Bach Sinfornia in F minor BWV 795, Baroque music, J.S. Bach, J.S. Bach Sinfonia in F minor, Shirley Kirsten, Shirley Smith Kirsten, word press, word, wordpress,, you tube, you tube video, you, yout tube,

J.S. Bach and blurred tonality (learning the three-part Invention or Sinfonia in F minor, BWV 795)

The Sinfonia in F minor is a tour de force work of art, perhaps evocative of the composer’s Musical Offering in its strikingly atonal sections. Yet there are definitive cadences in Major and minor keys that occur at the terminus of tonally ambiguous tunnels.

Bach wrote a preface to the two and THREE Part Inventions (as per Elaine Comparone, Harpsichordist and Baroque scholar), *”where he beautifully expresses his purpose to develop the art of CANTABILE playing in 2 and 3 voices” (loosely translated) “on keyboard instruments.”

Quote, Johann Sebastian Bach 1723

“Honest method by which the amateurs of the keyboard—especially, however,
those desirous of learning—are shown a clear way not only
(1) to learn to play cleanly in two parts, but also, after further progress,
(2) to handle three obbligato parts correctly and well; and along
with this not only to obtain good inventions (ideas) but to develop the same well;
above all, however, to achieve cantabile style in playing and at the same time
acquire a strong foretaste of composition.”


The way to approach a composition of this magnitude is to parcel out three voices, and separately track them from beginning to end. This can be tricky, especially where they converge, or are divided between the hands. At one point, the soprano and alto are so closely placed on the printed page, that it takes a keen eye, not to mention ear, to separate them within the texture.

Until the player is thoroughly versed in the alto, bass, and soprano lines to the extent that he can sing each, as if learning his part in a choir, should he begin to layer the voices. The process presumes that singing has been translated into playing each line, beautifully phrased, with a sensible fingering attached. (knowledge of the Subject, its content, articulation and phrasing is pivotal to the learning paradigm combined with an awareness of streamed half-step movement that gives the composition an eerie effect–along with its embedded tritones)

In my instructional video, I take the stepwise journey that begins with a breakdown of voices, and I conclude with a sample playing of three simultaneously layered lines.

There are no learning shortcuts. Laying down a solid foundation is the best route to enjoying a complex composition such as this one.

Play through at Largo Tempo:

Sinfonia in f minor bwv795 page 1

Sinfonia in f minor page 2

Sinfonia in f minor p. 3

6 thoughts on “J.S. Bach and blurred tonality (learning the three-part Invention or Sinfonia in F minor, BWV 795)”

  1. Starting to play, learn this sinfonia. This tutorial really helps. I like your tempo as recorded. Some are really slow on I have watched other posts of yours on youtube when working on pieces you cover. This one did not come up for me on youtube, but I found it by doing a google search for “Bach sinfonia 9”. Thank you. Great resource.


    1. The trill at the end is challenging in that the fingering shows the alto C with the thumb moving to the 2nd finger so the thumb can take alto B flat and keep the legato to the picardy third A on 2. Also really have to hang on to the B flat on 2 because the soprano F breaks before striking the last soprano F again. Getting the trill started is enough, so the substitution is easier on the second F, E (4,3) of the trill, then the trill ends with a 3 note figure before the last upbeat ( B flat) before the down beat (and maintaining legato going) into the last measure. Of course some recorded performances don’t do any of this ornamentation.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.