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Duets BWV 802-805
General Discussions - Part 1

Duettos (BWV 802-805) recommendations?

Juozas Rimas wrote (October 1, 2002):
I have two questions:
1) are these four pieces called duettos because they're supposed to be played on two harpsichords (or with four hands on one harpsichord?) or for some other reason? There doesn't seem to be so many notes as to justify two
performers but maybe it's a wrong impression?
2) what performances could you recommend? (I only listened the freely available Demus' piano recording at MP3.com - the recording quality is baaad)

I know Richter played it on piano and also Rübsam on organ. BTW, are the duettos considered to be a part of the organ repertoire as well?

Peter Bright wrote (October 1, 2002):
[To Juozas Rimas] My favourite version of these pieces is by Koroliov (piano) on Hänssler. I also quite like Angela Hewitt's on Hyperion. Together with the German Organ Mass (BWV 552, 669-805) they comprise Clavier Ubung III. I have a version of these works on organ by Kay Johannsen (Hänssler) but believe that they were probably intended as klavier works (ie keyboard but not organ) but I'm sure someone can correct me if I am mistaken.

Riccardo Nughes wrote (October 1, 2002):
Juozas Rimas wrote :
< I have two questions:
1) are these four pieces called duettos because they're supposed to be played on two harpsichords (or with four hands on one harpsichord?) or for some other reason? There doesn't seem to be so many notes as to justify two
performers but maybe it's a wrong impression? >
They're called so because there are "a 2 voci " (voices) and they're conceived for the organ, being included in the Third Book of the Clavier-Ubung., between the last chorale and the final fugue.Why they are there is one of the many mysteries featured in Bach's scores.

< 2) what performances could you recommend? >
You can find it in every recording (organ) of the Third Book of the Clavier-Ubung. Schmeider thought that they were written for harpsichord and put them, in his catalogue, after the Sinfonie e Invenzioni. There are 2 fine recordings on harpsichord on budget price releases : Scott Ross on Warner-Apex and Kenneth Gilbert on Harmonia Mundi Musique d'Abord.

Uri Golomb wrote (October 2, 2002):
[To Juozas Rimas] My favourite recording (but then, I haven't heard that many) is by Rosalyn Tureck, on piano. It comes on vol. 94 of Philips's "Great Pianists of the 20th Century" series -- the second of two volumes dedicated to Tureck (the first, vol. 93, consists of her Partitas). The Duets are appended at the end of a program which consists of her 1958 Goldbergs (BWV 988) and the Klavier-Uebung II (Italian Concerto, French Overture). The catalogue number is 456979 (source: Philips website).

I don't have the CD ready to hand, but I have a clear recollection of it: The performances are -- as often with Tureck -- on the serious side, and I wouldn't be suprised if Hewitt (whose recording I haven't heard) brings a certain welcome playfulness which is missing in the Tureck. But Tureck's sense of structure and texture alike is extremely impressive and persuasive.

I also have Schiff's performance (which comes with his Inventions). It's very good, too, but to my taste there is a bit too much rubato and heistation in the third and (especially) first duet; and I prefer a more measured approach to the fourth -- which is, incidentally, a particular favourite mine, and one which I think Tureck does exceptionally well. (She takes a rather slow tempo, yet shapes the entire piece as a single arch -- great attention to both local detail and overall shape). But these are obviously matters of taste, and what bothers me might not necessarily bother other people...

I have not yet heard any performances on the harpsichord. Any recommendations on that front?

Pete Blue wrote (October 2, 2002):
[To Juozas Rimas] To the versions already mentioned, I would add that of Tatiana Nikolayeva on Olympia: Hushed, intimate, uniquely personal, as is all her Bach. I think these performances are especially effective and are my favorite Duetti on any instrument.

 

The Duets BWV 802-805 - String or Pipe Keyboard?

Aryeh Oron wrote (May 6, 2006):
Following the discographies of the Inventions & Sinfonias BWV 772-801 and the Goldberg Variations BWV 988, I have added now a comprehensive discography of the 4 Duets BWV 802-805.

