Recorded on 03/22/2000, uploaded on 02/14/2010
Musician's or Publisher's Notes
Bach’s set of seven Toccatas for keyboard date from 1707-11,
just prior to and during the first years of his post in Weimar. During these
formative years he experimented with a wide variety of compositional models.
Overall, these early toccatas lack the profound expression and technical
mastery of Bach’s later music and are thus some of the least performed of his
works. All too often, they come off as improvisatory and mere virtuosic pieces
for keyboard. Nevertheless, they show the steady growth of one of music’s
The Toccata in E minor, BWV 914 is one of Bach’s least known works for keyboard. Most
likely composed in either 1707 or 1708, it nevertheless portrays Bach’s
developing composition style. The brief opening section of the toccata bears an
inconspicuous resemblance to Bach’s later organ works, particularly with the
octave leap that occurs repeatedly in the left hand. Furthermore, retrograding
chords of the sixth with off-beats in the right hand might remind some
listeners of a similar passage in the famous Toccata and Fugue in D minor. A fugato section follows with a lively
rhythmic figure predominating. This section does not venture far from the E
minor tonality, though its strictness of counterpoint causes it to stand out
among the other early toccatas.
The following adagio
is highly improvisatory. Arpeggios and scalar passage abound with plentiful embellishments.
An extended fugue for three voices forms the final movement. The subject of the
fugue, four bars in length, is actually identical to that of an anonymous fugue
in a previously dated Italian manuscript. Furthermore, the two fugues share a
striking number of similarities. While the composer of this earlier fugue is
unknown to us, Bach was quite likely familiar with it at the time he composed
his own. Today, Bach’s “version” would without a doubt be condemned as
plagiarism. However, during the Baroque, the “recomposition” of another
composer’s work was not uncommon and, in fact, considered a form of flattery.
Bach’s fugue, however, enhances on the original version, by expanding its
harmonic scope and conforming more to idiomatic keyboard writing. Joseph DuBose
Part of Elena Kuschnerova's all-Bach recital that was released on ORFEO in 2001. Rosette in Penguin Guide 2003/04
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