The Well-Tempered Clavier II No. 14 in F-sharp minor
BWV 883 performed by Christine Schornsheim
at the Fundatie van Renswoude, Utrecht
Behind the music
All good things…
A surprisingly accessible tour de force is found in the middle of the Clavier.
In the Baroque, people often associated the key of F-sharp minor with nostalgic melancholy. And that was the atmosphere in which Bach wrote this 14th prelude from the Wohltemperirte Clavier. The prelude sounds like a sensitive arioso (a hybrid between a recitative and an aria – in this case instrumental). The melody in the right hand stands out as a wonderful solo, almost as if it is played on a separate instrument. The lead is in dialogue with the soft swing of the accompaniment, with a dramatic pause two-thirds of the way through the piece. Three things determine the character of the prelude: the relaxed triplets, the descending leap in the head of the theme and the interplay of exciting ties.
But then comes the real masterpiece: the only triple fugue in the Wohltemperirte Clavier II. Such a tour de force – a fugue around three themes – demands careful planning. Each of the three themes requires an appropriate countertheme, and ideally all those lines link up beautifully as well. You can regard an erudite fugue like this as an exercise in style or a mathematical puzzle. It might all sound rather technical, but you can rest assured that Bach actually wrote a very accessible piece of music.
In order to show off the contrasting characters to the full, each them has its own exposition. The first theme is full of jumping rhythms and big leaps that later slide together to form interesting dissonants. This rather mysterious theme turns out to be an undertone for the whole fugue, in varying contexts. The second theme (4.10 min) flows a bit more, but still revolves around separate little movements, reinforced by the overlapping entrances in the introduction (stretto). And finally, the third theme (5.14 min) cascades like a waterfall and can be drawn out endlessly – an opportunity that Bach does not ignore in the rest of the fugue. The conclusion is an ingenious combination of all this material, especially in the contrast between the jerky movements of the first theme and the long festoons of the third one.
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 F-sharp minor
- no. 14 from the Well-Tempered Clavier II
- harpsichord works
- Das Wohltemperirte Clavier II
- Release date
- 23 February 2023
- Recording date
- 25 September 2022
- Fundatie van Renswoude, 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
- Danny Noordanus
- Assistant music recording
- Marloes Biermans
- Producer and data handling
- Marieke de Blaay
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