The Well-Tempered Clavier II No. 6 in D minor

The Well-Tempered Clavier II No. 6 in D minor

BWV 875 performed by Christine Schornsheim
at Stadion Galgenwaard, Utrecht

  • Menu
  • 1. Prelude
  • 2. Fugue

Behind the music

Extra videos
Extra videos

Contrary motion

A restless diptych with a hint of melancholy

Music is emotion. The sound philosophers of the Baroque turned this into a very concrete science. In the seventeenth and much of the eighteenth century, composers regarded each key as a universe in itself. Each was assigned its own traits or ‘affects’. The various representatives of this theory of affects – including Charpentier and Mattheson – were often united in their lists of moods, but sometimes they were definitely at odds.

The sound philosophers were in agreement, however, about the atmosphere of the key of BWV 875 – D minor: serious, devout and sensitive. Mattheson adds that D minor can also be delightful, in a flowing rather than a bouncy way. And that is how we can interpret the prelude of BWV 875 from the Wohltemperirte Clavier II. It is a moto perpetuo of runs that rush at one another without colliding (the hands do cross over at various moments). There are a striking number of copies of the work, indicating that Bach’s pupils found it relatively easy to play and enjoyed getting their teeth into this particularly impressive work.

The fugue juxtaposes fast and slow movements. Speedy little triplets ascend rapidly. Quavers descend again in stately fashion: step by step, semitone by semitone. Bach merely dabbles in this chromaticism – there is plenty of harmonic adventure elsewhere in the WTC. Here, Bach plays with structure rather than harmony. The tossing, active ‘head’ of the theme starts to lead its own life, particularly in the three ‘stretti’, where the parts interrupt one another; one part entering before the other has finished. The first stretto is heard a little after the middle, when the alto and descant chase one another. The second comes a few bars further on when the alto and bass do the same, but then in inversion. And the third comes just before the subdued ending with the three parts altogether again, rectus and inversus at the same time. Virtuoso in every sense!

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 minor
no. 6 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
    3 November 2022
  • Recording date
    13 February 2022
  • Location
    Stadion Galgenwaard, Utrecht
  • Harpsichordist
    Christine Schornsheim
  • Harpsichord
    Bruce Kennedy, 1989 after Michael Mietke
  • Director, camera and lights
    Gijs Besselaar
  • Music recording
    Lilita Dunska, Pim van der Lee
  • Music edit and mix
    Lilita Dunska
  • Camera, lights
    David Koster
  • Assistant music recording
    Marloes Biermans
  • Data handling
    Stefan Ebels
  • Producer
    Josine Olgers

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