Of all the musical families documented throughout history, none could claim to be as prolic as the Bach family. Seventy ofits members were occupied as full-time or part-time musicians, composing, teaching and performing over seven generations.e family’s most famous member, Johann Sebastian, had a great interest in genealogy which resulted in his book, Ursprungder musikalische-Bachischen Familie (1735). In it, he traces his ancestry to Veit Bach (c. 1550 – 1619), a native of the Germanstate of uringia. Neither a professional musician nor a composer, Veit earned his living in Hungary as a Weissbecker (bakerof white bread products) and “found the greatest pleasure in a little cittern which he took with him even into the mill,” playingthe instrument whilst waiting for our to be ground. As a consequence of his Lutheran beliefs, Veit was forced to return toWechmar, where his son Johannes Hans Bach (c. 1580 – 1626) was born. Nicknamed der Spielmann (“the player”), he wasprobably the first member of the family to take up music as a primary occupation, working as a town piper and providing aformative musical education for his sons Heinrich and Christoph, who would in turn teach their children. is musicaldynasty was to last until the 19th century, ending with Wilhelm Friederich Ernst Bach (1759 – 1845), grandson of JohannSebastian and the last member of the family to be noted as a composer.
This recording offers what can only be a tiny glimpse into the richness and variety of the Bach family’s contributions tokeyboard repertoire, specifically works for the organ. Several members of the family were organists and held church posts,although later generations tended to neglect the instrument, partly due to increasing demand in their time for secularinstrumental music. For obvious reasons, this collection also traces the development of musical style from early Baroque tonascent Classicism, although in the interest of presenting a balanced programme, chronological order has been ignored infavour of tonal relationships.
The earliest family member represented here, Heinrich Bach (1615-1692), was a grandson of Veit and a great-uncle of JohannSebastian. Born in Wechmar, Heinrich studied music initially with his father; upon the latter’s death in 1626, his elder brotherJohannes (the earliest verified composer in the family) continued his tuition and introduced him to the organ. Moving withthe family to Suhl and Schweinfurt, where he served as a town musician under his brother’s direction, Heinrich was ultimatelyappointed as organist at the Marienkirche in Arnstadt, remaining there until his death. Few of his compositions have survived.Amongst them are chorale preludes including Erbarm dich mein, O Herre Gott track 2 which presents its melody in fugatostyle. is style is reminiscent of other early German masters, for instance Pachelbel, with uncomplicated imitativecounterpoint in four parts.
The name Johann Michael Bach appears twice on the family tree. One was Johann Sebastian’s nephew (1745 – 1820), betterknown for his pedagogical writings than for his compositions. The earlier Johann Michael (1648 – 1694) is represented onthis recording. He was both cousin and father-in-law to Johann Sebastian, being a son of Heinrich and father of JohannSebastian’s first wife, Maria Barbara. Born at Arnstadt, Johann Michael took up a post as organist and town clerk at Gehrenin 1673, there to remain until his death. The town still bears a large memorial erected in his memory, on which his familiallink to Johann Sebastian is proudly acknowledged. Amongst several chorale preludes, he is perhaps best known for In dulcijubilo track 5, a delicate trio based on the familiar Christmas melody; for many years, this piece was attributed to JohannSebastian despite its somewhat more archaic style. Dies sind die heil’gen Zehn Gebot track 4 is an imitative contrapuntalchorale setting in four parts, with the melody presented clearly through longer note values in the upper part.
Johann Bernhard Bach (1676 – 1749) was born in Erfurt, great-grandson of Heinrich and second cousin of JohannSebastian. He took up a post as organist at Erfurt in 1695, moving to Magdeburg and ultimately to Eisenach in 1703 wherehe succeeded another Bach (his second cousin Johann Christoph) as organist and as harpsichordist in the Court Orchestra.is dual occupation as church and court musician is reflected in his surviving compositions, which include four overtures in the form of orchestral suites, which were copied by Johann Sebastian for his own use, and also in a number of organ works. The
Ciacona in G major track 1 is a richly melodic set of 25 variations on a simple ground bass, based on a descending scale. Its varied textures invite a kaleidoscopic array of contrasting organ registrations.
