The Well-Tempered Klavier Book 1 Part 1 BWV 846-857

Composer: Johann Sebastian Bach (b. 1685 - d. 1750)
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Composer: Johann Sebastian Bach (b. 1685 - d. 1750)

Performance date: 01/07/2022

Venue: St. Brendan’s Church

Composition Year: 1722

Duration: 00:55:06

Recording Engineer: Simon Cullen, Ergodos

Instrumentation: hrp

Artists: Malcolm Proud - [harpsichord]


Johann Sebastian Bach [1680-1750]

The Well-Tempered Klavier Book 1 Part 1 BWV 846-857 [1722]

1. Prelude and Fugue in C major  7. Prelude and Fugue in E flat major
2. Prelude and Fugue in C minor 8. Prelude and Fugue in D sharp minor
3. Prelude and Fugue in C sharp major 9. Prelude and Fugue in E major
4. Prelude and Fugue in C sharp minor 10. Prelude and Fugue in E minor
5. Prelude and Fugue in D major 11. Prelude and Fugue in F major
6. Prelude and Fugue in D minor 12. Prelude and Fugue in F minor

Before The Well-Tempered Klavier, written in 1722, whilst Bach was the Kapellmeister at Cöthen, it was commonly accepted that music could not be written in every musical key. Keyboard instruments were usually tempered with some notes in tune whilst others were left untuned. Bach advocated small tuning adjustments so that music written in every key would sit easy on the ear, which is something we take for granted today. 

Being an instructional manual, perhaps for his wife or children, it points to their existing level of skill and musical understanding. Some keys are more advanced and stretching than others, allowing for developmental learning of technique and counterpoint. A successor volume, written to the same sequential explorative design, appeared in 1744. Thus, The Well-Tempered Klavier’s two Books are often called the Old and New Testaments of keyboard writing. The impact of Bach’s compositions in these volumes was extensive and immediate: Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven all knew and performed them. In this concert, Malcolm Proud begins his traversal of the first twelve Preludes and Fugues in Book 1, which he plays on the harpsichord and chamber organ.

Gounod famously adapted the C major Prelude into his Ave Maria. Oftentimes, themes overlap each other, as in the accompanying Fugue. The C minor Prelude is richly sonorous, improvised yet controlled; the Fugue is song-like. The C sharp major Prelude is dance-like: two themes are presented sequentially, then inverted. The Fugue continues the ambiance. The C sharp minor Prelude is a French loure dance, whereas the Fugue’s four-note thematic kernel is contrasted with other ideas. The D major Prelude forms a right-handed exercise; the Fugue is unusually splendid, considering its context. D minor’s Prelude, similar to the preceding one, employs an earlier motif in WF Bach’s notebook. The Fugue displays Bach’s knowledge of contrapuntal techniques.

A double fugue comprises the E flat major Prelude, whilst the Fugue has tongue-in-cheek humour. The E flat minor Prelude elaborates a version from WF Bach’s notebook; the Fugue is akin to a solemn aria. The dance ambiance returns to the E major Prelude; the Fugue explores the interactions between adjacent pairs of notes. A cantata-like feel pervades the E minor Prelude, whereas the Fugue is forthright. 

Ornamentation is a feature of F major’s Prelude; the Fugue, though not easy, is the Book’s simplest. The F minor Prelude is a legato, flowing allemande; the Fugue is chromatically inventive, whilst having undeniable strength of character.

© Evan Dickerson