Canon a 2 per Augmentationem, contrario Motu from Musikalisches Opfer

Canon a 2 per Augmentationem, contrario Motu from Musikalisches Opfer

BWV 1079/7 performed by Shunske Sato and
Mieneke van der Velden
Het Concertgebouw, Amsterdam

Behind the music


Increasing fortune

Playing this canon from the original manuscript is quite a feat

Canons – pieces of music whereby one part is notated from which several voices can then be derived – come in all shapes and sizes. They may be very simple, like the song Frère Jacques, but also extremely complex. The ten canons in Bach’s Musikalisches Opfer range from those that are solved fairly simply to ingenious puzzles.

In the luxury edition Bach had printed for Frederick the Great, this canon is accompanied by the words ‘Notulis crescentibus crescat Fortuna Regis’, which is literally translated as ‘may the fortunes of the king increase like the length of the notes’. The piece is notated on two staves. The upper part plays an ornamented version of the royal theme. The other part has a counterpart that can be played in two ways: with the note values as they are written, or else with longer (increased) note values (augmentation) and mirrored. Furthermore, the player (in this case the gambist) not only has to augment the notes, but also to mirror them. So where the original part takes a step down, the other part does precisely the opposite. Doing so while sight-reading is quite a feat. Luckily, today’s music notation programmes make it very easy to cut, paste and transpose notes!

Musikalisches Opfer, BWV 1079
The Musikalisches Opfer is a special collection of chamber music within the work of Johann Sebastian Bach, written for Frederick the Great of Prussia. Musikalisches Opfer means ‘a musical offering’, and that is precisely how the collection originated.
It all started in May 1747, when Bach went to Potsdam to visit his son Carl Philipp Emanuel, who was working at the court of Frederick the Great. Bach was introduced to Frederick, who had heard that Bach was a great improviser and asked him on the spot to improvise a fugue on a given theme (undoubtedly a first shot at the Ricercar a 3). According to the sources, Bach made a brilliant job of it and showed such enthusiasm about the ‘royal theme’ that he promised to have the fugue engraved ‘on copper’ and printed.

No sooner said than done. Two months later, Bach published a series of compositions: a trio sonata, a three-part and a six-part ricercar and ten canons, all inspired by the king’s theme. Frederick was sent a splendid luxury print and Bach distributed his masterpiece among his friends, despite the high costs of printing. Incidentally, Bach himself did not call the collection Musikalisches Opfer, but rather Regis Iussu Cantio Et Reliqua Canonica Arte Resoluta (the theme given by the king, with additions, resolved in canonic style). The initials of this long title form the term ricercar, a name used at the time for an instrumental piece in which various themes are introduced and imitated.

The canons in the Musikalisches Opfer are a sort of visual music. Bach wrote them like puzzles, which the player must first solve in order to play them correctly. In these recordings, we wanted to give a literal picture of this ‘visual music’. So for example, wherever a part is doubled, the player will be in view twice. And where a part is mirrored, then the player appears in a mirror too.

Canon a 2 per Augmentationem, contrario Motu
viola da gamba, violin
chamber music
written for Frederick the Great

With support from

Extra videos

Vocal texts




  • Release date
    28 October 2021
  • Recording date
    6 July 2020
  • Location
    Het Concertgebouw, Amsterdam
  • Violin
    Shunske Sato
  • Instrument
    Cornelius Kleynman, ca. 1684
  • Viola da gamba
    Mieneke van der Velden
  • Instrument
    Antoine Despont, 1617
  • Director and editor
    Onno van Ameijde
  • Music recording
    Guido Tichelman, Bastiaan Kuijt, Pim van der Lee
  • Music edit and mix
    Guido Tichelman
  • Camera
    Onno van Ameijde, Jeroen Simons
  • Lights
    Emile Groenewoud
  • Lighting assistant
    Erwin Smit, Aden Zijp
  • Data handling
    Stefan Ebels
  • Assistant music recording
    Marloes Biermans
  • Producer
    Jessie Verbrugh
  • With support from

Musikalisches Opfer

The Musikalisches Opfer is a special collection of chamber music within the work of Johann Sebastian Bach, written for Frederick the Great of Prussia, and consists of a total of 13 movements.

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