Johann Sebastian Bach - Praeludium BWV 552 in E flat major pro Organo pleno


Johann Sebastian Bach
Praeludium BWV 552
in E flat major pro Organo pleno

Kei Koïto

Hinsz historical Organ (1743) 
St. Nicolas of Bovenkerk, Kampen, Pays-Bas

Digital/Digital/iTunes Plus

Praeludium BWV 552/1 in E flat major, pro Organo pleno

The "Prelude in E flat major" serves as a monumental portal to the Clavier Übung III (also called the "Lutheran Mass", "Deutsche Orgelmesse", or yet again "Dogma in Music"). A triple fugue in the same key completes this grandiose edifice. With its three flats and three themes, the prelude (Introit), just like the triple fugue (recessional) symbolises the Trinity. Theme A : the Father, majestic rhythm of an "ouverture à la française"; B : the Son, a melody with two successive ideas, one including passages in echo, the other, descending motifs representing God, the Son and His incarnation; C : the Holy Ghost, an incessant activity of contrapuntal motivity, illustrated musically like the breath of the spirit to affirm the unity of the Trinity in the three persons. Each theme is closely linked to the other. The succession of these themes is presented in the form of a ritornello : AB AC AB CA. The prelude consists of 205 bars, from which can ensue, symbolically, the number 7 (2+0+5). From the outset, with this perfect figure, symbol of the totality of space and time (7 days of the week, 7 notes of the scale, 7 words of Christ on the cross, etc.), Bach opens this collection with a glorification of the Perfection of God.

Perhaps it might seem that, in this text, we are overemphasising the numerical issue. It goes without saying that the musical feeling, the constantly renewed joy of forever "innocent" listening dominates - and pre-exists -. Numerology is only an additional (and complementary) key amongst others to reading and analysis, a key that is certainly stimulating for the mind. But the more one believes that he is getting close to the mystery that a work presents, rather than enlightening, to the contrary, the more it grows distant and slips away. Music always has the last word. 

The Clavier Übung III offers a remarkable synthesis between different kinds of writing. Yet, Bach was incapable of settling for recapitulating the past. One even perceives a modernity suggesting the rococo period, characterized by the style galant. However, the composer could hardly be bothered with trying to surprise or shine. The virtuoso writing is to be found at the heart of the polyphonic composition, not in its exterior aspects.

Here, J.S. Bach revives the esoteric conceptions that had already marked the late Middle Ages. The learned nature, sometimes pushed to abstraction - the "Musical Offering" and "Art of the Fugue" are not far off - of the last works never aggravates the musical discourse. To the contrary, a profound emotion always remains in the forefront.

Fuga BWV 552/2 in E flat major, à 5 con Pedale pro Organo pleno 

Finally comes the true transmutation. Written in E flat major (three flats in the clef), this triple fugue (three subjects), totals 117 bars (1+1+7=9, multiple of 3). There too, each person of the Trinity is presented musically in pertinent fashion : the first theme (9), in five parts and in long values, illustrates the majesty of the Father.

After the "Prelude", the sum of the 21 chorales, itself followed by the four "Duetti", this first fugue, like a river arriving at its mouth, postulates breadth and majesty. Its 4/4 signature (the alla breve is not original) no longer offers the notion of normal earthly time. Moreover, in his book "Die Kunst des reinen Satzes in der Musik" (1771), Johann Philipp Kirnberger (1721-1783) writes that the "broad 4/4 time must have a heavy weight. For its powerful nature suits sacred music quite well, as well as chorales and fugues". For his part, Johann Gottfried Walther (1684-1748), in his "Musicalisches Lexicon" (1732), terms this kind of fugue a "Fuga grave".

This first part, marked for the first time in the Clavier Übung III by the advent of a long horizontal line "very slowly", presents and develops dense material, treated in "style antico". The subject is none other than the transformation of the subject of the first "Kyrie". But here we have rather a hymn to divine love.

The second fugue, in four parts, features a subject of obvious motoric character, typical of "Spielfuge manualiter" writing. The highly fluid theme seems to illustrate the Son. Our life begins in water, and it is in this substance blessed by the Gods, this fluid so close to our soul, that Man's adventure begins.

The third and final fugue is a "fugal dance" in the style of a gigue, whose texture is made up of five voices. It is a sparkling, literally miraculous page, which, fully visited by the Holy Ghost, radiates a supreme energy.

In the construction of this triple fugue, numeric symbolism plays a profound role and significance that are far from being negligible. The first fugue is in C or 4/4, the second in 6/4, the third in 12/8. The sum of all these numbers is 34 (4+6+4+12+8), or 3+4=7. We thus arrive at the same result, condensing the symbolic value by fugue of these numbers: 4+1 (6+4=10, thus 1) +2 (12+8=20, thus 2) = 7, as with the "Prelude".

