program notes by composition > F > Fugue à la Gigue

Fugue à la Gigue (for organ, BWV 577)

Johann Sebastian Bach / arr. Gustav Holst, Jon Ceander Mitchell

Fugue à la Gigue is an adaptation of Bach’s organ composition BWV 577. It is a fun, lighthearted dance piece with a lively recurring tune that is handed off among nearly all sections (there is no percussion) and interwoven in increasing complexity.

A fugue is a contrapuntal composition in which a short melody or phrase is introduced by one part and successively taken up by others and developed by interweaving the parts.

A gigue (French “zheeg” ) is a lively 17th-century dance that originated as an Irish jig. It was danced by nobility on social occasions.

When English arranger Gustav Holst was commissioned to write a piece for the BBC Wireless Military Band in 1928, he began by arranging this transcription of Bach's Organ Fugue in G Major BWV 577 as a sort of orchestration project because he had not written for band for some time and felt he was out of practice. He titled this piece ‘Fugue à La Gigue,’ presumably because of its dance-like compound meter.

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685 – 1750) was an influential German musician and composer of the Baroque period. He was the most significant of numerous Bach family musicians. He is known for instrumental compositions and vocal music.

Johann Sebastian Bach was the eighth and last child of a city musician in Eisenach, Germany. Orphaned at age 10, he pursued a musical career from an early age. He worked as a musician for Protestant churches in Arnstadt and Mühlhausen and, for longer stretches of time, at courts in Weimar, where he expanded his organ repertory, and at Köthen, where he was mostly engaged with chamber music. He was employed as a cantor in Leipzig and composed music for the principal Lutheran churches of the city. He was granted the title of court composer by his sovereign, Augustus, Elector of Saxony and King of Poland, in 1736.

Bach led a busy life. He composed over a thousand pieces in all, including cantatas, motets, masses, Magnificats, Passions, oratorios, four-part chorales, songs and arias. His instrumental music includes concertos, suites, sonatas, fugues, and other works for organ, harpsichord, lute, violin, cello, flute, chamber ensemble and orchestra. Married twice, he fathered 20 children, 10 of whom survived to adulthood.

The BWV designation commonly shown as a subtitle for Bach works refers to the Bach-Werke-Verzeichnis numbered catalog of all his known works. The catalog was made by Wolfgang Schmieder in 1950 and has been revised since then.

Last updated on December 4, 2019 by Palatine Concert Band