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Johann Sebastian Bach

Johann Sebastian Bach Composer

Well-tempered Clavier, Book 2, BWV870-893   

Performances: 88
Tracks: 1528
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Musicology:
  • Well-tempered Clavier, Book 2, BWV870-893
    Key: E
    Year: 1740
    Genre: Prelude / Fugue
    Pr. Instrument: Harpsichord
    • Prelude and Fugue No.1 in C, BWV870
      • 1.Prelude
      • 2.Fugue
    • Prelude and Fugue No.2 in C-, BWV871
      • 1.Prelude
      • 2.Fugue
    • Prelude and Fugue No.3 in C#, BWV872
      • 1.Prelude
      • 2.Fugue
    • Prelude and Fugue No.4 in C#-, BWV873
      • 1.Prelude
      • 2.Fugue
    • Prelude and Fugue No.5 in D, BWV874
      • 2.Fugue
      • 1.Prelude
    • Prelude and Fugue No.6 in D-, BWV875
      • 1.Prelude
      • 2.Fugue
    • Prelude and Fugue No.7 in Eb, BWV876
      • 1.Prelude
      • 2.Fugue
    • Prelude and Fugue No.8 in D#-, BWV877
      • 1.Prelude
      • 2.Fugue
    • Prelude and Fugue No.9 in E, BWV878
      • 1.Prelude
      • 2.Fugue
    • Prelude and Fugue No.10 in E-, BWV879
      • 1.Prelude
      • 2.Fugue
    • Prelude and Fugue No.11 in F, BWV880
      • 1.Prelude
      • 2.Fugue
    • Prelude and Fugue No.12 in F-, BWV881
      • 1.Prelude
      • 2.Fugue
    • Prelude and Fugue No.13 in F#, BWV882
      • 1.Prelude
      • 2.Fugue
    • Prelude and Fugue No.14 in F#-, BWV883
      • 1.Prelude
      • 2.Fugue
    • Prelude and Fugue No.15 in G, BWV884
      • 1.Prelude
      • 2.Fugue
    • Prelude and Fugue No.16 in G-, BWV885
      • 1.Prelude
      • 2.Fugue
    • Prelude and Fugue No.17 in Ab, BWV886
      • 1.Prelude
      • 2.Fugue
    • Prelude and Fugue No.18 in G#-, BWV887
      • 1.Prelude
      • 2.Fugue
    • Prelude and Fugue No.19 in A, BWV888
      • 1.Prelude
      • 2.Fugue
    • Prelude and Fugue No.20 in A-, BWV889
      • 1.Prelude
      • 2.Fugue
    • Prelude and Fugue No.21 in Bb, BWV890
      • 1.Prelude
      • 2.Fugue
    • Prelude and Fugue No.22 in Bb-, BWV891
      • 1.Prelude
      • 2.Fugue
    • Prelude and Fugue No.23 in B, BWV892
      • 1.Prelude
      • 2.Fugue
    • Prelude and Fugue No.24 in B-, BWV893
      • 1.Prelude
      • 2.Fugue
The first book of Bach's Das Wohltemperierte Klavier (The Well-Tempered Clavier) was complete by 1722. Bach gave the present title to the work, which was composed "for the use and practice of musical youth eager to learn and for the amusement of those already skilled in this study." Bach composed a paired Prelude and Fugue in each of the 24 keys to demonstrate the viability of the new "equal-temperament" system, which allows one to play in all keys without producing out-of-tune intervals, as happened with Pythagorean and "mean tone" tunings. Furthermore, the pieces are as much compositional studies as keyboard works.

Twenty years later, Bach assembled another set of preludes and fugues. The title page is missing from the manuscript, but its similarity to the "first" book of The Well-Tempered Clavier led editors to entitle it "Book II." Bach worked on the second book over a long period of time, even reworking pieces he had written for other purposes, as he had in the first book. Some of the preludes and fugues date from the 1720s. Possibly the most substantial revision for the second book was to No. 3, in C sharp major, which was originally in C major. Fugues Nos. 15 and 17 survive in earlier versions in which they are connected with different preludes than we find in The Well-Tempered Clavier.

