Johann Sebastian Bach (trans. Kurtág):
Gottes Zeit ist die allerbeste Zeit, BWV 106
O Lamm Gottes, unschuldig, BWV 1085

Program notes for Tippet Rise Art Center, July 21, 2018.
© Benjamin Pesetsky 2018. Not to be reprinted without permission.

György Kurtág, a contemporary Hungarian composer, transcribed these two chorale preludes by Johann Sebastian Bach for piano four hands. Kurtág published them in a volume called Transcriptions from Machaut to J.S. Bach and recorded them with his wife, Márta, on a 1997 CD called Játékok (Games). In his own work, Kurtág is especially known for icy miniatures, well described by his aphorism, “one note is almost enough.” His transcriptions are likewise lean, bringing a judicious clarity to Bach’s music.

Gottes Zeit ist die allerbeste Zeit (God’s time is the best of all times) comes from the opening Sonatina of Actus Tragicus,BWV 106, one of Bach’s earliest cantatas. It was originally scored for two recorders, two violas da gamba, and basso continuo—an old-fashioned ensemble even in Bach’s day, harkening back to the music of the previous generation. All of Bach’s sacred cantatas were intended for use in Lutheran services, and this one was written for a funeral.

O Lamm Gottes, unschuldig (O Lamb of God, innocent) is a Lutheran hymn that Bach used in several works, including in the opening of St. Matthew Passion. Kurtág made this transcription, however, from a little-known organ prelude that was lost for centuries and rediscovered in a collection at Yale University in 1984. Still uncatalogued at the time Kurtág picked it up, it is now designated BWV 1085.