The Well-Tempered Clavier II No. 3 in C-sharp major

The Well-Tempered Clavier II No. 3 in C-sharp major

BWV 872 performed by Christine Schornsheim
at De Wilg, Utrecht

  • Menu
  • 1. Prelude
  • 2. Fugue

Behind the music

Extra videos
Extra videos

Good old-fashioned joie de vivre

Bach’s most lively fugue plays a game of transformation

For the third prelude in the Wohltemperirte Clavier II, Bach harked back to a figure he used in such legendary fashion to open the first part of the Wohltemperirte Clavier: rolling arpeggios. Originally, in the first known versions of BWV 872, there were simply big chords written down and it was up to the player to decide how to ‘break them up’. But because arpeggio technique had since fallen out of fashion somewhat – and Bach maybe wanted to be on the safe side in this educational work – he neatly wrote out the rolling arpeggios. Bach did a lot of tweaking to the tenor voice, which is given the most weight and indicates the harmonic direction. The minor passage towards the end of the first section is particularly impressive. With a stream of complex accidentals, Bach seems to be emphasising the ‘exoticism’ of the key of C sharp major in the landscape of High Baroque music.

The prelude ends in a short fughetta with a French undertone, which exudes the joy of composition. Just before the final chord, like an echo from the arpeggios, some newly written bars appear, in which the music shifts harmonically at great speed. Whereas the fughetta invites a flowing legato, the fugue cries out for staccato, so that the theme contrasts nicely with the runs (and runs, and more runs) that follow. Bach plays a game of transformation, and is expressly unclear about the scope of the theme. Does it stop after the first five notes, or does the following tune also belong to it? Each time the themes start up again, the next episode lasts longer and contains more rhythmic elements. From about halfway through, the theme is only heard in inversion, accelerated in minims and extended to twice its length – a lively, crazy texture!

We recorded Bach’s first book of Preludes and Fugues in all the keys 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.

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 en fugue in C-sharp major
no. 3 from the Well-Tempered Clavier II
harpsichord works
Das Wohltemperirte Clavier II

Extra videos

Harpsichordist Christine Schornsheim on the Wohltemperirte Clavier II

“Practising the Well-Tempered Clavier and perhaps especially the second book was a difficult but therapeutic task.”

Vocal texts




  • Release date
    4 October 2022
  • Recording date
    14 March 2022
  • Location
    De Wilg, Utrecht
  • Harpsichordist
    Christine Schornsheim
  • Harpsichord
    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
  • Assistant music recording
    Marloes Biermans
  • Data handling
    Stefan Ebels
  • Producer
    Josine Olgers, Marieke de Blaay

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