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Sometimes you just have to get back to the master.  Enjoy folks, I know I am.


No. 1 (BWV 1046) 00:31
No. 2 (BWV 1047) 19:35
No. 3 (BWV 1048) 31:09
No. 4 (BWV 1049) 41:45
No. 5 (BWV 1050) 57:26
No. 6 (BWV 1051) 1:17:11

The earliest extant source of the work is an autograph manuscript[2] of the early 1740s, containing 12 fugues and 2 canons. This autograph is typically referred to by its call number of P200 in the Berlin State Library. Three manuscripts for pieces that would appear in the revised edition were bundled with P200 at some point before its acquisition by the library.

The revised version was published in May 1751, slightly less than a year after Bach’s death. In addition to changes in the order, notation, and material of pieces which appeared in the autograph, it contained 2 new fugues, 2 new canons, and 3 pieces of ostensibly spurious inclusion. A second edition was published in 1752, but differed only in its addition of a preface by Friedrich Wilhelm Marpurg.

In spite of its revisions, the printed edition of 1751 contained a number of glaring editorial errors. The majority of these may be attributed to Bach’s relatively sudden death in the midst of publication. Three pieces were included that do not appear to have been part of Bach’s intended order: an unrevised (and thus redundant) version of the second double fugue, Contrapunctus X; a two-keyboard arrangement[3] of the first mirror fugue, Contrapunctus XIII; and a chorale harmonizationVor deinen Thron tret ich hiermit” (“Herewith I come before Thy Throne”), derived from BWV 668a, and noted in the introduction to the edition as a recompense for the work’s incompleteness, having purportedly been dictated by Bach on his deathbed.

The anomalous character of the published order and the Unfinished Fugue have engendered a wide variety of theories which attempt to restore the work to the state originally intended by Bach.


The Art of Fugue is based on a single subject:

"<brwhich each canon and fugue employs in some variation.

The work divides into seven groups, according to each piece’s prevailing contrapuntal device; in both editions, these groups and their respective components are generally ordered to increase in complexity. In the order in which they occur in the printed edition of 1751 (without the aforementioned works of spurious inclusion), the groups, and their components are as follows.

  • Contrapunctus I: 4-voice fugue on principal subject
  • Contrapunctus II: 4-voice fugue on principal subject, accompanied by a ‘French’ style dotted rhythm
  • Contrapunctus III: 4-voice fugue on principal subject in inversion, employing intense chromaticism
  • Contrapunctus IV: 4-voice fugue on principal subject in inversion, employing counter-subjects

Counter-fugues, in which the subject is used simultaneously in regular, inverted, augmented, and diminished forms:

  • Contrapunctus V: Has many stretto entries, as do Contrapuncti VI and VII
  • Contrapunctus VI, a 4 in Stylo Francese: This adds both forms of the theme in diminution,[4] (halving note lengths), with little rising and descending clusters of semiquavers in one voice answered or punctuated by similar groups in demisemiquavers in another, against sustained notes in the accompanying voices. The dotted rhythm, enhanced by these little rising and descending groups, suggests what is called “French style” in Bach’s day, hence the name Stylo Francese.[5]
  • Contrapunctus VII, a 4 per Augmentationem et Diminutionem: Uses augmented (doubling all note lengths) and diminished versions of the main subject and its inversion.

Double and triple fugues, employing two and three subjects respectively:

  • Contrapunctus VIII, a 3: Triple fugue, with three subjects, having independent expositions
  • Contrapunctus IX, a 4 alla Duodecima: Double fugue, with two subjects occurring dependently, and in invertible counterpoint at the 12th
  • Contrapunctus X, a 4 alla Decima: Double fugue, with two subjects occurring dependently, and in invertible counterpoint at the 10th
  • Contrapunctus XI, a 4: Triple fugue, employing the three subjects of Contrapunctus VIII in inversion

Mirror fugues, in which a piece is notated once and then with voices and counterpoint completely inverted, without violating contrapuntal rules or musicality:

  • Contrapunctus XII, a 4
  • Contrapunctus XIII, a 3

Canons, labeled by interval and technique:

  • Canon per Augmentationem in Contrario Motu: Canon in which the following voice is both inverted and augmented.
  • Canon alla Ottava: Canon in imitation at the octave
  • Canon alla Decima in Contrapunto alla Terza: Canon in imitation at the tenth
  • Canon alla Duodecima in Contrapunto alla Quinta: Canon in imitation at the twelfth

The Unfinished Fugue:

  • Fuga a 3 Soggetti (“Contrapunctus XIV”): 4-voice triple fugue (not completed by Bach, but likely to have become a quadruple fugue: see below), the third subject of which begins with the BACH motif, B – A – C – B (‘H’ in German letter notation).