I have used every possible source I could find, including websites as J.S. Bach Home Page and All Music Guide, web-stores as Amazon and JPC, and other websites I have been able to find with Google search engine, as well as various catalogues and my private collection. Since I have not been able to find any similar discography of the Duets, I believe that this is the first time such an attempt is made and presented, at least on the web.

You can find the list of complete recordings of the Duets split into several pages, a page for a decade, starting at the page: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/NVD/BWV802-805.htm

All in all, over 90 complete (or near complete) recordings of the Duets are listed. As in previous discographies in the BCW, each recording is listed only once. All the issues of each recording are presented together. If a performer has recorded the Duets more than once, the info includes also the recording number.

With this impressive number of recordings, the Duets can hardly be called neglected. Maybe the explanation for their peculiar position lies in the short notes of Gunnar Johansen, to his recording of the Duets on Double Keyboard Piano in the early 1950's, done as a part of his Complete Bach Piano Works (20 albums, 43 LP's). Johansen wrote:

"THE FOUR DUETS, according to Schweitzer, came by accident to figure among the works for Organ contained in Clavierübung III (1739); how this accident occurred is not explained. Certainly these pieces in two voices are like maturer kin of the Inventions of almost two decades before. That these Duets categorically are for string keyboard instrument, would offer smallish fuel for argument - anyone who has heard these pieces as played by E. Power Biggs on the organ with "Bachish" registration will feel persuaded of their interchangeability between either string or pipe."

In my archives I found only one discussion of the Duets, from October 2002:
http://www.bach-cantatas.com/NVD/BWV802-805-Gen1.htm

These charming short pieces are called Duets because they were written for two equal parts, as the earlier 2-part inventions. Nos. 1 and 3 are joyful and fluent, whereas Nos. 2 & 4 are expressive harmonic fantasies. The minor key Duets (Nos. 1 & 4) embody some of Bach's most searchingly experimental chromatic counterpoint. The last is so expressive, varied and meticulous, that it can be considered as prelude to the Art of Fugue.

As almost every Bach piece, the Duets are opened for a wide variety of interpretations. Take, for example, four piano renditions: Gunnar Johansen, emotionally restrained, convinces you by his architectural approach that these pieces are 4 parts of a single work; Alexis Weissenberg, the most 'pianistic', is grasping you by a storm of feelings; Sviatoslav Richter (3 live recordings from a 1991 tour are available), with aristocratic playing, reveals the hidden tragic dimension of Duet No. 1; and the vivid Angela Hewitt, performs them with outmost sensitivity and endless nuances. I like them all, as well as many others.

I hope that the availability of the discography would evoke a discussion of these works. They certainly deserve it.
At least one BRML member has recorded them.
See: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/NVD/BWV802-805-Rec7.htm [91]

If you are aware of a recording of the Duets not listed in these pages, or if you find an error or missing information, please inform me, either through the BRML or to my personal e-mail address.

Thanks & Enjoy,

Bradley Lehman wrote (May 7, 2006):
< Following the discographies of the Inventions & Sinfonias BWV 772-801 and the Goldberg Variations BWV 988, I have added now a comprehensive discography of the 4 Duets BWV 802-805. You can find the list of complete recordings of the Duets split into several pages, a page for a decade, starting at the page:
http://www.bach-cantatas.com/NVD/BWV802-805.htm
(...)
These charming short pieces are called Duets because they were written for two equal parts, as the earlier 2-part inventions. Nos. 1 and 3 are joyful and fluent, whereas Nos. 2 & 4 are expressive harmonic fantasies. The minor key Duets (Nos. 1 & 4) embody some of Bach's most searchingly experimental chromatic counterpoint. The last is so expressive, varied and meticulous, that it can be considered as prelude to the Art of Fugue. >
The minor key duets are #1 and #4.

My wife told me she hates #4 no matter who's playing it. I had one of the piano recordings on yesterday, and she made the face and the comments again. (Well, she's had to hear the piece a lot over the past year!)

