Johann Sebastian Bach

The Well-Tempered Clavier (24), collection of preludes & fugues, Book I, BWV 846-869 (BC L80-103)

    Description by Robert Cummings

    Many consider the two books of the Well-Tempered Clavier Bach's finest keyboard collection. He completed the first volume in Cöthen in 1722 and the second around 16 years later in Leipzig. Both books consist of 24 preludes and fugues going through all the keys, a total of 48 pieces in each volume, though some recordings give 24 tracks, one for each key covered. Book 1 opens with a prelude and fugue in the following sequence: C major, C minor, C sharp major, C sharp minor, D major, D minor, etc.

    The First Book is more focused in its greater stylistic unity than its successor. Most of the preludes deal with a specific technical feature, while the fugues are more varied in style and form and often seem to express a whole world of developmental possibilities for the music. The First Book's opening prelude is soothing and serene in its scalar writing, its manner of thematic flow seeming to augur the more intimate character of the first movement of Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata, written three-quarters of a century later. The succeeding fugue is also somewhat subdued in its more animated pacing and deft contrapuntal activity. The prelude and fugue that follow are livelier, the latter quite playful and charming.

    But there are such vast riches in this monumental set, too many even for lengthy analysis. The E major Fugue, for example, has a delightful carefree manner in its colorful sixteenth note passages and its consistently inventive keyboard writing. The Prelude in F sharp minor has a subtlety that may not be grasped upon first or second hearing. There are sinister elements here, as well as a sense of yearning and frustration. The four-voice G minor Fugue has a muscular and heroic character, Bach's contrapuntal writing again divulging his utter mastery. The gentle G sharp minor Prelude is a beautiful piece, mixing sunshine and sadness. The A major Fugue has a jaunty, exhilaration about its lively music, its first part comprised of eighth notes, the latter of sixteenth notes. The B flat major Fugue has a sense of joy and humor in its lively manner, yet manages to achieve an expressive depth one would not normally associate with that kind of description.

    Analysis of Bach's music here often runs into controversial areas, with a few musicians tailoring their interpretation according to religious symbolism they believe to be present in the score. For example, a passage in the F minor Fugue has been interpreted as representing Christ's crucifixion, owing to its descending chromatic manner and other features. In the end, this view, as well as the idea that certain numbers (representing tones or other compositional elements) symbolize other religious events, must be assessed as highly dubious speculation. The music though, regardless of how one hears it, is masterful from first prelude to last fugue.

    Parts/Movements

    1. 1. Prelude in C major [alternate version: BWV 846a]
    2. 1. Prelude in C major, BWV 846
    3. 1. Fugue in C major, BWV 846
    4. 2. Prelude in C minor, BWV 847
    5. 2. Fugue in C minor, BWV 847
    6. 3. Prelude in C sharp major, BWV 848
    7. 3. Fugue in C sharp major, BWV 848
    8. 4. Prelude in C sharp minor, BWV 849
    9. 4. Fugue in C sharp minor, BWV 849
    10. 5. Prelude in D major, BWV 850
    11. 5. Fugue in D major, BWV 850
    12. 6. Prelude in D minor, BWV 851
    13. 6. Fugue in D minor, BWV 851
    14. 7. Prelude in E flat major, BWV 852
    15. 7. Fugue in E flat major, BWV 852
    16. 8. Prelude in E flat minor, BWV 853
    17. 8. Fugue in E flat minor, BWV 853
    18. 9. Prelude in E major, BWV 854
    19. 9. Fugue in E major, BWV 854
    20. Prelude in E minor [alternate version: BWV 855a]
    21. 10. Prelude in E minor, BWV 855
    22. 10. Fugue in E minor, BWV 855
    23. 11. Prelude in F major, BWV 856
    24. 11. Fugue in F major, BWV 856
    25. 12. Prelude in F minor, BWV 857
    26. 12. Fugue in F minor, BWV 857
    27. 13. Prelude in F sharp major, BWV 858
    28. 13. Fugue in F sharp major, BWV 858
    29. 14. Prelude in F sharp minor, BWV 859
    30. 14. Fugue in F sharp minor, BWV 859
    31. 15. Prelude in G major, BWV 860
    32. 15. Fugue in G major, BWV 860
    33. 16. Prelude in G minor, BWV 861
    34. 16. Fugue in G minor, BWV 861
    35. 17. Prelude in A flat major, BWV 862
    36. 17. Fugue in A flat major, BWV 862
    37. 18. Prelude in G sharp minor, BWV 863
    38. 18. Fugue in G sharp minor, BWV 863
    39. 19. Prelude in A major, BWV 864
    40. 19. Fugue in A major, BWV 864
    41. 20. Prelude in A minor, BWV 865
    42. 20. Fugue in A minor, BWV 865
    43. 21. Prelude in B flat major, BWV 866
    44. 21. Fugue in B flat major, BWV 866
    45. 22. Prelude in B flat minor, BWV 867
    46. 22. Fugue in B flat minor, BWV 867
    47. 23. Prelude in B major, BWV 868
    48. 23. Fugue in B major, BWV 868
    49. 24. Prelude in B minor, BWV 869
    50. 24. Fugue in B minor, BWV 869