There are many musical differences between the works of Book II and those of Book I. The preludes in the second group explore a greater range of forms and styles than do the earlier examples. Most striking are the experiments in the style of the Italian bipartite keyboard sonata, codified by Domenico Scarlatti. Like earlier dance movements, these consist of two repeated sections. Some of the "sonata" preludes in Book II, such as Nos. 5, 12, and 21, feature a recapitulation of the opening material, while others (Nos. 10 and 15) have parallel closing sections. Prelude No. 17 is an Italian concert-ritornello movement; Nos. 13 and 23 also display concerto traits. The tenth is a two-part invention and Nos. 4 and 14 are ariosos. Those that are clearly derived form dance forms—No. 5 from the gigue and No. 8 from the allemande—lack the traditional binary form.

Like the fugues of Book I, those of Book II employ every device of formal fugue writing. In terms of compositional economy, No. 2 of the second Book is a masterpiece—in the first 28 measures there are 24 statements of the one-measure subject, producing almost painfully dense counterpoint. Fifteen of the fugues are in three voices; nine are in four. Four of these (Nos. 4, 17, 18 and 23) are double fugues and No. 14 is a triple fugue, the third subject of which recalls a subject from the C sharp minor Fugue of Book I. In general, the fugues of Book II are thematically more restrained than those of Book I. Instead, Bach seems to experiment with the contrapuntal potential inherent in each of the fugue subjects.

© All Music Guide

Prelude and Fugue No.1 in C, BWV870

The first bar of the prelude suggests that Bach may have had the organ in mind for this music, with a sustained tonic pedal making an imposing impression. But almost immediately the prelude's generally short note values prove to be perfectly fit for the harpsichord. This allemande gives way to a three-voice fugue, technically a canzona in the manner of Froberger, wherein the subject takes on a slightly different rhythmic nature upon each of its expositions.

© All Music Guide

Prelude and Fugue No.2 in C-, BWV871

The rapid, strongly rhythmic, head-bobbing prelude has much in common with Bach's earlier Two-Part Inventions; since Bach assembled the second book of the Well-Tempered Clavier over the course of two decades, the prelude may well date from the period of the inventions, although it is more extended than those pieces. The four voices of the fugue enter in the order alto, soprano, tenor, and bass. Whereas the prelude is very much a harpsichord piece, this rather slow fugue seems well-suited to the organ. Toward the end, Bach raises the tension with a stretto section with overlapping thematic entries, but he scales back the final bars into a solemn, direct, lighter-textured conclusion.

© All Music Guide

Prelude and Fugue No.3 in C#, BWV872

Here is one of Bach's odder preludes; it begins with flowing lyricism, rather like a prelude from one of his lute suites, but its final 20 seconds or so lurch into a quick, midget French overture fugue. The "real" fugue then arrives, its three voices entering in quick succession—bass, soprano, alto—with the third entry inverted. Bach mines the fugue with brief little trills to explode under the player's fingers, and the last bars have the rush and showmanship of a toccata.

© All Music Guide

Prelude and Fugue No.4 in C#-, BWV873

The slow, ruminative prelude, in a fantasie style that would fit comfortably among Bach's lute suites, weaves three voices together despite frequent, aching hesitations in one or another of the melodic lines. The fugue brings significant contrast, picking up the pace with a gigue-like main subject that enters first in the bass, then the soprano and alto. At about the piece's midpoint, a slightly slower countersubject arrives without impeding the fugue's momentum.

© All Music Guide

Prelude and Fugue No.5 in D, BWV874

The long, rhythmically asymmetrical prelude simultaneously evokes the sonatas of Scarlatti and anticipates the galant style that was championed by Bach's sons and other composers of their generation. This impetuous piece makes an odd coupling for the four-voice fugue, which sounds very much like a solemn, old-fashioned motet. The measured subject enters in the order tenor, alto, soprano, and bass, with the last two entries pushing the fugue's action forward by overlapping in stretto.

© All Music Guide

Prelude and Fugue No.6 in D-, BWV875

Despite its brilliance, the two-voice prelude really counts as what the Germans called a Handstück, a didactic keyboard study. But it also has the flavor, though not the rhythmic and melodic freedom, of a toccata. The ensuing fugue—its three voices entering in the order alto, soprano, bass—is a short but rather daring chromatic study in contrasting rhythms, stopping just short of explicitly pitting twos against threes, which was generally not done during Bach's time.

© All Music Guide

Prelude and Fugue No.7 in Eb, BWV876

Graceful ornamental notes, specifically appoggiaturas, characterize this especially lyrical prelude, which takes the form of a loure. It leads into an alla breve fugue, a canzona evoking the old, harmonically pure style of Palestrina. The fugue's four voices enter in ascending order, the subject seeming to test the water with its first two notes, then splashing steadily along through free counterpoint.

