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Johann Sebastian Bach

Compositions

Since few of Bach's many works were published in his lifetime, exact dates cannot be fixed for all of them, but most can be placed with some certainty in the periods of his life. At Arnstadt and Mühlhausen he began a series of organ compositions that culminated in the great works of the Weimar period: the Passacaglia and Fugue in C Minor, most of the great preludes and fugues, and the 45 chorale-preludes gathered in Das Orgelbüchlein [the little organ book].

At Köthen he concentrated on instrumental compositions, especially keyboard works: the Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue; the English Suites; the French Suites; the Two-Part and Three-Part Inventions, written for the education of his son Wilhelm Friedemann; and Book I of the celebrated Well-Tempered Clavier. He also wrote several unaccompanied violin sonatas and cello suites, and the Brandenburg Concertos, recognized as the best concerti grossi ever composed.

The St. John Passion was performed (1723) at Leipzig when Bach was a candidate for the position of musical director at St. Thomas. His Magnificat was presented shortly after he assumed that post. Many more of his superb religious compositions followed: the St. Matthew Passion (1729), the Christmas Oratorio, the sonorous Mass in B Minor, and the six motets. The principal keyboard works of this period were Book II of The Well-Tempered Clavier and the four books of clavier pieces in the Clavierübung, which includes: six partitas (1726–31); the Italian Concerto and the Partita in B Minor (1735); the Catechism Preludes, the Prelude and Fugue (St. Anne) in E Flat (1739), and four duets; and the Goldberg Variations (more formally Aria with Thirty Variations, 1742). His last notable compositions were the Musical Offering composed (1747) for Frederick the Great and The Art of the Fugue (1749).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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