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2017 Hänssler Classic HC 16027
    2017 Stone Records / Stone Records 5060192780697
    2016 Parnassus Records PRN 1501
    2016 Aparte AP 120
    2016 Centaur Records CRC 3450
    2015 MPS / MPS Records 0300650MSW
    2015 Navona Records NV 5993
    2015 Alpha 221
    2014 Deutsche Grammophon 4794177
    2013 Delphian DCD 34126
    2013 Cybele CY 131302
    2013 Warner Classics 63165
    2013 Avie AV 2299
    2012 Capriccio Records C 7115
    2012 Warner Classics
    2012 The Entertainment Group 107426
    2012 Navona Records NV 5869
    2012 Virgin Classics
    2012 Sony Classical 88725412692
    2011 Camerata Records CMCD 151112
    2011 Melodia Records / Melodiya MELCD 1001848
    2011 Triton / Triton OVCT 00077
    2010 Hyperion 4442135
    2010 Newton Classics 8802014
    2010 Mirare MIR 103
    2010 MSR Classics 1003
    2010 Deutsche Grammophon 429929
    2009 Hyperion 67741
    2009 Deutsche Grammophon 13637
    2009 Quill Classics 1009
    2009 Sony Classical Essential Classics 88697423712
    2008 Brilliant Classics 93668
    2008 Nimbus NI2516/9
    2008 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 0946391951
    2008 EMI Music Distribution 349963-2
    2008 Signum Classics / Signum UK SIGCD113
    2008 Decca 4780391
    2008 Decca
    2007 Analekta 24022-43
    2007 Harmonia Mundi 907431
    2007 Doremi Records 7893-5
    2007 Naxos 8557625
    2007 Hyperion CDS44291/4
    2007 Nonesuch
    2007 Bridge 9246
    2007 Romeo Entertainment 7258
    2007 Cascade Records 2100
    2006 Brilliant 99697
    2006 Brilliant 93102
    2006 Rca Red Seal 67891
    2006 Meridian Records 84384/5
    2006 Decca 4756832
    2006 Warner Classics
    2006 Vanguard 1961
    2006 Warner Classics 2564631652
    2006 Musica Omnia 0201
    2006 Alpha Productions 87
    2006 Music & Arts 1180
    2006 Classical Records 65
    2005 Brilliant Classics 92217
    2005 History 204580
    2005 Tomato 3014
    2004 ECM 000228502
    2004 Brilliant 92391
    2004 Warner Classics 61553
    2004 Sony Classical 5160462
    2004 Wildboar 401
    2004 Rca Red Seal 62315
    2004 Virgin Classics 61711
    2003 Arts Music 47654
    2003 Mirare 9930
    2003 Archiv Produktion 474221
    2003 Artemis Classics 1182
    2002 Supraphon 3600
    2002 BBC Music 4109
    2001 Ambitus 383847
    2001 Khaeon 600103
    2001 Connoisseur Society 4241
    2001 Asv 251
    2001 Teldec 81239
    2001 Naïve 8818
    2001 Deutsche Grammophon 463601
    2000 ECM
    2000 ECM New Series 8352462
    2000 Arion 468306
    2000 Angel Records 67214B
    2000 Deutsche Grammophon 463305
    2000 Naxos 110651-52
    2000 Haenssler 92116
    2000 Sony Music Distribution 60278
    1999 Harmonia Mundi 2908084/90
    1999 Teldec 3984-25714-2
    1999 Musicians Showcase 82198
    1999 Nimbus 5608/11
    1999 Ongaku 024113
    1998 Olympia (Classical/Jazz) 703 ABCD
    1998 Hyperion 67301/2
    1998 Naxos 553796-7
    1997 BIS 813/814
    1996 Dynamic 113/1-4
    1996 Decca 452279
    1995 Philips 446545
    1995 Harmonia Mundi 3901285
    1994 Astree Auvidis 8510
    1994 Labor Records 7001
    1994 Sony Classical 52600
    1994 Russian Disc 15013
    1993 Vanguard 8046
    1992 Nonesuch 79272
    1992 Simax 1044-45
    1990 RCA 6217
    1989 EMI Music Distribution 7631882
    1986 London 4143882
    Brilliant 93102-VOL2
    Brilliant 99702
    Analekta 4036
    Denon Records 78834
    DHM Deutsche Harmonia Mundi 77011
    BMG 13622
    Erato 45428
    Mk 418042
    Monopoly 2025
    Musical Heritage Society 5490571
    Bolshoi/BMG
    Berlin Classics 0092912
    MusicMasters 67105
    CBS Masterworks 42266
    Russian Compact Disc (RCD) 16231
    Concord 42018
    London 414388
    History 204581
    Biddulph Recordings LHW023
    Pearl 16
    Musical Heritage Society 1410084