Focus piece: Prelude & Fugue in F minor, BWV 881 (JS Bach)
Listen to the work
Information about the piece:
Information about tuning systems (pitch):
Information about instruments of the Baroque period (tone colour):
Information about covers of this piece:
- The Swingle Singers
Structure - analyse the counterpoint in the fugue. Sing through two of the polyphonic parts (though could be too complex).
About: This Baroque work is from one of the foundations of keyboard music but was written for instruments that many students aren’t familiar with (eg harpsichord, clavichord, pipe organ). The work has been sampled many times since it was written and its relevance carries through to today.
Musical Elements: Pitch
This tonal piece has many modulations, uses minor and major keys. The prelude typically uses one motif throughout but in different keys. It would be worth showing students how the single motif is presented in each key, singing and playing it. The qualities of major and minor keys could also be explored.
Musical Elements: Texture
The fugue is the most complex texture/structure used in the Baroque period. This work is worth using to explore Baroque texture, the role of ‘voices’, the integration of texture with structure, and following linear compositions.
Teaching Activity: Creativity/Composition - Create a Canon
Canons or rounds are an example of polyphonic music. This activity is a small group activity. Using the four-bar chord progression of I V IV I, create a canon that the class could sing. Using the worksheet (see appendix), write a quatrain about the Baroque period and create a canon from this. Notate and perform the composition.
Teaching Activity: Aural - Musical DNA
Ask students to use the site whosampled.com to research Bach’s BWV 881 prelude. Students need to name three pieces that sampled or covered the music. Ask students to listen to each piece and discuss which parts of the original work were sampled or covered, and how the sample/cover was different to the original work. Use the musical concepts to guide this. The possible pieces are Prelude in F minor No 12 (The Swingle Sisters), They (Jem), Puff Harder (JNJ Project, Mr Cheeks), Le Yuan (Jolin Tsai), They (Cut Chemist Remix) (Cut Chemist). Extend this activity by discussing the possible relevance of Baroque music today.
Teaching Activity: Musicology - Who’s the Greatest?
Ask students to choose a Baroque composer from the following list: Monteverdi, Vivaldi, Handel, JS Bach. Ask students to research these composers and their works, and find one interesting important aspect about their musicianship or musical output that could argue for their importance. Some examples - Monteverdi and the beginnings of opera, Vivaldi’s work with school students, Handel’s Messiah chorus and its fame, JS Bach’s amount of compositions. Ask students to present their argument to the class using slides and musical examples - encourage them to be passionate about their argument.
Teaching Activity: Performance - Jazzy Bach
Listen to the Swingle Sister’s version of this work. Discuss the challenges of singing in an a cappella style. Learn the piece and sing as a class (the arrangement is available for purchase from sheetmusicplus.com). Use skilled musicians for the bass and drum lines. This piece would be suitable for a formal performance eg assembly.
Is Baroque music relevant today?
The answer is yes! Much of the music we hear and play has its origins in the Baroque period. This includes:
- keyboard music
- music for string ensembles
- operas, ballets, other theatrical forms
- functional harmony - chords I, IV, V