If you have ever learned to play the Piano you have undoubtably played some of Bach´s Two or Three Part Inventions.
They are a part of the established canon of classical keyboard works and deservedly so because not only do they teach good technique and the ability to play two and three part works convincingly on the keyboard but these works are also Great lessons in Compositions.
Invention is not a form like Sonata or Fugue but means just that an Invention or Idea.
In these works Bach introduces a clear Idea and puts it through many innovative compositional procedures like development, inversion, changing the Idea by adding or subtracting notes, changing temporal attributes, imitation, coming up with a contrast, invert the Idea, using sequences and modulations. In fact all the great compositional tricks are used in full force here by the Baroque Master.
And that was the purpose by Bach when writing these works, to teach the pupil how to develop good playing technique and also give him a good understanding of how compositions are put together, so in fact this is a composition manual by Bach.
The works are short, they range from about 40 seconds to three minutes but they are packed with good ideas expertly developed.
There are many good recorded versions available now. Angela Hewitt has recorded most of Bach´s keyboard works and she is an absolute Bach master.
Andras Schiff is another Great Bach Player and I can certainly reccomend his version.
Now Glenn Gould is an absolute Genius and his Bach playing is sublime but the piano he uses for the Two Part invention has some buzz in it and sometimes some of the notes repeats like the hammer is bounching on the strings, most peculiar and why on earth was the piano not mended before recording I have no idea but Gould was Eccentric to say the least, still apart from those minor blemishes his playing is Fantastic.
There are also a lot of good Harpsichord versions available, Bach himself would have played this on a Harpsichord or a Clavichord.
One of my recording is by the American Harpsichordist Kathleen Mcintosh and it´s a good one.
The Violinist Janine Jansen relesed a CD 2007 where she playes these works, the Two Part are arranged for Violin and Viola and the Three part are arranged for Violin, Viola and Cello. These versions are very interesting and the different instruments make each Part stand out.
Many Guitarists like to play this also and there is a Book available where the Two Parts are arranged for two guitars, it´s called " Bach Inventions for Guitar Duet" - arranged by Jerry Willard. It includes two CD´s, disk one has the inventions played by two Guitars and CD 2 demonstrates each part individually.
For Piano and Composition students I can also recommend a book by Theodore O. Johnson called "An analytical survey of the Fifteen Two - Part Inventions by J.S. Bach." Like the title says it analyses every Two Part Invention, the form and what Bach is doing in the invention.
So these works are extremly rewarding both to the piano student and composition student and also to the avarage listener of Classical Music.
If you are not familiar with these works give these little gems a change, for me at least they never cease to give Great pleasure.