The Kennedy Center

Prelude and Fugue in A minor, BWV 543

About the Work

J.S. Bach Composer: J.S. Bach
© Peter Laki

Johann Sebastian Bach was born in Eisenach on March 21, 1685, and died in Leipzig on July 28, 1750.  The date of composition for the present work is unknown:  the original manuscript is lost and the music came down to us only in secondary copies.  The earliest of these copies was made several years after Bach's death.

 

This is one of Bach's great virtuoso works, filled with rapid figurations and requiring a very high level of dexterity.  Yet there is a great deal of sophistication behind the façade of a brilliant showpiece.  The prelude moves back and forth between fast, faster and fastest through the careful alternation of sixteenth-notes, sixteenth-triplets and thirty-seconds.  The manuals and the pedal are frequently opposed to one another, and Bach makes much of the difference between unaccompanied and harmonized passages (the latter with or without imitation among the voices).  In the fugue, Bach takes the agile theme through many keys and numerous contrapuntal combinations until the counterpoint dissolves in another prelude-like passage of quasi-improvisatory freedom.