(Transcribed for orchestra by Ottorino Respighi, Leopold Stokowski, and others)
The grandest architectonics and fantasy of a staggering sublimity characterize the great Preludes and Fugues and the C minor Passacaglia. This astonishing Passacaglia is in fact one of the mightiest of all Bach’s creations, and a wonderful example of a favorite method of musical variation and,development in the period before the establishment of the classic symphony. (The Passacaglia has on occasion been incorporated in the symphony.) It is built upon a short, bare theme, eight measures long, fit for the Rock of Ages. It is a theme, incidentally, particularly practical for the foot-work of the organist. Or it the composer builds twenty variations and a final fugue. The theme strides through the orchestra, while about it luxuriates Bach’s counterpoint. There s no describing or sufficiently extolling the music. We can realize here, if we never realized before, the fundamental and indispensable basis of the art of structural music that was laid by the supreme Bach and his predecessors and contemporaries of the polyphonic school. These are the beams and arches of the music that was to follow. This gigantic Passacaglia is not only Bach speaking; it is the spirit and the inheritance of his great school, of the labors and dreams of a thousand lesser men, who toiled as humbly and anonymously as the masons who worked, decade after decade, century after century, on Gothic cathedrals. Engrossed in their toil, they were unaware of the greatness of the task, but consecrated to it. They prepared the waythose smaller musiciansfor the Master, great and humble, who also labored in obscurity and humility, till the Lord took his sight from him. But his eyes glimpsed the reaches of eternity.