Fantasia and fugue in A minor

Fantasia and fugue in A minor

BWV 944 performed by Emmanuel Frankenberg
at Broedergemeente, Zeist

  • Menu
  • 1. Fantasia
  • 2. Fugue

Behind the music


What is actually the proper way?

A keyboard work in which Bach leaves scope for the musician

As a composer, how much should you set in stone and what should you leave up to the musicians themselves? That is a question raised by this Fantasia and Fugue in A minor (BWV 944). Right from the start in the prelude – in this case a fantasia – only the chords are written out, with the annotation  ‘arpeggio’ [a broken chord]. Here, Bach has set the harmonic progression, but the keyboard player has to make their own choices about the sort of arpeggio, the tempo and other improvisations on the series of chords.

For centuries, keyboard players have been making such choices, as BWV 944 already gained popularity fairly soon after Bach’s death. This was partly because the piano teacher Carl Czerny included the fugue in his Kunst des Fingersatzes auf dem Piano-Forte, in 1822. As the title suggests, this publication was exceptional in its day for the fact that Czerny gave the fingering for each piece. Franz Liszt was also familiar with the fugue. In 1843, he had collaborated on part 5 of a Mustersammlung Classischer Praeludien, Fugen, und so weiter, once again “mit genauer Bezeichnung des Fingersatzes”. Part 5 included BWV 944, this time with fingering by Liszt himself.

Such editions with fingering started to determine how pianists should place their fingers. And the tempo began to be prescribed as well. Liszt’s publication gave a breakneck ‘allegro molto’ tempo of 152 crotchets per minute for the fugue – nearly twice as fast as this performance by Emmanuel Frankenberg. The influence of such editions persisted for a long time: on YouTube you can hear how the fifteen-year-old Maurizio Pollini plays the fugue almost at Liszt’s tempo, in 1957. Nowadays, music editions often dispense with giving such instructions, as we do not need to set down in hindsight what Bach did not prescribe himself at the time.

Fantasia and fugue in A minor
harpsichord works
circa 1713

Extra videos

Vocal texts




  • Release date
    9 November 2023
  • Recording date
    7 December 2021
  • Location
    Broedergemeente, Zeist
  • Harpsichord
    Emmanuel Frankenberg
  • Instrument
    Nico van der Waals, 1977 after J.D. Dulcken
  • Director and camera
    Bas Wielenga
  • Music recording
    Guido Tichelman
  • Music recording, edit and mix
    Pim van der Lee
  • Camera
    Onno van Ameijde
  • Lights
    Ernst-Jan Thieme
  • Lighting assistant
    Patrick Galvin
  • Assistant music recording
    Marloes Biermans
  • Producer
    Stefan Ebels, Marco Meijdam

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