Johann Sebastian Bach’s appearance on 7th May 1747 at the court of Frederick the Great is the best documented event in the composer’s otherwise unglamorous career. During the proceedings, Frederick provided Bach with an exceptionally difficult theme on which to improvise a fugue. The King is said to have been impressed with the improvisation, but Bach himself was less so, and announced that he intended to set the theme to paper ‘in a regular fugue’. Several months later the Musical Offering appeared in print – a collection of 13 pieces in diverse genres: fugues, canons and a trio sonata, all exploiting the ‘Royal Theme’ in various intricate ways.
Bach’s published score gives no firm idea about a playing order for the pieces, and in most cases no instrumentation is specified. Furthermore, some of the canons – the so-called ‘riddle canons’ – are very sketchily notated, with just a few notes and some enigmatic clues in Latin. The performers are thus left with an unusual degree of freedom when it comes to the interpretation of the work – a freedom which Masaaki Suzuki, with his colleagues from Bach Collegium Japan, is singularly well-placed to explore.
Following the Offering on this disc is another collection of riddle canons by Bach: the 14 Canons on the Goldberg Ground which were discovered as late as 1974, in the form of a hand-written addendum to the composer’s own printed copy of the Goldberg Variations. The canons are all based on the first eight bass notes of the celebrated Aria from the Goldberg Variations, and are performed here as harpsichord solos, along with the Aria.
The disc closes with another chamber work however – the Sonata in G major for flute, violin and basso continuo, BWV 1038.