Johann Sebastian Bach

Capriccio, BWV 992

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This wonderful, romantic composition by the nineteen-year-old Bach was written upon the departure of his elder brother, Johann Jacob Bach, to join the army of King Carl XII of Sweden as an oboist. It is a rare programmatic work for which Bach supplied the individual titles.

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Capric­cio, “On the Depar­ture of a Friend” BWV 992
1. An Affec­tion­ate Plea to the Friend not to Embark
2. Reflec­tions on the Mis­for­tunes of Trav­el
3. Mutu­al Lamen­ta­tions
4. The Farewell
5. Aria and Fugue on the Post Horn Call
Johann Sebas­t­ian Bach (1753–1817)
Mod­ern edi­tion by David Whitwell (1973–)

Date: c. 1805–1806
Instru­men­ta­tion: Con­cert Band
Dura­tion: 10:10
Lev­el: 5

This is an ear­ly work of Bach and is thought to con­tain his very first Fugue. The com­po­si­tion is usu­al­ly list­ed as hav­ing been writ­ten for key­board, but the auto­graph score does not say this and it is not writ­ten on the usu­al two stave for­mat for such an instru­ment. In fact the work is not quite fin­ished, with some pas­sages not ful­ly writ­ten out (exist­ing only in thor­ough-bass fig­ures). I believe Bach had in mind a cham­ber work for key­board and three oth­er instru­ments.

In any case an ear­ly author­i­ty believed the work was writ­ten upon the depar­ture of his broth­er, Johann Jacob Bach, to join the army of King Carl XII of Swe­den as an oboist. Bach sup­plied the titles and of par­tic­u­lar inter­est is the Post Horn fig­ure in the final move­ment. The Post Horn, as the name sug­gests, was car­ried by mail­men and blown to alert the next vil­lage of his arrival in order to speed up deliv­ery. There is a remark­able trib­ute to this instru­ment in the third move­ment of the Mahler Third Sym­pho­ny, being a reflec­tion of how he remem­bered hear­ing this sound float­ing through the val­leys as a child. One can also find this fig­ure in the Scher­zo of the Beethoven Ninth Sym­pho­ny and in the Mendelssohn Over­ture for winds.

This live per­for­mance in 1981 was record­ed in The Nether­lands by the Cal­i­for­nia State Uni­ver­si­ty North­ridge Wind Ensem­ble, David Whitwell.