Kevin Bowyer (Organ)
Kevin Bowyer’s Bach Organ Series, Volume 13
J.S. Bach: Complete Organ Works, Vol. 13
Prelude & Fugue in A minor, BWV 551 [5:08]
Prelude in G major, BWV 568 [2:58]
Prelude in A minor, BWV 569 [5:26]
Trio in C minor (after Fasch), BWV 585 [5:24]
Canzona in D minor, BWV 588 [6:31]
Chorale Prelude (Trio super) Herr Jesu Christ, dich zu uns wend (IV), BWV 655c [1:41]
Chorale Prelude Wo soll ich fliehen hin (II), BWV 694 [3:28]
Chorale Prelude Christum wir sollen loben schon, BWV 696 [1:30]
Chorale Prelude Nun komm der Heiden Heiland (VI), BWV 699 [1:08]
Chorale Prelude Gottes Sohn ist kommen, BWV 703 [0:50]
Chorale Prelude Lob sei dem allmächtigen Gott (II), BWV 704 [1:12]
Fughetta in D minor Durch Adams Fall ist ganz verderbt (IV), BWV 705 [3:05]
Chorale Prelude In dich hab ich gehoffet, Herr, BWV 712 [1:54]
Chorale Prelude (Fantasia super) Jesu, meine Freude, BWV 713 [5:23]
Chorale Prelude Ach Gott und Herr, BWV 714 [2:43]
Chorale Prelude Gelobet siest du, Jesu Christ, BWV 723 [2:35]
Chorale Prelude Lobt Gott, ihr Christen, allzugleich (II), BWV 732 [1:05]
Chorale Prelude Nun freut euch, lieben Christen gmein (I), BWV 734 [3:27]
Chorale Prelude Wie schön leuchtet uns der Morgenstern (I), BWV 739 [4:25]
Chorale Prelude Ach Gott vom Himmel sieh darein, BWV 741 [4:31]
Chorale Prelude Auf meinen lieben Gott, BWV 744 [1:25]
Chorale Prelude Herr Jesu Christ, meins Lebens Licht, BWV 750 [1:18]
Chorale Prelude O Vater, allmächtiger Gott, BWV 758 [4:15]
Chorale Prelude Vater unser im Himmelreich (V), BWV 762 [2:56]
Chorale Prelude Wie schön leuchtet uns der Morgenstern (II), BWV 763 [1:34]
Chorale Partita O Gott, du frommer Gott, BWV 767 [14:11]
Prelude & Fugue in A minor, BWV 894 [10:22]
Toccata No. 3 in D major, BWV 912 [11:41]
Toccata No. 4 in D minor, BWV 913 [13:00]
Concerto No. 3 in D minor (after A. Marcello), BWV 974 [10:31]
Chorale Prelude Durch Adams Fall ist ganz verderbt (III), BWV 1101 [3:50]
Chorale Prelude Jesu, meine Freude (III), BWV 1105 [1:47]
Chorale Prelude Christ, der du bist der helle Tag, BWV 1120 [1:54]
Chorale Partita Herr Christ, der einig Gottessohn, BWV Anh. 77 [11:37]
Kevin Bowyer (Organ) [Marcussen & Son - 1962/87]
2-CD / TT: 154:45
Recorded at Sct. Hans Kirke, Odense, Denmark.
Buy this album at: Amazon.com
Donald Satz wrote (August 18, 2001):
Kevin Bowyer must be getting close to the end of his Bach organ works cycle. Overall, the reception to previous volumes has been luke-warm from reviewers with the recurring criticism that Bowyer is not sufficiently into Bach's world. Although Gramophone has not waxed very enthusiastically about Bowyer's Bach in the past, the magazine considers Volume 13 Bowyer's best release to date as to artistic inspiration, technical command, and recorded sound quality. That's quite a testimony which I hope I can agree with. My opinion of Bowyer's past Bach efforts is that he runs hot and cold. Tempos and most everything else covers a wide range with Bowyer. One moment he seems to be the ghost of Bach, then the next moment I wonder what music he thinks he's playing. He may not have exhbited in the past a distinctive style of playing Bach, but I think it's clear that he approaches each work with a strong analysis and conception.
For Volume 13, we are not getting what's considered the cream of Bach's organ output. Only the Partita BWV 767 is a 'big' hit. Authorship of some of the works is dubious, and some feel that none of the Toccatas for Harpsichord should ever be played on the organ. However, there are many gems among Bach's less familiar organ works, and I consider it advantageous that Bowyer is bestowing them on us.
The overall quality of Volume 13 is high but not exceptionally so. Leaving aside the twenty-three chorales, each of Bowyer's performances is rewarding but not memorable. For each work he presents, there's always at least one alternative version from another artist which is better. Why? Bowyer is entirely mainstream with average registrations, depth/intensity of feeling, tempos, and lyricism. It's as if he computes the 'average' of all other recorded performances and gives it back to us. Well, I am exaggerating some, but that's the impression I get from Bowyer.
Bowyer's readings of the chorales are in a different category. Although not every reading is a winning one, I feel it's clear that Bowyer is stretching himself to provide distinctive performances which could lodge themselves in the listener's mind. Registrations become imaginative and even a little daring, and tempos are more individual in selection. It doesn't always work out well, but I'd much rather have a recording mixing wonderful interpretations with a few non-starters than simply a string of good performances that are immediately forgotten.
