The Well-Tempered Clavier II No. 15 in G major

The Well-Tempered Clavier II No. 15 in G major

BWV 884 performed by Christine Schornsheim
at the Railway Museum, Utrecht

  • Menu
  • 1. Prelude
  • 2. Fugue

Behind the music

Story
Story
Extra videos
Extra videos
Credits
Credits

Effective simplicity

Two very playable Clavier works were extremely popular among students.

Bach published his keyboard music with a clear didactic objective. If his students could master the increasingly complex works, they would slowly but surely attain the perfect autonomy – or autonomous perfection – of the ideal musician. The Wohltemperirte Clavier formed the pinnacle of this logic. However, that didn’t mean that all the preludes and fugues were equally highbrow. Take, for instance, the 15th pair of works from the WTC II, in the comfortable key of G major, which put on a great show of virtuosity, but are actually quite manageable with regard to technique. Bach definitely wanted this fugue on the programme, but he had to search around a bit for the most fitting prelude. He probably thought that BWV 902a, the first that can be associated with the fugue, was too simple. And BWV 902 seemed too elaborate. So in the end he opted for BWV 884.

Not only is this prelude very playable, but it can also be divided neatly into four, with a repeat coming quarter of the way through the piece and a big cadence at the halfway point. To avoid any hint of regularity, Bach alternates small groups of two, four and mainly three bars, to give an even more flowing effect.

Compared to earlier versions of the fugue – which possibly date right back to Bach’s first position in Arnstadt – Bach did plenty of work on the Clavier version. You could almost call the basis a sketch: a written-out improvised fugue, with the theme accompanied mainly by chords. Decades later, this gave rise to a fully elaborated three-part little wonder, with twelve new bars in the closing section, in which a lot of extra harmonic activity suddenly takes place. To crown it all, Bach rewrote the last bar, so that it now races to the final chord with extremely fast notes.

WTC II
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’).

BWV
884
Title
Prelude and fugue in G major
Epithet
no. 15 from the Well-Tempered Clavier II
Instrument
Harpsichord
Genre
harpsichord works
Serie
Das Wohltemperirte Clavier II
Year
1739/1740
City
Leipzig

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

Original

Translation

Credits

  • Release date
    21 March 2023
  • 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
    David Koster
  • Assistant music recording
    Marloes Biermans
  • Data handling
    Stefan Ebels
  • Producer
    Josine Olgers
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