Sonata no. 1 in E-flat major
BWV 525 performed by Wolfgang Zerer
St. Catherine's Church, Hamburg
Behind the music
Dotting the i's and crossing the t's
Bach completed his eldest son's musical education with six sonatas.
This sonata is part of a collection Bach put together for his son Wilhelm Friedemann. There was nobody for whom Bach composed and compiled more music – and music that was so personally tailored. He started before his son’s tenth birthday, when Wilhelm Friedemann was already showing great talent. When he was about twenty, his father compiled six organ trio sonatas for him. This supremely Italianate piece is the first of them. It is a highlight of organ literature, in which Bach combines innovation (also with regard to style) with high technical demands.
Bach must have been convinced that these sonatas would dot the i’s and cross the t’s of his son’s musical education. And in 1733 they did indeed take Wilhelm Friedemann where his father wanted to see him. He became the organist of the Sophienkirche in Dresden, where an organ by Bach’s good friend Silbermann had been inaugurated thirteen years earlier. Bach wrote and signed the application letter for his twenty-two-year-old son himself, and also composed the piece he had to play for his audition (BWV 541).
Father Bach’s well-intended concern may have been inspired by Friedemann’s earlier failure to gain a position in Halberstadt. But it is questionable whether his father’s interference actually made him happy. Because although he was armed with golden hands and an exemplary education, he was a late exponent of a style period that was rapidly dying out. However much the six sonatas linked up to modern times in the eyes of father Bach, for Friedemann they may have been the silken cords that bound him to the ambitions of his old-fashioned father. In any case, it is sad to see that Friedemann, unlike his younger brothers Carl Philipp Emanuel and Johann Christian, did not really succeed in finding his place in the new times – despite all the galant features of these sonatas. His lot was to be a life of half-hearted decisions, followed by an inglorious end.
Six sonatas, BWV 525-530
Around 1727-1730, Bach introduced a new organ genre: the trio sonata. This type of sonata – with two melodic instruments and bass, or a soloist and keyboard – had long been a fixture in Baroque chamber music, but the three parts had never been heard before on one instrument. Through clever registration, it is possible to attain a wealth of sounds on the organ, but this is merely the beginning, as the six sonatas are regarded as extremely difficult. Schweitzer, for instance, says that “those who have practiced these sonatas thoroughly will not actually encounter any more problems in either the old or the modern organ literature. [...] He has achieved absolute precision in his playing – the ultimate condition of the true art of organ-playing. In this complicated trio piece, even the smallest irregularity can be heard with terrifying clarity”.
Biographer Forkel remarked that Bach wrote the collection (or transcribed it from earlier material) for the studies of Wilhelm Friedemann, whom he “thus trained to be the great organist he later became”. Maybe this context is also the reason he adds galant touches to the Italian concerto style here and there, inspired by the operas in Dresden of which Friedemann was apparently a great fan. The sonatas remained influential for a long time, also on the young Mendelssohn, for example. Notwithstanding its chamber music origins, this is out-and-out keyboard music, with a unique interaction between both hands. The almost endless variation of form makes the collection a world of its own.
- Sonata no. 1 in E-flat major
- organ works
- Six sonatas (organ)
- Special notes
- Probably an arrangement of a composition that has been lost.
- Release date
- 18 September 2015
- Recording date
- 20 October 2014
- St. Catherine's Church, Hamburg
- Wolfgang Zerer
- Various builders between the 15th and 19th century. Restoration: Flentrop 2013.
- Frank van der Weij
- Film director
- Jan Van den Bossche
- Director of photography
- Sal Kroonenberg
- Camera assistants
- Andreas Grotevent, Lucas Lütz
- Music production, editing and mix
- Holger Schlegel
- Film editor
- Jasper Verkaart
- Vadim Dukart, Andreas Fischer
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