Below is a synopsis of my journey through Bowyer's set:
Partita: O Gott, du frommer Gott, BWV 767 - This is one of four chorale partitas composed by Bach. Each one uses a hymn tune and takes it through a series of variations with a wide breadth of musical style; BWV 767 consists of eight variations. For comparison, I used Preston on DG, Rogg on Harmonia Mundi, Weinberger on CPO, and Leonhardt on Sony/Seon; of these four, Rogg is easily my favored version
The Partita is highly expressive and spiritually uplifting. Lionel Rogg's version is superb. It begins with a noble majesty, provides mystery and perfect sudden phrase endings in the first variation, imaginative and compelling registrations in the third variation, treats the seventh variation as one of complete enlightenment, and finishes with a wonderfully playful and alert eighth variation. Rogg displays fine momentum throughout and restricts any heaviness appropriately to the opening movement.
Although Kevin Bowyer's momentum is a little lacking compared to Rogg, and his seventh variation doesn't even attempt to display any majesty, the reading is as fine as the other three versions. It begins well, the first variation has excellent detail and pacing, and the last variation is effervescent. But I prefer Rogg's performances, and his conception is much preferred. With Rogg, I am on a journey of discovery; I arrive there in the seventh variation and celebrate the event in the eighth.
Canzona in D minor, BWV 588 - My desert island version again comes from Lionel Rogg. The Canzona has two sections; the first is in duple rhythm and can provide an urgent calling, the second is in triple time and greatly increases the power and visceral excitement of the primary theme. Rogg is sensational here - the first section is very slow and oozes urgency, while the second is fast, powerful, and thoroughly invigorating. His contrast between the two sections is illuminating. Versions from Koopman on Teldec, Marcon on Hänssler, and Herrick on Hyperion are too tender and polite, although Marcon does exhibit an infectious pacing in the second section.
Bowyer is even slower than Rogg in the first section; my remaining preference for Rogg is not based on tempo, but on the greater urgency of his reading. Bowyer's second section doesn't quite have the spring and momentum of Rogg's. As with the Partita BWV 767, Bowyer's reading is a fine one which ultimately yields to Mr. Rogg.
Trio in C minor (after Fasch) BWV 585 - A transcription of two movements, Adagio-Allegro, from a trio sonata for two violins and continuo by Fasch. The Adagio is one of melancholy leading to recovery, while the Allegro is optimistic and energetic. My comparisons are from Pieter van Dijk on Hänssler and Christopher Herrick on Hyperion. van Dijk's Adagio is excellent and rhythmically buoyant with imaginative registrations, while Herrick is lovely and solemn. For the Allegro, neither of them is particularly animated or strong.
Bowyer, in the Adagio, takes the msolemn route along the lines of Herrick and the performance is very similar in style and quality. In the Allegro, he picks up the vitality a little over the other versions. As enjoyable as Bowyer is in the Trio, he once again comes in second; the Adagio of van Dijk is revelatory.
Preludes in G major BWV 568 & A minor BWV 569 - The Prelude in G major is not a masterpiece. It consists mostly of strong/sustaining chords and swirling semiquavers, but it certainly is conducive to providing an exciting listening experience. For that to happen, the performer and the soundstage need to be well detailed. Herrick sounds too rich and smooth - Weinberger on CPO is very thick. In both cases, detail gets lost and the music suffers. That's not the situation with Bowyer who displays fine detail with an excellent soundstage. Will BWV 568 be the work where Bowyer is finally on top of the surveyed field? Not with Werner Jacob in the picture. He's even more detailed than Bowyer, and his rhythm has greater momentum. So it's second place again for Bowyer.
The Prelude in A minor's backbone is a four-note motif that is subjected to a series of very short variations which don't stray far from home. Spitta is quoted as calling the piece "monotonous". Christopher Herrick does his part to validate Spitta's opinion; he's soft in the belly with ordinary registrations. At the other end is Erich Piasetzki on Berlin Classics with an ever so slow performance which is hypnotic and loaded with imaginative registrations. Close to this highest of levels is Wolfgang Rübsam on Naxos. Bowyer is in the middle of the half-dozen other versions I listened to. He's not dull, nor is he distinctive.
Toccatas in D major BWV 912 & D minor BWV 913 - I don't have any problem with Bach's Toccatas for Harpsichord being performed on the organ. Bowyer certainly provides the joy, excitement, and brash youthfulness of the faster sections of the two Toccatas. I do have reservations concerning the slower transitional passages which Bowyer plays as if the time for a five-hour funeral is at hand. Overall, a more imaginative use of registrations would likely have resulted in a more interesting presentation. However, Bowyer is enjoyable in these two works, although there's nothing to praise.
Prelude & Fugue in A minor, BWV 551 - One of Bach's lesser organ works. Bowyer uses speed, power, and energy to provide a rewarding performance.But again there's at least one other version which I find preferable; in this case they come from Rubsam and particuarly Piasetzki who is even faster than Bowyer and uses a much lighter texture and more interesting registrations.
Prelude & Fugue in A minor, BWV 894 - After going through about half my Bach organ recordings and finding no alternative versions, I switched to Dave's archives and searched for 'BWV 894'. What came up was a review I did of a Robert Hill/Bach harpsichord disc on Hänssler which includes BWV 894. Angela Hewitt, on piano, also provides the work with her set of Bach's French Suites. Truth be known, I don't find this work a gem either, but the harpsichord is much more effective than the organ or piano. Also, Hill gives a light textured and angular reading which is quite enjoyable. Bowyer generates excitement, but he also tends to send his messsage with a very heavy brush.
