program notes by composition > P > Prelude and Fugue in B-flat Major

Prelude and Fugue in B-flat Major

Johann Sebastian Bach/arr. Roland Moehlmann

The English term fugue , from the Latin fugere (“to flee”) and fugare (“to chase”), arose from the technique of "imitation", where the same musical material was repeated starting on a different note. Originally this was to aid improvisation, but by the 1550s, it was considered a technique of composition.

Since the 17th century, fugue has described the most fully developed procedure of imitative counterpoint. A fugue opens with one main theme, the subject, which then sounds successively in each voice in imitation; when each voice has entered, the exposition is complete; this is occasionally followed by a connecting passage, or episode, developed from previously heard material; further "entries" of the subject then are heard in related keys. Episodes (if applicable) and entries are usually alternated until the "final entry" of the subject, by which point the music has returned to the opening key, or tonic, which is often followed by closing material, the coda.

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) was born into a family boasting at least four generations of musicians; in early eighteenth-century Germany there were over thirty organists named Bach, and numerous town musicians. Bach’s father was a respected violinist and violist. When the boy was orphaned at the age of ten, his elder brother, likewise an accomplished musician, saw to his education. By the age of eighteen, Bach had obtained his first post as a church organist. His output of sacred and secular music throughout his life was prodigious and seemingly effortless. By the end of his life, Bach’s style of music was already becoming old-fashioned and his work rapidly fell into obscurity, until a new generation of Romantic composers headed by Mendelssohn and Schumann rediscovered the treasures he had left us.

Last updated on July 6, 2013 by Palatine Concert Band