2016-05-22 Notes from the Bench

“Praeludium in E-flat Major” by Johann Sebastian Bach 

A commentary on this week’s music by Dr. James T. Gerber, Music Associate


“Praeludium in E-flat Major” (BWV 552) by Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750), is the opening piece within a collection of organ works by Bach, Clavier-Übung III, published in 1739, and considered his most significant and extensive work for the organ. ClavierÜbung is literally translated as “keyboard practice.” Bach wrote four ClavierÜbungs, book three is specifically written for the organ, while books one, two, and four are for harpsichord. Book III is sometimes referred to as the “German Organ Mass;” this book is organized in the form of an “organ mass” and contains chorale settings for parts of the Lutheran mass and the catechism. The collection had multiple purposes, presenting: an ideal model organ recital program, a musical translation of Lutheran doctrine, a summary of organ styles and idioms, and examples of contrapuntal composition.



Many of Bach’s compositions contain religious or theological symbolism; many commentators have interpreted elements of BWV 552 as containing representations of The Holy Trinity. The key signature, E-flat Major, has three flats. The entire work is sectional with three, distinct themes that are alternated and sometimes overlapped, and represent the persons of the Holy Trinity. The dotted eighth-sixteenth note rhythm of the first theme, written in the French overture style which is often associated with the majestic or royalty, represents God, the Father. The second theme is set as a brief dialogue and represents God, the Son. The rapid passage work of the Italian-concerto like third theme represents God, the Holy Spirit.

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