Bach - Musikalisches Opfer BWV 1079 (1/6)





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Published on May 15, 2010

The Musical Offering (German title Musikalisches Opfer or Das Musikalische Opfer), BWV 1079, is a collection of canons and fugues and other pieces of music by Johann Sebastian Bach, based on a musical theme by Frederick II of Prussia (Frederick the Great) and dedicated to him.

The collection has its roots in a meeting between Bach and Frederick II on May 7, 1747. The meeting, taking place in the king's residence in Potsdam, resulted from Bach's son Carl Philipp Emanuel being employed there as court musician. Frederick wanted to show the elder Bach a novelty: the piano had been invented some years earlier, and the king now owned several of the experimental instruments being developed by Gottfried Silbermann.[1] During his anticipated visit to Frederick's palace in Potsdam, Bach, who was well known for his skill at improvising, received from Frederick a long and complex musical figure to improvise a three-voice fugue. Frederick, then, challenged Bach to make that into a six-voice fugue. The public present thought that just a malicious caprice by the king, intent upon humiliating philosophers and artists. Bach answered he would need to work the score and send it to the king afterwards. He then returned to Leipzig to write out the Thema Regium ("theme of the king").

Two months after the meeting, Bach published a set of pieces based on this theme which we now know as The Musical Offering. Bach inscribed the piece "Regis Iussu Cantio Et Reliqua Canonica Arte Resoluta" (the theme given by the king, with additions, resolved in the canonic style), the first letters of which spell out the word ricercar, a well-known genre of the time.

The "thema regium" appears as the theme for the first and last movements of the 7th Sonata in D Minor by Friedrich Wilhelm Rust, written approximately 1788, and as the theme for elaborate variations by Giovanni Paisiello in his "Les Adieux de la Grande Duchesse ds Russies" written in approximately 1784, upon his departure from the court of Catherine the Great.


Painting: "The Flute Concert of Sanssouci" by Menzel, 1852, depicts Frederick the Great playing the flute in his music room at Sanssouci.

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