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Bach’s biographer Johann Nicolaus Forkel, who was often critical of French music and musicians, judged the French composers whom Bach studied to have been “masters of harmony and fugue.” Although he did not list these composers, we know that Bach copied music by Grigny, d’Anglebert and Dieupart and arranged a portion of L’Impériale from Couperin’s Les Nations to create the Aria in F Major (BWV 587). Bach’s interest in French music is especially evident in his English and French Suites (BWV 806-811 and 812-817) and Overtures (BWV 820 and 831), and French practices can be detected in at least one of his organ works.

Bach’s Fantasia in G Major (BWV 572) makes reference to the French style in several ways. The French title, Pièce d’orgue, is given to it in several sources, and its three movements are also titled in French: Très vitement, Gravement, Lentement. It includes a low B pedal note that would have been found only in the extended compass of French organs en ravalement, and the work has a middle section in five voices that appear to correspond to the two violin, two viola and violone instrumentation preferred by French composers for the string orchestra. It is likely that the Fantasia was composed in Weimar, about ten years after Bach had first encountered the French style in Lüneburg.

Boulder Bach Festival music director and organist Rick Erickson will perform the Fantasia in G Major at a Benefit Concert at 6:30pm on 24 May 2012 at First Congregational Church in Boulder.

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