Bach - Inventions and Sinfonias

Find out more about the pieces Bach wrote to help keyboard players develop their technique.

Inventions, as a musical form, originated in Italy with improvisations, particularly by the composer Bonporti. J. S. Bach adapted and modified the form and made it his own.

As far as Bach was concerned, an invention is a short exercise written for private practice by keyboard students – which has a two-part counterpoint. Compositions in the same style as an invention but using three-part counterpoint are known as sinfonias. All such pieces usually begin with a theme, which is then developed and, at the end, briefly repeated.

Bach’s collection, Inventions and Sinfonias, consists of 30 short keyboard compositions he wrote to develop the keyboard technique of his son, Wilhelm Friedemann, while in Köthen and later Leipzig. There are 15 inventions and 15 sinfonias, both arranged in ascending order of key, covering eight major and seven minor keys.

These (not surprisingly) inventive pieces have set the standard of how a composer should create and develop themes. They are among the greatest pieces ever written for training purposes, helping keyboard players to build the strength and technique of both hands equally.