The Well-Tempered Clavier II no. 24 in B minor

The Well-Tempered Clavier II no. 24 in B minor

BWV 893 performed by Christine Schornsheim
at De Paardenkathedraal, Utrecht

  • Menu
  • 1. Prelude
  • 2. Fugue

Behind the music

Extra videos
Extra videos

Ahead of his time at the end

Light-heartedly, Bach completes the circle

Would Bach think it strange that we give concerts of his Wohltemperirtes Clavier? In any case, he intended the collections primarily as a guide for students; a catalogue of styles and solutions that was soon doing the rounds as a manuscript. Many listeners, however, look for structure and patterns within the collections. We were put on that track by the monumental construction of WTC I, which concludes magnificently with a splendid pair of works: BWV 869. 

But in WTC II – twenty years and many, many students later – Bach leaves us a little dissatisfied: a playful duet and a light-hearted fugue that together last barely four minutes. Is that all? Why is it these galant puzzle pieces, in particular, that complete the circle? Or are we projecting the idea of a cycle that doesn’t actually exist? 

Whatever the case, the prelude is one of Bach’s ‘modern’ ones. Here, the legendary Baroque giant shows us he had nothing against his sons’ new style – see, for example, the three sections in different characters. However, he did not necessarily work in that style. Whereas his modern sons kept bouncing new ideas off one another, father Bach wrung every last drop out of his basic material. The two parts, which at times are really divided into a main part and an accompaniment, are joined right at the end by some tension-filled chords. 

The fugue sounds light, but the chosen theme, full of leaps, is not very practical for keyboard. Especially not when the second, equally dynamic countertheme comes to put a spanner in the works. However, they both contrast beautifully with the first countertheme, which proceeds in little steps rather than leaps. In this feather-light passepied rhythm, standing still is not an option, and we succumb irrevocably to the movement. The cheerful atmosphere is heightened yet further by trills. 

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 B minor
no. 24 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
    13 July 2023
  • Recording date
    21 April 2022
  • Location
    De Paardenkathedraal, Utrecht
  • Harpsichordist
    Christine Schornsheim
  • Harpsichord
    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
  • Assistant music recording
    Marloes Biermans
  • Data handling
    Marieke de Blaay
  • Producer
    Josine Olgers

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