The Bach Inventions are a collection of exercise pieces, with a style original to the composer Bonporti. These pieces were based to a large extent on the art of improvisation. As time passed, this sort of exercise music, composed in two parts, became a signature work of Johann Sebastian Bach for the purpose of teaching his son, Wilhelm, how to “compose good inventions and develop them well and to acquire a taste for the many elements of composition.” It is said that the first versions of the fifteen inventions were composed during Wilhelm’s lessons, based on the above phrase from the forward in the Autograph of 1723.
It is interesting to note that, in the order that Bach presented them to his son, the first three of the two-part Inventions – C major, D minor, and E minor – are based largely on portions of scales, sometimes on a scale in entirety. The three following, being F major, G major, and A minor, were composed using patterns derived from broken chords. B minor uses a combination of both ideas. The final eight Inventions were placed in descending order of keys, revealing another interesting fact about Bach as a very orderly instructor.
The two-part Inventions are now used primarily to teach students two things, the first being to play cleanly while only using two parts, and the second, after having mastered the first, to be able to successfully accomplish the learning of three-part contrapuntal pieces, such as Sinfonias. A large advantage given after having learned the Inventions and Sinfonias, is that, with regard to strength and technique, both hands are built up to an equal point.
Life of Bach:
J.S. Bach was born in Eisenach, Saxe-Eisenach on March 21, 1685, to Johann Ambrosius Bach and Maria Elisabeth Lämmerhirt. His father was the director of the town musicians, and all of his uncles were professionals in the world of music. Young Bach was immersed in music from a young age, with his father as his instructor in violin and the basic theory of music. One uncle, Johann Christoph Bach, first introduced his nephew to organ, one of the greatest factors in J.S.’s great success as a church musician.
After his parents’ death only eight months apart, J.S. moved in with his eldest brother, Johann Christoph Bach (not to be confused with the uncle, Johann Christoph.) While living with J.C., he capitalized on his opportunities by copying, performing, and studying music, later going on to further music studies at the prestigious St. Michael’s School.
At the age of eighteen, Bach began a career as church organist, which he continued in until 1723. The life of a musician carried him to work in several different churches during this time. Following his church organist career, Bach worked as the Cantor in the St. Thomas Church. This position involved instructing students in Thomasschule in singing, providing the main churches in the area with music, and teaching Latin (for which he was allowed to hire a deputy). He served in this capacity for the next twenty-three years, until his death in 1750.
This essay was written at the request of my wonderful piano instructor, Allison Chetta (Pinner Studios, Greenville, SC).
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||Two-Part Inventions Composed by Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750). Edited by Willard A. Palmer. For solo piano. Masterworks; Piano Collection. Alfred Masterwork Editions. Baroque. SMP Level 8 (Early Advanced). Collection. Standard notation, fingerings, introductory text and instructional text (does not include words to the songs). 64 pages. Published by Alfred Music (AP.604).