The Well-Tempered Clavier I No. 21 in B-flat major

The Well-Tempered Clavier I No. 21 in B-flat major

BWV 866 performed by Bart Naessens
at home in Bruges, Belgium

  • Menu
  • 1. Prelude
  • 2. Fugue

Behind the music

Extra videos
Extra videos

Short and uncomplicated

Sometimes you already catch a whiff of the Fugue theme in the Prelude

In the Baroque, the key of B-flat major was associated with grand, elevated qualities as well as modest and even dark, melancholy ones. As usual, authors are not in agreement on the subject. Here, Bach clearly opts for the somewhat lighter side of B-flat major. This Prelude and fugue in B-flat major is one of the shorter and least complicated pieces included in the Wohltemperirte Clavier.

The Prelude is a truly ‘preluding’ one. It opens with a sequence of characteristic keyboard figures – more passage work than real melodic material – followed by an extremely free passage that is strongly reminiscent of an improvised cadenza. The Prelude ends with a rising festoon of notes that definitively sets the key of B-flat major.

“Sometimes you already catch a whiff of the Fugue theme in the Prelude,” says the Belgian harpsichordist, organist and ensemble conductor Bart Naessens, whose home we visited for this recording. This seemingly improvised Prelude flows quite seamlessly and organically into one of the most rigid fugues of the whole collection, which is even rather academic at first sight. But Bach would not be Bach if he did not also seek out the harmonic limits within this relatively strict framework.

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 B-flat major
no. 21 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 Bart Naessens

“B-flat major is a tonality that is without complications and yet contains a source of inspiration.”

Vocal texts




  • Release date
    11 May 2018
  • Recording date
    22 March 2017
  • Location
    Bruges, Belgium
  • Harpsichordist
    Bart Naessens
  • Harpsichord
    Geert Karman after Henri Hemsch
  • Director
    Jan Van den Bossche
  • Music recording, edit and mix
    Guido Tichelman
  • Camera and interview
    Gijs Besseling
  • Producer
    Hanna Schreuders
  • With support from
    Prins Bernhard Cultuurfonds

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