Partita BWV Anh 77 & Concerto BWV 974 - This Partita is no longer considered a Bach creation; it certainly does not possess the diversity or complexity of the chorale partitas known to be by Bach. Bowyer plays it well, but it's not of significant consequence. The quality of BWV 974 is superior to the Partita but of less reward than most of Bach's other concerto transcriptions with the exception of the third movement which is a rousing and highly melodic piece which Bowyer performs admirably.
Chorales - Bowyer presents 23 chorales which cover about 40% of the total music time on the 2 discs. I'll just relate some highlights:
Bowyer's BWV 694 is very energetic and bouncy with an average tempo. BWV 696 is a majestic and wonderfully uplifiting piece in the hands of Lionel Rogg. I thought I'd never find a version with such poor sounding registrations as Olivier Vernet's on Ligia, but Bowyer beats him at it; aural pain is the prevalent element here. Switch to BWV 699, a one-minute work, and I'm listening to the most lyrical and beautiful version I know.
Although not the prescribed protocol, it's interesting to listen to BWV 703, 704, and 705 in succession; the density of the music increases from one chorale to the next, and each of them lifts the soul. Andrea Marcon on Hänssler is magnificent in BWV 705; Lionel Rogg's detail and spirit in BWV 703 & 704 are supreme. Actually, Bowyer matches these versions except for BWV 703 which doesn't seem to have any foundation in his hands; it's fine to fly off into the sky but also favorable to know where the ground is. How's that for a cliche?
BWV 714 is a very comforting one-minute chorale with Anthony Newman on Vox at the helm; Bowyer gives the piece more weight, an additional minute of music, and the results are exceptional. Also superb is Bowyer's BWV 712 which has a lighter texture than Weinberger's equally stunning reading for CPO.
BWV 723 is a heroic and noble piece with the potential for urgent forward momentum and inevitability. Peter Hurford on Decca gives a fantastic and uplifting reading in the two minute range; Bowyer extends the music another thirty seconds and loses much of the inevitability in the bargain without adding any alternative features of value that I could notice or feel.
Chorales of journey come from BWV 739 & 741. In BWV 741, power and a stern quality are prevalent; at the same time, an intense longing is invoked throughout. It's dynamite music given the full treatment by Marcon, Rubsam, and our Mr. Bowyer. All three convey a journey of torment. BWV 739 concerns the 'morning star' and is one of Bach's most uplifting chorales. Bowyer can't match the momentum or lyricism of Herrick, Weinberger, and Jacob. Those three take flight from the start; Bowyer is sporadic. These two chorales are among my favorites.
Not significantly lower in inspiration are BWV 750 & 758. Andrea Marcon is a wonderful Bach performer, but Bowyer surpasses him in both chorales as he finds all the beauty and lyricism in the music; I am very impressed. Bowyer is also inspiring in BWV 1101 which is an heroic piece that is permeated with urgings - a great listening experience.
Don's Conclusions: Those who have been collecting the Bowyer series of Bach's organ works have no reason to stop now. The performances are consistently effective, and some of Bowyer's chorale interpretations are revelatory. To be frank, the chorales are the best reason to acquire the set; this is where the superior music and performances reside.
Feedback to the Review
Bradley Lehman wrote (August 19, 2001):
BWV 894, prelude and fugue in A Minor
[To Donald Satz] It's odd synchronicity that you've chosen this moment to dump on BWV 894 as "not a gem" and outside the set of Bach's "superior music." I've had this piece in my harpsichord repertoire for about seven years and am currently preparing it again for an organ concert in October. I consider it one of Bach's most exciting and dramatic pieces, and every time I've played it in concerts the audiences have thought so, too. It's not only a gem, it's a particularly brilliant one.
Bach evidently thought so, too: he reworked it and orchestrated it as the first and last movements of his Triple Concerto. It's a strong piece either way.
It's most often played on harpsichord, but it's in Heinz Lohmann's organ edition (1979 for this volume). So are the toccatas (which you're referring to misleadingly as "Toccatas for Harpsichord"). These pieces are for whatever keyboard instrument is handy, and it's to practice them on all the instruments.
I agree with you that Robert Hill plays it pretty well in his recording, but I also wish he'd let it "rock and roll" harder; it can whip up a lot more frenzy than he allows. He's too polite with it. This is the kind of piece where the hijacked train is going 100 and still accelerating, and you see that the track ends just up ahead, and spectacular suspense ensues. (I especially enjoy the way that in the last few measures of the fugue Bach runs a scale from middle C all the way to the top of the keyboard until there are no more notes available, and stops abruptly. Great humorous effect!) And then Slim Pickens comes out of the sky riding on a nuclear missile, yee-haw!
As I'm preparing BWV 894 this time I'm working more closely with a scholarly paper by Dr Elizabeth Farr: she explains in detail how this piece and the Italian Concerto are constructed with Quintilian's principles of rhetoric. Sections of the music correspond directly with sections of a well-constructed speech. And everything she says makes sense: the piece is so exciting and dramatic because Bach used those rhetorical principles to make it so. That was the plan.
It's too bad that (according to your review) Bowyer doesn't deliver this composition convincingly. Can you please elaborate what you mean by "tends to send his message with a very heavy brush"? Are you saying Bowyer lets the piece's effects be too dramatic, or what? I listened to a one-minute sound clip from Bowyer's performance of the prelude, and it sounded pretty good to me.
