Bach’s life-long interest in canonic composition is manifest not only in the large-scale works devoted to exploring various contrapuntal techniques, but also in a number of short occasional works of a generally theoretical nature written throughout his life and usually placed in albums dedicated to students or friends. Canons of this kind were often notated in enigmatic fashion, and their solution provided intellectual enjoyment to the dedicatees. Christoph Wolff suggests that Bach derived much pleasure from writing pieces in this genre and in solving similar puzzle canons by others. Wolff also suggests that Bach’s occasional canons could “challenge his visitors with simple-looking yet complex vignettes of musical logic.” Some eight occasional canons by Bach survive, and it is very likely that many more are lost.
Three hundred years ago today, on 2 August 1713, Bach dedicated Canon à 4. Voc: perpetuus (BWV 1073) to the distant relative and fellow Weimar organist Johann Gottfried Walther. Written in four voices, with the beginning pitch of each voice corresponding to an open string of the viola, the dedication reads: “This ditty is written for the owner [of the book] with fond memories. Weimar, Joh. Sebast. Bach. Chamber Musician and Court Organist to the Prince of Saxony.”