The Well-Tempered Clavier I No. 6 in D minor

The Well-Tempered Clavier I No. 6 in D minor

BWV 851 performed by Tineke Steenbrink
at home in Utrecht, the Netherlands

  • Menu
  • 1. Prelude
  • 2. Fugue

Behind the music

Extra videos
Extra videos

A heated exchange of words

A serene bass and a hot-tempered upper voice argue in the prelude, ending in a fugue that is a classic example of baroque fugue technique

We enter at the climax of the debate. The bass represents the balanced opinion, stated in a serene yet self-assured tempo. But the rather breathless, hot-tempered triplets of the upper voice suggest that it has long since abandoned reason. Despite all its down-to-earth comments, the bass comes off worst - pounding out a few more individual notes and eventually giving up completely. Only then do the quarrellers embrace one another, in a glorious figured major chord.

The three-voice fugue that follows is a classic example of baroque fugue technique. It is based on a two-bar theme with a trill on the last note but one. This theme falls victim to all sorts of devices, which can easily pass the unwary listener by. For example, it is turned upside down and cut up into pieces, or else the different voices glide over one another. These sorts of techniques and many others were used by baroque composers to turn a single motif into a complete harmonious piece of architecture. This type of fugue formed the pinnacle of the art of composition, and Bach was expert at it.

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 en fugue in D minor
no. 6 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 Tineke Steenbrink

“The key in itself doesn't yet determine the music - Tineke Steenbrink on Bach's use of D minor.”

Vocal texts




  • Release date
    6 June 2014
  • Recording date
    26 February 2014
  • Location
  • Harpsichordist
    Tineke Steenbrink
  • Harpsichord
    Lutz Werum after Johannes Ruckers, 2003
  • Producer
    Frank van der Weij
  • Film directors
    Jan Van den Bossche, Suédy Mauricio
  • Camera
    Jorrit Garretsen
  • Music recording
    Stefan Meutstege
  • Film editors
    Dylan Glyn Jones, Suédy Mauricio
  • Music editor
    Frank van der Weij
  • Colorist
    Petro van Leeuwen
  • Production assistant
    Zoë de Wilde
  • With support from
    Prins Bernhard Cultuurfonds

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