In the Grande Sonate for solo piano Op. 33 (1847), "Les quatre âges de la vie," Alkan employs the subject of the Fugue in E major, BWV 878, from the second volume of "Das wohltemperirte Clavier" as a unifying theme of the whole cyclical form. The thematic derivation is evident in the concluding fugato of the second movement, where the whole subject becomes the principal theme of the fugato, in a rhythmically simplified version. It is less evident in the other movements; but the entirety of the Sonata's thematic material can nonetheless be derived from it. The process represents much more than a quotation, a composition on a theme by Bach or an archaic simulation, procedures pursued frequently by nineteenth-century composers. Rather, Alkan conceives here a modern work, founded upon the music of the Kantor of Leipzig. Alkan maintained his relationship with Bach for the whole of his artistic career, both as performer and composer. The music of Bach informed his education; his piano and organ teachers at the Paris Conservatory were Pierre-Joseph-Guillaume Zimmermann and François Benoist, both impassioned about counterpoint, particularly that of Bach. As a performer, above all as virtuoso of the piano-pédalier, Alkan indefatigably promoted the music of Bach and contemporary compositions based on historical styles. As composer Alkan cultivated all of the various facets of historicism with Bach as the central point of reference. This article offers a profile of the reception of Bach by Alkan who, remaining almost continuously in Paris, succeeded in expressing in his own activity all the facets of European musical historicism of the mid-nineteenth century.
Arfini, Maria Teresa (2015) Charles Valentin Alkan e Johann Sebastian Bach: un capitolo dello storicismo in Francia. In: Ad Parnassum: A Journal of Eighteenth- and Nineteenth-Century Instrumental Music, Vol. 13, pp. np. Available at https://openmusiclibrary.org/article/556845/.