Manchester, 14th-18th July 2004


Anne Leahy and Redmond O’Toole (Dublin Institute of Technology, Ireland)

Bach’s Prelude, Fugue and Allegro for lute (BWV 998): a Trinitarian statement of faith?

It is now widely acknowledged that in the realm of his sacred music Bach was deeply influenced not only by the liturgy of the Lutheran Church but also by the writings of Martin Luther and other theologians of the 16th to early 18th centuries. It is equally accepted that in general Bach used the same musical language in all of his works, sacred and secular. With that in mind, might one ask the question that if theology permeates the musical language of his sacred works, then does theology similarly undergird his freer instrumental works, works that stand well outside the liturgical constraints of his sacred music?

The Prelude, Fugue and Allegro for Lute (BWV 998) has to date received little attention in musicological literature. This work offers many interesting issues to be explored. It is a tripartite work, whose central movement is a da capo fugue, a rare occurrence in the music of Bach. The fugue subject seems to be based on line 1 of Luther’s Christmas chorale Vom Himmel hoch, da komm ich her. This is confirmed by scrutiny of the theme of the concluding Allegro, which is in fact a direct citation of the opening variation of Bach’s Canonic Variations on the same hymn melody (BWV 769/769a). This motive has been shown to be very significant in the chorale-based works of Bach. The clear quotation of such an important sacred theme in a secular work begs the question of whether there are therefore other theological elements in this remarkable work? Bach employs the Trinitarian key of E-flat for the entire work and the equally symbolic time signature of 12/8 in the opening movement.  In a sacred work this would be regarded as deeply significant. This paper will show not only how Bach employed the same musical language for all of his compositions, but also how he was seemingly not afraid to incorporate theological content in a secular work.

Last updated on 11 May 2004