J.S. Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in G, BWV 541, for solo organ is one of the composer’s most brilliant essays in instrumental bravura from his period in Weimar (1708-17). Given the organist’s licence to imagine colour, character and dynamic perspective in its registration, the principle can be extended to the new collaborative realm of trumpet and piano. Bach’s main stylistic resource is the flamboyant North German ‘stylus phantasticus’, although ritornello techniques from the burgeoning concerto are gleaned from fashionable Vivaldi works flying into German courts from publishing houses of Amsterdam. Being Bach, he devises his own ingenious strategy, transforming string-like figurations in the prelude, and wilfully following no predictable structural strategy. Such is the strength of harmonic direction that the musical language appears highly-wrought in what are essentially through-composed roulades. The fugue is more conventional in its formal trajectory but, figuratively and texturally, it’s a dashing statement of bold intent driving towards an epic pedal-point close.
This can be a classic opener for a recital. It is possible in this medium to play it faster than on the organ but the temptation to tear through it should be resisted. The musical opportunities here lie in relishing the extrovert patterning in the Prelude (which can be ecstatically thrilling on the trumpet) and judging when to stand out in the fugal texture and when to recoil. The motifs should be deftly placed, the whole work absolutely steady and the articulation stylish but never predicable or dogmatic.
- Trumpet in C
Also available as part of A Bach Notebook for Trumpet.