Fugue à la Gigue from the Fugue in G, BWV 577 for orchestra (new print)
Bach, Johann Sebastian / orch. Holst, Gustav
Johann Sebastian Bach
(b. Eisenach, 31 March 1685 – d. Leipzig, 28 July 1750)
Fugue à la Gigue from the Fugue in G, BWV 577
arranged for orchestra by Gustav Holst
(b. Cheltenham, 21 September 1874 – d. London, 25 May 1934)
In 1927, the BBC asked Gustav Holst to write a work for the BBC Military Band, an ensemble then conducted by Walton O’Donnell. Holst happily agreed; he was always keen to write music for the widest selection of performers, and he had had great success with his First (1909) and Second (1911) suites for military band. (See MPH Repertoire Explorer volumes 1153 and 1184). In the event he did not fulfill his commission until 1930, when he wrote the Prelude & Scherzo: Hammersmith. But he replied to the request (5 December 1927) “if there is no immediate hurry, I would like to postpone writing the piece and first arrange one of Bach’s Organ Fugues for military band. I have had this at the back of my mind for many years”. Accordingly, his military band arrangement of the “Jig” Fugue in G, BWV 577 (you find the score after the orchestral version) – transposed into B-flat – was completed and performed (presumably on the radio, but this is unclear).
He made a second arrangement of the same Fugue in 1929, this time for small orchestra and in its original key. He conducted the first performance of this on 24 February 1930 with the City of Birmingham Orchestra at the Town Hall, Cheltenham.
The fugue is thought to be an early work of Bach’s. If it is actually by Bach it is probably from his period at Artstadt (1703-1707), but it is by no means certain that it is Bach’s at all, being often listed only as ‘attrib. Bach’. There is certainly no contemporary manuscript that survives and the attribution to Bach was made after his death. Some commentators have said that its style is ‘easier’ than Bach’s own.
Whatever may be the truth, it is an enormously energetic piece and one can see why Holst selected it. Holst himself added a note that “the title ‘Fugue à la Gigue’ describes the work perfectly, but there is no reason to think it was so named by Bach”.
Holst’s original is reproduced exactly, with several errors of articulation corrected. In three places I have gone beyond this. The pianos in bar 24, and the dynamics in bars 68 and 69 (and indeed the direction leggiero throughout) represent common performing practice. And the trumpet and trombone parts in bars 75-78 are based upon the military band version (they are marked MB) – a passage Holst did not include in the orchestral version. It goes without saying that these additions may be omitted if desired.
Phillip Brookes, 2014
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