MuseData: Johann Sebastian Bach

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Sacred Vocal Works



Bach's six motets are well known to choirs and choral groups. Each one was originally composed and performed for a funeral or memorial service. Each of them reflected on the personal relationship between the recently deceased and God by proclaiming joy at the imminent reunion with Him in Heaven.

Work No. Title Catalogue No. Genre/voices Score
No. 1 Singet dem Herrn ein neues Lied BWV 225 Motet/SATB BWV 225
No. 2 Der Geist hilft unser Schwachheit auf BWV 226 Motet/SATB BWV 226
No. 3 Jesu, meine Freude BWV 227 Motet/SATB Example
No. 4 Fürchte dich nicht, ich bin bei dir BWV 228 Motet/SATB BWV 228
No. 5 Komm, Jesu, komm BWV 229 Motet/SATB BWV 229
No. 6 Lobet den Herrn, alle Heiden BWV 230 Motet/SATB BWV 230


Orchestral Works

Brandenburg Concertos

Bach's six Brandenburg Concertos are demonstrations par excellence of both virtuosity and interplay between most of instruments available to Bach's time in Thuringia, where Bach was raised and held all his posts prior to moving to Leipzig in 1723. He composed them while living in Cöthen, which offered few of the resources required here but may have prompted Bach to show how many different combinations of sounds could be found in the broader palette of sonorities in use within a day's travel from the court.

Work No. Catalogue No. Genre / Instruments ? Key Score (PDF) Concordances
No. 1 BWV 1046 Concerto / 2 Hn, Ob, Bn; VPiccolo, 2V, Va, Vc, Vne Gr, Cem F Major BWV 1046/3 = BWV 207a/1. BWV 1046/7 = BWV 207a/5a.
No. 1a BWV 1046a Concerto / 2 Hn, 3 Ob, Bn; 2V, Va, Vc, Cem F Major BWV 1046a BWV 1046a/1 = BWV 52/1
No. 2 BWV 1047 Concerto / Tr, Rec, Ob, Vn; 2V, Va, Vc, Vne, Cem F Major BWV 1047
No. 3 BWV 1048 Concerto / 3V, 3Va, 3Vc, Vne, Cem G Major BWV 1048 BWV 1048/1 = BWV 174/1
No. 4 BWV 1049 Concerto / VPr, Rec, 2Vn, Va, Vc, Vne, Cem G Major BWV 1049 BWV 1049 = BWV 1057
No. 5 BWV 1050 Concerto / Fl, VPr, Cem concertato; V, Va, Vc, Vne, Cem D Major
No. 5a BWV 1050a Concerto / Fl, VPr, Cem concertato; V, Va, Vne D Major BWV 1050a
No. 6 BWV 1051 Concerto / 2Va, 2Va da gamba, Vc, Vne, Cem B Major BWV 1051

Orchestral Suites

Bach's orchestral suites come down to our time in editions based on third-party manuscripts datable to various years between 1724 and 1739. Those who have studied them recently lean to the view that, like the Brandenburgs, they were composed during Bach's Cöthen years (1717-1723) with Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Cöthen in mind. It is not clear, however, that he intended him as a set. The attribution of a putative fifth orchestra suite, BWV 1070, is widely discredited. BWV 1071, which is effectively a suite, corresponds to BWV 1046a, the alternative version of the first Brandenburg Concerto.

Each suite has a distinctly different character and each calls for a different ensemble. The treble wind in No. 2 is variously claimed to have been an oboe or a violin, although the flute and viola parts for it are in Bach's hand on one manuscript set in Berlin. We know that Bach sometimes modified one of another aspect (e.g. key) of individual works in his instrumental collections to meld the whole into a coherent entity. This may not have been the case with the ouvertures (as the orchestral suites were originally named), but the latitude to make changes is ever-present.

Earlier full or partial versions exist for two of the works, giving latitude to arguments for alternative instrumental choices. In the case of No. 2 (ostensibly the latest of the group), partisan perspectives on the principal part variously favor the violin (Joshua Rifkin), the flute (Steven Zohn), or the oboe (Gonsalo Ruiz). (Copy dates in the table below do not establish date of composition.)