Jim Morrison wrote (August 19, 2001):
Brad just wrote in concerning Bach's adaptation of verbal rhetoric for musical purposes. Just this morning I happened to come across a quote by Locke in an essay on metaphor. I think some of you will get a kick out of it.
"It is evident how much men love to deceive and be deceived, since rhetoric, that powerful instrument of error and deceit, has its established professors, is publicly taught, and has always been had in great reputation: and, I doubt not, but it will be taught in great boldness, if not brutality in me, to have said thus much against it. Eloquence, like the fair sex, has too prevailing beauties in it to suffer itself ever to be spoken against. And it is in vain to find fault with those arts of deceiving wherein men find pleasure to be deceived." From Locke's Esay, book 3, chapter 10.
I'm a fan of BWV 894, but have only a couple of commercially available copies of it. Hantai's on Virgin (a fine disc that also includes BWV 911, 912, 903, among others) and Belder's on Brilliant Classics (another fine disc of assorted Bach works.) Some days I like one more than the other, though Hantai, to my ears, is holding back some of his fiery self, and playing a bit, perhaps, too politely, like Hill, who I've never heard. This sense I feel of Hantai withholding drama and energy sometimes distracts from his performance.
Anyone out there have a recommendation of a no-holds-barred version of this work? I know this piece can sound extremly dramatic. If you like the Italian Concerto, and the preludes to the English Suites, you'll probably find it worth your while to get your hands on this lesser known work, one I became familiar with only a few months ago. The Gould of the Second English Suite (the only English Suite recorded before the damage to CD 318) would have done a fantastic job on this work.
Concerning the Triple Concerto, I have Koopman's and Wallfich's, but once again, I'm looking for something with more fire to it. I'm pleased with both of those recordings (esp the Koopman with Manze on violin and Hazelzet on flute) but I think there's probably a version out there that resonates more with me. Anyone have a recommendation?
Bradley Lehman wrote (August 20, 2001):
[To Jim Morrison] These are the five I have on CD:
John Gibbons (Nonesuch 79132), Andreas Staier (dhm 77039), Christiane Jaccottet (Intercord 830.884), Blandine Verlet (Astree 8565), and Robert Hill (Hänssler 92.105).
Ranking those by the amount of fire I hear, I'd say Gibbons first, then Verlet, then Jaccottet, then Hill, then Staier.
Jaccottet and Verlet take slightly slower tempos but they build up the intensity nicely. They let the heat develop gradually, and that works well. Gibbons burns it hotter and more immediately, spraying gasoline onto it regularly to keep it flaring up, but he also handles it carefully enough that it doesn't quite get out of control (that's both good news and bad news). Verlet gives the most startling ending. Hill is very clean and does fun things with manual changes, but he just seems too well controlled overall, not carried away with it.
Staier has the fastest fugue (by far), but it seems more like a scramble than a fire, and his prelude sounds cautious. If he had got the character of the prelude and fugue to match each other better, I'd like it more than I do. That fugue is so fast and fluent that it becomes one-dimensional and less interesting.
Igor Kipnis did a recording of BWV 894 on Angel 36055 (LP) in 1972 but I haven't heard it; that one might be what you're looking for, just a guess. I would have guessed Pierre Hantaï would play it pretty hotly, but you're saying he doesn't....
Ideally I think there should be a little POOF as things light up (spontaneous combustion, not an arsonist!), then a fairly steady increase of the heat and crackling over the next nine minutes. The heroes are in there doing everything they can to stop the fire, but it's bigger than they are. There can be a few moments in there where things appear to be containable, we hope the heroes might get out alive, but it's an illusion. Toward the end of the prelude everybody can see the impending disaster and they're fleeing for their lives, but it's futile. They can't get to the escape ships fast enough. Somebody opens a door, and WOOF, a wall of fire rushes in. It's a fugue subject! Throughout the fugue the fire accelerates in destructiveness. It becomes so unbearable and uncontrollable at the end that the whole planet blows up. So it goes.
I think Gibbons' performance is about the hottest and most exciting you're going to find on a commercial recording where all the notes have to be right. The piece is difficult enough to play accurately that the player has to keep his/her wits clear. And that necessary caution (unfortunately) keeps the bat from escaping from hell. (Just barely, in Gibbons' case: we can see the pointy teeth and hear the shrieks and feel the wind from the wings....) I'd like to hear a recording where the performer gets torched in the explosion along with everybody else.
Good luck finding the Gibbons disc: it's definitely worth grabbing if you see it anywhere. It also has the E minor toccata, Chromatic F&F, B-flat capriccio, the E-flat prelude/fugue/allegro, and the C minor fantasy coupled with the three-voiced ricercar from the Musical Offering. I got mine about ten years ago. All around it's one of the most exciting Bach harpsichord discs I've heard, some really fearless playing. And I like the way Gibbons plays in bass octaves at a climactic point in the chromatic fugue, taking it over the top. Here at least is a picture of the cover: http://www.twec.com/Covers/Music/14582.jpg
Pablo Fagoaga wrote (August 20, 2001):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
< As I'm preparing BWV 894 this time I'm working more closely with a scholarly paper by Dr Elizabeth Farr: she explains in detail how this piece and the Italian Concerto are constructed with Quintilian's principles of rhetoric. Sections of the music correspond directly with seof a well-constructed speech. And everything she says makes sense: the piece is so exciting and dramatic because Bach used those rhetorical principles to make it so. That was the plan. >
Is this paper available?? Where and how ?? (sounds interesting to follow the analysis).
