The Well-Tempered Clavier II No. 8 in D-sharp minor
BWV 877 performed by Christine Schornsheim
at the Anatomiegebouw in Utrecht
Behind the music
Slowly advancing insight
Bach’s performers have to slog away.
Let’s be honest: D-sharp minor is a nasty, uncomfortable key. It’s a key that demands of its listeners that they imagine practically every note of the scale a semitone higher (six sharps!). And on top of that, Bach liberally scatters extra accidentals and ornaments as well.
Fortunately, the result is interesting, especially in the prelude. The material of the first bar – step up, run down – is developed and combined throughout the piece in all sorts of creative ways. For the advanced listener, even the descending scale lays an important harmonic foundation. Harpsichordist Christine Schornsheim emphasises the wealth of details by always playing the repeats in another register. This draws attention to the fast, almost hurried figures just before and after the repeats and at the end. In the middle of the two halves, we hear galant bass figures (a bit like those of Haydn and Mozart), which turns this tricky prelude into a modern update of Bach’s own two-part Inventionen and Duetti.
The fugue that follows is long and tough, and clearly a work that needs patience, a bit like the veterinary research carried out in the Anatomiegebouw – where this performance was recorded. It has an air of sadness that is tangible in the repeated notes of the theme, which has an ‘antique’ feel to it. Almost halfway through, the movement calms down for a brief moment, but apart from that the entries and phrase endings overlap continually. It’s quite a task for the musician. Actually, in this work Bach does not really go in for smart combinations, such as in pure counterpoint, but rather searches for ways to keep presenting the theme material in a new light, like a rhetorical exercise. The highlight is then a conclusion (probably added later), where the theme and its inversion meet each other for the first time.
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-sharp minor
- no. 8 from the Well-Tempered Clavier II
- harpsichord works
- Das Wohltemperirte Clavier II
- Release date
- 1 December 2022
- Recording date
- 20 April 2022
- Anatomy Building, 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, Marieke de Blaay
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