Saturday, November 18, 2017

Bach - The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book I, Nos. 19 - 24

After years of being copied out and passed from musician to musician, Bach's Well Tempered Clavier was published in 1801, almost 100 years later than the manuscript for Book One that is dated 1722. The influence the collection has had on music, musicians and composers since then is immeasurable

Modern times have not lessened its importance to the music lover and musician. They are useful as etudes for the building of a solid keyboard technique, as well as models of the diversity and creativity of fugal form, and examples of the various styles of keyboard music during Bach's era. The set of preludes and fugues holds beauties and difficulties in equal measure. And as the original musical text carries very few tempo designations, articulation and dynamic markings, various editors throughout its publishing histories have added all kinds of guides for the performer which can shed tremendous insight into how Bach's music was perceived in previous generations. And the original text as written by Bach gives the modern performer an opportunity of using their interpretive skills to bring forth a musical performance. And Bach's music can handle much in the way of interpretive variances, as long as the spirit and style of the music is allowed to come forth.

The final six preludes and fugues of the first set continues in the variety that Bach established in the previous ones.

Prelude and Fugue No. 19 In A Major, BWV 864 - It isn't long into this prelude until the listener realizes that the opening bars are actually a subject. This prelude is in fact a fugue itself, a prelude fugue that leads to a fugue.
The fugue is in three voices and the subject begins with a single note that is stranded for three eighth - note rests until the continuation of the subject. This is a little startling to anyone expecting a more common type of subject, but Bach was anything but common and could be quite innovative within his contrapuntal style.

Prelude and Fugue No. 20 In A Minor, BWV 865 - This prelude is in the style of a two part invention,
The 4-voiced fugue has a subject that is three measures long. The first statement of the subject is in the alto voice, and is followed directly by the repeating of the subject in the soprano, bass and tenor voices respectively. The fugue is worked out with many partial repeats as well as other contrapuntal devices, thus lending interest to one of the longer fugues in the book.

Prelude and Fugue No. 21 In B-flat Major, BWV 866 - A stunning example of what early keyboardists would do when they sat down to play. They would loosen up their fingers, get a feel for the instrument they were playing on, and check the acoustics of the room they were in by running up and down the keyboard in scales, arpeggios, broken chords and cadences. This prelude has all of that as the key of B-flat major (with some appearances of other keys) is shown off by the player.
The 3-voices fugue begins with one of Bach's most catchy subjects, one that is 4 bars long. The subject is played through all 3 voices before any development begins. The subject itself goes through very little change throughout.

Prelude and Fugue No. 22 In B-flat Minor, BWV 867 - A prelude that is defined just as much by a two sixteenth notes followed by 3 eighth note rhythm scheme as by any melody, which gives it a feeling of gentle movement.

The fugue is in 5 voices, and as the voices enter one after the other, tension steadily grows along with the complexity. Nonetheless, the tension created is mild as the overall feeling of this fugue is one of calmly unwinding the music until the final ending in the major.

Prelude and Fugue No. 23 In B major, BWV 868 - This prelude is almost entirely made up of repetitions of the sixteenth rest and seven sixteenth notes heard at the beginning in the right hand. This motive makes its way through three different voices.

The fugue is in 4 voices.

Prelude and Fugue No. 24 In B minor, BWV 869 - The key pattern of the Well Tempered Clavier begins with C major, and by alternating with major and minor keys chromatically, ends in B minor. The complexity as well as length of the material meets its culmination with this final entry of Book One. The prelude has a steady walking bass consisting of eighth notes while the right hand comments and embellishes as it goes. There is a sense of calmness throughout the prelude.

The final fugue is in 4 voices with a subject that is two bars long. It leisurely unwinds as the voices weave in and out creating a texture that while complex, makes profound musical sense in a purely aural sense, as do many of the preludes and fugues in this collection.


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