The Well-Tempered Clavier II No. 10 in E minor

The Well-Tempered Clavier II No. 10 in E minor

BWV 879 performed by Christine Schornsheim
at the Railway Museum, Utrecht

  • Menu
  • 1. Prelude
  • 2. Fugue

Behind the music

Extra videos
Extra videos

Like a train

A dynamic pair, with a slight delay

For the recordings in the Railway Museum, Christine Schornsheim trawled the Wohltemperirte Clavier in search of ‘mechanical’ music. And this pair in E minor does indeed work like a refined little machine: the prelude very smoothly with endless runs, and the fugue with lots of character but slightly less fluidity. Because ‘sometimes a train journey doesn’t run like clockwork either’, says Schornsheim.

This prelude featured in the very earliest plans for the second book of the Wohltemperirte Clavier, although musicologists cannot agree on when it originated. The work bears resemblance to Bach’s early two-part Inventions, but could also have been written later. The short theme actually comprises two themes in one, as the same material occurs both rectus and inversus: the first and second bar are ‘mirrored vertically’ to one another – one step up becomes one step down. This trick allowed Bach to combine the theme with itself, on various tones. Unlike the Inventions, the creative emphasis here is on the richly ornamented upper part, while the bass is given a more accompanying role.

The resounding prelude is followed by a galant fugue, to which you can hardly sit still. Two ideas support the lengthy theme: staccato leaps and dancing triplets. Together, they form an attractive concert fugue. Towards the end, the train stops in its tracks twice. For WTC2, Bach tacked a bit on to this coda and created extra tension with these harmonic pauses.

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 E minor
no. 10 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
    29 December 2022
  • Recording date
    14 February 2022
  • Location
    Railway Museum, Utrecht
  • Harpsichordist
    Christine Schornsheim
  • Harpsichord
    Bruce Kennedy 1989, after Michael Mietke
  • Director, camera and lights
    Gijs Besseling
  • Music recording
    Lilita Dunska, Pim van der Lee
  • Music edit and mix
    Lilita Dunska
  • Camera, lights
    David Koster
  • Data handling
    Stefan Ebels
  • Assistant music recording
    Marloes Biermans
  • Producer
    Josine Olgers

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