Fugue in E flat “St Anne” (BWV 552b) – J. S. Bach (1685-1750)
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In 1739 Johann Sebastian Bach published the Clavier-Übung III, sometimes referred to as the German Organ Mass. “Clavier-Übung” is the German word for “keyboard practice”, and in the late 17th and early 18th centuries this was a common title for keyboard music collections, although today it is usually associated with Bach’s astounding achievement in four parts. The third part is considered Bach’s most significant and extensive work for organ, containing some of his most musically complex and technically demanding compositions for the instrument.
Between the bookends of a prelude and fugue in E flat (BWV 552) – the latter being this Sunday’s postlude in church – are 21 chorale preludes, setting two parts of the Lutheran Mass (the Kyrie and Gloria) and six catechism chorales, followed by four duets. The concluding triple fugue is a symbol of the Trinity, with the same theme recurring in three connected fugues, but each time with another personality. In English-speaking countries it has become known as the “St Anne” fugue because of the first subject’s resemblance to the tune of that name, used for the hymn O God, Our Help in Ages Past; however, it is very unlikely that this tune was known to Bach.