Borbála Dobozy Johann Sebastian Bach: 12 and 6 Preludes, Inventions and Sinfonias
This year marks the 300th anniversary of Bach's completion of the two- and three-part inventions. Part of the power and charm of these concentrated movements is Bach's ability to combine intense emotion with constructive musical thinking. This cosmos, at once transparent and dense, is presented by Borbála Dobozy with precision and poetry, balancing brilliant technique and vivid characters. Her play remains free of extremes and mannerisms, while marking out a unique direction.
The two volumes of Wohltemperiertes Klavier, the prequels to the Bach trilogy by the internationally acclaimed harpsichordist, are among the most successful releases in the history of BMC Records on streaming platforms.
Borbála Dobozy - harpsichord
About the album
Recorded by Viktor Szabó at BMC Studio, September, 2022
Recording producer: Ibolya Tóth
Mixed and mastered by Viktor Szabó
Artwork: Anna Natter / Cinniature
Produced by László Gőz
Label manager: Tamás Bognár
Supported by the National Cultural Fund of Hungary
Komlós József JR. - alfoldiregiomagazin.hu (hu)
J. S. Bach: 12 and 6 preludes, Inventions and Sinfonias
The album is available in digital form at our retail partners
Johann Sebastian Bach assumed his position in Cöthen in December 1717. We can safely say that his years in Cöthen until 1720 formed the happiest and most productive period of Bach’s life. This was when he wrote the sonatas and partitas for solo violin, the suites for solo cello, the English and French Suites, the Brandenburg concertos, Book I of The Well-Tempered Clavier, and the two- and three-part inventions.
Among the output of the early years in Cöthen we find some unique works, such as the Chromatic Fantasia and Fugue (BWV 903), and the Clavier-Büchlein compiled to teach his first-born son, Wilhelm Friedemann, who was ten in 1720. This latter work is even more important as a textbook of composition than as a tool for teaching instrumental technique. For Bach, the two were inseparable. The Clavier-Büchlein contains the beginnings of The Well-Tempered Clavier, and early versions of the Inventions and Sinfonias, with the titles “Praeambulum” and “Fantasia”.
At the beginning of the collection, Bach gives a brief overview of the system of notes and their representation (clefs, pitches, major and minor modes), ornamentation, and fingering. Then he continues with the little preludes, chorale arrangements, and dance movements. These are followed by weightier preludes in various keys (including the distant, and difficult, C-sharp minor and E-flat minor), then a simple fugue, fifteen praeambula in strict two-part counterpoint (each in a different key, in ascending and descending order) and fifteen strictly composed three-part fantasies. Finally there are the suites of Telemann, J. Chr. Richter and G. H. Stölzel, interspersed from start to end with the young pupil’s own composition exercises.
The compositional models in the Clavier-Büchlein had already been collected methodically by Bach elsewhere (e.g. the chorale preludes in the Weimar Orgel-Büchlein), or he had started to collect them. Examples of this are The Well-Tempered Clavier, comprised of preludes and fugues (some of these preludes were borrowed from the Friedemann Clavier-Büchlein), or the manuscript containing reworked versions of the praeambula and fantasias of the Clavier-Büchlein, for which the maestro wrote a preface entitled Auffrichtige Anleitung (Forthright instruction). One of the general characteristics of Bach’s instrumental oeuvre is that, like his contemporaries, he tried to organize almost all his compositions into collections, regardless of whether he had originally written the work with this aim in mind. The booklet written for Wilhelm Friedemann is the earliest source of the Inventions and Sinfonias; the definitive version, completed in 1723, bears a title page on which Bach wrote:
“Forthright instruction, which gives simple direction to lovers of the clavier and especially to those desirous to learn, on (1) how to play two parts clearly, and also as they progress, (2) how to manage correctly and well three obbligato parts, and simultaneously, how to acquire good ideas and to work them out well, yet most especially, how to acquire the cantabile style of playing music and thereby acquire a strong taste for composition.
Made by Joh. Seb: Bach
Conductor for the Prince of Anhalt-Köthen”
The aim was thus as follows: 1. to provide a model for finding motivic and thematic ideas, 2. to show how these might be worked out and developed in compositions, 3. to learn to play two and three parts melodically. In this regard, N. Forkel makes the following remarks: “Bach wrote the (compositions) out himself while teaching, and always took into account the pupil’s current level of development.”
In certain respects, the two- and three-part compositions in the Friedemann Clavier-Büchlein differ from the definitive versions. First, they are presented in a different order. The revised order of keys of the two series is clearly based on the ascending key scheme of The Well-Tempered Clavier.
