BWV 904 lends itself perfectly to the greater power and sustaining capability of the organ, and assuredly benefits here from the additional reinforcement from the pedal. The bright and highly virtuosic Chromatic Fantasy & Fugue in d minor BWV 903 is a magnificent piece of improvisational writing, as much admired by Bach's contemporaries as it is by performers and listeners today. Like the Harpsichord Toccatas (performed by Isolde Ahlgrimm on BACH 726 in the Baroque Music Club's Collection), the Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue is a virtuosic piece demanding an individualistic, personal interpretation by each performer - a challenge to which Ms Ahlgrimm rises with her usual flair and virtuosity.

Illustrated article: The Pedal-Harpsichord in Baroque Germany

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