Prelude and fugue in C minor

Prelude and fugue in C minor

BWV 546 performed by Ton Koopman
Stadtkirche St Wenzel, Naumburg, Germany

  • Menu
  • 1. Prelude
  • 2. Fugue

Behind the music

Extra videos
Extra videos

A monumental prelude

The most important manuscript of this composition was written by Johan Peter Kellner

“Over the years, my love of music grew and many people tried to convince my parents to let me devote myself to music. But my own predilection and all other means were to no avail. As soon as I grew up and became more capable, I was to roll up my sleeves and enter the family business. Although I developed the skills required by my parents, I was not prepared to put aside the little bit of music in my life. Eventually, my predilection bent the will of my parents and they decided to let me learn music as a profession”.

This story will sound familiar to many professional musicians. They are not the words of grocer’s son Ton Koopman, but of Johann Peter Kellner (1705-1754). He grew up and worked his whole life in central Germany, where he got to know Bach, whom he greatly admired. It is thanks to pupils and admirers like Kellner that much of Bach’s music has survived at all. The most important manuscript of this Prelude and fugue in C minor was written by Kellner.

However, this also leads to questions, as is often the case with music we do not have in Bach’s own hand. Everyone agrees that the monumental prelude is 100% Bach. It forms a stylistic and thematic entity. But opinions are somewhat divided about the fugue. That central section where the theme disappears (and where all the counterpoint even evaporates briefly) – is it really by Bach? Could Kellner have tinkered with the fugue? Or could the fugue be his composition entirely? In any case, we know he did have Bachian improvisation skills. Once, Kellner was sitting at the organ when Bach happened to enter the church and he improvised a fugue on the spot, on the German note names B A C H (B-flat, A, C, B).

Pupils of Bach were also associated with St Wenzel’s Church, in Naumburg, Saxony, where Ton Koopman performed the Prelude and fugue in C minor. In 1746, the church acquired a fantastic new organ, built by Zacharias Hildebrandt. Not only was Bach one of the testers of this instrument, but in 1748 his pupil (and one year later his son-in-law) Johann Christoph Altnickol became the organist there. “A pupil of whom I need not be ashamed”, said Bach about Altnickol. Which organist would not love to hear those words?

Prelude and fugue in C minor
organ works
dated between 1716 and 1730
Special notes
Some researchers think that the fugue is older than the prelude.

With support from

Dr. Edgar von Hinüber

Extra videos

Organist Ton Koopman

“Bach thought Zacharias Hildebrandt was the best organ builder. This organ in Naumburg was approved and inaugurated by Bach.”

Vocal texts




  • Release date
    27 May 2021
  • Recording date
    13 September 2020
  • Location
    Stadtkirche St Wenzel, Naumburg, Germany
  • Organist
    Ton Koopman
  • Organ
    Zacharias Hildebrandt, 1746
  • Director and editor
    Robin van Erven Dorens
  • Music recording
    Guido Tichelman, Bastiaan Kuijt
  • Music edit and mix
    Guido Tichelman
  • Camera
    Robin van Erven Dorens, Onno van der Wal
  • Lights
    Ernst-Jan Thieme
  • Assistant music recording
    Marloes Biermans
  • Interview
    Robin van Erven Dorens, Marloes Biermans
  • Producer
    Jessie Verbrugh
  • With support from
    Dr. Edgar von Hinüber, St. Ingbert, Germany

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