The Well-Tempered Clavier I No. 15 in G major
BWV 860 performed by Ketil Haugsand
at home in Cologne, Germany
Behind the music
Nothing too heavy
After a swaying opening, Bach suddenly lets rip.
According to the Norwegian harpsichordist Ketil Haugsand, who lives in Germany, G major is the lightest of all the keys. And indeed, the right hand indulges in playful arpeggios right from the start of this Prelude and fugue in G major. “A fresh salad; nothing too heavy”, says Haugsand. He adds, however, that this does not necessarily make the piece easy to play. The lively figures also occur in the left hand, and the composition is pretty virtuoso overall.
The relatively short Prelude is followed by an equally exuberant Fugue. The theme is quite long and derives its distinctive character from a ‘wrong’ accent. After a swaying opening, Bach suddenly lets rip with a big leap of a seventh, which he also repeats. This double leap acts as an indicator. It keeps reminding us of the theme, even when it is concealed further on in the dense polyphonic web. The fugue is in three parts, and in his classic book on the Wohltemperirte Clavier from 1942, Hans Brandts Buis compares the three theme introductions to three “comic clowns [who] all jump around one another, stand on their heads, copy each other, dash about, enter too early with their figures, miss out steps from their figures and already turn to something else before they’ve finished speaking”.
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 G major
- no. 15 from The Well-Tempered Clavier I
- harpsichord works
- Das Wohltemperirte Clavier
- 1722 or earlier
- Cöthen (or Weimar?)
- Release date
- 30 March 2018
- Recording date
- 28 February 2017
- Cologne, Germany
- Ketil Haugsand
- Martin Skowroneck, Bremen, 1985
- Director and interview
- Jan Van den Bossche
- Music recording, edit and mix
- Guido Tichelman
- Camera and edit performance
- Gijs Besseling
- Edit interview
- Ane C. Ose
- Jessie Verbrugh
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