This Sunday I’m leading worship at Peninsula Bible Church, the church I grew up in. During the distribution of communion I have chosen Bach’s E Major fugue from the Well Tempered Clavier, Book 2. On Sunday, I hope to communicate to the congregation a little of how Bach’s music has changed my life.
As a devout Lutheran, Bach uses his music to express and to some extent illustrate his religious belief. His 48 preludes and fugues challenge the intellect and stir the emotions.
The piece opens with one solo line, the main theme:
This short musical statement forms the basis of the fugue, which is a form built around imitation of this theme. Each new entrance will imitate this idea in a new voice in a different register. This particular theme is quite simple in its construction. It ascends for two notes, and then descends to return to the original note, E. In doing so it encapsulates the idea of the entire fugue, one of departure and return. Throughout the fugue you will hear new entrances of this theme in different keys and encompassing many different registers of the piano. You will also hear passages called episodes which do not sound like the theme, but are used as transitions to take us to new tonal areas. Bach takes us on a musical journey through heights and depths that will sometimes feel very far from where we started. However, Bach does not just leave us in the valley or on top of the mountain. The music will come to rest at brief moments of resolution called cadences before beginning again. At the end, each entrance is resolved and we conclude with a beautiful cadence in E Major, the key we started in. The fugue beautifully illustrates the Christian life, one of wandering, struggle, suffering, and how one day we will come home to God and find our true rest.
Here’s a recording…I can’t (read: am too lazy to) figure out how to start the embedded video at 4m36s