Trio Sonata #2, BWV 526
by Johann Sebastian Bach [playing time 12:27]  [Download the MP3]

J. S. Bach (1685-1750)
The greatest of them all
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"Who's your favorite composer?" is as tired a question as "Whomever I'm listening to at the moment" is an answer. If pressed, however, and with apologies to Ludwig, Wolfgang, Pyotr, and all the other greats, I would give the nod to Bach. His supreme blending of beauty, logic, and inventiveness has never been surpassed, and much of my avocational music-making is devoted to listening, learning, and making synthesized realizations of his music.

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I. Vivace (3:30)
II. Largo (4:45)
III. Allegro (4:03)

This is one of six trio sonatas in the Bach organ repertoire. They are of course not sonatas in the classical sense of the term, but in rather the Baroque sense: a free, three-part work generally designed with each line playing an equally prominent role. With only occasional exceptions, Bach's sonatas for organ are written rigorously as trios, with one line of music assigned to each hand and one to the pedal. The present one is my favorite of the six.

The first movement is an exceptionally bouncy Vivace, and the second is a haunting Largo with a "sighing" feel that Bach notates explicitly with slurs in the score. The Allegro finale is a superb fugue, with the subject strongly telegraphed by two rising whole notes, and then progressing to shorter note values. As the movement progresses, the subject appears in a variety of stretti, as in the marvelous passage below (listen for it from 11:21 to 11:34):

If you'd like to follow along with the score to this work, visit Dr. Tim Smith's hypermedia version of the MP3 above. Tim also suggested to me that the third movement could possibly be interpreted as a double fugue, with the second subject entering after the full cadence at measure 58, and with a second exposition at measure 103. This second subject never appears in the bass, and -- perhaps more to the point -- it is never combined with the first subject, but this seems a quibble since the material is carried masterfully through the keyboard voices as a whimsical foil to the opening material. The movement concludes with an exposition of the primary subject that gives the work a da capo feel, though the arrangement of keyboard voices is reversed relative to the opening exposition. There also appears to be a subtle link to the third movement in the first movement between measures 42 and 58 (1:48 to 2:33 in the present MP3), with the previously rapidly moving lines suddenly developing into whole notes, starting with a massively augmented rising fourth (measures 42-52) followed by a pair of rising fourths (55-58) that resemble the initial interval of the third movement subject. Repeated listenings will no doubt reveal more, which is the ultimate pleasure of listening to Bach -- every audition of one of his works brings fresh discoveries.

For this realization, I have used patches that bring out the lighthearted character of the work. The main organ is a gap registration in the manuals, with a continental organ and an acoustic bass in the pedals. This primary instrument plays throughout, and it takes the second movement as a solo. In the outer movements, I have added jazz organs and woodwinds to support the manuals, panned fairly widely right and left. This "backing orchestra" helps bring out the various motives in the first movement; depending on the nature of the writing, I assigned entire phrases to a single instrument, or broke up individual phrases between variously panned instruments to achieve the shimmer this movement has always seemed to have. For the finale, the winds and jazz organs appear in unison to emphasize entrances of the fugue subjects, and otherwise carry on the "shimmer," batting the delightful supporting material from right to left and voice to voice.

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