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Peter Williams RIP


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A great loss to the musical world. His "Life of Bach" had the merits of being brief, scholarly, offering new hypotheses and very readable. For we organists there is nothing else comparable to his book "The Organ Works of Bach".


I still remember with great pleasure a piece which he wrote for Early Music, about 40 years ago, entitled, "A toccata and fugue in D minor for organ by J. S. Bach" in which he questioned every part or the title. "Toccata AND FUGUE"; no other pieces of that time had that title, "Toccata" was enough as it would automatically end with a fugue", "In D minor"; there is a good case for arguing that the original key was a minor. "For organ"; it fits better on a violin. "By J. S. Bach"; there are no early manuscripts or attributions to JSB, the piece is crude by his standards, even as a student work, and there were some unusual harmonies (but then JSB often did unusual things).


Whoever wrote it, there is a good case for asserting that it was originally for violin solo, and the limitations of the fugue were to make it playable on that instrument. In A minor it works well as several recordings have demonstrated.

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His book 'The Organ', written with Barbara Owen as one of the New Grove series in the 1980s, is more scholarly than other similar tomes, such as that of Sumner who was, in my opinion, rather an amateur in comparison (and he doesn't even appear in the index!). It also has the advantage of comparative brevity (2.2 cm thick compared with Sumner's 4.2) considering the breadth of the remit. Yet its comprehensive selection of appendices, references and indexes ensure nothing of substance is left out or cannot be amplified elsewhere. I have long found it one of the most useful books on my shelves.



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