A crab canon (also known by the Latin form of the name, canon cancrizans; as well as retrograde canon, canon per recte et retro or canon per rectus et inversus[2]) is an arrangement of two musical lines that are complementary and backward, similar to a palindrome. Originally it is a musical term for a kind of canon in which one line is reversed in time from the other (e.g. FABACEAE played simultaneously with EAECABAF). A famous example is found in J. S. Bach’s The Musical Offering, which also contains a canon (“Quaerendo invenietis”) combining retrogression with inversion, i.e., the music is turned upside down by one player, which is a table canon.

Greetings and happy Friday gentle readers.  Today we have Bach’s BMV 386 complete with the associated organ prelude.  So, if you’d like the entire experience as Bach intended, please listen to the prelude first, then the choral work.  Enjoy. :)


Nun danket alle Gott
Mit Herzen, Mund und Händen,
Der grosse Dinge thut
An uns und allen Enden;
Der uns von Mutterleib
Und Kindesbeinen an
Unzählig viel zu gut
Und noch jetzund gethan.

1. Chorus [Verse 1] (S, A, T, B)

Now thank ye all our God
With heart and voice and labor,
Who mighty things doth work
For us in ev’ry quarter,
Who us from mother’s womb
And toddler’s paces on
A countless toll of good
And still e’en now hath done.

2. Aria [Verse 2] (S, B)

The ever bounteous God
Through all our life be willing
An always joyful heart
And noble peace to give us,
And us within his grace
Maintain for evermore,
And us from ev’ry want
Deliver here and there.(1)

3. Chorus [Verse 3] (S, A, T, B)

Laud, honor, praise to God,
The Father and the Son now
And him alike to both
On the high throne of heaven,
To God the Three-in-One,
As he was at the first
And is and e’er shall be,
Both now and evermore.

1. I.e., both on earth and in heaven.

We are putting this on the list of piano music that is too damn hard right now, but stuff I will eventually be able to play.  Watch his hands after the first repeated section – what is going on is that he is alternating quickly between two sets of notes a 6th apart with the same hand.  To the piano student, this is akin to trying to wipe your ass with the wrong hand while wearing mittens filled with bees.  My piano teacher assured me that, like with all things, practice makes it easier.

A little background on what a Passacaglia is and an example of what J.S. Bach does with it.

Passacaglia – A musical form of the 17th and 18th centuries consisting of continuous variations on a ground bass and similar to the chaconne.


There are 20 variations in BWV 582/1. The first begins with a typical C minor affekt, “a painful longing” according to Spitta, similar to the beginning of Buxtehude’s Chaconne in C minor (BuxWV 159).[9] Numerous attempts have been made to figure out an overarching symmetrical structure of the work, but scholars have yet to agree on a single interpretation.[10] Particularly important attempts were made by Christoph Wolff and Siegfried Vogelsänder.[spelling?][11] Some scholars have speculated that there is a symbolic component to the structure of the work: for instance, Martin Radulescu argues that BWV 582/1 is “in the form of a cross”.[12]

There is agreement among most scholars that the Passacaglia builds up until its climax in variation twelve.[citation needed] This is followed by three quiet variations, forming a short intermezzo, and then the remaining five variations end the work.

Bach performer and scholar Marie-Claire Alain suggested that the 21 variations are broken down into 7 groups of 3 similar variations, each opening with a quotation from a Lutheran chorale, treated similarly to the Orgel-Büchlein written at a similar time:[13]

  • Bars 8–12, the top part spells out the opening notes of “Nun komm’ der Heiden Heiland”

  • Bars 24–48, a cantilena spells out “Von Gott will ich nicht lassen”

  • Bars 49–72, the scales are a reference to “Vom Himmel kam der Engel Schar”

  • Bars 72–96, recalling the “star” motif from “Herr Christ, der Ein’ge Gottes-Sohn”

  • Bars 96–120, ornamented figure similar to that in “Christ lag in Todesbanden” accompanies theme in the soprano then moving successively to alto and bass

  • Bars 144–168 “Ascending intervals in bass recall the Easter chorale “Erstanden ist der heil’ge Christ”.

And yes, this was an organ piece originally.



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