Collection, Work No. Cat. No. Genre / Instruments Key Earliest copy date Score
Orchestral Suite, No. 1 BWV 1066 Suite / 2Ob, Bn, 2V, Va, Vc, Cb, Continuo C Major Leipzig, 1724-1725 Example
Ouverture BWV 1066 Suite / 2Ob, Bn, 2V, Va, Vc, Cb, Continuo C Major Leipzig, 1724-1725 BWV 1066: Ouverture
Courante BWV 1066 Suite / 2Ob, Bn, 2V, Va, Vc, Cb, Continuo C Major Leipzig, 1724-1725 BWV 1066: Courante
Gavottes 1, 2 BWV 1066 Suite / 2Ob, Bn, 2V, Va, Vc, Cb, Continuo C Major Leipzig, 1724-1725 BWV 1066: Gavottes 1, 2
Forlane BWV 1066 Suite / 2Ob, Bn, 2V, Va, Vc, Cb, Continuo C Major Leipzig, 1724-1725 BWV 1066: Forlane
Minuets 1, 2 BWV 1066 Suite / 2Ob, Bn, 2V, Va, Vc, Cb, Continuo C Major Leipzig, 1724-1725 BWV 1066: Minuets 1, 2
Bourrées 1, 2 BWV 1066 Suite / 2Ob, Bn, 2V, Va, Vc, Cb, Continuo C Major Leipzig, 1724-1725 BWV 1066: Bourrées 1, 2
Passepieds 1, 2 BWV 1066 Suite / 2Ob, Bn, 2V, Va, Vc, Cb, Continuo C Major Leipzig, 1724-1725 BWV 1066: Passepieds 1, 2
Orchestral Suite, No. 2 BWV 1067 Suite / Fl, 2V, Va, Vc, Cb, Continuo B Minor Leipzig, 1738-1739
Orchestral Suite, No. 3 BWV 1068 Suite / 3Tr, Timp, 2Ob, 2V, Va, Vc, Cb, Continuo D Major Leipzig, 1730 Example
orchestral Suite, No. 4 BWV 1069 Suite / 3Tr, Timp, 3Pb, Bn, 2V, Va, Vc, Cb, Continuo D Major Leipzig, 1730 Example

Works for Organ

Preludes and Fugues for Organ (BWV 531-535)

These two-movement sets for organ, despite their outward resemblance to the Well-Tempered Clavier and the Inventions, share with the orchestral suites that they span quite a stretch of Bach's lifetime. They share the two-movement arrangement but were undoubtedly composed for varied circumstances. Despite the span of years they cover, these works are set apart by the brilliance of the preludes. As assembled, they begin on consecutive tones of a pentatonic cycle--C Major (c1703-c1707), D Major (1708-1712), E Minor (1703), F Minor (c1712-1717), and G Minor (post-1717). (N.B. Subscripts in the table below distinguish preludes and fugues sharing a BWV number. They do not refer to other versions of the work.)

The first, third, and fifth of these pairs are thought to come from Bach's Arnstadt period (1703-1707), when he was serving as organist was at the Neue Kirche. Some of Bach's best-known chorale settings are considered to come from this period.

Work Number Catalogue Number Genre/instrumentation Key Score
No. 1a BWV 531a Prelude/Organ C Major BWV 531a
No. 1b BWV 531b Fugue/Organ C Major BWV 531b
No. 2a BWV 532a Prelude/Organ D Major BWV 532
No. 2b BWV 532b Fugue/Organ D Major BWV 532
No. 3a BWV 533a Prelude/Organ E Minor BWV 533a
No. 3b BWV 533b Fugue/Organ E Minor BWV 533b
No. 4a BWV 534a Prelude/Organ F Minor BWV 534a
No. 4b BWV 534b Fugue/Organ F Minor BWV 534b
No. 5a BWV 535a Prelude/Organ G Minor BWV 535a
No. 5b BWV 535b Fugue/Organ G Minor BWV 535b

Preludes and Fugues for Organ (BWV 549-551)

In this group of three sets of organ preludes and fugues the first and third seem to come from near the start of Bach's tenure in Arnstadt. The middle set is slightly later (up to 1708) but is still likely to come from Bach's first professional position. Considering that they were composed when the composer was between 18 and 20 years of age, they show his enormous promise.

Work No. Catalogue No. Genre/Instrumentation Key Score
No. 1 BWV 549 Prelude/Organ C Minor BWV 549p
No. 1 BWV 549 Fugue/Organ C Minor BWV 549f
No. 2 BWV 550 Prelude/Organ G Major BWV 550
No. 2 BWV 550 Fugue/Organ G Major
No. 3 BWV 551 Prelude & Fugue/Organ A Minor BWV 551

Miscellaneous Works for Organ

  • Prelude in G Major (BWV 568)

Very little is known about the Prelude in G Major.

  • Prelude in A Minor (BWV 569)

Similarly little-known, this work was composed before 1717.

Works for Harpsichord

The Well-tempered Clavier

Bach composed two books of 24 pairs of works in each key (major and minor) of the "well-tempered" keyboard. Each pair consists of a prelude and fugue. Equal temperament, the practical virtue of which was the ability to play in any key without retuning the instrument, was emerging when Bach compiled the first book of the Well-Tempered Clavier. Equal temperament, in which each named tone set equidistant (in cents) from adjacent keys, was not instantly adopted everywhere. Organs were generally tuned to meantone temperament. Much of the music of Asia employs just intonation, which requires an instrument to be retuned for the next piece, unless it is in the same key as the preceding one. Bach demonstrated the use of equal temperament by compiling this cycle of short pieces. The preludes could show off the effect of equal temperament in scale passages, while the fugues imitative processes required consonance in certain places to fulfill the work's satisfaction of the genre's requirements.

