Johann Sebastian Bach – The Well-Tempered Clavier

Johann Sebastian Bach – The Well-Tempered Clavier

Recorded in 1994

About these works:
The Well-Tempered Clavier (Das Wohltemperirte Clavier  in the original German title), BWV 846–893, is a collection of solo keyboard music composed by Johann Sebastian Bach. He first gave the title to a book of preludes and fugues in all 24 major and minor keys, dated 1722, composed “for the profit and use of musical youth desirous of learning, and especially for the pastime of those already skilled in this study.” Bach later compiled a second book of the same kind, dated 1742, but titled it only “Twenty-four Preludes and Fugues.” The two works are now usually considered to comprise The Well-Tempered Clavier and are referred to respectively as Books I and II. The Well-Tempered Clavier is generally regarded as one of the most influential works in the history of Western classical music.
The first book was compiled in the year 1722 during Bach’s appointment in Köthen; the second book followed it 22 years later in 1744 while he was in Leipzig. Both were widely circulated in manuscript, but printed copies were not made until 1801, by three publishers almost simultaneously in Bonn, Leipzig and Zurich. Bach’s style went out of favour in the time around his death, and most music in the early Classical period had neither contrapuntal complexity nor a great variety of keys. But with the maturing of the Classical style in the 1770s the Well-Tempered Clavier began to influence the course of musical history, with Haydn  and Mozart studying the work closely. Each book contains twenty-four pairs of preludes and fugues. The first pair is in C major, the second in C minor, the third in C-sharp major, the fourth in C-sharp minor, and so on. The rising chromatic pattern continues until every key has been represented, finishing with a B-minor fugue. Bach recycled some of the preludes and fugues from earlier sources: the 1720 Klavierbüchlein für Wilhelm Friedemann Bach, for instance, contains versions of eleven of the preludes. The C-sharp major prelude and fugue in book one was originally in C major – Bach added a key signature of seven sharps and adjusted some accidentals to convert it to the required key. The far-reaching influence of Bach’s music is evident in that the fugue subject in Mozart’s Prelude and Fugue in C Major K. 394 is isomorphic to that of the A-flat major Fugue in Book II of the Well-Tempered Clavier. This pattern is found also in the C-Major fugue subject of Book II. Another similar theme is the third movement fugue subject in the Concerto for Two Harpsichords, BWV 1061. Bach’s title suggests that he had written for a (12-note) well-tempered tuning system in which all keys sounded in tune (also known as “circular temperament”). The opposing system in Bach’s day was meantone temperament in which keys with many accidentals sound out of tune. (See also musical tuning). It is sometimes assumed that Bach intended equal temperament, the standard modern keyboard tuning which became popular after Bach’s death, but modern scholars suggest instead a form of well temperament. There is debate whether Bach meant a range of similar temperaments, perhaps even altered slightly in practice from piece to piece, or a single specific “well-tempered” solution for all purposes.
Musically, the structural regularities of the Well-Tempered Clavier encompass an extraordinarily wide range of styles, more so than most pieces in the literature. The Preludes are formally free, although many individual numbers exhibit typical Baroque melodic forms, often coupled to an extended free coda (e.g. Book I preludes in C minor, D Major, and B-flat major). Each fugue is marked with the number of voices, from two to five. Most are three- and four-voiced fugues. The fugues employ a full range of contrapuntal devices (fugal exposition, thematic inversion, stretto, etc), but are generally more compact than Bach’s fugues for organ. The best-known piece from either book is the first prelude of Book I, a simple progression of arpeggiated chords. The technical simplicity of this C Major prelude has made it one of the most commonly studied piano pieces for students completing their introductory training. This prelude also served as the basis for the Ave Maria of Charles Gounod.
During much of the 20th century it was assumed that Bach wanted equal temperament, which had been described by theorists and musicians for at least a century before Bach’s birth. However, research has continued into various unequal systems contemporary with Bach’s career. Accounts of Bach’s own tuning practice are few and inexact. The two most cited sources are Forkel, Bach’s first biographer, and Friedrich Wilhelm Marpurg, who received information from Bach’s sons and pupils, and Johann Kirnberger, one of those pupils. Forkel reports that Bach tuned his own harpsichords and clavichords and found other people’s tunings unsatisfactory; his own allowed him to play in all keys and to modulate into distant keys almost without the listeners noticing it. Marpurg and Kirnberger, in the course of a heated debate, appear to agree that Bach required all the major thirds to be sharper than pure—which is in any case virtually a prerequisite for any temperament to be good in all keys. Johann Georg Neidhardt, writing in 1724 and 1732, described a range of unequal and near-equal temperaments (as well as equal temperament itself), which can be successfully used to perform some of Bach’s music, and were later praised by some of Bach’s pupils and associates. J.S. Bach’s son Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach himself published a rather vague tuning method which was close to but still not equal temperament: having only “most of” the fifths tempered, without saying which ones or by how much. Since 1950 there have been many other proposals and many performances of the work in different and unequal tunings, some derived from historical sources, some by modern authors. Whatever their provenances, these schemes all promote the existence of subtly different musical characters in different keys, due to the sizes of their intervals. However, they disagree as to what key receives what character.

