The Well-Tempered Clavier I No. 2 in C minor

The Well-Tempered Clavier I No. 2 in C minor

BWV 847 performed by Masato Suzuki
at home in Voorburg, the Netherlands

  • Menu
  • 1. Prelude
  • 2. Fugue

Behind the music

Extra videos
Extra videos

The first minor

Like a hand-woven tapestry

C minor: the first prelude and fugue of Das Wohltemperirte Clavier in a minor key. Here, following the radiant C major, Bach gradually starts unfolding his view of the darker side of the labyrinthine world of the twelve keys.

The prelude is a geometric tapestry of embellished broken chords in a restless, continually repeated pattern: sharp, often dissonant highlights on the emphasised parts of the rhythm and continuous movement in between. At first, the pattern appears to be exactly the same, but on closer visual and aural inspection, it turns out that there are small variations here and there – just like in a hand-woven tapestry. At a certain point, a thread comes loose, which is then briefly interwoven even more tightly than at the beginning, only to unravel for good afterwards.

After the tight geometry of the prelude, the three-part fugue shows a more varied pattern. It is a fugue without exceptional contrapuntal tricks. Instead, Bach uses a short motif as the basis for practically the whole of his musical tapestry. The first few notes of the theme, heard right at the beginning of the piece, recur recognisably throughout the fugue in all sorts of variations. So alongside the actual fugue theme running through the piece, there are also other little threads as a continual reminder of the theme.

Das Wohltemperirte Clavier, BWV 846-893
Composing 48 keyboard pieces in all 24 keys was the sort of challenge Bach enjoyed. In each of the two parts of the Wohltemperirte Clavier, he brought together the musical couple prelude and fugue 24 times; twelve in minor keys and twelve in major. In the preludes, he gave free rein to his imagination, and demonstrated mathematical tours de force in the fugues. In contrast to the iron discipline Bach had to apply to his church compositions, here he could abandon himself to intellectual Spielerei without worrying about deadlines.

The first part of the Wohltemperirte Clavier dates from 1722, although it contains some music that was written in the preceding five years. There is less clarity about the history of part two. Bach compiled this second manuscript only around 1740, although once again some of the preludes and fugues it contains date from a much earlier period. Bach described the target group for this collection of pieces as follows: ‘Zum Nutzen und Gebrauch der Lehr-begierigen Musicalischen Jugend, als auch dere in diesem studio schon habil seyenden besonderem ZeitVertreib’ (For both the education of the industrious musical youngster and the enjoyment of those well-versed in this material’).

Prelude and fugue in C minor
no. 2 from the Well-Tempered Clavier I
harpsichord works
Das Wohltemperirte Clavier I
1722 or earlier
Cöthen (or Weimar?)

With support from

Prins Bernhard Cultuurfonds

Extra videos

Harpsichordist Masato Suzuki

“It's homophonic to start with, both hands moving at the same time.In Japanese that's called 'jodokyoku' or perpetuum mobile.”

Vocal texts




  • Release date
    26 August 2016
  • Recording date
    3 December 2015
  • Location
  • Harpsichordist
    Masato Suzuki
  • Harpsichord
    Willem Kroesbergen, Utrecht 1987 after J. Couchet
  • Camera
    Gijs Besseling
  • Music production, editing and mix
    Guido Tichelman
  • Director
    Jan Van den Bossche
  • Interview
    Gijs Besseling
  • Subtitles interview
    Geert van Bremen, Atsuko Kohashi
  • With support from
    Prins Bernhard Cultuurfonds

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