On March 11th, 1829, a barely twenty-years old Felix Mendelssohn conducted the performance of the St. Matthew Passion at the Berlin Singakademie. That event certainly ushered in the modern awareness about Bach’s role in the history of European music; with that awareness came the familiarity with the entirety of his output. However, the name “Bach” had been by no means erased after the interruption represented by the composer’s death, which had happened on July 28th, 1750, four months after his 65th birthday. Quite the contrary: Bach’s teachings had continued to act seamlessly on the following two younger generations, and, through them, well into the nineteenth century. This action had happened essentially within a field which had overshadowed all other areas of Bach’s prodigious and multifaceted oeuvre, i.e. in the field of keyboard music. It sounds natural that Bach – who was at first known as an organ and harpsichord virtuoso, before becoming much more than this – left first and foremost this heritage. It is distant from the colourful writing of his Concertos and Cantatas, deploying sometimes conspicuous instrumental and vocal forces. It is not by chance that the fundamental Nekrolog (Obituary) published by Bach’s student Johann Friedrich Agricola and by his son Carl Philipp Emanuel in 1754 opens by presenting Bach firstly as a “world-famous organist” (“im Orgelspielen Weltberühmte”): this is an irrefutable proof of how the composer’s figure appeared in the eyes of those closest to him.
Bach’s legacy, then, consists in the first instance of his continuation of a centuries-old tradition of forms and techniques, bound to the language of strict counterpoint and to the heritage of the liturgical Chorale. Throughout half a century (i.e. exactly the first half of the eighteenth century), Bach had raised that tradition to hitherto unconceivable pinnacles, passing the baton to his younger colleagues. The object of this recording is found precisely in this “passing of the baton”, by offering a portrait of Bach’s legacy made of a mosaic with fourteen tiles (as is well known, fourteen corresponds to the name of Bach, if one associates a digit to each letter: 2+1+3+8). Seven composers (i.e. one half of fourteen…) surround the composer; they belonged in his closest circle (pupils, acquaintances, sons – of course, numbering the sons among the pupils). For this reason, they could directly benefit from Bach’s teachings, but also eternalize them and transmit them during most of the century. Looking from above, the collection of works in this CD programme is crossed by two contrasting currents, which enliven it in terms of forms and styles, and fully display its polychrome richness. First of all, the programme breathes with both lungs of Bach’s organ output and of that of Protestant Germany: these are the free forms and the Chorale elaborations, grounded on the liturgical hymnody of the Kirchenlied, at the heart of Lutheran worship. These forms were the daily bread of coeval musical consumption, and an occasion for displaying in depth one’s skill in terms of variation and improvisation. They are naturally innervated by the language of counterpoint: through the rigour of stylistic requirements, it marks the works with the seal of an authoritative order. From the other side, the stylistic variety of an anthology comprising composers born within the space of thirty years is remarkable. Even notwithstanding their age, they all remained more or less close to Bach’s teachings, although they frequently tempered their master’s style with the language of the style galante, which had by then stably conquered the musical imagination of the entire continent.
The itinerary opportunely starts with Bach’s last works, i.e. from two esoteric pages which have been historically assigned symbolic meanings. They appeared together, one year after Bach’s death, respectively opening and closing the posthumous printed edition of the Art of Fugue, promoted by Bach’s son Carl Philipp Emanuel. Doubtlessly, Bach had been working on these pages in the last period of his life. Many other aspects remain shrouded in mystery, but it is difficult to escape from the fascination of Contrapunctus I. This is the originating gesture with which the subject is exposed: a wisely chosen subject, elected as the foundation of the aural building, which will appear from one end to the other of this work, through an odyssey of transformations. The quiet prayer of the Chorale Vor deinenThron tret ich hiermit will similarly leave nobody indifferent; it corresponds to the last title of the 18 Chorales published in Leipzing in the year of Bach’s death. It constitutes an enlargement of the Chorale Wenn wir in höchsten Nöten sein BWV 641 from the Orgel-Büchlein. This piece is actually at the boundary of Bach’s life (it survives in a manuscript copy of 1750); its magnetic power is increased by the information, found in the printed edition, according to which an already-blind Bach had dictated it. (Plausibly, this dictation did not apply to the piece in its entirety, since it existed already, but is to be intended in terms of a last revision and of the title’s modification, prefiguring Bach’s actual nearing to God’s throne).