Lenö Landó: piano

Book I.I Track List:
01. No. 1 In C Major, Bwv 846 (4:22)
02. No. 2 In C Minor, Bwv 847 (2:56)
03. No. 3 In C Sharp Major, Bwv 848 (3:31)
04. No. 4 In C Sharp Minor, Bwv 849 (7:28)
05. No. 5 In D Major, Bwv 850 (2:59)
06. No. 6 In D Minor, Bwv 851 (3:13)
07. No. 7 In E Flat Major, Bwv 852 (6:26)
08. No. 8 In E Flat Minor – D Sharp Minor, Bwv 853 (8:25)
09. No. 9 In E Major, Bwv 854 (2:34)
10. No. 10 In E Minor, Bwv 855 (3:42)
11. No. 11 In F Major, Bwv 856 (2:11)
12. No. 12 In F Minor, Bwv 857 (7:07)


Book I.II track list:
01. No. 13 in F Sharp Major, Bwv 858 (3:49)
02. No. 14 in F Sharp Minor, Bwv 859 (3:31)
03. No. 15 in G Major, Bwv 860 (3:37)
04. No. 16 in G Minor, Bwv 861 (3:25)
05. No. 17 in A Flat Major, Bwv 862 (3:47)
06. No. 18 in G Sharp Minor, Bwv 863 (4:24)
07. No. 19 in A Major, Bwv 864 (3:31)
08. No. 20 in A Minor, Bwv 865 (6:09)
09. No. 21 in B Flat Major, Bwv 866 (3:13)
10. No. 22 in B Flat Minor, Bwv 867 (5:12)
11. No. 23 in B Major, Bwv 868 (3:14)
12. No. 24 in B Minor, Bwv 869 (11:35)


Book II.I track list:
01. No. 1 in C Major, Bwv 870 (4:09)
02. No. 2 in C Minor, Bwv 871 (4:13)
03. No. 3 C-sharp Major, Bwv 872 (3:45)
04. No. 4 in C-sharp Minor, Bwv 873 (6:25)
05. No. 5 in D Major, Bwv 874 (7:52)
06. No. 6 in D Minor, Bwv 875 (3:36)
07. No. 7 in E-flat Major, Bwv 876 (4:27)
08. No. 8 in E-sharp Minor, Bwv 877 (7:16)
09. No. 9 in E Major, Bwv 878 (7:18)
10. No. 10 in E Minor, Bwv 879 (7:22)
11. No. 11 in F Major, Bwv 880 (4:43)
12. No. 12 in F Minor, Bwv 881 (5:47)


Book II.II track list:
01. No. 13 in F-sharp Major, BWV 882 (5:00)
02. No. 14 in F-sharp Minor, BWV 883 (8:34)
03. No. 15 in G Major, BWV 884 (3:46)
04. No. 16 in G Minor, BWV 885 (5:51)
05. No. 17 in A-flat Major, BWV 886 (5:34)
06. No. 18 in G-sharp Minor, BWV 887 (8:31)
07. No. 19 in A Major, BWV 888 (2:48)
08. No. 20 in A Minor, BWV 889 (7:36)
09. No. 21 in B-flat Major, BWV 890 (9:16)
10. No. 22 in B-flat Minor, BWV 891 (7:47)
11. No. 23 in B Major, BWV 892 (5:44)
12. No. 24 in B Minor, BWV 893 (4:26)


stereo, DDD, mp3 (320 kbps), 597.26 Mb, 252:07 minutes. Covers included.


2 Responses

  1. Greetings. I realize that it has been a long time since you requested to be added to the Digital Meltd0wn Music Blogroll, but I have finally found the time to do another major update, and I added your blog to the Classical section as requested.
    I apologize for taking so long, but work and college have taken up all of my time.

    Although it isn’t required to be on the list, I would greatly appreciate it if you could add a link to the blogroll in return. Thank you for all the wonderful music you have made available here. Your blog is certainly one of the nicer classical related blogs that I have stumbled across. Take care.


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