The Well-Tempered Clavier II No. 4 in C-sharp minor
BWV 873 performed by Christine Schornsheim
at De Wilg, Utrecht
Behind the music
Dancing towards the light
A melancholy prelude is followed by an energetic fugue
Each in their own way, the two works in this extensive diptych invite you to dance: a calm siciliano in the prelude, while the fugue lets rip a bit more in a quick giga. Bach maintains clarity in the music with three parts, which are essentially serious in character, but also light and full of energy, especially in the fugue.
In the prelude, the two upper parts sway gently in a duet. They imitate one another (it’s still Bach: contrepoint oblige!), but not too strictly. The alto only introduces the theme after it has previously been heard in an accompanying role. We are witness to Bach’s interpretation of the sonata form, which was innovative at the time, whereby an opening section is resumed at the end, although Bach closes with a different key to the beginning. The fairly unusual, slow time of 3 times 3 beats invites contemplation. And afterwards Bach indulges in exciting ties and ornaments like trills and suspensions.
The tempo of the fugue in the ‘difficult’ key of C-sharp minor is a little ambiguous. If you play too slowly, you miss out on the vital energy in the motoric runs, and if you play too fast then the web of voices becomes clouded and the quickly evolving harmony loses impact. The fugue has two themes, which are heard first separately and later in combination. The first shouts it out, rectus and inversus (upside down), and can’t be missed. But the entrance of the second theme requires a little aural searching. Keep an eye on a timer: after just over a minute, a slow chromatic theme emerges in between the stream of notes in the soprano. The little steps give a clue. From the entrance of the bass, the themes only appear together, until an extra racy final cadence closes the fugue in the major key.
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 minor
- no. 4 from the Well-Tempered Clavier II
- harpsichord works
- Das Wohltemperirte Clavier II
- Release date
- 6 October 2022
- Recording date
- 14 March 2022
- De Wilg, 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
- Assistant music recording
- Marloes Biermans
- Data handling
- Stefan Ebels
- Josine Olgers, Marieke de Blaay
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