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About this Piece

This is the first of 18 chorales that Bach brought together in an anthology he compiled and arranged in Leipzig in the mid-1740s, the so-called “Great 18.” This is an encyclopedia of ways to elaborate on hymn tunes. Most of the pieces were originally created in 1710–1714, while Bach was in Weimar, and given definitive and extended forms in Leipzig. In this fantasia, Bach wrote a free, three-voice fugue over the chorale melody in the pedals. The fugue depicts the rushing Pentecostal wind of the chorale, “Come, Holy Spirit” (Veni, Sancte Spiritus), in exuberant swirls, like a highly contrapuntal toccata. This style of chorale elaboration was popularized by Johann Pachelbel. Bach’s older brother Johann Christoph had studied with Pachelbel and passed the style on to Johann Sebastian. —John Henken