© James Reel, All Music Guide

Prelude and Fugue No.8 in D#-, BWV877

This pair of E flat minor pieces is technically in the enharmonic D sharp minor, its six sharps presumably sounding a little more sharp than if they fell under the label E flat minor. At any rate, the prelude is a substantial two-voice Allemande, a more sophisticated counterpart to Bach's earlier two-part inventions. The processional fugue is fairly hefty by Well-Tempered Clavier standards, though not as complex as some of Bach's independent organ fugues. It's a four-voice motet-style piece, with the voices entering in the order alto, tenor, bass, and soprano. A countersubject arrives along with the tenor entry and initially seems to assume some importance, although Bach allows it to drift away as the fugue progresses.

© James Reel, Rovi

Prelude and Fugue No.9 in E, BWV878

Bach makes the key of E major perfectly clear through the sustained notes that announce the prelude's beginning. This is one of the longer preludes in the Well-Tempered Clavier, Book 2, a rolling allemande with irregular melodic phrases that flow one into the next. The allemande was a stylized dance that was all the rage in Bach's time, but for the E major fugue the composer looks back to earlier forms. It's more of a ricercar, a sort of proto-fugue that arose in the Renaissance. Here, the very grave piece finds its four voices entering in ascending order. Although the tempo is slow and the subject features long-held notes, Bach often thickens the musical texture through liberal use of stretto, just as the old ricercar composers would have done.

© All Music Guide

Prelude and Fugue No.10 in E-, BWV879

Completely lacking any of the modern, "sad" connotations of the minor, this prelude moves with quick determination, a corrente in two voices that sometimes imitate each other, but more often with the bass line providing a busy accompaniment to the even more involved treble part. The fugue employs a different dance form: with its initial skipping figure, the subject is a gigue that eventually plays with contrasting rhythms. The three voices enter in descending order and build to a grand, impressive conclusion that slightly falls away in the last couple of bars.

© James Reel, All Music Guide

Prelude and Fugue No.11 in F, BWV880

The prelude takes the form of a sarabande-fantasie, but is more complex than the usual dance movement; Bach patiently layers one voice onto another until he winds up with a five-voice texture beneath his fingers. For once, the fugue seems the simpler and lighter item in the pairing; like its E minor predecessor, it's a concise, three-voice piece inspired by the gigue, with its subject entries in descending order.

© All Music Guide

Prelude and Fugue No.12 in F-, BWV881

For inspiration for this prelude, Bach turns to the lamento of old Italian opera, but after its initial phrases he imbues it with shorter, crisper note values than would be found in the works of Monteverdi and Cavalli. This is clearly a keyboard study, not a transcribed vocal piece. Bach maintains the old Italian theme by making the fugue a lively canzonetta, but bringing to it a more modern galant style. The fugue involves three voices, entering from the top of the keyboard down.

© All Music Guide

Prelude and Fugue No.13 in F#, BWV882

The prelude is like a French overture, but without an embedded fugue; the dotted rhythm of the opening upper-voice melody dominates the movement. Bach manages to avoid the usual bombast of this style, though, so the arrival of the dance-like fugue doesn't seem at all trivial. It's essentially a fugal gavotte, with the three voices entering in the alto, then soprano, and finally bass. A substantial countersubject accompanies the second and third entries.

© James Reel, All Music Guide

Prelude and Fugue No.14 in F#-, BWV883

The prelude begins with a hint of the Aria from Bach's Goldberg Variations, but immediately proves to be a wholly independent piece, although this fantasie, with its rhythmically varied treble melody, retains much of the Aria's solemnity. This gives way to a triple motet fugue, with its even more solemn primary subject entering first in the tenor, then the soprano and bass. The form and initial manner of expression may seem old-fashioned, but Bach has a surprise in store: two further, smaller-scaled subjects appear, and by the end all three subjects have combined.

© All Music Guide

Prelude and Fugue No.15 in G, BWV884

In the "simple" key of G major, Bach offers a light-textured toccata of a prelude that manages to give the fingers a good workout with its unstoppable, chugging rhythm. That pulse carries over to the three-voice fugue, a slight, almost flippant piece with the voices entering top to bottom.

