Listening Log – [Pt. III]- Johann Sebastian Bach- Das wohltemperierte Klavier I, II, BWV 846–893 (Glenn Gould plays Bach: The Well-Tempered Clavier Books I & II, BWV 846-893)


Listening Log – [Pt. III]- Johann Sebastian Bach- The Well-Tempered Clavier, BWV 846–893 InFebruary 2020 Listened (download) to digital audio CD: ‘Glenn Gould plays Bach: The Well-Tempered Clavier Books I & II, BWV 846-893. (1964) Performer: Glenn Gould Label: ℗ Originally released 1963 SONY BMG MUSIC ENTERTAINMENT ℗ 1964 Sony Music Entertainment

I made the decision to listen to Glenn Gould’s piano versions of the Well Tempered Clavier. I find the harpsichord recording which I have found a bit ‘dry’ to listen too, very much like exercises rather than good music.

The first piece, The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book 1: Prelude & Fugue No. 1 in C Major, BWV 846 is ver simple consisting on of chordal movement starting off with an arpeggiated chord in the left hand which is completed melodically in the right hand. The first Fugue is Fugal in its structure like the name suggests. Fugue No. 1 in C Major, BWV 846. The time signature is a straightforward 4/4.

The second Prelude & Fugue No. 2 in C Minor, BWV 847: combines the techniques of the previous Prelude and Fugue and is both arpeggiated and fugal with much more florid melody lines in the right hand.

Onto the third Prelude & Fugue No. 3 in C-Sharp Major, BWV 848: Prelude and the bass line figure in the left hand is far more developed with shorter note values and busy figures. The tempo feels far brisker and more animated with new time signature, 3/8. So far this piece sounds the most stereotypically Baroque to me.

Prelude & Fugue No. 4 in C-Sharp Minor, BWV 849 are at a much slower tempo, with accents suggesting a new and more unusual time signature, which I can’t quite work out what it should be.., perhaps because of the strange accents and rhythmical quality this is my favourite so far.

The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book 1: Prelude & Fugue No. 5 in D Major, BWV 850 moves away from the C as a tonal centre. The D Major sounds very uplifting in comparison. One hand plays very rapid figures whilst the other just punctuates the bass line. The overall feeling is very ‘robust’.

Prelude & Fugue No. 6 in D Minor, BWV 851 moves to the parallel minor with an even faster melody line without many rests or stops. The Fugue in particular has a very ‘courtly’ sound to it, is in 3/4 and the bass moves steadily from beat to beat, like a ‘walking bass’.

Prelude & Fugue No. 7 in E-Flat Major, BWV 852 The Prelude is very lyrical, at a slower pace with more chords. The Fugue is really intricate and has more embellishments in the form of trills.

Prelude No. 8 in E-Flat Minor, BWV 853, the prelude is very tender and melodic with little bursts of fragile figures. It is very sensitive with a lot of pathos and in a 3/2 time signature. This Prelude I am very fond of. The Fugue, labeled D-Sharp Minor, carries on with the same pathos and sensitivity but moves from the Lento to an Andante in a 4/4 time.

The various Preludes and Fugues work their way though the different Keys, some at ferocious pace with semi quaver textures and others in a more lyrical manner. Bach shows untold ways of varying every aspect of the harpsichord melody line and accompaniment. Aside from he tempo, key and time signature changes the texture and degree of ornamentation varies greatly from piece to piece. I believe one could learn everything one needs to know about composition by studying these pieces closely. However, I also feel that the main variation which lies in the flavour of each key has largely been lost to us because of listening to the music in equal temperament. I think these compositions would sound much more different to each other in the tuning Bach used. It does all become a bit ‘samey’ after a while when listening in equal temperament, it all has pretty much the same tonal flavour albeit ‘transposed’, whereas the moods would have been distinctly different in the tuning of the day.

Link here to my opinions and thoughts on other tuning systems.