Prélude and Chorale was commissioned by Wigmore Hall for Angela Hewitt’s Bach Book (2010), for which ‘short new piano pieces that are either Bach transcriptions or pieces directly inspired by Bach’ were being sought. I took Ms Hewitt very much at her word by providing one of each. It is of course a very particular challenge for any composer to pay homage to that colossus of music history. As part of the process, I was determined to acquaint myself with Bach works with which I wasn’t already familiar. Hence, both the Prélude and Chorale draw their inspiration from relatively early Bach pieces that were hitherto unknown to me. The Chorale is a simple transcription of the particularly beautiful chorale, ‘Gute Nacht, o Wesen’ from the longest and richest of Bach’s early funeral motets, Jesu, meine Freude, written in Leipzig in 1723 for the funeral of Johanna Maria Käsin, the wife of that city’s postmaster.
The Prélude (Hommage à Bach) also serves as the opening movement for a planned set of piano etudes I’m currently working on entitled The Homage Etudes, all of which pay their respects to different compositional approaches to the keyboard across the ages, ranging from Bach, via Janacek and Scriabin, through to the Australian composer Richard Meale who died in 2009.
In 1705, the twenty year old Bach famously walked for ten days to hear the greatest organist of his time, Buxtehude, in Lübeck, and wrote his early keyboard toccatas in response to the experience (between 1705–1714). My short prelude emerged in turn as a result of studying these early toccatas (and admittedly not having to walk very far at all to delight in Ms Hewitt’s wonderful recording of them!) It strives to encapsulate the youthful exuberance (and mechanics) of Bach’s virtuosic keyboard figurations, though in my own ‘handwriting’.
Brett Dean, 2010
This programme note can be reproduced free of charge in concert programmes with a credit to the composer.