© James Reel, All Music Guide

Prelude and Fugue No.16 in G-, BWV885

The prelude, marked Largo, employs the dotted rhythms of the French overture, though of course without the fugal section typically folded into that format. This constitutes a stately introduction to one of the Well-Tempered Clavier's most majestic fugues, despite its brevity. Technically a fugue with canon sine pauses (simultaneous counterpoint), it's in four voices, entering tenor-alto-soprano-bass. The principal subject takes off from a series of short pronouncements more typical of Bach's organ writing, and a significant countersubject also makes itself strongly felt, all culminating in a grand final passage.

© All Music Guide

Prelude and Fugue No.17 in Ab, BWV886

The elegant A flat major prelude, one of the more extended in this book of the Well-Tempered Clavier, plays with the tonic and subdominant chords right from the beginning, and the entire piece is dominated by a short, rustling figure, like a bird flapping its wings before taking off. The fugue is, harmonically, one of Bach's oddest, the descending chromatic notes of the countersubject helping obscure the A flat tonality, indeed suggesting a sort of B flat flat. The four voices of the primary subject enter in the order alto, soprano, tenor, bass.

© All Music Guide

Prelude and Fugue No.18 in G#-, BWV887

Veering from the expected A flat minor, this pair of pieces employs the closely related, enharmonic key of G sharp minor. The prelude, with its simple bass line supporting melodic filigree, uncharacteristically features contrasting dynamic markings and looks ahead to the galant style favored by the generation of Bach's sons. The three-voice fugue is something of a gigue, the wavering subject's voices entering in descending order. Eventually, a new subject of chromatically descending notes works its way into all three voices, and ultimately joins forces with the original subject.

© James Reel, All Music Guide

Prelude and Fugue No.19 in A, BWV888

In this pair of miniatures, the prelude is a pastoral, three-voice sinfonia in 12/8 meter. The fugue, too, employs three voices, entering in ascending order. Bach sets off the rhythm of its relatively fast-running theme against the dotted rhythm of the accompanying material.

© All Music Guide

Prelude and Fugue No.20 in A-, BWV889

The prelude, with its chromatically falling primary theme, is a two-part invention exploring its melodic intricacies at some length before finally giving way to the short fugue. This latter item, inspired by the French toccata pathétique, begins with a hesitant, rest-dotted subject that looks forward to the basis of Bach's Art of the Fugue. Here, the three voices enter in ascending order, with the faster notes of the countersubject soon providing contrast.

© All Music Guide

Prelude and Fugue No.21 in Bb, BWV890

This prelude takes the form of a substantial courante, initially with a three-voice texture. But Bach frequently abandons one of the voices to accommodate the hand crossings that pervade this piece. Next comes a three-voice fugue, starting in the alto and then entering in the soprano and bass. This little fugue has elements of the trio sonata minuet, and is based on a nervous subject of stuttering eighth notes. Bach manages to pack in two further thematic elements, both fragments of an ascending scale; they combine with the main subject upon their arrival and again toward the fugue's end.

© All Music Guide

Prelude and Fugue No.22 in Bb-, BWV891

This prelude is a trio sonata in miniature, with the initial melody entering in the middle register, just above the bass line, and another part coming in higher soon after. As for the fugue, it's an old-style ricercar, and an extensive one by the standards of the Well-Tempered Clavier. The long, drawn-out, rather dour subject creeps forward in the alto voice, followed in the soprano, bass, and finally, tenor. These latter entries are shadowed by a chromatically ascending countersubject. Further complicating the texture is Bach's use of stretto, the subject making closely overlapping entries again and again.

© James Reel, All Music Guide

Prelude and Fugue No.23 in B, BWV892

Part toccata, part common Handstück or didactic finger exercise, the prelude rolls smoothly along in an ornamental, galant style. The fugue, in contrast, sounds much more serious. It's a ricercar in four voices entering in ascending order, based, as is usual with this style of fugal writing, on a slow subject of widely spaced notes. A more animated countersubject accompanies each entry.

© James Reel, Rovi

Prelude and Fugue No.24 in B-, BWV893

A determined, forward-pressing but not too speedy two-part invention serves as the final prelude in Bach's monumental Well-Tempered Clavier. The lower voice imitates the upper at an octave's interval, and successive entries shift through related keys. The fugue announces itself with a passepied theme in the alto voice, with soprano and bass subsequently joining in. A countersubject accompanies these entries, without significantly differentiating itself from the main theme. A wholly new subject does arrive in the bass, initially as an accompaniment to the second entrance of the main subject, and thereafter serves as the principal theme's constant companion.

© James Reel, All Music Guide
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