This collection would be incomplete without music by Johann Sebastian Bach (1685 – 1750), although the sheer quantity and consistently high quality of his keyboard music makes it difficult to single out just one work to represent him at his greatest. High on the list of candidates would surely be the Sechs Choräle von verschiedener Art (Six Chorales of various types), also known as the Schübler Chorales tracks 6-11 because they were published by Johann Georg Schübler of Zella, Thuringia. They were, in fact, the only organ pieces by Johann Sebastian to be published during his lifetime; ironically, they are not original organ works, but transcriptions of movements from his sacred cantatas. The chorale melodies upon which they are based are particularly suitable for the season of Advent, having apparently been chosen by the composer as a means of reflecting upon the coming and eventual return of Jesus Christ. With its noble melody and strong bass framing the chorale in the tenor register, Wachet auf is an extremely familiar Bach composition in its own right. Wo soll ich iehen hin, also often sung in Bach’s time as Auf meinem lieben Gott, is shorter and more florid, with the chorale placed in the pedals. Wer nur den lieben Gott läßt walten, has a richer texture of four voices as opposed to three, but is somewhat more intimate and introspective. Meine Seele erhebt den Herren, the Song of Mary or Magnificat, uses a sinuous chromatically-infused ground bass figure, heard at the beginning and end as a lone pedal solo before alto and tenor voices take it up in fugal style; the chorale (actually an ancient plainchant theme) is heard in long note values over the whole. Ach, bleib bei uns has the lightest texture of the collection, with two parts – a florid angular melody and walking bass figure – over which the chorale makes fragmented appearances. Finally, Kommst du nun, Jesu has a graceful owing melodic figure with a dance-like bass accompaniment, through which the chorale sings in the pedal, complete with trills that hint at the composer’s virtuosity as an organist. Also reflecting his virtuosity is the Pièce d’Orgue track 19. In light of his detailed study of works by Couperin, Clérambault, Raison and de Grigny, it is not surprising that he gave the work a French title; it is also known as the Fantasia in G. It owes much to the stylus fantasticus of which Dieterich Buxtehude was a famous exponent: improvisatory flourishes, giving way to stricter tightly-knit polyphony. After an interrupted cadence onto a diminished seventh chord, the piece ends with a rapid toccata consisting of broken chords in the manuals and a pedal ostinato, working in chromatic sequence towards the majestic tonal cadenza. This recording presents an early version of the opening section, less harmonically refined but possessing the same improvisatory character.
From his marriages to Maria Barbara Bach and later to Anna Magdalena Wilcke, Johann Sebastian fathered twenty children, although ten of them died in infancy. The eldest of his surviving sons, Wilhelm Friedemann Bach (1710 – 1784) was born in Weimar. He was definitely a favoured son: for him, Johann Sebastian composed the Klavierbüchlein für Wilhelm Friedemann Bach, the six trio sonatas for organ, the first volume of the Wohltempierte Klavier and certain inventions, sinfonias, suites and variations. Moving with his family to Leipzig in 1723, Wilhelm Friedemann studied at the Thomasschule before reading for degrees in law and mathematics at the universities of Leipzig and Halle. He never abandoned musical activity, gaining his first employment as organist at the Sophienkirche, Dresden, in 1733. He moved to the Liebfrauenkirche, Halle, in 1746, but came into conflict with his employers; having tried in vain to apply for other posts, he eventually resigned from the post and spent the rest of his life earning a meagre living as a private teacher. Upon his death in Berlin, he was reduced to poverty. His contributions to the organ repertoire are not as numerous as those of his father, but show an interesting fusion of Baroque musical forms with textural clarity, conciseness and rhythmic vitality – all hallmarks of the emerging Classical style. From his various chorale preludes, Jesu, meine Freude track 3 is an example of this style at work in a quintessentially Baroque form. The Fugue in C minor track 12, with its leaping subject and compelling momentum, brings Mozart’s fugues strongly to mind.
Although Wilhelm Friedemann was a favoured son, Carl Philipp Emmanuel Bach (1714 – 1788) is arguably the most famous. Also born in Weimar, he received the same formative education as his older brother, studying at the Thomasschule in Leipzig before pursuing law studies at university. Upon graduating in 1738, he was appointed as a court musician to Prince Frederick of Prussia. By this time he had already published numerous keyboard works and went on to produce a significant theoretical work, Versuch über die wahre Art das Clavier zu spielen (Essay on the art of true keyboard playing) in which he set out concepts of fingering, ornamentation and harmonisation that are still employed by keyboard players today. In 1768, he moved to Hamburg as director of music in the court of King Frederick’s sister, the Princess Anna Amalia, for whom he composed six sonatas for organ. These are markedly different than those by his father: the Classical sonata rondo form is much in evidence in the outer movements, and there are no distinct pedal parts, allegedly because the Princess had almost no pedal technique. (In view of the fact that she had an organ built for herself, including a pedalboard, this tends to be refuted nowadays.) The Sonata in D major presented here tracks 16-18 is a prime example of these straightforward and finely crafted works, its two evervescent outer movements framing a sombre slow movement.
