MuseData: Johann Sebastian Bach

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Brandenburg Concertos

Well-tempered Clavier

Two- and Three-part Inventions

J. S. Bach: Invention No. 4 from the holograph manuscript.

Bach's two-part inventions (BWV 772-786) constituted one set of several that J. S. Bach composed for his gifted son Wilhelm Friedemann Bach (1710-1784). The term invention is traced to the solo violin pieces Op. 10 (1713) by Francesco Antonio Bonporti (1672-1749), a Trentine composer. Bach uses the Latin title Inventio, reminding us of his command of the language, which he taught in at least one of his posts in addition to teaching music. Each three-voice work that follows in the same collection was likewise called a Sinfonia.

Work No. Catalogue No. Genre / Instrument Key Score
No. 1 BWV 772 Invention / harpsichord C Major Example
No. 1a BWV 772a Invention / harpsichord C Major Example
No. 2 BWV 773 Invention / harpsichord C Minor Example
No. 3 BWV 774 Invention / harpsichord D Major Example
No. 4 BWV 775 Invention / harpsichord D Minor Example
No. 5 BWV 776 Invention / harpsichord E Major Example
No. 6 BWV 777 Invention / harpsichord E Major Example
No. 7 BWV 778 Invention / harpsichord E Minor Example
No. 8 BWV 779 Invention / harpsichord F Major Example
No. 9 BWV 780 Invention / harpsichord F Minor Example
No. 10 BWV 781 Invention / harpsichord G Major Example
No. 11 BWV 782 Invention / harpsichord G Minor Example
No. 12 BWV 783 Invention / harpsichord A Major Example
No. 13 BWV 784 Invention / harpsichord A Minor Example
No. 14 BWV 785 Invention / harpsichord Bb Major Example
No. 15 BWV 786 Invention / harpsichord B Minor Example

The harmonic cycle that Bach has constructed in the collection as a whole foreshadows the tonally more complete cycles of the two sets of paired preludes and fugues called the Well-Tempered Clavier. They appeared in 1722 and 1744. It was not enough for young Friedemann to be able to play the pieces. He was being called to understand the cyclic possibilities that inhered in tonal relationships. This was a dominant focus in music theory of the time. Johann David Heinichen's Circle of Fifths was first formalized in 1711 and has remained the dominant scheme in Western music theory.