Back with Bach

Updated at 1:40pm on Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Back with Bach was live-streamed on Saturday, September 26 at 7pm.

View the recording here:

Back with Bach with James Kennerley and the Kotzschmar Organ

Beloved virtuosic music for organ

Saturday, September 26, 2020 at 7pm

Live-streamed from Merrill Auditorium, Portland, Maine

View our concert program here.

Join James Kennerley, Portland’s Eleventh Municipal Organist, for a performance of the greatest hits composed by the High Priest of the organ: Johann Sebastian Bach. Bach was renowned during his lifetime as a world-class organist – more famous for his virtuosic performances than for his compositions. His organ music has captured the minds of performers and audiences for generations ever since. This performance features the most famous organ works by Bach, including the Toccata and Fugue in D minor, the Jig Fugue, and the great Passacaglia and Fugue in C minor. Paired with the mighty Kotzschmar Organ with its 5 keyboards, 305 keys, and 7,101 pipes this will be a musical experience like no other!

Bach frequently made organ transcriptions of instrumental works by other composers. In this concert, James Kennerley challenges Bach at his own game, performing his own transcription of the celebratory Sinfonia from Bach’s Cantata 29, Wir danken dir. We’ll hear the most famous organ piece of all, the Toccata and Fugue in D minor, a piece that has come to define the sound of organ music—and Halloween—for millions around the world.

As well as being renowned as a performer during his lifetime, Bach was also famous as a composer. In 1747 he published six chorale preludes, short pieces based on popular melodies from the Lutheran hymn tradition, which he arranged from his own orchestral/vocal works called cantatas. Wachet auf features the chorale melody played by the left hand, while Kommst du nun calls for the melody to be played by the feet.

The Prelude and Fugue in A minor, probably composed during his time as court organist to the Duke of Saxe-Weimar (1708–1717), shows the influence of his North German mentor, Dietrich Buxtehude, and the fugue echoes the Italian instrumental concertos by Antonio Vivaldi and others, which Bach transcribed for organ and harpsichord while in the employ of the Duke. The momentous Passacaglia in C minor is a work constructed around a recurring bass theme (heard at the opening) that is subsequently interwoven with golden threads of counterpoint. The piece is also a masterpiece of construction, particularly for a composer in his twenties. After 21 variations on the ostinato bass theme, Bach recasts the melody into the subject of a fugue, seamlessly shifting from one form to another.

Fugues feature throughout Bach’s compositions – we have a total of six on this program alone! A fugue is a compositional device that starts out with a solo melody called a subject. The subject is then combined with other musical material to create a layering of increasingly complex musical lines. Two popular fugues for organ, the “Little” fugue in G minor, and the “Jig” fugue in G major (named for the lively dance it is based on) allow for the demonstration of contrasting organ colors.

The concert concludes with Bach’s most virtuosic organ piece, the Prelude and Fugue in D major. According to his obituary, “With his two feet, [Bach] could play things on the pedals that many not unskillful keyboard players would find it bitter enough to have to play with five fingers.” This work features a razzle-dazzle whirlwind of scales and arpeggios to be played by the feet – surely the young Bach showing off his famous virtuosic technique.



Sinfonia from Cantata, BWV 29 “Wir danken dir, Gott” — transcribed by James Kennerley

Toccata and Fugue in D minor, BWV 565

Two chorale preludes from the Schübler collection:

Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme, BWV 645

Kommst du nun, Jesu, vom Himmel herunter, BWV 650

Prelude & Fugue in A minor, BWV 543

“Little” Fugue in G minor, BWV 578

Fugue in G major “alla Giga”, BWV 577

Passacaglia and Fugue in C minor BWV 582

Prelude and Fugue in D major, BWV 532

Total music playing time: 65 minutes. Total concert length: 75 minutes.

Program subject to change.


Concert Sponsor: Bath Savings Institution

Concert Sponsor: Organ Clearing House

Media Sponsor: Maine Public

Artist Sponsor: David E. Wallace & Co. Pipe Organ Builders and Family

There is no charge for this concert, but a reservation is required to receive the livestream link.