The Well-Tempered Clavier II No. 1 in C major
BWV 870 performed by Christine Schornsheim
at the Provincial House of Utrecht
Behind the music
A magnificent comeback
Two older works get a monumental makeover.
A generous tune full of leaps in the right hand and a heavy pedal point in the bass: what a theme; what a powerful, optimistic statement in the radiant key of C major. And all of that in this impressive provincial government building with a wonderful view of Utrecht! Twenty years after his first collection of music in every key imaginable, Bach completed a second Wohltemperirte Clavier. We recorded his first book of Preludes and Fugues at the homes of 24 different musicians. For this second part, performed in its entirety by Christine Schornsheim, we chose 12 very different locations in Utrecht, to celebrate the 900th anniversary of our home city.
In this second Wohltemperirte Clavier, Bach wanted to offer his students yet more contrapuntal tools, even though this ingenious construction technique was already starting to lose ground to a more galant style. But the venerable composer also had an excellent command of the new style when he so wished. Once again, Bach combined new music, such as various two-part ‘modern’ preludes, with older material and arrangements of that material. And we are able to follow this process well, thanks to many sources that can be dated accurately.
This prelude from 1727 at the earliest, only surfaces in the last phase of the compilation of the second part of the Wohltemperirte Clavier, around 1742. After the introduction of the thematic material, Bach avoided the all too obvious cadence, meaning that the music keeps you on the edge of your seat. Bach may possibly have deemed his original too decorous or too simple to serve as the triumphal arch for his new collection. Various additions give it a little kick and lengthen it. A nice balance is created by finally repeating the pedal point from the opening, and revisiting the harmonically surprising section creates tension, now five tones lower. Then in order to return on the long path back to C major, Bach produces a tour de force of passages filled with semitone intervals, which add sparkle to the timbre of the harpsichord.
This majestic prelude is followed by a playful, dancy and remarkably high fugue – Bach wrote 16 extra bars to give more bass power to the ending. Very fashionably, he also applies a virtuoso modernity to this new coda: the left hand ‘topples’ over the thumb, enabling big leaps to be made in a smooth movement. All the emphasis comes on the ornamented fifth note of the light-hearted theme, making the pause in the middle stand out even more.
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 C major
- no. 1 from the Well-Tempered Clavier II
- harpsichord works
- Das Wohltemperirte Clavier II
- first versions around 1727
- Release date
- 6 September 2022
- Recording date
- 22 April 2022
- Provincial House of Utrecht
- Christine Schornsheim
- Bruce Kennedy, 1989 after Michael Mietke
- Director, camera and lights
- Gijs Besseling
- Music recording
- Guido Tichelman, Pim van der Lee
- Music edit and mix
- Guido Tichelman
- Camera, lights
- Danny Noordanus
- Data handling
- Stefan Ebels
- Assistant music recording
- Marloes Biermans
- Josine Olgers
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