The Prelude, Fugue and Allegro (BWV 998) is a composition dating from Bach’s maturity. According to the relevant critical commentary of the Neue Bach‐Ausgabe, published in 1982, BWV 998 was composed in the final decade of Bach’s life.1 More recently, Yoshitaki Kobayashi has pinpointed the date of composition more specifically to ‘um 1735’.2 Although it has always been classified among the secular compositions of Bach, it is a work rich in symbolic potential.3 To date all theological Bach studies have mainly focused on either vocal compositions or instrumental works related to the Lutheran chorale. There may be many reasons to believe that Bach intended to portray a theological message in this piece, which will be outlined below. Firstly, however, it is necessary briefly to consider the autograph score and the instrumentation. Bach’s manuscript bears the title ‘Prelude pour la Luth ò Cembal’.4 Historically, the piece seems to have been regarded as a lute piece, although the composer’s inscription has led to some ambiguity. The date of composition, believed to fall around 1735 (as suggested by Kobayashi) or at least between 1734 and 1747,5 may point to a lute work, as it was around this time that Bach was in contact with the
Hartwig Eichberg and Thomas Kohlhase (eds), Kritischer Bericht (1982) for volume V/10, Einzeln überlieferte Klavierwerke II und Kompositionen für Lauteninstrumente, of the Neue Bach‐Ausgabe, 153. Yoshitake Kobayashi, Die Notenschrift Johann Sebastian Bachs. Dokumentation ihrer Entwicklung, volume IX/2 (1989) of the Neue Bach‐Ausgabe, 209. The significance of this piece was brought to my attention by my student, Redmond O’Toole, who suggested to me that there might be a theological aspect to the work. The autograph score is held at Ueno‐Gakuen Music Academy, Tokyo (Eichberg and Kohlhase, 149). Eichberg and Kohlhase, 152.
Journal of the Society for Musicology in Ireland, 1 (2005–6), p. 33
Anne Leahy lutenist Silvius Leopold Weiss.6 However, there are problems with range when this piece is played on the lute and so it remains rather enigmatic. Only the Prelude is playable without much alteration. Nevertheless, the necessary changes to the Fugue and Allegro are no more radical than those found in the tablature version of the Suite in G minor (BWV 995) which is an arrangement of the Cello Suite in C (BWV 1011).7 The last few bars of BWV 998 are in organ tablature, thereby raising further performance issues. The most likely instrument would seem to be the Lautenwerck or Lautenclavier, a small harpsichord with a similarly shaped body to that of a lute. It had gut strings plucked by a quill mechanism.8 According to the inventory of instruments in Bach’s possession made at his death, Bach owned two lute‐harpsichords—an instrument we know little about, as no example has survived and there are few documentary sources regarding its structure.9 Johann Friedrich Agricola recalled: ‘around the year 1740, in Leipzig, having seen and heard a lute‐harpsichord designed by Mr Johann Sebastian Bach and executed by Mr Zacharias Hildebrandt, which was of smaller size than the ordinary harpsichord’.10 It seems that around 1740 Bach was in contact with Weiss and also owned a lute‐harpsichord—factors that do not make the issue of the instrumentation of BWV 998 any clearer. In an article dealing with the instrumental possibilities of BWV 998, Eugen M. Dombois concludes: ...