The Well-Tempered Clavier I No. 18 in G-sharp minor

The Well-Tempered Clavier I No. 18 in G-sharp minor

BWV 863 performed by Korneel Bernolet
at home in Aalter, Belgium

  • Menu
  • 1. Prelude
  • 2. Fugue

Behind the music

Story
Story
Extra videos
Extra videos
Credits
Credits

Tension

The Wohltemperirte Clavier is full of simple things that are actually complex, and vice versa.

In our interview with Korneel Bernolet about this recording, he told us how as a young student he was quite taken aback when he first saw the Prelude and fugue in G-sharp minor from the second book of the Wohltemperirte Clavier. Not just the young Korneel Bernolet, but also adult keyboard players in Bach’s day must have been equally daunted on first seeing one of the Preludes and fugues in G-sharp minor (with five sharps). No wonder that Friedrich Wilhelm Marpurg printed the first five bars of this fugue a semitone lower, in G minor, in the section of music examples in his Abhandlung von der Fuge, from 1753. That makes the piece easier to play, but less exciting, as Bernolet demonstrates.

And it would appear that Bach is deliberately in search of contrasts here. Firstly, there is the tension between the astringent key itself and, as Bernolet says, the almost comically simple repetition of a standard chord pattern throughout the whole fugue. And then there is the tension between eye and ear. Because the further the fugue progresses to even stranger keys on paper – the double sharps abound – the more the fingers and sounds end up in ‘normal’ keys in reality. However, you only notice this by listening closely to subtle shifts in the purity of tone. The Wohltemperirte Clavier is thus filled with simplicity that is actually complex, and complexity that is actually simple.

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’).

BWV
863
Title
Prelude and fugue in G-sharp minor
Epithet
no. 18 from Das Wohltemperirte Clavier I
Instrument
Harpsichord
Genre
harpsichord works
Serie
Das Wohltemperirte Clavier
Year
1722 or earlier
City
Köthen (of Weimar?)

Extra videos

Harpsichordist Korneel Bernolet

“G-sharp minor in some ways sounds more bitter than G minor.”

Vocal texs

Original

Translation

Credits

  • Release date
    3 May 2019
  • Recording date
    21 May 2018
  • Location
    Aalter, Belgium
  • Harpsichordist
    Korneel Bernolet
  • Harpsichord
    Alan Gotto, 2012
  • Director and interview
    Jan Van den Bossche
  • Music recording, edit and mix
    Guido Tichelman
  • Camera
    Gijs Besseling
  • Producer
    Jessie Verbrugh
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