Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) was born in Thuringia as being the son and grand-son of a musical family. He died in Leipzig.
A selection of vital composers of the pre-classical age were his sons: Carl Philip, Wilhelm Friedman, Johann Christian.
Johann Sebastian received at Eisenach a colossal education and learning which included traditional Greek as well as Latin
Soon after his father’s death his musical education and learning continued at Ohrdruf. He has been already proficient at the violin, the organ and the “clavicembalo”. He studied musical composition with Herder and occasionally with Boehm at Luneburg.
Buxtehude, Vivaldi, Couperin, Frescobaldi were among the list of several composers he analyzed greatly the creations.
He individually knew quite a few important organists of his time and he had been named organist to the “Neue Kirsche” of Arnstadt in 1703. He soon began composing actively and building a fine status of skilled performer and church organ restorer.
Following a short time spent at Mulhausen, Bach is officially hired as first organist and artist, then “konzertmeister”, at 1714, at the Court of Weimar. He composes there lots of cantatas and additionally wide range of his grandest harpsichord and organ compositions.
Johann Sebastian is “Kappelmeister” at the Court of Coethen in 1717. A Calvinist and reformist court at which Bach is asked to keep distant from the majority of church music he had been composing until then. He authored there his most important instrumental works which contain the Suites (English and French), the Well-Tempered Klavier – first book – the Inventions.
Dissents force him to leave Coethen for the work of Cantor at Leipzig, Saint-Thomas Church in 1723. That is where he will stay all the remaining of his existence.
As being the Cantor, Johann Sebastian Bach has to provide for the musical training, compose brand-new music for all special days at the church, the city and the University, this included the requirement for a new cantata each Sunday.
The requirements of the work and the meticulosity of his employers has been the source for quite a few disputes between Bach and his “bosses”.
Apart from the Cantatas he authored here his masterworks of sacred music: his two Oratorios and his Passions.
Traveling generally, irrespective of the imposed restrictions, Bach created the Goldberg Variations at Dresden for the Count Keyserlingk and the Musical Offering for the King Frederic II of Prussia.
A bad cataract surgical procedure makes the composer almost totally blind at 1749. Nevertheless, the reason for his passing away is assumed to be a strike and the subsequent temperature in 1750.
The compositions of Johann Sebastian Bach are really the culmination and “the marvelous conclusion” of virtually all music which happens to be composed before.
The polyphonic style which has preceded him, come about, with Johann Sebastian Bach, to a degree unheard previously. He was not an innovator, that is not to mention the amazing harmonic situations that take place in a little bit of his fugues.
Glenn Gould mentions “early Schoenberg” when talking concerning the handling of the thema (notes: B-flat, A, C, B-natural) B-A-C-H within the last number, the unfinished fugue of the “Art of Fugue” BWV 1080. Furthermore, his instrumental advancements, particularly in the Goldberg Variations and his Toccatas are fantastic. Nonetheless his sons, predominantly Carl Philip Emmanuel, modeled the “new style” to come. Johann Sebastian Bach’s music, inside his own last days, was thought to be “old-fashioned”.
The Toccatas BWV 910-916 are musical works from the young Bach. In fact one can not date them correctly, still the style prevailing in all of them verifies that generally approved idea.
The Toccatas G major, G minor and E minor were actually the works of a 23 or 25 years old Bach, then organist at the service of the Prince of Saxe-Weimar. The ones in D major and D minor might be written by an even younger Bach, possibly around 1705-1708. 1709-1712 might be the dates for the Toccatas in F-sharp minor and C minor.
The Toccatas, as commonly with Bach, are not published within his life time. Merely one, in D minor has been revealed as late as early nineteenth century.
“To touch” (“toccare” in Italian) is the root of the musical style “Toccata”. It refers to a piece for a keyboard instrument with, ordinarily, a maximum of virtuosity showing and of a free form.
Gabrieli, Andrea (c.1520-1586) and/or Merulo, Claudio (1533-1604) are generally cited as being the authors of the primary “Toccatas”. Frescobaldi (1583-1643) prior to Bach, lifted the “Toccata” to a high level, sophisticated musical genre.