From Bach, the discourse broadens by concentric circles around the Thomaskantor’s home and workshop in Leipzig. It involves his sons (this actually happened already since the time of his stays in Weimar and Cöthen) and his pupils. The first voice that sounds is that of one who benefited very marginally from Bach’s influence, i.e. Gottfried August Homilius. Active in Leipzig from 1735 to 1742 as a law student and musician, he was declared by Johann Adam Hiller to be a student of Bach; however, in Michael Maul’s words, he more plausibly received “Bach’s spirit from Schneider’s hands”. Schneider was the organist of the Nicolaikirche, an esteemed Bach student and the actual teacher of Homilius. In any case, Homilius received his training in the Leipzig whose Director Musices was Bach; he became one of the most appreciated German composers of church music. From 1742 to 1755 he was the titular organist on the new Silbermann organ in the Frauenkirche in Dresden, and later the Cantor in the Kreuzkirche. The publishing company Breitkopf offered no less than thirty-two of his Chorale Preludes in their catalogue of 1761; among them we can hear here the broad and solemn pace of Dies sind die heiligen Zehn Gebot (in the same key of G major as Bach’s Chorale recorded here) and Schmücke dich, o liebe Seele in F major. The latter shares in the gracefulness of the rococo coils of the Frauenkirche where Homilius performed on the keyboard.
Equal in age with Homilius, Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach did not share his father’s passion for the organ, and found the feeble voice of the clavichord to be more congenial to him. Still, he dedicated to the organ a series of seven Sonatas, all but one without pedal (“senza pedale”), written during the period he spent in the Berlin Court of Frederick the Great, in the decade immediately following Johann Sebastian’s death. In particular, the G-minor Sonata dates back to 1755. It is the last of a series of four published in 1790; at its heart the singing lyricism of the Adagio stands out.
We remain in the key of G minor with the Prelude authored by Johann Peter Kellner, a musician who befriended Bach and who left several important manuscript copies of Bach’s works in the Thuringian city of Gräfenroda, where Kellner was Cantor.
The noteworthy Fuga cromatica sopra BACH will probably have to be referred to Bach’s closest family circle. This piece in F major has, as its contrapuntal subject, the notes B flat – A – C – B natural, corresponding to the composer’s family name. It was published anonymously within the Opere scielte d’alcune sonate et altri pezzi di galanteria per il cembalo solo dei compositori tedeschi et italiani, op. 1 (Nuremberg, 1756), and is commonly attributed to Johann Christian Bach (if not to Carl Philipp Emanuel).
The three following works in the programme are certainly by one of Bach’s sons, his male firstborn Wilhelm Friedemann, who was the most determined heir of his father’s business with the king of the instruments. At 23, he became the organist of the Sophienkirche in Dresden and later of the Liebfrauenkirche in Halle. These three pieces include the Chorale Prelude Christe, der du bist Tag und Licht in G minor, and the first pair (respectively in C major and minor) of a series of eight fugues in three parts published in Berlin in his ripe age (1778), with a dedication to Princess Amalia of Prussia. It seems to refresh the memory of the cycles of keyboard works (the Well-Tempered Clavier, the Clavier-Büchlein dedicated to Wilhelm Friedemann himself) penned by his father half a century earlier, when he was teaching counterpoint to his favourite son. Wilhelm Friedemann demonstrated that he had properly learnt those lessons in the two short but savoury pieces recorded here.
The programme closes with two very different and important personalities of Bach’s circle. We find firstly Johann Christian Kittel, one of Bach’s last students, who assisted his master as a continuo player since 1748. He later obtained a post as an organist in his native Erfurt, one of the principal centers of Thuringia; from the organ balcony of the Predigerkirche he obtained great fame, and Goethe was among his admirers. Thanks to a method for the organ published between 1801 and 1808, one year before his death, Kittel brought well into the nineteenth century the Bach tradition whose untouched vitality shines forth from the A-minor Preludio.
The circle closes with Johann Ludwig Krebs, who possibly was the figure closest to Johann Sebastian Bach. He was at first a valued pupil of Bach, as a Thomaner, since 1726; later he became a close collaborator of his teacher until 1737, when he left Leipzig in order to obtain a series of jobs as an organist in various German cities, while unsuccessfully hoping to succeed his teacher as Thomaskantor. Krebs’ proximity to Bach corresponds to a stylistic closeness, thanks to which he is considered to be the most faithful heir of Bach’s school. We will be able to experiment this in the brilliant and playful invention by which the Chorale tune Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern is surrounded, in the pastoral tone of the popular “Fantasia à giusto (sic!) italiano” in F major and in the Prelude and Fugue in C major, reminiscent of the imposing triptych Toccata, Adagio and Fugue BWV 564 by his unforgettable teacher.
