The first piece I’d like to tell you about is (although it doesn’t sound like it) in many ways the simpler of the two works I wrote for the Platform 4 WINDS concert. BWV 555 is one of a set of eight miniature preludes and fugues that Bach wrote for the organ. Except he didn’t. Write all eight of them, that is. Some (including this 3rd in the set) are now attributed to his pupil Johann Ludwig Krebs.
I was attracted to this particular work as it is short, compact, and quite serious while having lovely changes of texture woven throughout. Originally, the idea was to create a colourful orchestration which had the memory of a pipe organ in the wind timbres. Thus the prelude, which is a straight orchestration for woodwind and horns only, begins with low flutes, mid-range clarinets and a muted horn for an sombre and airy sound, the melody ringing out a little more. The timbral diversity increases as the texture changes, changing to more plangent oboe and (high) bassoon sounds, and finally culminating by “pulling out all the stops” before the sound dies down to its initial gentle glow.
I had deliberately reserved the heavy brass to pump some energy into the fugue, and it was this energy that ended up spilling over into a wild coda. Each note of the fugue subject is accented by another instrument (quite a Stravinsky-an device?), creating noticeable attacks that take on a life of their own in the horn section, while the piccolo and oboe have “wrong” notes that signal that something quite un-Bach (un-Krebs) is about to happen.
One major advantage of having so many instruments at your disposal is being able to play around with texture more extravagantly. From half-way into the fugue I built up the energy levels gradually, whipping up a storm with the flutes, while building to a climax where instrument groups played their own parts but slotted together to a chaotic texture (can’t get away from the Rite of Spring, can we… and who would want to?!).
The coda was my chance to have fun. Wild and rude sounds were pushed on from the fugue, and material from the prelude was piled up in chords and layered over the top. This Bacchanalian scene could only sustain itself for so long, however, and we hear the machine run out of power quite literally. Only a final raspberry could complete the tribute to / desecration of the original.