Passacaglia and Fugue in C minor, BWV 582
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Passacaglia and Fugue in C minor (BWV 582) is an organ piece by Johann Sebastian Bach. Presumably composed early in Bach's career, it is one of his most important and well-known works, and an important influence on 19th and 20th century passacaglias: Robert Schumann described the variations of the passacaglia as "intertwined so ingeniously that one can never cease to be amazed."
The autograph manuscript of BWV 582 is currently considered lost; the work, as is typical for Bach's and contemporary composers' works, is known only through a number of copies. There is some evidence that the original was notated in organ tablature. It is not known precisely when Bach composed the work, but the available sources point to the period between 1706 and 1713. It is possible that BWV 582 was composed in Arnstadt soon after Bach's return from Lübeck (where he may have studied Buxtehude's ostinato works).
The first half of the passacaglia's ostinato, which also serves as the fugue's main subject, was most probably taken from a short work by the French composer André Raison, Christe: Trio en passacaille from Messe du deuxieme ton of the Premier livre d'orgue. It is possible that the second half of the ostinato was also taken from Raison, the bass line of Christe: Trio en chaconne of Messe du sixieme ton of the same publication is very similar. See Example 1 for Bach's and Raison's themes.
However, some scholars dispute Raison's influence. Bach's work shares some features with north German ostinato works, most notably Buxtehude's two chaconnes (BuxWV 159 and 160) and a passacaglia (BuxWV 161), and there is clear influence of Pachelbel's chaconnes in several variations and the overall structure.
The passacaglia is in 3/4 time typical of the form. Bach's ostinato comprises eight bars, which is unusual but not unheard of: an ostinato of the same length is used, for example, in Johann Krieger's organ passacaglia. The opening of the piece, which consists of the ostinato stated in the pedal with no accompaniment from the manuals, is slightly more unusual, although this idea also occurs elsewhere, and may even have been used by Buxtehude.
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. 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. Particularly important attempts were made by Christoph Wolff and Siegfried Vogelsänger. 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".
There is agreement among most scholars that the Passacaglia builds up until its climax in variation twelve. 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:
- 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".
Alain also points out that the numbers (21 repetitions of the Passacaglia ground and 12 statements of the fugue subjects) are inversions.
The passacaglia is followed, without break, by a double fugue. The first half of the passacaglia ostinato is used as the first subject; a transformed version of the second half is used as the second subject. Both are heard simultaneously in the beginning of the fugue. A countersubject enters immediately afterwards and is then used throughout the piece. When the three subjects appear simultaneously, they never do so in the same combination of voices twice; this therefore is a permutation fugue, possibly inspired by Johann Adam Reincken's works.
Even though it is only 8 bars long, there is a brief reprise of the passacaglia after the fugue.
The passacaglia has been transcribed for orchestra by Leopold Stokowski, Ottorino Respighi, René Leibowitz, Eugene Ormandy, Sir Andrew Davis and Tomasz Golka and for piano by numerous composer/pianists including Eugen d'Albert, Georgy Catoire, Max Reger (in a version for 2 pianos), Fazil Say, and Awadagin Pratt. It has also been arranged for a brass quintet by Neil Balm and performed by The Canadian Brass. A transcription for viol consort was recorded by the UK group Fretwork in 2005. In 2006, the passacaglia was transcribed for handbells by Kevin McChesney and recorded by Cast of Bronze from Dallas, Texas. The passacaglia was also transcribed by Donald Hunsberger for the Eastman Wind Ensemble (symphonic wind ensemble) and for the Eastman Trombone Choir (trombone octet). In 2009, the work was transcribed for string quartet by Nicholas Kitchen for performance by the Borromeo String Quartet.
In Stokowski's orchestral transcription the whole of the coda is slow and fortissimo without the possibility of a final massive rallentando. He made six commercial recordings of it between 1928 and 1972.
In popular culture
- An arrangement of some initial parts of the passacaglia is present two times in the baptism sequence of the movie The Godfather (1972).
- Roland Petit created a ballet, Le jeune homme et la mort (The Young Man and Death), set to the Passacaglia and Fugue in Cm. An abbreviated version of the ballet appears as the opening scene of the 1985 movie White Nights.
- A small segment of a piano transcription is played in The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, performed by Angela Hewitt (transcription by Eugen d'Albert).
- A jazz interpretation of BWV 582 was recorded by flautist Hubert Laws for his 1973 live album Carnegie Hall (CTI Records).
- Jimi Hendrix recorded an interpretation which may be heard on the album "Jimi Hendrix at His Best, Volume 3", as "Lift Off."
