If the engagingly unpredictable idiom of CPE Bach has overshadowed the work of Johann Sebastian’s other musical sons, Brilliant Classics has been gradually righting this wrong with a series of recordings dedicated to the other out-and-out genius among them, Wilhelm Friedemann. Without the taste for fashionably abrupt turns of phrase and thought which distinguish CPE’s Sturm und Drang language, nonetheless WF’s music occupies that fast-evolving chronological and aesthetic space between what we now think of as the Baroque and Classical periods.
Unlike his brother, Wilhelm Friedemann was a church musician in the lineage of their father. At the age of just 23 he was appointed principal organist at the church of St. Sophia in Dresden, and in 1747 became Musikdirektor and organist at the Church of Our Lady in Halle. After almost 20 years there, moved to Leipzig, then Brauschweig, followed by Gottingen and lastly Berlin, where he was offered an honorary (unpaid) post of Kapellmeister. He died in poverty in 1784, entirely forgotten by the musical community.
The organ music that has survived is dwarfed by his father’s output for the instrument. There are four sets of fugues, and a collection of just seven choral preludes. In fact the chromatic richness of the fugues brings to mind the grand, tormented examples composed by Beethoven in the last years of his life. As such, they are like problems to be solved, like containers that are no longer sufficient to encompass the composer’s intrepid discourse and abundance of feelings. Even so, WF was still writing this music in the shadow of his late father: one F major fugue inevitably uses the B-A-C-H motif which crowned The Art of Fugue.
Turri plays two recent Italian instruments: the organ by Francesco Zanin in the Church of Sant’Antonio Abate, Padua; and for the more intimately scaled works, an orgel-positiv (without pedals) by Luigi Patella.
Wilhelm Friedemann Bach (1710-1784) was the first son of Johann Sebastian Bach and Maria Barbara Bach. He was taught by his father and soon he became proficient on several instruments. Although he was an organist for 20 years in Halle, he was one of the first musicians who strived for an independent life, trying to earn his living as a composer, performer and teacher. He struggled all his life, not helped by his difficult character, and he died in poverty in Berlin, totally forgotten.
Wilhelm Friedemann’s organ works stand between two worlds: that one of his father in their strict counterpoint and structures, and the world of Sturm und Drang, with their experiments, extravagances and emotional outbursts. In any case the organ works are fascinating creations of a romantic and tormented genius.
This new recording presents his 4 cycles of Fugues, as well as the 6 Choralvorspiele. Played on a Truhenorgel by Patella (1998) and the famous Zanin organ from 2007 by organist Filippo Turri, who is a specialist in the 17th and 18th century organ works from Germany and Italy.
The booklet contains texts in English by the artist, as well as the specifications of the organs.