There are some interesting but sometimes bizarre comments about these four pieces in Panthaleon van Eck's book. This one: http://homepages.bw.edu/bachbib/script/bach2.pl?22=4375

< I hope that the availability of the discography would evoke a discussion of these works. They certainly deserve it. At least one BRML member has recorded them. See: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/NVD/BWV802-805-Rec7.htm [91] >
Timing and other details on that one: 2'49", 3'55", 3'03", 2'54" for the main set of four that are published on both albums. The organ album also includes alternate takes of #3 and #4, using different registration in the interest of contrast and experimentation. Those are 3'04" and 2'58".

Since these four duetti are an important part of my reasoning about Bach's tuning, one of the sections of the paper offers an analysis of them: including scores from the original edition, with analytical markings written onto them (by me). That is downloadable free through here: http://www-personal.umich.edu/~bpl/larips/outline.html
The harpsichord album is intended as the single disc that goes along with that paper, most directly: with the duetti and "O Mensch" brought in as the illustrations for this printed material.

< If you are aware of a recording of the Duets not listed in these pages, or if you find an error or missing information, please inform me, either through the BRML or to my personal e-mail address. >
Christiane Jaccottet's recording has the timings 2'59", 3'11", 2'41", 2'28". That's from a "Digital Concerto" budget label that offered ten Jaccottet discs of Bach, in 1990; I snapped those up at the time as I generally like her playing so much! If I get a chance sometime, I'll scan the booklet cover.

Ewald Demeyere wrote (May 7, 2006):
I wanted to add that there is a very interesting discussion of the F major Duetto BWV 803 by David Yearsley in his fantastic book 'Bach and the Meanings of Counterpoint' (p. 101 ff.)

 

Bach's four Duetti (for organ)

Bradley Lehman wrote (December 12, 2007):
Also of interest is the Clavieruebung III, the German Organ mass, which is deeply infused with Trinitarian significance (per Yo Tomita). It has long been a puzzle why four duets were added , some seeing the evangelists represented. This does raise the number of pieces to...27.

I'm familiar with such speculations, both in books and online, but my published hypothesis about the four Duets is more direct, practical, and (perhaps) mundane than all that. I believe they are primarily a phenomenally condensed and elegant 15-minute tuning test for the organ. (If the instrument can't sound fantastic in these four little two-voiced pieces, forget playing the harder stuff in the book because it's going to sound rotten too.)

Details, including my written analyses of all four of them: http://tinyurl.com/33ww52
http://launch.groups.yahoo.com/group/BachCantatas/files/duetti/bachs_rosetta_case_studies_lehman.pdf

Sure, they might also have some arguable metaphysical component, an unprovable one. But Bach was always directly concerned with real sound. He was a composer of music, in the medium of sound. And these four Duets condense all the salient issues of keyboard tuning into a blatantly naked two-voiced texture. Very close enharmonic switches, accented 4ths/5ths that can't be tempered too much, minimally disguised parallel 5ths, and major and minor 3rds/10ths/17ths that just sound wincingly bad in wrongly-shaped temperaments.

Either that property is really, really, really lucky (writing pieces with prominent intervals that make wrongly-tuned instruments sound ludicrous)...or perhaps intentional, as if Bach were ticking off items on a checklist to cram them into these little gems. These tuning issues become even more stark when playing these four Duets on harpsichord, instead of organ.

And this book was Bach's first published organ music, and done at his own expense.

Another fine overview of the pieces is in Peter Williams's book The Organ Music of J. S. Bach (2nd edition, 2003), pp 529-535.

 

Duets BWV 802-805: Details
Recordings:
1900-1949 | 1950-1959 | 1960-1969 | 1970-1979 | 1980-1989 | 1990-1999 | 2000-2009 | 2010-2019
Reviews of Individual Recordings:
Duets - A. Hewitt | Duets - E. Koroliov | Duets - C. Rousset | Duets - J.L. Steurman | Duets - M. Suzuki | Duets - R. Tureck | Duets - G. Weir
General Discussions:
Part 1

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Last update: July 12, 2010 21:00:55