The Well-Tempered Clavier II No. 5 in D major

The Well-Tempered Clavier II No. 5 in D major

BWV 874 performed by Christine Schornsheim
at De Paardenkathedraal, Utrecht

  • Menu
  • 1. Prelude
  • 2. Fugue

Behind the music

Extra videos
Extra videos

Theatre for ten fingers

Grandeur and refinement come together in a surprising couple

Like a brightly coloured peacock’s tail, the prelude unfolds in a triumphant upward movement. Once at the top, we pause for a moment and hold our breath. So already in the first two bars, we immediately hear the technical trick Bach is performing. He uses two different times in parallel: flowing quasi-triplets alongside a rather ‘lazy’, sighing common time. Right after the repeat, we even hear the two contrasting rhythms directly above one another, which creates a slightly disjointed effect. For another striking example of this technique, see the Goldberg Variation No. 26 on this site.

While the fugue of BWV 874 is expressly traditional in structure, Bach joins his children’s generation in the prelude. Here, he uses what is known as the sonata form: a work in three movements, whereby the beginning is repeated at the end. Or almost, because very soon after the opening motif is resumed the music takes a new harmonic turn. And it does so in the most radiant of keys: D major. Think trumpets and timpani.

The relatively clear prelude is followed by a complex, but surprisingly catchy fugue in stile antico, which avoids galanterie. The theme could hardly be simpler: three short repeating notes and two long ones, and then again, with a tie in the middle to keep it exciting. Bach’s motto soon becomes apparent: stacking. And so the theme entries tumble over one another in a perpetuum mobile, with maximum variety in a grand architecture, for optimal dramatic effect.

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 D major
no. 5 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
    1 November 2022
  • Recording date
    21 April 2022
  • Location
    De Paardenkathedraal, 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
    Marieke de Blaay
  • Producer
    Josine Olgers

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