Ever since Johann Sebastian Bach wrote this collection of short works for his children and students as a means for mastering fundamental keyboard technique, his “Inventionen and Sinfonien” have remained a basis for keyboard pedagogical practice. In my own case, my piano teacher introduced me to Bach’s “Inventionen and Sinfonien” when my fingers could not even reach an octave. I remember making big arm gestures to reach the intervals that were too broad for my hands. My feet would dangle somewhere in the space between the bench and the pedals. Since that early encounter, these pieces have been a fundamental part of my repertoire and have accompanied my whole musical journey.
As I developed as a musician, I found that I could identify with these pieces not only because of their exceptional quality, but because Bach had intended them for the evolving apprenticeship of his pupils and his son, Wilhelm Friedemann. It has been my goal to reflect the youthful character of the music and seek to capture the purity and simplicity that are characteristic of a maturing pupil’s interpretation.
Concerning the order of pieces on this recording, I have deviated somewhat from the familiar sequence as arranged by Bach and published in 1723. Somehow I always felt that this standard succession of pieces was slightly inorganic, lacking fluidity. Around the time of recording, another version caught my attention: the arrangement from the Clavierbüchlein (keyboard book) for Bach’s son Wilhelm Friedemann, which is actually the original version of the pieces, published in 1720. In this 1720 version, it seems that Bach sought to introduce his son by stages to the various keys: accordingly, he starts with the keys with the fewest sharps and flats and then gradually adds more. This creates a symmetrical cycle of keys, first ascending and then descending: C, D, E, F, G, A, B – and then B-flat, A, G, F, E, E-flat, D, C, a framework that makes this version feel especially pleasing and fluid.
Many aspects of this collection of masterful pieces continue to fascinate me. Each invention and sinfonia creates a world of its own. For instance, the listener hears dances emanating through the counterpoint, as in the energetic rhythms of Invention No. 3, or senses an orchestral, Brandenburg Concerto-like quality in Sinfonia No. 2. Chorales are woven through the beautiful contrapuntal lines of Sinfonia No. 6.
One marvels at countless inventive qualities, recognizing with admiration how these pieces have guided many generations over 250 years through remarkable musical adventures always worthy of fresh exploration. Perhaps they will lead you as well to your own musical journey… (Karin Kei Nagano)