Bradley Lehman wrote (August 21, 2001):
[To Pablo Fagoaga] I'm using a copy she gave me in 1991. Yesterday I wrote to her asking her your question about its wider availability; I'll let you know if it is. Hope so! Her analysis is especially rich in detail, like the way she plays harpsichord, and the paper itself has a Quintilian structure.
Pablo Fagoaga wrote (August 22, 2001):
[To Bradley Lehmann] Thanks!!!
Bradley Lehman wrote (August 24, 2001):
[To Pablo Fagoaga] I've heard back from Elizabeth Farr: that paper about rhetorical designs in the Italian Concerto and the P&F BWV 894 is not yet published anywhere, but next year in her sabbatical she plans to rework it for (hoped-for) publication.
She's also hoping to do some Bach recordings. If those come through, I know they will be essential listening. She was a marvelous harpsichordist and organist ten years ago when I heard her in class every week, and I imagine she's even better now.
Donald Satz wrote (August 25, 2001):
I just got back from a week's business trip to St. Louis, but the passage of time doesn't seem to affect Brad's predilection to be insulting (his "misleading" remark). There's no attempt to mislead; just using the same title "Toccatas for Harpsichord" as used in Schwann Opus. Brad may play them on whatever instrument he likes without any complaints from me.
Many of Bach's less popular works appeal greatly to me; BWV 894 just isn't one of them. My referring to Bowyer's version as "heavy" means that I don't find it exciting or dramatic - simply heavy like a thick slab of beef without much flavor which is just the main course I was eating one evening at the Hyatt Hotel in St. Louis's Union Station; I should have gone with the chicken dinner.
Bradley Lehman wrote (August 25, 2001):
[To Donald Satz] Welcome back, Don! I'm sorry that you took my posting as insulting, as I didn't intend it that way. I wrote:
"It's most often played on harpsichord, but it's in Heinz Lohmann's organ edition (1979 for this volume). So are the toccatas (which you're referring to misleadingly as "Toccatas for Harpsichord"). These pieces are for whatever keyboard instrument is handy, and it's useful to practice them on all the instruments."
Fact: the phrase "Toccatas for Harpsichord" is misleading regardless of whether it originated with Schwann Opus or you or anyone else. Bach didn't call them that, and serious musicological works about Bach's music don't call them that. I didn't say that you intended to mislead anyone. I'm just pointing out that the phrase is misleading. Again, I'm sorry that you took this as an insult or a "predilection to be insulting." My predilection is to get the facts straight!
Robert Marshall in his excellent article "Organ or 'Klavier'?" has a handy list of all Bach's toccatas with the titles that the source manuscripts give them. The works are BWV 564, 911, 912a, 912, 565, 538, 913, 914, 540, 910, 916, 915. Not a single one of them mentions either harpsichord or organ or any other keyboard instrument, except the 912 which is called "Toccata. Manualiter del ... Bach. Organista." (Which doesn't mean it belongs on organ, either, but only that its composer was known as an organist....) Many of them say that they are either "manualiter" or "pedaliter" meaning that there isn't or is an independent pedal part, and 913 says "Toccata Prima. ex Clave Db manualiter" ("First keyboard toccata, D minor, no pedal part").
But there's not a peep along the line of being "for Harpsichord" as Schwann Opus or anyone else would have it. Therefore, the phrase "Toccatas for Harpsichord" is misleading.
As I was saying.
Pablo Fagoaga wrote (August 25, 2001):
Brad Lehman wrote:
< Fact: the phrase "Toccatas for Harpsichord" is misleading regardless of whether it originated with Schwann Opus or you or anyone else. Bach didn't call them that, and serious musicological works about Bach's music don't call them that. I didn't say that you intended to mislead anyone. I'm just pointing out that the phrase is misleading. Again, I'm sorry that you took this as an insult or a "predilection to be insulting." My predilection is to get the facts straight! >
While on this trail, may I ask a question?? Does anyone know the reasons behind the dubious and unaccurate custom many labels have, that makes them call certain works not after their real names or purposes, but after names that fit to the ensembles recorded?? Examples: Acording to Sony, Glenn Gould recorded Bach's "piano" concertos, while the thing is that, as far as I know, they are just "played" on piano, but not because a certain indication by Bach in the title of the works, nor the scores. Viola da Gamba Sonatas are a usual vicim of this misleading (I endorse Brad on this!!) titles too. Why they call them "Cello" sonatas??? I mean,why don't they go straight, and call them what they are, with a call that clarifies that the performance is on cello??
Jim Morrison wrote (August 26, 2001):
Just to make explicit what I'm sure many of you already know, according to my sources, there are no autograph manuscripts of these Toccatas, and there's no indication that Bach wanted these works collected in a single seven unit set, like he did with the Six Partitas. Some people even suggest that the Toccata in G major, BWV 916, given its structural dis-similarity with the other Toccatas and its clear similarity to works like the Italian Concerto BWV 971, should be excluded from the set. It also could be that before Schmieder did his cataloging that no one had grouped them all together. Anybody know more about this issue of just why and when people
starting thinking of these works as a unit?
