The eight short preludes & fugues attributed to J. S. Bach (BWV 553–560)

The set of ‘eight short preludes and fugues’ discussed here can be dated to the period 1730–50 (Williams) but for stylistic reasons are no longer judged to be the work of J.S. Bach himself (Durr, Lohmann, William). However, they still retain their place in the Bach Werke Verzeichnis (BWV), the official J.S. Bach catalogue, as numbers 553–560. 

The earliest surviving source of ‘the eight’ is contained within a single volume made from five separately copied manuscripts that in total comprise 12 keyboard works. 

The first page of BWV 553. [Source: Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin ‘D-B Bach P 281’]
It has been suggested that the scribe of ‘the eight’ was Bach’s great-nephew J.C.G.  Bach  (1747–1814) and that subsequently the whole volume was in the possession of J.S. Bach’s last pupil J.C. Kittel (1732–1809) (Lohmann, Williams). The manuscript volume was latterly owned by Georg Poelchau (1773–1836) who was an avid collector of Bach materials.

Since 1841 the manuscript has been in the collection of the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin as ‘D-B Bach P 281’. Apart from ‘the eight’ the other keyboard works in the Poelchau manuscript are all copies of works reliably by J.S. Bach: BWV 913.2; 718; 916; 735.1. 

Paper used for ‘the eight’ (in D-B Bach P 281) is also found in three sections of another Bach manuscript, ‘D-B Bach P 803’, one of whose scribes has been identified as J.L. Krebs (1713–80) (Williams), a pupil of Bach.

A now-lost manuscript of ‘the eight’ – scribe unknown –  was once owned by Bach biographer J.N. Forkel (1749–1818) and then by a promoter of Bach’s work  F.C. Griepenkerl (1782–1849). It was used to produce the 1852 C.F. Peters (Leipzig) edition of ‘the eight’ and is likely to have been a copy of Poelchau’s manuscript. (Durr)

BWV 553–560
makes use of various keyboard forms common in Bach’s time, e.g. Italian concerto (no.1); durezze (no.3); neo-galant (no. 4); toccata (no.5); southern fugal styles (nos. 1, 4, & 5). (Williams).

NB The sequence of each piece’s tonic note forms the Mixolydian mode.

The attraction of this collection is not only that individual movements are useful in liturgical settings but also that the set, when played complete, makes a pleasing and varied baroque-period  concert item.

In preparing these recordings of ‘the eight’ I have taken account of Baroque-period theory concerning the  emotional character (affekt) of different musical keys, here pursuing a 1713 affekt-theory of the Hamburg composer and influential theorist Johann Mattheson (1681–1764).

The instrument I am using is tuned according to the Baroque Werckmeister III system.


Mattheson’s thoughts on A-minor: … somewhat plaintive, modest  and relaxed … relaxing but not disagreeably so, These are qualities not immediately apparent in the free Stylus phantasticus manner of the prelude nor in the confident duple pulse of the fugue. While this music is neither ‘relaxed’ nor particularly ‘relaxing’ it has a plaintive quality, heightened by the sharp intonation of A minor in the baroque Werckmeister III temperament (tuning) of the instrument used here.

::: BWV 560: prelude & fugue in Bb
[sound file coming soon] :::
Mattheson’s thoughts on Bb-major: … very diverting and showy … it can pass as both magnificent and graceful … it elevates the soul to greater things. 


    • Johann Christoph Georg Bach‘.  The New Grove Bach Family by Christoph Wolff (London: MacMillan, 1983). “Bach Cantatas Website” (2006). Online resource accessed 22 October 2022.
    • D-B Bach P 281. Online resource accessed 25 October 2022.
    • Alfred Duur. ‘Introduction’. “Johann Sebastian Bach: Acht kleine Präludien und Fugen”. Series: Barenreitr Urtext.  (Kassel ; London : Bärenreiter 1990)
    • Eight Short Preludes and Fugues‘. Wikipedia. Online resource accessed 20 October 2022.
    • Johann Nikolaus Forkel. Wikipedia. Online resource accessed 20 October 2022.
    • Friedrich Konrad Griepenkerl. Wikipedia. Online resource accessed 20 October 2022.
    • Johann Ludwig Krebs. Wikipedia. Online resource accessed 20 October 2022.
    • Heinz Lohmann. ‘Introductory Notes’. “Johann Sebastian Bach (1685–1750): 8 Little Preludes and Fugues BWV 553-560″. (Wiesbaden: Breitkopf & Härtel, 1974). [ Publisher’s inspection copy. Online resource, accessed 29 Oct0ber 2022. ] 
    • Johann  Mattheson. Wikipedia. Online resource accessed 20 October 2022.
    • Johann Mattheson. Das Neu-Eröffnete Orchestre (Hamburg: Benjamin Schillers Witwe, 1713), as discussed in Hans Lenneberg ‘Johann Mattheson on Affect and Rhetoric in Music’. Journal of Music Theory, Vol. 2, No. 2 (Nov., 1958), pp. 193-236. 234-36. (Online resource from Internet Archive, accessed 13 November 2022.)
    • Werckmeister temperament‘. Wikipedia. Online resource accessed 20 October 2022.
    • Peter Williams. The Organ Music of J. S. Bach (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003)
    • Georg Poelchau‘. Wikipedia. Online resource accessed 22 October 2022. [In German]
    • Stylus Phantasticus‘. Wikipedia. Online resource accessed 19 January 2022.
  • Technical notes.
    – Edition: Johann Sebastian Bach Acht kleine Präludien und Fugen. Series: Barenreitr Urtext.  (Kassel ; London : Bärenreiter 1990)
    – Temperament: Werckmeister III; pitch A=440

    – Organ: Viscount Sonus 60
    – Microphone: Zoom Q2N-4K
    – Recordings: ©Andrew Pink (2022–23). All rights reserved.

    Creative Commons licence: [Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International]

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