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Johann Sebastian Bach

Johann Sebastian Bach Composer

6 Preludes ('Six Little Preludes'), BWV933-38

Performances: 14
Tracks: 73
  • 6 Preludes ('Six Little Preludes'), BWV933-38
    Key: C-
    Year: before 1751
    Genre: Prelude / Fugue
    Pr. Instrument: Harpsichord
    • 1.Prelude in C, BWV933
    • 2.Prelude in C- BWV934
    • 3.Prelude in D-, BWV935
    • 4.Prelude in D, BWV936
    • 5.Prelude in E, BWV937
    • 6.Prelude in E-, BWV938

1.Prelude in C, BWV933

This miniature is the first of six little preludes for beginners that Bach jotted down between 1717 and 1723. Bach wrote these for use with his students and never intended them to be publicly performed; indeed, they weren't even published until 1802. The C major prelude consists of two brief sections, repeated as a pair, followed by a variation on each section, again repeated as a pair. The first segment demands complete independence of the right and left hands, with the right hand playing material that is part fanfare, part dance, and the left providing a busy accompaniment. The bass material becomes more rudimentary in the second segment, as the treble indulges in hyperactive passagework. The fanfare-dance melody invites extra ornamentation upon its repeat. The variation half of this prelude makes minimal changes to the basic material, mainly brightening it by lifting the slightly altered melody into a higher register.

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2.Prelude in C- BWV934

This is the second of the so-called Little Preludes (6), a collection of pedagogical works dating to or around the period 1717-1720. Bach assembled neither these preludes nor the Little Preludes (12) into sets himself, but these 18 pieces are often grouped in their respective collections for convenience in both concert and recording venues. The Little Preludes (6) are technically more difficult for keyboard students and can thus serve as a second step for them after they have mastered the relatively easy Little Preludes (12). This C minor effort is a charming, slightly quirky minuet, a bit more complex, however, than it sounds. It features a lively theme whose accompanying leaps and long-breathed, angular manner impart a delightful sense of color through the adventurous twists and turns. Some keyboardists play this work at moderate tempos in order to create a more graceful and elegant expressive mood. The theme and second subject are played through twice and vary considerably on their third appearance, taking on a slightly more serious manner. Lasting just over a minute, this playful, charming piece will appeal to a wide audience.

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3.Prelude in D-, BWV935

This is one of a series of 18 preludes Bach sporadically produced around the period 1717-1720, primarily for pedagogical purposes. The least-challenging dozen are grouped as the Little Preludes (12) and the more advanced remainder as the Little Preludes (6), though Bach himself did not assemble these works as such. Still, these Little Prelude sets are logically formed and make access to—and identification of—the easier works for both students and listeners. This D minor effort is the third item in the latter set and contains features that might prompt one to identify it as a two-part invention. The work opens with a busy theme whose graceful manner and stately sense are colored by Bach's usual deft contrapuntal writing, which, while it is generally uncomplicated and straightforward—at least for Bach—nevertheless crackles with lively detail and a sense of profound purpose as it underpins the main line. The theme and subordinate materials are presented twice and then vary on their third appearance, much in the same pattern as used in the second Little Prelude in C minor. This attractive D minor effort typically has a duration of a minute-and-a-half.

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4.Prelude in D, BWV936

While Bach composed this as a stand-alone work, it is generally classed as one of his Little Preludes (6), specifically as the fourth in the set. The group was made because these half-dozen pieces are all short, pedagogical efforts written in or around the period of 1717-1720. Arranged according to key sequence, these are somewhat more challenging than the Little Preludes (12), a similar group of instructive pieces roughly dating to the same period. This Prelude in D major is a sprightly piece having features associated with a trio sonata: listen closely for the two upper lines and the roving bass part underpinning them. The work opens with a lively theme whose busy manner is typically Bachian in its sense of joy and vigor and in its range of activity and brimming detail. It is played through twice, then varied on its third appearance, showing much imaginative development, especially in its springy rhythmic elements. Although this piece is intended for middle-level students, it offers a good measure of both technical and interpretive difficulty. But listeners can enjoy this one-and-a-half minute masterwork as pure music, as well.

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5.Prelude in E, BWV937

While Bach never placed this work in a larger set, it is generally identified as one of the Little Preludes (6) (BWV 933-38), which are all short, pedagogical pieces requiring a stronger technique than needed for the relatively easy Little Pieces (12) (BWV 924-30, 939-42, and 999) composed around the same period, also for instructive purposes. This E major effort, the fifth in the Little Pieces (6), is a lively, moderately challenging work that exhibits certain aspects associated with the composer's two-part inventions. It opens with a jovial theme whose busy manner brims with a sense of energetic joy and high spirits. The plentiful secondary thematic material here lends the music an expository breadth, making it seem angular and brimming with ideas. But it does, in fact, brim with ideas in its brilliant thematic, contrapuntal, and harmonic writing. The opening material is heard a second time, each of its appearances containing two statements of the main theme, after which Bach develops the material, focusing especially on its rhythmic aspects. While this work lasts only a minute-and-a-half, it contains enough ideas for a piece three times its length.

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6.Prelude in E-, BWV938

This is the last of the so-called Little Preludes (6), a collection of pieces Bach composed for instructive purposes, but never assembled them into a set himself. These works are remarkable in that they brilliantly achieve a dual purpose, both teaching the student keyboard player and entertaining the listener. Bach (and later Schumann and Bartók) was a master at achieving these two often incompatible objectives. This E minor effort, like Nos. 3 and 5 in the set, divulges features often identified with the composer's two-part inventions. The piece opens with an energetic, sunny theme whose contrapuntal writing is at times quite deftly imagined. Bach follows a pattern used in many of the pieces in the set, in presenting the main thematic material twice in more or less the same guise, then developing it. Here, nothing is particularly complex in the flow of the composer's thematic ideas and their development, but neither can one call it all simple, as the work offers both technical and interpretive challenges to the student player and much to digest for the listener. This approximately one-and-a-half minute piece must be assessed as at least a minor masterwork.

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