In fact no musical instrument had been specified by Johann Sebastian Bach for the playing of his Toccatas. As being an incredibly good pipe organ and “clavicembalo” artist, J. S. Bach has been, at the same time, performing the Clavichord: a gentle and intimate music instrument we know he appreciated a whole lot. Even though, the radiance and the splendor of all those Toccatas require the “clavicembalo”.
“Bach-Extravaganza” might possibly contain been a flashy title for J.S. Bach’s Toccatas (BWV 910-916), if such things appeared to be existing then. This really is “unleashed” Bach.
Excellent keyboard works, free from almost any type of didactic, formal, stylistically codified, church-related or court-related constraints. Those musical works can merely be compared with the composer’s “Fantasias” and such an assessment will be towards the benefit of the Toccatas.
Toccatas BWV 910-916 seem transcriptions of Johann Sebastian Bach’s famous improvisations.
All pieces stick to an nearly identical structural planning: “free-virtuoso-improvisatory” beginning (“a la Chromatic Fantasy”), then an alternation of lively fugatos and strikingly fine looking slow sections.
Those slow parts come each time with audacious harmonic progressions. They usually surprise us with the scope of the musical mind hiding behind them. Even when they seem to extend “too much” in length, they must be considered as “transcriptions” of the endless musical creativeness and proficiency of Johann Sebastian Bach improvising.
This Toccata N.1 in D min. BWV 913 was the first one published in the early nineteenth century. It has two fugues. Its introduction part is less cadenza-like as compared to others but it still has the general aspect of a “rhapsody”. A beautifully expressive slow part, with four voices comes before the first lively fugue. The second slow part is even more expressive than the first. A single short motive is processed with an un-ending flow of modulations which displays it in every lighting and shadowing imaginable. The brilliant last fugue concludes the work.
The Toccata N.2 in E min. BWV 914 is possibly composed around 1707-1710, this is the shortest Toccata. The short introduction in a free-prelude design precedes the first light “fugato”. The Adagio is presented like a recitative with short instrumental proceedings in a very improvisatory design. The virtuoso fugue which follows is thought by some scholars as being originally conceived for the organ.
From probably between 1079-1712 this Toccata N.3 in F-sharp min. BWV 910 is a large piece, comprised of five movements with two fugues. The “usual” free-form introduction leads directly to one of the most sublime pages among all Toccatas. The large section in 3/2 time is intense and beautiful. Its chromatically descending thema sustains this melancholic movement. This theme is actually a Passacaglia or “basso continuo” thema which is made the main melody here. The first fugue: “Presto e staccato” displays an incredible imitative polyphony work and craftsmanship. The moderate tempo section in between the two fugues emerges as a meditative interlude. It connects with the final fugue of an exuberant character and the Toccata ends with arpeggios not unlike the introduction.
We meet here in the Toccata N.4 in G min. BWV 915 with some “piano” and “forte” indications on the manuscript. This introduction in 24/16 time makes the frame for the entire piece to come. Another slow movement in 3/2 time, grave and majestic brings the first fugue in B-flat major which simultaneously presents two themes one with disjoint motions and the other proceeding by close steps. A few measures long, recitative-like movement separates the two fugues. The ultimate fugue is in “Gigue” form. Either edited as 12/8 or “C” time (with dotted values to be read as a ternary time).
It is customary to date this Toccata N.5 in D maj. BWV 912 1705-1708, before Bach coming at the Court of Saxe-Weimar. The piece opens with rapid scales and arpeggios. The first “Allegro” which follows is at the same time jokingly and pompous. A dozen bars of transition brings a slow double “fugato” and is followed by a movement: “Con discrezione”, a very “rubato” section. The last part is a double fugue in 6/16 time. Again the “Gigue” idea is present all through this fast peaced fugue.
A “Chromatic Fantasy”-like, typical beginning opens this vast Toccata N.6 in C min. BWV 911 which presents, in my opinion, one of the most extraordinary fugues in the collection. The Adagio is grand and noble, almost religious in character. The comes the very difficult but exuberant fugue.
The opening of the Toccata N.7 in G maj. BWV 916 is less improvisatory but more like a Concerto first movement. The instrument and the virtuosity of the performer is shining all though the section. A charming melodious section follows. Even though it is not as elaborated (polyphonically speaking) as the other slow movements of the series, this E minor section is indeed beautiful. The closing fugue is less elaborated than the previous ones in the series, but again, incredibly charming as well.