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JS Bach

Instrumental Works

Organ Music

Bach's earliest organ works (pre-Weimar) are most reflective of styles and forms developed by his immediate predecessors and contemporaries (e.g., Böhm, Buxtehude, and Pachelbel); precise influences are difficult to assess, since the chronology of the earliest works is uncertain. In the Weimar period (1708-1717), he developed a highly individual style, characterized by his mastery of counterpoint and concise design, his distinctive thematic material, and his requirement of a virtuoso technique (on the manuals and pedal) from the organist. Among the most outstanding Weimar (or possibly pre-Weimar) compositions are the Passacaglia in C minor and the Toccata in D minor, both compositions concluding with a large-scale fugue. Other Weimar organ works include various Prelude and Fugue pairs (sometimes with fugal sections within the Preludes), concerto transcriptions (mostly from Vivaldi), and most of the Orgel-Büchlein (Little Organ Book), a set of forty-five compact chorale preludes, to be used for instruction.

Bach's later organ compositions date from his Leipzig period, after his initial concentration in his first few years there on sacred vocal music. The six trio sonatas, for two manuals and pedal (ca. 1727), treat the three imitative parts equally; these works were probably written for the instruction of Bach's son Wilhelm Friedemann. Other Leipzig organ compositions include additional Prelude and Fugue pairs, the "Leipzig 18" chorale preludes (revisions from Weimar works); and Bach's publications from the instrument: Clavier-Übung, Vol. III, the "Schubler" chorales (six chorale preludes transcribed from cantata movements), and the canonic variations on "Vom Himmel hoch". Clavier-Übung, III is framed by a Prelude and Fugue in E-flat (the so-called "St. Anne"), but centrally comprises a series of chorale preludes on the parts of the Lutheran Mass (nine movements for the Kyrie and Gloria) and Catechism (twelve movements), followed by four duets. The chorale preludes are presented in pairs: the first of each pair is for full organ with pedals (presumably for normal church use); the second, for a two-manual organ without pedal (for smaller church instruments or for home use). In these chorale preludes, as well as in the "Leipzig 18", Bach shows great imagination and mastery, in a wide variety of treatments of the chorale tune. In the set of five canonic variations on "Von Himmel hoch", the given chorale melody is variously presented with independent canonic voices, and finally in canonic imitation with itself.

Organ Music. Bach's early works, pre-Weimar, through his late works at Leipzig.

String Keyboard (clavier) music. Covers the Bach's significant pieces.

The Well-Tempered Clavier. The best known of Bach's clavier works.

Suites and Partitas. Bach's clavier suites and partitas.

Goldberg Variations. This aria with thirty variations is representative of Baroque theme and variations.
Solo music for other instruments. Compositions primarily from Bach's period in Cöthen including his cello suites.

Orchestral music. Examples of Baroque concertos and suites, including Air on the G String and the Brandenburg Concertos.

Inventions and Sinfonia. Two sets of fifteen contrapuntal pieces written for teaching purposes.
Canons. Bach's canonic variations.

Musical Offering. Based on a theme given to Bach by Frederick the Great.

Art of Fugue. Bach's final collection of fugues and canons.

Unfinished fugue. Last in the Art of Fugue, this fugue is formed from the letters of Bach's name.