Fantasia in G minor

Fantasia in G minor

BWV 917 performed by Bertrand Cuiller
at the Bartolotti House, Amsterdam

Behind the music

Extra videos
Extra videos

Well-thought-out polyphony

Bach sticks to the old, contrapuntally elaborate variant

In the seventeenth century, the term fantasia referred mainly to the free nature of a text or a set melody. But the compositions often kept to the strict rules of counterpoint. It was only later that the term was also used for compositions of a more semi-improvised character. In this fantasia, Bach sticks to the old, contrapuntally elaborate variant. This is also suggested by the scholarly Latin title that is found in some manuscripts: Fantasia duobus subiectis.

Bach wrote this Fantasia in his younger years, when he was still very much under the influence of the seventeenth-century keyboard tradition. Incidentally, the Latin title refers to two themes, although the composition has three. Bach may have been referring to two counter-themes, which are thus added to the main theme, which is not referred to in the title.

The short, passionate introduction is slightly reminiscent of a toccata, and is followed by the well-thought-out polyphony. The three themes are very different and are all heard right from the beginning. It is also a model of reversible counterpoint, meaning that the themes can be ‘stacked’ in various ways. The theme that is first heard in the top part can also become the bass, for example, or a middle part. It is probably an exercise in composition, says Bertrand Cuiller. Or it could also be a prelude to a work that has been lost. It is difficult to explain it as a free-standing work.

The Bartolotti House
We made this recording at The Bartolotti House, at Herengracht 170 and 172. The house at the back of no. 170 was occupied by harpsichordist, organist and conductor Gustav Leonhardt from 1974 to his death in 2012. 

Leonhardt was one of the pioneers of early music in the Netherlands. As a teacher and performer, he was a source of inspiration to many harpsichord players around the world.

It is one of the most impressive buildings in the old centre of Amsterdam. It was built around 1620 as a residence, on commission from the wealthy businessman Willem van den Heuvel, who had inherited a lot of money from a childless uncle by marriage, called Giovanni Battista Bartolotti, who came from Bologna. The Dutch Renaissance-style design was probably done by the Amsterdam city architect Hendrick de Keyser. Over the centuries, the house has been split up and has undergone several modernisations. You can still see many wonderful historical decorative features from the various renovations. The two parts of the Bartolotti House came into the possession of Vereniging Hendrick de Keyser, which now has its office there. 

Fantasia in G minor
Fantasia duobus subiectis
harpsichord works
before 1708

Extra videos

Harpsichordist Bertrand Cuiller

“I'm inclined to see this piece as a study in composition.”

Vocal texts




  • Release date
    2 March 2018
  • Recording date
    27 May 2017
  • Location
    Bartolotti House, Amsterdam
  • Harpsichordist
    Bertrand Cuiller
  • Harpsichord
    Bruce Kennedy, 1989 after Michael Mietke
  • Director and interview
    Gijs Besseling
  • Music recording
    Guido Tichelman, Pim van der Lee
  • Muziekmontage en -mix
    Guido Tichelman
  • Camera and lights
    Danny Noordanus
  • Data handling
    Eline Eestermans
  • Interview
    Jan Van den Bossche
  • Producer
    Jessie Verbrugh, Marco Meijdam
  • Met dank aan
    Vereniging Hendrick de Keyser

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