Bach / Schönberg

Prelude and Fugue E-flat major BWV552 “St. Anne” (16')

Since the late eighteenth century serious musicians have always been attracted to Bach’s music. The public concert of St. Matthew Passion, BWV 244 conducted by Felix Mendelssohn in 1829 is one of the well-known examples of composers’ having a keen interest in Bach’s music. Some just studied it, but others reworked it to fit the musical taste of the time. For St. Matthew Passion Mendelssohn, for instance, replaced old-fashioned musical instruments with more modern ones.

In the early twentieth century, there was a revival of baroque music. Needless to say, Bach’s music played a central role, but works by other baroque composers also attracted a great deal of attention. Major opera houses in Germany, for instance, put Handel’s operas on the stage. Under these circumstances numerous musicians created orchestra versions of Bach’s compositions, especially his organ pieces. They include Passacaglia and Fugue in C minor, BWV 582; Prelude and Fugue in D major, BWV 532 (both arranged by Ottorino Respighi); and Fantasia and Fugue in C minor, BWV 537 (arranged by Edward Elgar). Perhaps the best known of such re-worked compositions is Toccata and Fugue in D minor, BWV 565 (though highly unlikely that it is a composition by Bach) orchestrated in the 1920’s by Leopold Stokowski.

Arnold Schönberg(1874 - 1951), one of the legendary composers who exploited atonal music, also had strong interests in Bach’s music. He even used a theme consisting of Bach’s name (B-flat, A, C, and B-natural) in one of his non-tonal compositions (Variations for Orchestra, Op. 31). Like others, Schönberg too re-worked Bach’s organ pieces; Prelude and Fugue in E-flat major, BWV 552 “St. Anne” is one of them. The organ piece is a part of Dritter Theil der Clavier-Übung (Clavier-Übung III), published in 1739. The prelude appears at the beginning of the publication, while the fugue, at the end of the book; however, these two sections are today usually performed together.

[Akira Ishii]