The ninth of Johann Sebastian’s sons, Johann Christoph Friederich Bach (1732 – 1794) was born in Leipzig and studied at the Thomasschule. In 1750 he was appointed as a harpsichordist to Count William of Schaumburg-Lippe at Bückeburg. He was to spend the rest of his life and career there, following his promotion to concert-master in 1759; consequently he is sometimes nicknamed “the Bückeburg Bach.” The Count favoured music in the popular Italian style, neatly crafted, concise and (to modern ears) somewhat dull; this may account for Johann Christoph Friederich’s relative obscurity. He did have moments of genuine brilliance, however, as shown by the Polonaise track 15 transcribed here for organ. Its intriguing angular melody appears especially suitable for solo trumpet stops.
Johann Christian Bach (1735 – 1782) was the eleventh and youngest of Johann Sebastian’s sons. Born in Leipzig, he benefitted initially from his father’s tuition, continuing studies with his half-brother Carl Philipp Emmanuel upon their father’s death. In 1756 he moved to Italy, where he converted to Roman Catholicism, studied with Giovanni Battista Martini and ultimately took up an appointment as organist at Milan Cathedral, all the while composing in a variety of genres - although, sadly, none of his organ music has survived. In 1762 he travelled to England, premièring three of his operas in London and gaining popularity that resulted in his appointment as music master to Queen Charlotte, wife of King George III. He became known as “John Bach” and has been posthumously nicknamed “the London Bach.” His style is markedly different than that of his father and indeed those of his siblings: there is very little intricate counterpoint, with an emphasis instead on fluid melody in clearly-defined phrases over simple accompaniment, a prime example of the style Galante that ultimately gave birth to the Classical style. This is demonstrated in his various Sonatas, of which the first of six from Opus 5 is presented here tracks 13 and 14. The sonata consists of two movements, an amiable allegretto followed by a nimble yet stately minuet. Welcker of Gerrard Street, London, who first published the sonatas in 1765, proclaimed that they are intended “for the piano-forte or harpsichord,” showing that the former instrument was definitely on its rise to supremacy by that time. Johann Christian was evidently keen to show off the dynamic effects of the new instrument, peppering the music with “forte” and “piano” markings, together with a crescendo in the second movement that would have been more easily achieved on the pianoforte. Through use of swell pedals and contrasting manual registrations, these dynamic markings can also be realised on the organ, as shown by the arrangement recorded here.
© 2015, Mark Swinton
Mark Swinton was educated at the King's School, Chester, and at the University of York, graduating with BA in Music in 2002 and MA in Music two years later. He has studied with David Briggs, Roger Fisher, Dr Francis Jackson and John Scott Whiteley, amongst others, and has participated in masterclasses with Johannes Geffert and Dame Gillian Weir. A Fellow of the Royal College of Organists since 2006, he has given numerous recitals at venues throughout the UK. He has also performed, as both a soloist and accompanist, in France, Germany, Holland and Spain. His first solo recording, Colours of the Klais (Cloister Records) was released in 2007 and marked the 10th anniversary of the Klais organ in Bath Abbey. He has an occasional duo partnership with violinist Lucy Phillips; they have given concerts together in Bath, Chester, Warwick and Worksop, and recorded a CD.
Since 2011, Mark has been Assistant Director at the Collegiate Church of St Mary, Warwick, having previously held positions at Kendal Parish Church, Bath Abbey and Royal High School, and Clifton College, Bristol. At Warwick, he accompanies the St Mary's Choirs of Boys, Girls and Men in four choral services every week whilst assisting with their training and direction. He has appeared with them in concert (including premieres of choral works by Naji Hakim and David Briggs), on tours throughout the UK and abroad, on radio and television broadcasts, and on two recent CD recordings, Christmas from Warwick and Gaudeamus omnes: celebrating Warwick 1100 (Regent Records). He also directs St Mary's Scholars, an adult chamber choir that sings occasional services in St Mary's whilst undertaking its own programme of concerts and tours.