I don't want to get into a theoretical discussion about whether these works were are were not written for the harpsichord, (mainly because I don't have the knowledge to do so even it I wanted to argue the case) but according to the Bach Cambridge Companion, Cristoph Wolff takes a position counter to Robert Marshall's and feels fairly certain that the works BWV 910-916 were written for harpsichord. It's a little bit confusing in the book just where Wolff makes this claim, but it's more than likely in his essay "The Identity of the 'Fratro Dilettissimo' in the Capriccio on B-Flat Major and other problems of Bach's early harpsichord works," The Harpsichord and its repertoire, Proceedings of the International Harpsichord Symposium, Utrecht, 1900, ed. P. Dirksen. I imagine he also says something about it in his biography on Bach, a book I've never seen, but will probably buy it next month when it comes out in paperback in the USA.
Malcolm Boyd in his biography of Bach also, without mentioning that the view is a bit controversial, says that the Toccatas in question are harpsichord works.
So from what I can tell, there's no evidence that Bach called these works anything, not even 'Toccatas,' and it's just because six of them clearly follow the form of other toccatas that we call them that. Anyone know of some references in Bach's hand to these works? I imagine that he did think of these works as toccatas, but I still wonder if we have a record of him actually saying so. When did people first apply the term toccatas to these works?
Jim (who, by the way, whenever the subject of the Toccatas comes up, likes to mention a fact he only learned about a year ago that BWV 910 is in the very rare key of F sharp minor. I've done some checking for other works by any composer before Bach and I've found it difficult to come across works for keyboard in that key. What could have possessed him to write such a strange work and yet make so little, if anything, of it in his writings, or in the writings of his contemporaries? Brad, that's your cue.)
Bradley Lehman wrote (August 26, 2001):
< Just to make explicit what I'm sure many of you already know, according to my sources, there are no autograph manuscripts of these Toccatas, and there's no indication that Bach wanted these works collected in a single seven unit set, like he did with the Six Partitas. Some people even suggest that the Toccata in G major, BWV 916, given its structural dis-similarity with the other Toccatas and its clear similarity to works like the Italian Concerto BWV 971, should be excluded from the set. It also could be that before Schmieder did his cataloging that no one had grouped them all together. Anybody know more about this issue of just why and when people starting thinking of these works as a unit? >
I've never thought of them as a unit...other than being able to buy all seven conveniently packaged together in either a book or a recording. They're even more conveniently packaged that way in the past 20 years on CDs as opposed to LPs earlier than that; all seven fit onto a single CD but not a single LP. (Unless the performer is Gould, who plays them half-fast [pun intended], in which case they don't fit onto a single CD either....) But I'd never think seriously of playing all seven in a single concert; they're not a set or a cycle, and they were never assembled together during Bach's lifetime. They were just seven separate pieces that Bach composed at various points in his career, along with four other toccatas that have pedal parts. No big whoop. And we have no idea how many other toccatas Bach may have composed that have been lost. Maybe, maybe not.
I don't know when _other_ people started thinking of them as a unit...but I suspect it has a lot to do with 20th century consumer packaging. :)
< I don't want to get into a theoretical discussion about whether these works were are were not written for the harpsichord, (mainly because I don't have the knowledge to do so even it I wanted to argue the case) but according to the Bach Cambridge Companion, Cristoph Wolff takes a position counter to Robert Marshall's and feels fairly certain that the works BWV 910-916 were written for harpsichord. It's a little bit confusing in the book just where Wolff makes this claim, but it's more than likely in his essay "The Identity of the 'Fratro Dilettissimo' in the Capriccio on B-Flat Major and other problems of Bach's early harpsichord works," The Harpsichord and its repertoire, Proceedings of the International Harpsichord Symposium, Utrecht, 1900, ed. P. Dirksen. I imagine he also says something about it in his biography on Bach, a book I've never seen, but will probably buy it next month when it comes out in paperback in the USA. >
I haven't seen that new biography yet either, but Wolff's 1991 book _Bach: Essays on His Life and Music_ doesn't even mention the toccatas at all, and it's a 461-page book. This suggests that to Wolff these seven pieces are evidently not very important and/or interesting considered against the rest of Bach's work.
< Malcolm Boyd in his biography of Bach also, without mentioning that the view is a bit controversial, says that the Toccatas in question are harpsichord works. >
Boyd says less than that. He mentions only four of the toccatas, and it's in passing. Here is the paragraph (p28):
"Also thought to date from the Arnstadt-Muehlhausen or early Weimar periods are four toccatas for clavier (BWV912-15), multi-sectional works like the organ toccatas, incorporating fugal movements. Perhaps the best known is the E minor Toccata (BWV 914), described by Spitta (i, p.441) as 'one of those pieces steeped in melancholy which Bach alone could write'. Its final fugal section, however, is apparently a reworking of a piece by an Italian composer not yet identified; possibly it dates from the same period as similar _rifacimenti_ of Legrenzi and Corelli pieces (BWV 574 and 579) and the fugues on themes from Albinoni's trio sonatas op. 1 (BWV 946, 950-51)."
The impression I get from that is that Boyd didn't really think much about these pieces at all but simply mentioned them to acknowledge their existence. And I think he describes them as being "for clavier" simply because there is no independent pedal part; many people make that quick assumption that keyboard music without independent pedal is explicitly _not_ for organ, as if the lack of pedal seals it. (And that's of course hogwash; there is a huge amount of organ music from the past eight centuries that doesn't use pedal....) Boyd is just going along with the public's usual assumptions here without delving into it. It's easier to mention them in this way than to say there's a controversy about the instruments to play them on.