WTC: Book I (1722)

Book I of the Well-Tempered Clavier was published towards the end of Bach's tenure at the Cöthen court.

Work No. Catalogue No. Genre/instrument Key Score
No. 1a BWV 846a Prelude/keyboard C Major BWV 846a
No. 1b BWV 846b Fugue/keyboard C Major BWV 846b
No. 2a BWV 847a Prelude/keyboard C Minor BWV 847a
No. 2b BWV 847b Fugue/keyboard C Minor BWV 847b
No. 3a BWV 848a Prelude/keyboard C# Major BWV 848a
No. 3b BWV 848b Fugue/keyboard C# Major BWV 848b
No. 4a BWV 849a Prelude/keyboard C# Minor BWV 849a
No. 4b BWV 849b Fugue/keyboard C# Minor BWV 849b
No. 5a BWV 850a Prelude/keyboard D Major BWV 850a
No. 5b BWV 850b Fugue/keyboard D Minor BWV 850b
No. 6a BWV 851a Prelude/keyboard D Minor BWV 851a
No. 6b BWV 851b Fugue/keyboard D Minor BWV 851b
No. 7a BWV 852a Prelude/keyboard Eb Major BWV 852a
No. 7b BWV 852b Fugue/keyboard Eb Major BWV 852b
No. 8a BWV 853a Prelude/keyboard Eb Minor BWV 853a
No. 8b BWV 853b Fugue/keyboard D# Minor BWV 853b
No. 9a BWV 854a Example Example Example
No. 9b BWV 854b Example Example Example
No. 10a BWV 855a Example Example Example
No. 10b BWV 855b Example Example Example
No. 11a BWV 856a Example Example Example
No. 11b BWV 856b Example Example Example
No. 12a BWV 857a Example Example Example
No. 12b BWV 857b Example Example Example
No. 13a BWV 858a Example Example Example
No. 13b BWV 858b Example Example Example
No. 14a BWV 859a Example Example Example
No. 14b BWV 859b Example Example Example
No. 15a BWV 860a Example Example Example
No. 15b BWV 860b Example Example Example
No. 16a BWV 861a Example Example Example
No. 16b BWV 861b Example Example Example
No. 17a BWV 862a Example Example Example
No. 17b BWV 862b Example Example Example
No. 18a BWV 863a Example Example Example
No. 18b BWV 863b Example Example Example
No. 19a BWV 864a Example Example Example
No. 19b BWV 864b Example Example Example
No. 20a BWV 865a Example Example Example
No. 20b BWV 865b Example Example Example
No. 21a BWV 866a Example Example Example
No. 21b BWV 866b Example Example Example
No. 22a BWV 867a Example Example Example
No. 22b BWV 867b Example Example Example
No. 23a BWV 868a Example Example Example
No. 23b BWV 868b Example Example Example
No. 24a BWV 869a Example Example Example
No. 24b BWV 869b Example Example Example

WTC: Book II (1742)

Two-part Inventions

J. S. Bach: Invention No. 4 [BWV 775] from the holograph manuscript, Bach P 610, Berlin, Deutsche Staatsbibliothek.

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 sometimes taught (in addition to teaching, composing, and performing music). Each three-voice work [see next section] was likewise called a Sinfonia.

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

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 for rationalizing harmonic relations in Western music theory.

Three-part inventions (Sinfonie)

The three-part inventions, or sinfonie, follow the same cyclical organization in the aggregate. It has been suggested that the intended relationship between the inventions and sinfonias was to be performed in pairs, like the prelude-fugue sets of the Well-Tempered Clavier. Given their shared cycle of keys, Invention 1 might be followed by Sinfonia No. 1 and so forth.

Work No. Catalogue No. Genre / Instrument Key Score
No. 1 BWV 787 Sinfonia / harpsichord C Major BWV 787
No. 2 BWV 788 Sinfonia / harpsichord C Minor BWV 788
No. 3 BWV 789 Sinfonia / harpsichord D Major BWV 789
No. 4 BWV 790 Sinfonia / harpsichord D Minor BWV 790
No. 5 BWV 791 Sinfonia / harpsichord E Major BWV 791
No. 6 BWV 792 Sinfonia / harpsichord E Major BWV 792
No. 7 BWV 793 Sinfonia / harpsichord E Minor BWV 793
No. 8 BWV 794 Sinfonia / harpsichord F Major BWV 794
No. 9 BWV 795 Sinfonia / harpsichord F Minor
No. 10 BWV 796 Sinfonia / harpsichord G Major
No. 11 BWV 797 Sinfonia / harpsichord G Minor BWV 797
No. 12 BWV 798 Sinfonia / harpsichord A Major
No. 13 BWV 799 Sinfonia / harpsichord A Minor
No. 14 BWV 800 Sinfonia / harpsichord Bb Major BWV 800
No. 15 BWV 801 Sinfonia / harpsichord B Minor