The prelude and the fugue were designed to go together. Sometimes the pairing of prelude with fugue in Bach’s works was an arranged marriage, if you will. Editors, historians, and students would pair pieces they thought worked well together. However, it is obvious from the manuscript (and the shared themes) that this prelude and fugue was a match made by Bach himself. The fugue is often called The Wedge because of its unusual subject (main theme). Starting with just one note, the notes gradually spread apart from each other until they reach, theoretically speaking, the largest interval - the octave. Early on, it reminded musicians of how a wedge splits logs. Perhaps a more modern analogy is in order, but the name has stuck! After a lengthy bit of counterpoint at the beginning, a virtuosic middle section is introduced that almost seems like an improvised harpsichord cadenza, but in a stroke of brilliance, Bach eventually weaves earlier themes in with it so that it becomes part of the fabric of the piece. It is obvious that (against certain stereotypes), even before the Classical period, composers were aware of dramatic, shocking dynamic contrasts and contrasts of texture. They simply achieved them by different means. Finally, the first section of our fugue is repeated verbatim and closes with a resounding E Major chord. This piece is a favorite of performers and audiences alike, but on Sunday, we will hear it in the context in which Bach would most highly approve: the worship of God. At the end of his manuscripts, Bach would write, “S. D. G.,” meaning “Soli Deo Gloria (for the glory of God alone).” To me, it is in this context that his music shines the brightest.
There are other wonderful pieces scheduled for this Sunday, and our Chapel Eucharists continue. I encourage you to come participate in one of our services and invite friends. There has perhaps never been a more engaging time to be a parishioner here at the Cathedral. See you in church.