Robert Marshall, who does delve into it, makes a very strong case for organ being the primary instrument. I'll just summarize his argument here briefly, bear with me.... There are the titles in the sources: why would they bother to say manualiter (no pedal) if these were harpsichord pieces? There are the ranges of the pieces: they fit the notes available on the organs Bach had at different stages in his career (and, importantly, avoid the notes that are missing), while harpsichords more often go higher or lower. And then Marshall points out that harpsichord solo concerts didn't really exist as public occasions; when would young Bach have had occasion to play these in public on harpsichord? "Bach's toccatas seem designed for large audiences and large rooms which at that time would only have been found in a church." These toccatas work well as church service music on organ, both then and now; so, that practical aspect along with the other evidence argues for organ inte!
Incidentally, that final fugue from the E minor toccata, the one mentioned by Boyd, exists in a reworking attributed to Benedetto Marcello. That exists in a single source in the Conservatory Library of Naples; it is an elaboration of Bach's fugue. There's a recording of it by Roberto Loreggian on Tactus 672215 from 1999. (Jim, I know you already have this one; I'm mentioning it for others....)
< So from what I can tell, there's no evidence that Bach called these works anything, not even 'Toccatas,' and it's just because six of them clearly follow the form of other toccatas that we call them that. Anyone know of some references in Bach's hand to these works? I imagine that he did think of these works as toccatas, but I still wonder if we have a record of him actually saying so. When did people first apply the term toccatas to these works? >
I don't know of any references in Bach's hand to these; but I believe he probably did call them (or would have called them) "toccatas." That's what they are in form: toccatas in a 17th-century mold. [Just not "Toccatas for Harpsichord" as Schwann Opus would have it in a neat little category!] Bach knew the toccatas by Frescobaldi and Froberger, and these have similar form: improvisatory free sections alternated with fugal sections. So do the praeludia by Buxtehude. "Praeludium," "Toccata," both are pretty much the same thing. I wouldn't be startled if anyone ever came up with new evidence that Bach privately called a toccata a "Praeludium" as Buxtehude did, but the known sources call Bach's toccatas "toccata." (And as you've pointed out, Jim, none of these sources are Bach autographs; only copies by others.)
Whatever they're called, these 17th-century toccatas (or Praeludia) are practical music for use in church. They set a mood, they fill time, they make the organ and the organist sound good; they can also be background music while other things are happening, such as communion or people entering or leaving. Frescobaldi even wrote about his own that you can stop wherever you need to in the middle of a toccata, if the liturgical event you're playing for is done. (That's why they're sectional...play as many sections as you need to fill the time...) Heck, if you're playing it as the prelude of a church service, there's another reason to call it a Praeludium, naming it after its function....
Of course, there's nothing stopping anyone from playing toccatas (Bach's or anyone's) on harpsichord or clavichord or piano or any other instrument thalets them sound like good music, even if they may have been intended primarily as organ music. They can make a nice effect in various ways, and that's the point: they are practical music to play, not something to sit around arguing about too much.
All of this (just for comparison) has nothing to do with the meaning that the word "toccata" picked up later, e.g. with Schumann and Widor, where a toccata is a fast and flashy perpetual-motion piece rather than a sectional fantasy....
< Jim (who, by the way, whenever the subject of the Toccatas comes up, likes to mention a fact he only learned about a year ago that BWV 910 is in the very rare key of F sharp minor. I've done some checking for other works by any composer before Bach and I've found it difficult to come across works for keyboard in that key. What could have possessed him to write such a strange work and yet make so little, if anything, of it in his writings, or in the writings of his contemporaries? Brad, that's your cue.) >
Another day, perhaps.
Thomas Braatz wrote (August 27, 2001):
For some reason (I have not looked very hard) I am unable to put my finger on BWV 894 (perhpas it will appear as NBA V/9.2 which I do not have), but the question about the toccatas can be answered on the basis of faily recent research (1999) by Peter Wollny for the KB of NBA V/9.1:
None of the autograph copies of BWV 910 to 916 exist for examination as to how Bach entitled these pieces and for which instrument(s) they were written. However, based on some very good detective work (you would not believe how many copies of these works were examined and compared in order to determine the 'true' state of affairs!) For BWV 915 there is no official title assigned, but it is a reasonable assumption that this is a toccata as well, and was included with this volume of the NBA entitled: "Toccaten." All the rest have the title 'Toccata' as you will see below:
BWV 910: "Toccata ex Fis manualiter" Griepenkerl, a reliable editor for the Peters Edition, in his own words printed in the preface, states that he was working from the autograph (subsequently lost) and that this was the title in Bach's own hand. Two other excellent sources, a copy made by Johann Christoph Bach in 1714, and another by Johann Gottfried Walther (handwriting and paper dated to within the years 1714-1717) have the same title: "Toccata ex F[is] Manualiter" which leaves open the question as to which keyboard instrument is designated.
BWV 911: "Toccata Cb. Manualiter" is another copy in the collection by Johann Christoph Bach (so here is the first direct collector of these toccatas by Bach.) This one is dated before 1714. A summary of the date of origin for the toccatas (this is one man's theory - check for discrepancies below) is as follows: BWV 910, 911 = 1709-1711; BWV 912-915 are after these dates and BWV 916 is before them. The first printed edition for BWV 911: C.F. Peters Vol. 4 (Czerny) "Oeuvres complets: Compositions pour le Piano-Forte sans et avec accompagnement."