Raffaele Mellace © 2021
Si è diplomato in organo presso il Conservatorio Cantelli di Novara, specializzandosi in seguito presso la Civica Scuola di Musica “Claudio Abbado” di Milano nella classe d'organo di Lorenzo Ghielmi.
Ha frequentato corsi di perfezionamento tenuti da docenti di quali L. F. Tagliavini, J. C. Zehnder, P.D. Peretti, H. Vogel, L. Lohmann e J. D. Christie, G. Gnann e altri.
Ha conseguito la laurea in Archivistica musicale con il prof. Raffaele Mellace presso la facoltà di Lettere e Filosofia dell’Università del Piemonte Orientale.
Dal 2002 è organista titolare dell’organo Dell'Orto e Lanzini op.1 presso la Collegiata di Santa Maria in Arona ed è direttore artistico del festival organistico internazionale che annualmente si svolge ad Arona e di altre rassegne organistiche internazionali.
Ha tenuto concerti d’organo presso sedi e festival organistici internazionali in Italia e nella maggior parte dei paesi europei, in Russia (festival Bach della città di Mosca e sala dei concerti “Yugra Classic” presso il teatro di Khanty-Mansijsk in Siberia) e in Australia (Melbourne, Sydney e festival organistico internazionale di Ballarat).
Il suo interesse per la letteratura e per gli strumenti storici lo hanno portato ad essere chiamato a tenere concerti su alcuni degli strumenti di maggior interesse, tra i quali quelli costruiti da G. Silbermann, A. Silbermann, A. Schnitger, C. Antegnati, ecc... Si è inoltre esibito come solista in Italia e all’estero con vari orchestre e ensemble strumentali. Ha tenuto concerti d’inaugurazione di nuovi strumenti e restauri di organi storici e in qualità di docente ha tenuto master class sulla musica organistica italiana e sulla musica organistica rinascimentale e barocca presso l’Accademia Statale di Musica “Gnessin” di Mosca e presso altre accademie e conservatori in vari paesi europei.
Sue esibizioni sono state trasmesse da Rai Tre Piemonte, varie radio locali italiane, dalla televisione nazionale spagnola TVE, dalla televisione portoghese, dalla Radio-televisione nazionale polacca e dall’emittente di musica classica 3MBS di Melbourne all’interno del programma “Organ and Choral Music”.
Canale Youtube: ChristianTarabbiaorganist
Carl Philipp Emmanuel Bach: (b Weimar, 8 March 1714; d Hamburg, 14 Dec 1788). Composer and church musician, the second surviving son of Johann Sebastian Bach and his first wife, Maria Barbara. He was the most important composer in Protestant Germany during the second half of the 18th century and enjoyed unqualified admiration and recognition particularly as a teacher and keyboard composer.
Profile from The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians
Gottfried August Homilius (b Rosenthal, Saxony, 2 Feb 1714; d Dresden, 2 June 1785). German composer, organist and Kantor.
Johann Christian Bach (b Leipzig, 5 Sept 1735; d London, 1 Jan 1782). Composer, youngest son of (7) Johann Sebastian Bach. As a composer he was the most versatile of J.S. Bach’s sons and the only one to write Italian operas. He was an important influence on Mozart and, with C.F. Abel, did much to establish regular public concerts in London.
Johann Christian Kittel (b Erfurt, 18 Feb 1732; d Erfurt, 17 April 1809). German organist, composer and teacher. He studied with Jakob Adlung, organist in Erfurt, and from 1748 to 1750 was a favourite pupil of the aged J.S. Bach in Leipzig. After serving from 1751 as an organist and teacher in Langensalza he was appointed organist of Erfurt’s Barfüsserkirche (1756); in 1762 he transferred to the Predigerkirche there. Despite a low salary and more favourable offers from elsewhere, he remained in Erfurt for the rest of his life, seldom undertaking concert tours and even refusing an invitation in 1790 from Duchess Anna Amalia of Saxe-Weimar to travel to Italy. His fame as a virtuoso organist brought Goethe, Herder and Wieland to his evening recitals, and drew many pupils to him, of whom the most important were M.G. Fischer (his successor at the Predigerkirche), K.G. Umbreit, his nephew J.W. Hässler and J.C.H. Rinck. In 1800 he made a concert tour to Hamburg, where he remained a year while preparing his new book of chorales for Schleswig-Holstein (Vierstimmige Choräle mit Vorspielen, 1803).