- The passacaglia is featured on the Robert Fripp album, The Bridge Between (1993).
- Around 1964, the entire passacaglia amongst other music was digitally rendered at MIT on a PDP-1 with a special soundcard device and recorded on magnetic tape. Digital recordings of the tape(s) are available here.
- E. Power Biggs, organ, Busch-Reisinger Museum, Harvard University (1958)
- Helmut Walcha, organ at St. Laurenskerk in Alkmaar, Archiv Produktion, (1962)
- Virgil Fox, organ, Bach Live At Fillmore East, Decca (1971) – live recording from the Heavy Organ concert series; Philharmonic Hall (later Avery Fisher Hall), Command Records (1963)
- Anthony Newman, pedal harpsichord, Columbia Masterworks (1968)
- Karl Richter, organ Freiberg Cathedral, Große Silbermann-Orgel (1980)
- Peter Hurford, Casavant Frères tracker organ, Church of Our Lady of Sorrows, Toronto, Canada (1984)
- André Isoir, organ Basilika Weingarten, Calliope (1988) – including use of the 49 rank pedal mixture "la force" on the bottom pedal C throughout
- Hans-André Stamm, on the Trost-Organ in Waltershausen, Germany
- Ton Koopman, organ Basilika Ottobeuren, Novalis/Brilliant (1989)
- Christopher Herrick, organ Stadtkirche Zofingen, Hyperion (1990)
- Simon Preston, Sauer organ, St. Peter, Waltrop, Deutsche Grammophon (1991)
- Marie-Claire Alain, organ Stiftskirche Grauhof, Erato (1994)
- Ton Koopman, organ Grote Kerk, Maassluis, Teldec (1994)
- Kevin Bowyer, Marcussen organ Saint Hans Church, Odense, Nimbus (1998)
- Michael Murray, The Great Organ At Methuen, Telarc (2002; orig. 1980)
- Joseph Nolan, organ of Buckingham Palace ballroom, www.signumrecords.com (2007)
- Bernard Foccroulle, Schnitger organ van de Martinikerk te Groningen, Ricercar (2008)
- Chicago Symphony Orchestra Brass, CSO Resound (2011)
- Marie-Claire Alain – sleeve notes for CD recording Bach: Complete Organ Works, vol. 14. Erato, 1993. Cat. 4509-96747-2, (originally in French, translated by Stewart Spencer)
- Yoshitake Kobayashi (2006). "Chapter four: The variation principle in J. S. Bach's Passacaglia in C minor BWV 582". In Daniel R. Melamed. Bach Studies 2. Cambridge University Press. pp. 62–69. ISBN 9780521028912.
- H. Joseph Butler. "André Raison". In L. Root, Deane. Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press. (subscription required)
- Alexander Silbiger. "Passacaglia". In L. Root, Deane. Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press. (subscription required)
- Peter F. Williams. The Organ Music of J. S. Bach. Cambridge University Press, 2003. ISBN 0-521-81416-2
- Christoph Wolff. Johann Sebastian Bach: The Learned Musician. Oxford University Press, 2000. ISBN 0-19-924884-2
- Christoph Wolff. "Johann Sebastian Bach". In L. Root, Deane. Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press. (subscription required)
- Silbiger, Grove.
- Hans Theodore David, Arthur Mendel, Christoph Wolff. The New Bach Reader: A Life of Johann Sebastian Bach in Letters and Documents, 503. W.W. Norton, 1998. ISBN 0-393-31956-3
- Williams, 182.
- Wolff, 94.
- Williams, 183.
- Butler, Grove.
- Williams, 184–5.
- Williams, 184.
- Williams, 185; includes the Spitta quotation and reference.
- Kobayashe, 62.
- Kobayashe, 62–3.
- Martin Radulescu. On the form of Johann Sebastian Bach's Passacaglia in c minor, The Organ Yearbook 1980: 95–103.
- Alain, 1993.
- Wolff, 97.
- Wolff, 97–8.
- Free download of BWV 582 recorded by James Kibbie on the 1724–30 Trost organ in the Stadtkirche, Waltershausen, Germany
- Tim Smith's interactive hypermedia study of BWV 582 with analysis by Smith, Parsons, and performance by James Pressler (Shockwave Player required)
- Passacaglia and Fugue in C minor: Scores at the International Music Score Library Project
- Passacaglia and Fugue in C minor, BWV 582 at the Mutopia Project
- Performance of BWV 582 by Reitze Smits from the All of Bach Project