Concerto in a minor BWV 593 [after a concerto for two violins by Antonio Vivaldi] (Allegro) – Adagio – Allegro
Bach arranged a number of concerti by other composers for the organ. Why? Possibly to learn about the style. Possibly to experiment with various textures and forms for the organ. Maybe because he simply wanted to play them! Interestingly, much organ music from the Renaissance through the High Baroque (the time of Bach himself) and even down to the English composers of the early twentieth century owes much to the kind of music that would be written for stringed instruments and would sound equally well in either medium. What is very apparent in this particular piece is that Bach achieves for the organ the same kind of transparent texture that Vivaldi achieved with the violin and orchestra.
Trio Sonata in E major BWV 525 Allegro moderato – Adagio – Allegro
A trio sonata was properly written for two solo instruments of near identical pitch (e.g. two violins, a violin and a flute or oboe) accompanied by a ’cello or gamba playing the bass line with a harpsichord filling in the chords. The style translates well onto the organ where two manuals of contrasted tone and pedals can provide the three distinct melodic lines. Given their intricacy the only problem is technical – for the player to master independence of hands and feet. This is the first of six such sonatas which Bach wrote for the organ.
Chorale Prelude “Ich ruf’ zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ” (“I call to you, Lord Jesus Christ”) BWV 639
Chorale preludes were intended to be (rather ornate) “play-overs” of hymns (chorales) in the Lutheran liturgy. Organists would indeed have been expected to improvise the same. It was crucial for this music to reflect the mood and theological content of the hymn text. Bach achieved this with total mastery and it is in his chorale preludes that we see him at his most poetic. This piece comes from a collection of such pieces for the church year titled “Orgelbüchlein” (“Little Organ Book”).
Toccata and Fugue in d minor BWV 565
This famous “warhorse” by Bach needs little introduction. However, it has probably suffered from excessively romantic interpretations possibly influenced by Stokowski’s famous orchestral transcription. I have for many years believed that the piece should receive closer attention to the temporal relationships which are inherent in its mensural notation – the need for flexibility in Baroque music notwithstanding. Like all great music this has great economy of means. The opening downward scale indeed becomes the fugue subject and everything is derived from it.