J.S. Bach: Two Preludes and Fugues

Realisation for instrumental ensemble


9 minutes


woo 107


Commissioned by





Flute (+ alto flute in C# minor Fugue), clarinet in A or bassett clarinet, marimba, harpsichord, viola, cello

Compositions completed – C# major 1972, C# minor 1974


1. Prelude and Fugue in C# minor
2. Prelude and Fugue in C# major


Composer Notes

Programme Notes

Short Note by Paul Griffiths

Except that a harpsichord replaces the piano, these realizations are for the same ensemble as Ave Maris Stella, whose C-sharp tonality they also share. The C-sharp minor realization was originally intended as an overture for the Schoenberg/Webern Chamber Symphony (in the relative E major), though it is the C-sharp major one that seems to have the more to do with Webern in its sometimes comic fragmentation of themes across different instrumental voices. The C-sharp minor is intended to come first when the realizations are performed as a pair.

Extended Note by Stephen Pruslin

The C-sharp minor was realized in 1972 to precede a performance of the Schoenberg/Webern Chamber Symphony, Op. 9, whose home key is the relative E major. The C-sharp major came two years later as an ‘advance companion-piece’ to Maxwell Davies’s own Ave Maris Stella, which shares the same key-centre. Subsequently The Fires of London began to perform the two preludes and fugues as a unit.

The choice of these two preludes and fugues is in part simply a sign of the composer’s affection for them and partly a function of the original concert-pairings mentioned above – but it also relates to the particular resonance created by the keys of C-sharp major and minor when transferred from the keyboard, where they are already rare, to the instrumental combination used, and above all to the two stringed instruments. The C-sharp minor prelude is notable for the frequent hocket-like division of melodic lines, particularly between the timbrally distinct flute and clarinet. In the fugue, the marimba takes its place as an absolutely equal voice in the texture, an innovation that took on major proportions in Ave Maris Stella three years later.

Anyone who enjoys musical puzzles and detective-work will have a field day with the Prelude and Fugue in C-sharp major. The orchestration of the prelude ‘X-rays’ the music to reveal cross-relationships with the fugue which are anywhere from implicit to non-existent in the original, while the fugue pokes fun at Webernesque Klangfarbenmelodie by segmenting the subject into three successive instrumental colours. The composer had put the idea of a musical X-ray to serious use in his Vesalii Icones (1969), where it formed a musical symbol of the transfer of the image of Christ’s face onto St. Veronica’s cloth; here he uses it to parody not musical analysis as such (of which he is a very firm advocate), but the sort of over-analysis that was prevalent in Germany and America in the fifties and sixties, in which a perfectly valid grain of truth was often carried to such an extreme that the analysis ended by asserting relationships no longer bearing any real connection to the work at hand. All this intellectual sport aside, the two preludes and fugues stand on their own as a very charming listening experience.


This is a copyright note, and may not be reprinted or reproduced in any way without prior permission from the author.


First Performance

Queen Elizabeth Hall, London

13 October 1972 C# minor/ 27 November1974

The Fires of London