Prelude and fugue in E minor

Prelude and fugue in E minor

BWV 548 performed by Reitze Smits
St Jacob's Church, Leeuwarden

  • Menu
  • 1. Prelude
  • 2. Fugue

Behind the music

Extra videos
Extra videos

A two-part symphony for organ

Bach intended this superior work for an equally superior audience

Besides being one of the longest organ works by Bach, the Prelude and fugue in E minor is also one of the most complicated. It dates from his Leipzig period and is especially highly valued by lovers and connoisseurs of Bach’s organ music. Maarten ’t Hart describes the prelude as a forerunner of the lament of the wounded Amfortas in Wagner’s Parsifal, and thinks the fugue is ‘bewildering’, while the nineteenth-century Bach researcher Spitta even refers to it as ‘a two-part symphony’. The sombre prelude does indeed labour tortuously onwards, while the four-part fugue with its soloist passages, scale fragments and – last but not least – da capo structure leaves you simply perplexed.

One might wonder if such a superior work could have been composed for a special occasion. Unfortunately, nothing is known about Bach’s organ performances in Leipzig, although we do know about his extensive organ recitals in other cities, where he like to present himself as a virtuoso. A superior work, however, requires a superior organ. Bach biographer Christoph Wolff therefore put forward the organ of the Paulinerkirche as a candidate. This Scheibe instrument, inspected by Bach himself in 1717, had 53 registers, three manuals and pedal, and was one of the largest and finest organs in Germany. As the Paulinerkirche also served as a university church, it would have been attended by an audience that really appreciated this composition. To quote Wolff: ‘In this university auditorium; this seat of learning, people sat with bated breath before the absolute authority in the area of music in Leipzig’.


Prelude and fugue in E minor
organ works
between 1727 and 1731

Extra videos

Reitze Smits on the fugue

“As if you're driving a wedge into something and the wood splits.”

Vocal texts




  • Release date
    20 March 2015
  • Recording date
    15 September 2014
  • Location
    St Jacob's Church, Leeuwarden
  • Organist
    Reitze Smits
  • Organ registration
    Mayuko Banno
  • Organ
    Christian Müller, 1727
  • Producer
    Frank van der Weij
  • Film director
    Jan Van den Bossche
  • Directors of photography
    Diderik Evers, Ruben van den Broeke
  • Music production, editing and mix
    Holger Schlegel
  • Film editor
    Dylan Glyn Jones
  • Colorist
    Jef Grosfeld
  • Production assistant
    Hanna Schreuders
  • Interview
    Onno van Ameijde
  • Acknowledgements
    Rob Tigchelaar

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