Paul Valéry, wrote about fellow-poet Stéphane Mallarmé : "He raised the page to the power of the starry sky". Within these layers of sound, where every brushstroke on the canvas is more than an event, Johann Sebastian Bach sets off real fireworks and constructs a moving spiritual painting, raised to the immortal astral vault.

Kei Koïto
Translated by John Tyler Tuttle

Kei Koïto


Born of a family of artists, Kei Koïto began her musical studies at the age of six - successively piano, theory, voice, harpsichord and cello. She discovered the organ at the age of twelve, and this became her preferred instrument. After studying at the Tokyo University of the Arts where she obtained a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree (organ, musical aesthetics, philosophy and psychology), she entered the class of Pierre Segond at the Geneva Conservatory. There, she was awarded the First Prize "with distinction" in organ and improvisation, the Otto Barblan Prize for her interpretations of J.S. Bach, and the Special Grand Prize of the Year, all awarded unanimously. She then did advanced study in Fribourg with Luigi Ferdinando Tagliavini, in Toulouse with Xavier Darasse, and in Cologne with Reinhard Goebel. She also studied orchestration, analysis and composition with Eric Gaudibert.

While specializing primarily in the complete organ works of J.S. Bach, she also plays a great deal of the repertoire "around Bach": his precursors, contemporaries and successors. Her approach to this repertoire is coupled with thorough musicological research that seeks to bring together music and the most authentic historical instruments possible.

Regularly invited by the most prestigious festivals, she has performed on every continent. She plays the concerto repertoire with symphony and chamber orchestras and, with Baroque ensembles, the repertoire of that era. An interpreter of Liszt, Schumann and Brahms, she also devotes part of her career to contemporary music and has thus premiered numerous important works by renowned, as well as by young composers from all countries and cultures. As a composer, her imagination is often inspired by the soul of dead poets : Rimbaud, René Char, Hölderlin or Simone Weil. She has written several works for various formations and solo instruments.

In 1992, she was appointed professor of the advanced organ classes (Virtuosity and Concert diploma) at the Lausanne Conservatory. She gives master classes and lectures in Europe, the USA and Asia, and has sat on juries of the great international organ competitions. She is the founder and artistic director of the Lausanne Bach Festival and the International Bach Competition.

Hinsz historical Organ (1743) St. Nicolas of Bovenkerk, Kampen, Netherlands


The Bovenkerk organ in Kampen was built by Albertus Anthoni Hinsz (1704-1785), who was trained in the Schnitger tradition. We owe this German-born builder numerous realizations in the Netherlands : Leens, Wassenaar, Appingedam, Groningen (Martinikerk, positive of the Schnitger organ), et al. In 1741, Hinsz was hired to dissemble the organ in Kampen, built in 1676 by Jan Siegel (who had re-used material from the 1629 organ, by Jan Morlet), and from it, build a larger one. The builder recycled much of the previous material and built an instrument with 34 stops, divided over three manuals. The case was decorated by the Groningen sculptor Caspar Strewing, and one can still admire those magnificent sculptures and other carvings.

It soon became evident that the lack of an independent pedal organ represented a severe inconvenience, so that, already in 1784, Hinsz's successors (H.H. Freightage and the young F.C. Schnitger) received the job of adding one. However, they did more : at no additional cost, they equipped the instrument with a Present 4,' which became, as of 1790, one of the largest in Holland.

Later on, several builders took care of the instrument. Quite fortunately, regular maintenance and various repairs, along with minor changes, never altered the original character of this masterpiece.

Finished in 1975, the complete restoration by the firm of Bakker & Timing of Leeuwarden went back to the disposition of 1790, supplemented by a fifth windchest on which the 19th-century pipes were placed (eight stops from the "second" Bovenwerk, which date from 1825). The exceptional quality of the pipes, the splendor and refinement of timbres, were such that a revoicing was not deemed necessary.

Willem Hendrik Zwart


Praeludium BWV 552/1
in Es-dur/in E flat major/en mi bémol majeur
pro Organo pleno

Fuga BWV 552/2
in Es-dur/in E flat major/en mi bémol majeur
à 5 con Pedale pro Organo pleno


... The set opens with one of Bach’s greatest preludes for organ, BWV 552 in E flat major, which is a vast, large-scale work ending with a fugue. Koïto plays this work with taste, and does not overdo it - which is all too easy with such a work.

... This is a very satisfying recording of this work, and indeed one of the best available. Kei Koïto is a brilliant performer who knows how to let the music take center stage, rather than the organ,... - Kirk McElhearn 
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