Johann Sebastian Bach

Prelude and Fugue, for keyboard No. 1 in C major, BWV 846 (BC L80) (WTC I/1)

    Description by Blair Johnston

    The prelude in C major that opens the first volume of Bach's Well-tempered Clavier may well be his most universally recognized piece of music -- and yet, as fate would have it, many of those who know it have never heard the fugue for which it is a prelude, and might in fact have no idea that it is part of a larger work that counts among the most significant and groundbreaking musical efforts ever penned. Because of the mathematics involved, the tuning, or temperament, of a keyboard instrument must necessarily be only an approximation of intervallic perfection. Various methods of arriving at a satisfying approximation were tried out during the Renaissance and Baroque, but none was really successful -- none produced a tuned instrument that could play in more than a small handful of keys without the result sounding grossly out of tune -- until the late seventeenth century, when several satisfying methods came into general use. Now a harpsichordist could play to good effect in each of the 24 keys, and around 1722 Bach decided to compose a prelude and a fugue in each of them. Historical considerations aside, the pages of the Well-tempered Clavier are felt by many to be the most flawlessly crafted, brilliantly designed music ever composed.

    The C major prelude is on the surface a most simple piece of music: a series of chords unfolds, each arpeggiated in exactly the same way. But the cleverness by which that exact series of harmonies in that exact spacing with that exact arpeggiation was devised cannot be overestimated. In fact, Bach spent a great deal of effort on this seemingly effortless miniature, and it took him more than one try to get it right -- it is one of just a few Well-tempered Clavier pieces that exist in more than one version. The fugue is in four voices, and, interestingly enough, its subject is ever-present, which means that there are no episodes in the ordinary sense of the word, only a continuous contrapuntal elaboration of the subject (which is set against itself in the fugue's second half in a stretto of supreme elegance).

