The Well-Tempered Clavier I No. 20 in A minor

The Well-Tempered Clavier I No. 20 in A minor

BWV 865 performed by Olga Pashchenko
at home in Utrecht, The Netherlands

  • Menu
  • 1. Prelude
  • 2. Fugue

Behind the music

Extra videos
Extra videos

Youthful force

Bach the architect, Bach the magician

“A long and elaborate fugue, interesting in its construction, but perhaps not one of the most beautiful,” is how Ebenzer Prout described this Fugue in A minor in his book on Bach’s Wohltemperirte Clavier from 1910. Such blunt comments were apparently in vogue at the time. He also describes the inversion of the fugue theme as ‘somewhat ungainly’. We know the piece from a late source, but it is probably much older and therefore written by a young Bach.

In the Fugue, Olga Pashchenko detects a youthful force that results in a gigantic pedal point; the closing section with a bold bass note that actually demands the pedal. Plenty of energy is anyway provided in this fugue through Bach’s favourite technique: stretto, or theme entries (39!) that tumble over one another in twos or even threes, rather than politely waiting their turn. Just before the end, Bach leads the ear astray with two freezes; big chords that bring the interwoven parts to an abrupt halt.

The Prelude is as compact as the Fugue is expansive. Two parts zigzag in turn on two little motifs: jumpy triads and a sort of trill, which can each be extended to form rippling runs. Now and then, Bach adds chords, sometimes in blocks and sometimes in a sort of written-out legato. Here, too, he interrupts the landing towards the fundamental with a diversion that leaves the listener unsatisfied. And just like the Fugue, the Prelude closes with a pedal point, along with the triumphant return of the trill motif.

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 A minor
no. 20 from Das Wohltemperirte Clavier I
harpsichord works
Das Wohltemperirte Clavier I
1722 or earlier
Köthen (of Weimar?)

With support from

Prins Bernhard Cultuurfonds

Extra videos

Harpsichordist Olga Pashchenko

“The fugue is like a driving force that you can not resist.”

Vocal texts




  • Release date
    5 April 2019
  • Recording date
    4 March 2018
  • Location
    Utrecht, The Netherlands
  • Harpsichordist
    Olga Pashchenko
  • Harpsichord
    Gerard Tuinman 2014 after Silbermann
  • Director and interview
    Jan Van den Bossche
  • Music recording, edit and mix
    Guido Tichelman
  • Camera
    Gijs Besseling
  • Producer
    Jessie Verbrugh
  • With support from
    Prins Bernhard Cultuurfonds

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