The Fantasia et Fuga in C Minor BWV 562 are preserved in an autograph prepared in the last years of the composer’s life. The fugue, which is transmitted only fragmentarily, was set down in writing around 1747/48, the Fantasia perhaps a little earlier (1743/45?). It is assumed that the Fantasia was composed sometime before this date, however, possibly already during the time when Bach was employed in Weimar. Its five-part texture follows French models and shows a close affinity with the Fugue á 5 from the Gloria of the Livre d’Orgue by Nicolas de Grigny (1672–1703); Bach had copied this work in his Weimar years.
It was apparently in Leipzig that Bach planned to revise the Fantasia and to add a fugue – this despite the fact that the Fantasia itself already contains a closely-worked monothematic polyphonic fugato movement. The question whether this may be the reason why the fugue remained unfinished cannot be answered, in particular as this assumption is not undisputed. The autograph consists of a bifolio with four pages of which the first three contain the Fantasia and the fourth the Fugue up to the middle of bar 27. At the very end of the page the notation breaks off, the transition to the following (now lost) page being marked by custodes. It is thus quite possible in fact that Bach completed the piece and the missing pages were subsequently lost. While the Fantasia is preserved in a number of additional copies from the 18th and 19th centuries, for the fugue there are no further sources apart from the autograph; therefore the fragment cannot be completed from other sources.
There are only two other five-part fugues among Bach’s organ works, but none in 6/4 meter. All comparable works from the Leipzig period have a three-part structure.
In the fragment, the five-part exposition is followed after only 21 measures by a series of entries in stretto. Shortly after this the piece breaks off.
Apart from the stretto in half-measure spacing the subject also permits treatment in the major mode and in its inverted form. The latter corresponds with the subject of the Passacaglia in C Minor BWV 582. The inverted form can be treated in stretto as well. These thematic characteristics and the early introduction of a stretto section allow us to assume that in writing this fugue Bach aimed at a particularly dense contrapuntal texture. The fact that this piece was composed in close proximity to his work on the Art of Fugue and on the Canonic Variations supports this assessment.
The general disposition of this attempt at a completion of the fragment follows the structural principles of Bach’s late organ fugues, in particular their deliberately varied tripartite layout and Bach’s predilection for the golden ratio. In the first two sections of the fugue different versions of the subject are elaborated, while the third part introduces two new, interwoven countersubjects, which – after a separate exposition – are combined with the main subject. Towards the end the new chromatic countersubject condenses and intensifies the movement harmonically.
translation: Stephanie Wollny