Passacaglia and Thema Fugatum in C Minor (Bach tr Stokowski)

From Wind Repertory Project
Johann Sebastian Bach

Johann Sebastian Bach (trans. Leopold Stokowski; ed. Marc Sosnowchik)

This work bears the designation BWV 582.

General Info

Year: 1708-1712 / 1924 / 2014
Duration: c. 13:00
Difficulty: (see Ratings for explanation)
Original Medium: Organ
Publisher: Manuscript
Cost: Score and Parts - contact Marc Sosnowchik


Full Score
C Piccolo/Flute III
Flute I-II
Alto Flute/Flute IV
English Horn
Bassoon I-II
B-flat Soprano Clarinet Solo-I-II-III
B-flat Bass Clarinet
B-flat Contrabass Clarinet
B-flat Soprano Saxophone
E-flat Alto Saxophone
B-flat Tenor Saxophone
E-flat Baritone Saxophone
B-flat Trumpet I-II-III-IV
Horn in F I-II-III-IV
Trombone I-II
Bass Trombone
Euphonium I
F Tuba/Euphonium II
Tuba I-II
String Bass
Percussion, including:

  • Bass Drum (optional)
  • Tam-Tam (optional)


None discovered thus far.

Program Notes

Though one of the great organ classics, the Passacaglia in C Minor was first composed for the double-manual harpsichord. Despite the fact that the key of C minor is constantly present throughout all 20 variations and much of the fugue, Bach maintains a freshness in each variation which distinguishes it from the next. Albert Schweitzer advised that "Each of the twenty sections ... must have its own characteristic tone colour (but) ... no colour must be sharply differentiated from its predecessor or its successor."

The work opens with a stately eight-bar theme followed by the 20 variations and an overwhelming tutti. The double fugue is built on the first part of the passacaglia theme in combination with a countertheme in eighth notes. The work closes with a massive climax of suspended harmonies and full instrumental sonority.

- Program Note from Program Notes for Band

Johann Sebastian Bach was born in Eisenach, Germany on March 21, 1685, and died in Leipzig, Germany on July 28, 1750. It is likely that he composed the Passacaglia and Thema Fugatum in C Minor between 1708 and 1712, some scholars believe as a memorial to Dieterich Buxtehude who died in 1707. The Passacaglia has long been acclaimed as one of Bach’s supreme masterpieces for the organ, and only recently has it been believed that it dates from the early part of his life. Already a master, the young Bach was also adept at combining various national influences — in this case, the example of the North German chaconnes and passacaglias of Buxtehude with the French chaconnes of André Raison. Bach adapted the theme from Raison’s Premier Livre d’Orgue, expanded it from four to eight measures, and without any historic precedent presented it without ornamentation in the pedal. The 20 succeeding variations explore the gamut of improvisational rhetoric (Affektenlehre and Figurenlehre) and culminate in a massive thema fugatum, whereby Raison’s original theme is treated to a great fugal development.

Leopold Stokowski, appointed just over a century ago as music director of The Philadelphia Orchestra, wonderfully transformed music he loved into vibrantly colored orchestrations of his own. He was particularly drawn to the music of Bach and over the years arranged some three dozen organ, instrumental, and vocal pieces. Most were originally written for organ, which was Stokowski’s own instrument; when he emigrated from England to America he served as organist at St. Bartholomew’s Church in New York City. He transcribed the Passacaglia and Thema Fugatum in C Minor for the Philadelphia Orchestra in 1922, and subsequently orchestrated the same work for his “Band of Gold.” This professional 120-member wind band included musicians from the Philadelphia Orchestra and enjoyed an independent concert life from 1924-1925. The edition of the Passacaglia being performed on tonight’s program is a modern conception of Stokowski’s original orchestration for winds.

In his study Stokowski and the Organ, Rollin Smith notes that Stokowski’s orchestrations, unlike those of others who arranged Bach’s works in the first decades of the 20th century, do “not stray far from the organ or its effects. The conductor’s orchestration emulates the organist’s registration.” The organs of Bach’s time, especially early in his career, were manually pumped pipe instruments that produced nowhere near the volume of sound we now associate with great cathedral organs, let alone with a modern wind ensemble or symphony orchestra -- yet some of Bach’s organ pieces anticipate such a sonic future. As Stokowski himself declared: “Bach foresaw ... this immense volume that a modern organ or orchestra can produce. That showed foresight of a tremendous nature.”

In a 1962 radio interview, Stokowski explained:

Those who love (Bach’s) music should be able to hear that music, and of course they do hear it in churches sometimes, but the thousands of people that go to symphony concerts should also hear it. So, I have orchestrated it, trying to give the same impression of the music and carry the same message that the music has, the same inspiration that is in the music, through the modern orchestra.

When the interviewer suggested that Bach would be thrilled with Stokowski’s orchestrations of his works, the legendary maestro responded: “Bach was a very red hot-blooded man, he might kill me you know, or he might be pleased ... we shall never know until I meet him in Heaven, or wherever it is conductors go afterwards! ” Stokowski’s orchestral transcription of the Passacaglia includes his own forward:

Bach’s passacaglia is in music, what a great Gothic cathedral is in architecture -- the same vast conception -- the same soaring mysticism given eternal form. He left us no orchestral compositions of this grandeur, probably because the orchestra was too little developed in his time. His Brandenburg concerti and the orchestral suites are more intimate works written for the salon. The most free and sublime instrumental expressions of Bach are his greater organ works, and one of the greatest of these is the Passacaglia in C Minor. Many do not often enough have the opportunity to hear it, and so bring it nearer to those who love Bach’s music, I have made this symphonic transcription.

This passacaglia is one of those musical conceptions whose content is so full and significant, that its medium of expression is of relative unimportance. Whether played on the organ, or by the greatest of all instruments -- the orchestra -- it is one of the most divinely inspired creations ever conceived.

- Program Note by Ken Meltzer and Leopold Stokowski

This transcription by Marc Sosnowchik was done in partial fulfillment of requirements for the Doctor of Musical Arts degree from the University of Texas. This version was made from an unpublished manuscript housed in the Stokowski Archive at the University of Pennsylvania.


(Needed - please join the WRP if you can help.)

State Ratings

None discovered thus far.


To submit a performance please join The Wind Repertory Project

  • University of Miami (Coral Gables) Frost Wind Ensemble (Andrew Keiser, conductor) – 12 November 2023
  • Illinois State University (Normal) Wind Symphony (Anthony C. Marinello, conductor) - 18 September 2022
  • University of South Florida (Tampa) Symphonic Band (Matthew McDowell, conductor) - 18 November 2021
  • Illinois State University (Normal) Wind Symphony (Anthony C. Marinello, conductor) – 16 September 2018
  • University of Miami (Coral Gables) Frost Wind Ensemble (Robert Carnochan, conductor) – 29 October 2017
  • University of Colorado (Boulder) Wind Symphony (Donald J. McKinney, conductor) – 26 April 2016
  • University of Texas (Austin) Wind Ensemble (Marc Sosnowchik, conductor) – 30 March 2014 – *Premiere Performance*

Works for Winds by This Composer

Adaptable Music

All Wind Works


  • Bach, Passacaglia (musical score, orchestra), Leopold Stokowski, arr., Foreword.
  • Ken Meltzer, “Passacaglia and Fugue in C Minor” in Notes on the Program. Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, September 25, 2008 (Accessed March 3, 2013).
  • Marc Sosnowchik, personal correspondence, 13 April 2016
  • Smith, Norman E. (2002). Program Notes for Band. Chicago: GIA Publications, pp. 25