    Parts/Movements

    1. Präludium
    2. Fuge

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2018 Menuetto Classics
    2018 Nimbus Records NI 5948
    2018 ABC Classics
    2018 Winter & Winter 9102442
    2018 Blue Griffin Recording BG 463
    2018 APR (Appian) APR 6027
    2017 Deutsche Grammophon
    2017 Decca 4832158
    2017 ABC Classics
    2017 Eudora EUDSACD 1703
    2017 Urania LDV 14027
    2017 BIS BIS 2217
    2016 Deutsche Grammophon 4830395
    2016 Decca 4799204
    2016 Decca 4760544
    2015 Menuetto Classics
    2015 Sony Classical 88875032222
    2015 Vivat VVTCD 108
    2015 Bayard Musique B 3084302
    2014 Deutsche Grammophon B002119902
    2013 ABC Classics ABC 4765171
    2013 Mirare MIR 235
    2013 Decca
    2013 Decca 001916602
    2013 Deutsche Grammophon
    2013 Deutsche Grammophon 4785698
    2013 MSR Classics MS 1501
    2012 Bella Musica / Zebralution
    2012 Flying Steps / Zebralution
    2012 APR (Appian) APR 7304
    2012 World Music Network
    2012 Sony Classical 88725423932
    2012 Concerto / Zebralution
    2011 J&R Adventures / Savoy
    2011 Universal Classics & Jazz
    2011 Decca
    2011 Sony Music A 780470
    2011 Sony Music A 780469
    2011 Move MD3326
    2011 Warner Classics 80821
    2010 Denon Records
    2010 Denon Records
    2010 Denon Records
    2010 Denon Records
    2010 Denon Records
    2010 Denon Records
    2010 Denon Records
    2010 Denon Records
    2010 Brilliant Classics 94050
    2010 Fisher-Price 48452
    2010 Naxos 857808789
    2010 Decca
    2010 X5 Music Group 21209
    2010 Music & Melody MUS 810892
    2010 Deutsche Grammophon
    2009 Denon Records
    2009 Denon Records
    2009 Harmonia Mundi HMX2968096/97
    2009 Bella Musica / Zebralution
    2009 Denon Records 00795041105165
    2009 Naxos / Naxos Special Products 8578024
    2009 Decca / Deutsche Grammophon 001341102
    2009 Deutsche Grammophon
    2009 Deutsche Grammophon 4778122
    2009 X5 Music Group 14359
    2009 X5 Music Group 15924
    2009 Sony Classical Essential Classics 741729
    2008 Melodiya 1001194
    2008 Motette 12101
    2008 ABC Classics ABC 4766487
    2008 Human Puppy Records
    2008 Madacy Entertainment 53751
    2007 Universal Classics & Jazz
    2007 Columbia 88697147672
    2007 Deutsche Grammophon 0734376
    2007 Vanguard 2015
    2006 Deutsche Grammophon 477 5703
    2006 Deutsche Grammophon 000608202
    2006 Decca 4751932
    2006 EMI Music Distribution / Virgin Classics 338158
    2005 Deutsche Grammophon
    2005 Deutsche Grammophon 000414802
    2005 Children's Group 84401
    2005 EMI Music Distribution 46809
    2004 Intersound 5869
    2004 Decca 315512
    2004 Naxos 84380
    2003 RGS Music 1267
    2003 Brainy Baby / Brainy Baby Music / Music For Babies 34022
    2003 Amadeo 4728322
    2003 Naxos 8 110783/4
    2002 Intersound 2601
    2002 Archipel 51
    2002 Arbiter 134
    2002 Deutsche Grammophon 469 259-2GP2
    2002 Prism Leisure Corporation (UK) / Prism Leisure / Prism Platinum PLATCD 737
    2001 Music & Arts 4243
    2001 BCI-Eclipse Distribution 40032
    2001 Analekta 23121
    2001 Master Class 18
    2001 Decca / Philips / Universal / Verve E5425532
    2001 Deutsche Grammophon 469 232-2GP2
    2001 Decca / Polygram 1575612
    2000 Decca 465819
    2000 Signum UK 11100
    2000 Philips 465834
    2000 Naxos 554160
    2000 Media 7 (defunct - now Musisoft) 141339
    2000 Harmonia Mundi 1951285
    2000 Equilibrium 19
    2000 Plexa 516
    2000 Philips / Philips 464381
    2000 Sony Classical 89344
    1999 Intersound 3761
    1999 Teldec 25705
    1999 Teldec 25704
    1999 Musicians Showcase 82198
    1999 Lifestyle Classics 1761
    1999 Intersound 1466
    1999 Warner Bros. 26124
    1999 Sony Classical 64226
    1999 Classical Heritage 1223
    1999 Pearl 0046
    1999 Lifestyles 1752
    1999 Sony Music Distribution 60990
    1999 Madacy 9503
    1999 Empire Music Group Inc. 399
    1999 VAI Audio 1175
    1999 Pearl 9096
    1998 Analekta 23012
    1998 Deutsche Grammophon 459 135-2GH
    1998 Deutsche Grammophon 457667
    1998 DHM Deutsche Harmonia Mundi 77604
    1997 Lifestyle Classics / Intersound 1732
    1997 Intersound 1728
    1997 Naxos 414014
    1997 Lifescapes Music / Compass Productions 42583
    1997 Intersound 1727
    1997 Deutsche Grammophon 457356
    1996 Delos DE3205
    1996 Sony Music Distribution 62588
    1996 Harmonia Mundi 390873
    1996 Composer's Corner 11
    1996 Pearl 9242
    1995 VAI Audio 1051
    1995 Gallo 746
    1995 Albany Music Distribution TROY050
    1994 Classical Heritage 1208
    1994 Music & Arts CD-243
    1994 Reference Recordings 3601
    1994 Teldec 91183
    1994 Symposium 1145
    1994 Document 953
    1993 Pearl 9347
    1993 RCA 61912
    1992 Harmonia Mundi 390801
    1990 Hyperion CDA66351/4
    Atlantic 26124
    Archiv Produktion 435795
    FSM Adagio 91619
    Arlecchino 17
    Intersound 1468
    Classic CD 61
    Ambroisie / Naïve 9977
    Deutsche Grammophon 431996
    All Russia
    Pro-Arte Records 909
    EMI Music Distribution 094635705928
    Madacy Entertainment 53752
    Madacy 0835
    Madacy 0842
    RCA Victrola 902660936