Johann Ludwig Krebs: (b Buttelstedt, Weimar, bap. 12 Oct 1713; d Altenburg, 1 Jan 1780). Composer and organist, eldest of the three sons of (1) Johann Tobias Krebs. He received his first musical instruction from his father, including organ lessons as early as his 12th year. An improvement in the family fortunes enabled him to enter the Thomasschule in Leipzig in July 1726. He learnt the lute and violin, continued with his keyboard studies, and as late as 1730 was still singing treble in the choir. Anticipating that his eight years of study at the Thomasschule would end in 1734, he competed for the position of organist at St Wenzel, Naumburg, on 25 August 1733, along with his father (who later withdrew), C.P.E. Bach and five others; neither he nor C.P.E. Bach was successful. The Thomasschule therefore extended Krebs’s term, and a year later J.S. Bach summed up in a testimonial of 24 August 1735 that his pupil had ‘distinguished himself’ on the clavier, violin and lute, as well as in composition. This special recommendation undoubtedly refers to an otherwise unknown application for a post, perhaps at St Katharinen, Zwickau. During the next two years (1735–7) Krebs read law and philosophy at Leipzig University, occasionally assisting Bach at the Thomaskirche or playing the harpsichord in Bach’s collegium musicum.
Johann Peter Kellner: (b Gräfenroda, Thuringia, 28 Sept 1705; d Gräfenroda, bur. 22 April 1772). German organist and composer, father of Johann Christoph Kellner. His parents wished him to become a lamp-black merchant like his father, but he was determined to study music. He probably received his first training at the village school in Gräfenroda, where he sang under the Kantor Johann Peter Nagel; his first keyboard teacher was Nagel's son Johann Heinrich. He next studied for a year in Zella (presumably 1720–21) with the organist Johann Schmidt and then for a year in Suhl (presumably 1721–2) with the organist Hieronymous Florentius Quehl, who gave him his first composition lessons. Kellner next returned to Gräfenroda and served for three years as a tutor. On 21 October 1725 he successfully auditioned for the post of Kantor in neighbouring Frankenhain, where he remained for over two years. In December 1727 he was back in Gräfenroda, first as assistant Kantor under J.P. Nagel and later, after Nagel's death in 1732, as Kantor. He remained in this post until his death.
Johann Sebastian Bach: (b Eisenach, 21 March 1685, d Leipzig; 28 July 1750). Composer and organist. The most important member of the family, his genius combined outstanding performing musicianship with supreme creative powers in which forceful and original inventiveness, technical mastery and intellectual control are perfectly balanced. While it was in the former capacity, as a keyboard virtuoso, that in his lifetime he acquired an almost legendary fame, it is the latter virtues and accomplishments, as a composer, that by the end of the 18th century earned him a unique historical position. His musical language was distinctive and extraordinarily varied, drawing together and surmounting the techniques, the styles and the general achievements of his own and earlier generations and leading on to new perspectives which later ages have received and understood in a great variety of ways.
The first authentic posthumous account of his life, with a summary catalogue of his works, was put together by his son Carl Philipp Emanuel and his pupil J.F. Agricola soon after his death and certainly before March 1751 (published as Nekrolog, 1754). J.N. Forkel planned a detailed Bach biography in the early 1770s and carefully collected first-hand information on Bach, chiefly from his two eldest sons; the book appeared in 1802, by when the Bach Revival had begun and various projected collected editions of Bach’s works were underway; it continues to serve, together with the 1754 obituary and the other 18th-century documents, as the foundation of Bach biography.
Wilhelm Friedemann Bach: (45) (b Weimar, 22 Nov 1710; d Berlin, 1 July 1784). Composer and organist, eldest son of (7) Johann Sebastian (24) and Maria Barbara Bach. Trained by his father and endowed with brilliant gifts, he expressed himself in the genres of his time in a sensitive and highly cultivated musical language.