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The French Baroque Organ and Its Influence on J.S. Bach

A Lecture Recital by Dr. David Ponsford

Saturday, Sept 17th, 2011 7.30pm
Singapore Bible College, Worship Hall, 9-15 Adam Road [locate]


During this lecture/recital, Dr David Ponsford will discuss the character and nature of some of the important composers of French Baroque organ music, Nicolas de Grigny, Francois Couperin, Pierre du Mage and André Raison, and their influence on J. S. Bach.

The liturgical function of French Roman Catholic organ music, including the alternatim principle, will be explained, as well as the use of plainsong (such Veni creator spiritus) and the genres associated with the organ music. Relations between the organ registrations (prescribed in the titles of the French pieces) and their associated musical idioms will be discussed, as well as the particular elements of French performance practice that Dr Ponsford has discussed in his recent book ‘French Organ Music in the Reign of Louis XIV’ (Cambridge University Press, 2011).

JS Bach himself was a product of the Lutheran Reformation in which both the forms of Roman Catholic liturgy and the extensive traditional use of plainsong melodies were not relevant. However the Roman liturgies were adapted to Protestant (Lutheran) uses, and some plainsong melodies (such as Veni Creator) were transformed into German Lutheran chorales. These chorales formed the basis of many of Bach’s chorale preludes, and certain French pieces provided the idioms and sometimes the thematic material for his ‘free’ organ music (such as the Pièce d’orgue (BWV 572) and the Passacaglia in C minor (BWV 582)

All the pieces played in this recital will not only reflect the contrasts between Roman Catholic and Protestant liturgies, and the contrasting uses of the organ, in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, but will also reveal the musical influences between the works of these French composers and particular works of J. S. Bach, in order to extend our knowledge of the greatest composer from our civilisation.


Dr David Ponsford is a scholar, professional organist, harpsichordist, conductor, and an authority on keyboard music of the 17th and 18th centuries. An organ scholar at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, he studied organ with Peter Hurford, Lionel Rogg and Piet Kee, and harpsichord with Kenneth Gilbert and Gustav Leonhardt. He is now Associate Lecturer at Cardiff University, where he conducts the University Choir and the University Chamber Orchestra. He also teaches organ and harpsichord at Bristol University, and gives series of lectures at Madingley Hall, Cambridge University. Recent recordings include Bach’s complete violin sonatas with Jacqueline Ross, ‘Parthenia’ (1612), J. S. Bach’s Clavierübung Part 3, and the complete Handel recorder sonatas with Alan Davis. For the last five years he has been Publications Officer for the British Institute of Organ Studies, and together with Anne Page he founded the Cambridge Academy of Organ Studies. Besides regular concerts in the UK he has in the last year given concerts in Bydgoszcz and Krakow (Poland), and in New York. His edition of Biber’s Mystery Sonatas was published by Ut Orpheus (Bologna) in 2007, and his book ‘French Organ Music in the Reign of Louis XIV’ was published by Cambridge University Press in June this year.


Pierre du Mage (1676-1751)

Plein Jeu


JS Bach (1685-1750)

Pièce d’orgue (BWV 572)


Nicolas de Grigny (1672-1703)

Suite: Veni Creator

Veni Creator en taille à 5

Fugue à 5


Récit de cromorne

Dialogue sur les grands jeux


JS Bach

An Wasserflussen Babylon


Francois Couperin (1668-1733)

Offertoire sur les grands jeux (Messe pour les couvents)


André Raison (1650-1719)

Christe eleison (Messe du deuziesme ton)


JS Bach

Passacaglia in C minor (BWV 582)