Around 250 organ works by Bach have been handed down, the most intriguing of which are works thought to have originated early on, but of which there is no surviving autograph. The speculations of Bach researchers all boil down to a single question: how early on can we determine signs of genius in his work?

In the Passacaglia in C minor, in any case, his genius is as clear as day. As a variation work, it surpasses anything Bach could have heard in his younger years. The ostinato, the repetitive bass line that forms the foundation of a passacaglia, is made up of eight bars, rather than the usual four. The work consists of twenty variations, rather than the usual five or six. And on top of its initial function, the bass line is then split up and treated as two separate themes that, accompanied by a third theme, form the material for an ingenious fugue.

The earliest copy of the Passacaglia was made between 1706 and 1713 by Bach’s elder brother Johann Christoph. In 1705, Bach paid an extended visit to Buxtehude, the man who undoubtedly had the greatest influence on his variation work, so it would be logical to conclude that Bach composed the Passacaglia shortly after returning from his journey.

Canadian Luc Beausejour’s rendition of BWV 582