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Bach's main organ in St Thomas's had been set up there in 1525, and Bach would have been well aware it had been used in 1539 to lead the congregational hymns when Luther himself preached in the church. The Lutheran chorale became the sure spiritual foundation of Bach's output, no more tellingly than in the Eighteen Chorales Bach revised towards the end of his life. If doctrine seems occasionally to predominate over music, a fact all Gillian Weir's artistry cannot disguise, this is far from the case in the last of them, in which the effortless contrapuntal skill tellingly complements the words, 'Before thy throne I now appear.' Bach was dictating the piece on his deathbed. It was first published as a postscript to The Art of Fugue 'to compensate the friends of his muse' for the unfinished state of the magisterial three-subject concluding fugue [listen -- CD 2 track 5, 0:00-1:04].

It may again be C P E Bach who wrote an extended piece in February 1788 comparing the organ works of Handel and Bach to the distinct disadvantage of the former, who hardly used the pedal, surely 'the most important part of an organ'. The writer is shrewd enough not to cite only chorale works but the six trio sonatas, 'which are written in such galant style that they still sound very good, and never grow old'. They may have been composed to tease the young Wilhelm Friedemann Bach into becoming a fine organist in the best family tradition. Their airy textures and technical demands are nicely demonstrated in the finale of No 4 [listen -- CD 2 track 9, 0:00-1:01].

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Copyright © 20 April 2005 Robert Anderson, London UK


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