This video, the first in 2020, takes us back to the wonderful world of Bach. After finally getting round to performing the Toccata & Fugue in D Minor for all those viewers that had requested it, I needed to find something suitable to learn for a future Bach project. As I wanted to share learning the piece with everyone, what better than the legendary Passacaglia in C Minor.
This masterpiece (BWV 582) is one of Bach’s best known works for organ. Its origins are, as is the case with many of his works, unclear. The original manuscript no longer exists and only copies exist to tell us something about the work. It even appears under different titles, suggesting in a number of cases that it wasn’t even intended for the organ, but a pedal harpsichord or maybe even clavichord. It is also uncertain when this piece was composed. It is generally assumed that it was written after 1706 but probably no later than 1717.
The term Passacaglia itself has Spanish origins and can trace its roots throughout Europe during the 17th century. In basic terms, a Passacaglia is a collection of musical variations based around an ostinato – a repeated theme.
Bach’s legendary Passacaglia consists of an 8-bar theme played in the bass followed by 20 variations and subsequent fugue. The theme itself has been analysed over the years and scholars generally agreed that Bach copied the first four bars from a Trio en Passacaille by French organist and composer André Raison.
The first two variations, subject of the video, are very similar in style and were likely derived from a Passacaglia by Buxtehude. They include the use of syncopation to created tension and dissonance before resolving on the upbeat to the next bar.
As is often found in Bach’s works, there are a number of hidden “Easter Eggs” – snippets of cleverly disguised information. Marie-Claire Alain, who herself wrote a most in-depth analysis of the piece suggests that the first variation contains “Nun komm der Heiden Heiland” in the melody line and the second “Von Gott will ich nicht lassen”.
What do you think?