The consistent two-part writing in the inventions means they have always enjoyed greater popularity than the sinfonias, which are primarily in three voices and are determined by harmonic considerations. Indeed, the transparency of the two-voice texture makes it easy to recognize the structures of the composition. Bach’s setting out the inventions as models, as he mentions in the preface, generally results in the consistent implementation and development of a basic musical idea. In the music of the early eighteenth century, this meant the constant reiteration of the theme throughout the composition. Naturally, this monothematic principle, alongside repetition of the thematic material, also embraces the freedom to realize all the possible variations. In the two-voice compositional models, the invention exposes the thematic material as a basis for starting a musical process. Variation techniques may transform the shape in which the theme appears, but they leave its substance intact. One of these techniques is the sequence: the repetition of some theme or motif at another pitch, or transposed into another tonal plane, or the switching of voices, a particularly important compositional technique in respect of the inventions. In some pieces Bach also used augmentation (the use of longer rhythmic values) and inversion. These procedures are, without exception, artistic devices for strict composition. One characteristic of Bach’s compositional thinking is that he uses strict and free compositional principles regardless of the style of the given composition. In the inventions, the voice-leading of independent parts is generally defined by contrapuntal technique, while the shaping of the form is based on homophonic principles.
In spite of the almost inexhaustible variety, in structure they are all movements high in motivic concentration, generated from one musical idea; movements in which the defining fundamental principle is to present and perfect all the contrapuntal technical possibilities of the time.
As the number of voices increases, so the freedom of movement of each part is restricted, since the obbligato middle voice is defined by the positioning of the descant and the bass. Conversely, three-part writing provides the composer with an opportunity to use richer harmonic devices, and to confidently employ more complex chord progressions, as can be heard in the chromatic closing bars of the D-minor Sinfonia.
Studying these works, we justifiably want to know the exact meaning, content, and broader interpretation of the expression “invention”, or “der Einfall”, as Arnold Schoenberg termed it.
Listening to or playing the Inventions, the Sinfonias, and naturally the 18 little preludes on this recording, we must be aware that a deepening of the intellectual content of the music, and thus its immanent transcendent meaning, is only possible if we combine the feelings and their intensity with constructive musical ideas. For this art (and this is particularly true of the oeuvre of J. S. Bach) can truly only be understood through the imitation of the work of God. Creation without invention is impossible. But what do we mean by invention? Invention is the sustaining of ideas, the intuiting of things as they appear at a higher level than that of experience, and the physical and metaphysical polar balance of perceptible forms is restored. When the inaudible becomes audible, when the maestro visits the heavens, and there he takes notes on the valid musical forms he will follow down here on Earth.
Translated by Richard Robinson
Borbála Dobozy began higher education harpsichord studies with Zuzana Růžičková at the Academy of Music in Bratislava and then continued with her at the Prague Academy of Music. In the following years she studied historical performance practice: first at the Mozarteum in Salzburg under the guidance of Liselotte Brändle, Nikolaus Harnoncourt, and Johann Sonnleitner. Here she gained her second degree, again with honours. She then studied for a year at the Zurich Academy of Music as a student of Johann Sonnleitner.
In 1983 she won a prize at the International Harpsichord Competition in Bruges, Belgium.
She has given courses in Hungary, Norway, Germany, Austria, Belarus, Slovenia and Serbia. From 2005 to 2013, she was a teacher at the “Brillamment baroque” course in early music, held annually in Thoiry, France.
She has given concerts, and made recordings for radio and TV in most European countries and in the US.
At the centre of Borbála Dobozy’s artistry stands the oeuvre of Johann Sebastian Bach: she has played almost all of his compositions for harpsichord, including all the orchestral and chamber works. In 2010 her recording of the Goldberg-Variations, released in Czechia, won considerable international acclaim, as did the two volumes of the The Well-Tempered Clavier, recently released on the BMC Records label.
“Borbála Dobozy’s performance, like her entire musical personality, can best be described as harmonious.
The first thing to strike the listener on the surface is refinement and moderation, the highly plastic and transparent musical texture, the plasticity of inner voices… though her musical means are refined, for instance, sophisticated articulation, this articulation is also extremely deliberate, controlled, and differentiated, enabling the realization of the minutest musical and emotional nuances. The same can be said of Borbála Dobozy’s often featherlight application of agogics: she eschews broad gestures, but when she deploys this technique, the effect she achieves with it is all the greater.” (János Malina)
Her repertoire encompasses almost the entire harpsichord literature, including twentieth-century and contemporary music. Several Hungarian composers (György Arányi-Aschner, Árpád Balázs, Frigyes Hidas, and Máté Hollós) have composed works for her, and consequently many premieres are linked to her name.
She is a habilitated professor at the Liszt Ferenc Academy of Music in Budapest, and head of the harpsichord class there.
Her album of works by Gottlieb Muffat (Componimenti musicali per il cembalo) won the German Record Critics’ Prize in 1992.
In 2011 she received the Ferenc Liszt Prize.
In 2013 she obtained a DLA degree. Her dissertation “Georg Anton Benda and his Harpsichord Sonatas” was published in book form in Hungarian and Czech (Magyar Kultúra Kiadó, 2014 and 2016).
Since June 2017, she has been an ordinary member of the Music Section of the Hungarian Academy of Arts.