BWV 912/912a: (The 912a version is printed separately in the NBA) "Toccata ex D f[is]" 912a's date of composition 1705-1707. This is the earliest of the two versions that Bach himself authenticated. 1st edition Griepenkerl (Peters) June 4, 1843)
BWV 913: "Toccata in Db In honorem dilect. Fratris Christ. Bachii" (Karen Lehmann [spelled differently, I know] gets credit for research on this unusual title) Date of composition c 1715 or before. 1st edition 1801 and later 1814 (C.F.Peters)
BWV 914: "Toccata" Date of composition, slightly contradicting what was stated above, is given as 1707-1708. The abrupt title is the oldest reference to the title as noted by a musical manuscript dealer in Hamburg in the 2nd half of the 18th century: Johann Christoph Westphal. (All sorts of coincidental names come up in this type of research, or perhaps Matthew is somehow related to this man, whose name comes up a number of times in the discussions of these toccatas.)
BWV 915: No official title, but the NBA assigns the title as "Toccata" to fit in with the others, although there is no evidence in the early copies of such a title. 1st edition: Griepenkerl (Peters) June 4, 1843.
BWV 916: "Toccata. Manualiter" Date of composition 1714 1st edition Peters 1866.
Hope this answers a few questions. Interesting that the title "Toccata" is almost certainly Bach's intention, even though not a single autograph exists today. "Manualiter" leaves it open to all keyboard instruments. The first printed editions seem to avoid the word altogether, simply calling them 'Compositions for Piano.' Collecting these compositions under the title of 'Toccatas,' as the NBA, does seems to be quite reasonable, but designating specifically the keyboard instrument upon which they should be played is definitely not correct.
Jim Morrison wrote (August 27, 2001):
My thanks to Brad and Thomas for their helpful emails today on the Toccatas issue.
I've just a few more comments to make.
Boyd not only in the text of his biography separates 910 and 911 from the rest of the toccatas, but also, if you look in the back of his book in the index of Bach's works, separates them there was well. There must be some reasoning for his doing that. In the liner notes to Rubsam's toccatas disc, the two are also singled out, saying that they were probably written in Weimar, and not in Cothen, as some have said. Perhaps that's why Boyd separates them as well.
I've also read that the d minor toccata, BWV 913, bears a 'remarkable similarity' to Buxthehude's d minor toccata BuxWV155, a work which I haven't heard.
And concerning the odd key signature of f sharp minor, Watchorn's liner notes point out what I'm sure the performers already know, that BWV 912, the D major toccata, has a fugal section in the key of f sharp minor.
Concerning the fugue from the e minor toccata, the Oxford Compainon has this to say: the fugue of the e minor toccata survives alone in some manuscript copies and was appartently modelled on an anonymous fugue known from an early 18th century Italian manuscript, with which it shares its subject and several subsequent passages."
Watchorn says that the fugue is "a paraphrase of a work attributed in one source (Napel Bibloteca del Conservatorio Ms 5327) to Benedetto Marcello." He also says that in one manuscript the adagio just before this fugue is designated as 'prelude,' which suggests that those two sections could perhaps stand alone as a prelude and fugue.
So it looks like theres a chicken-or-the-egg controversy with this fugue. Which came first? Marcello's fugue or Bach's? Who's taking from who? The liner notes to Loreggian's disc, and what a fine one it is, clearly comes down on the Bach-frist then Marcello line. I imagine people will be discussing the issue for years.
Jim (who's particularly fond of Parmentier's recording of the Toccatas)
Etienne Altanienne wrote (August 27, 2001):
< Jim (who's particularly fond of Parmentier's recording of the Toccatas) >
Since you seem to have Watchorn's recording as well, how would you compare it to Parmentier's ? I should add that I am also extremely fond of P (and thanks to Brad for recommending it), but I like those pieces so much that I would not mind collecting every recording available (on hpsd) providing it is any good.
Laurent P. (rather enjoying this very informative thread on the toccatas)
Håkan Lindberg wrote (August 28, 2001):
Thanks for interesting reading about Prelude and fugue BWV 894. Is there someone who can help me to find the scores of this piece? I have some books with preludes but not containing BWV 894.
Bradley Lehman wrote (August 28, 2001):
[To Håkan Lindberg] I'm using the Heinz Lohmann organ edition volume 2 (Breitkopf 6582 from 1979), but the Henle edition is also pretty good.
I don't know if this piece ever made it from the Bach-Gesellschaft into a Dover reprint; I know it's (surprisingly) not in their volume 0-486-26681-8 of "miscellaneous keyboard works."
Thomas (or anyone), do you know if the Neue Bach-Ausgabe has released this piece yet in a softcover edition outside the collected works?
Håkan Lindberg wrote (August 28, 2001):
[To Bradley Lehman] Thank you Mr Lehman for the information about BWV 894, I will order the books.
Donald Satz wrote (August 29, 2001)
[To Bradley Lehman] Schwann Opus likely uses the "Toccatas for Harpsichord" title to differentiate those seven works from Bach's Toccata works for organ. I think it's viable for identification purposes. Calling them "Toccatas for Keyboard" would be confusing for many folks. If someone uses the harpsichord title, I know immediately that the reference is to BWV 910-916. It's all a matter of the easiest way to make an identification.