The Well-Tempered Clavicord

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The Well-Tempered Clavicord

“There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.”

“The final aim and reason of all music is nothing other than the glorification of God and the refreshment of the spirit.”

“The Well-Tempered Keyboard, or Preludes and Fugues through all tones and semitones, including those with a major third or Ut-Re-Mi as well as those with a minor third or Re-Mi-Fa. For the profit and use of musical youth desiring instruction, and for the particular delight of those who are already skilled in this discipline, composed and prepared by Johann  Sebastian Bach”.

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This is an offshoot from the ongoing series on the cantatas. Some of us seem to be always happy with Bach's music so why not more of it?

My main guide through this music will be Gould's recording and David Schulenberg's The Keyboard Music of J.S. Bach. Other recordings that will probably come up are Leonhardt, Tureck, Hewitt, Schiff and a few -or many- others.

I will try to introduce a new pair every week in BWV order but anyone is welcome to go ahead before me or go for any other at any time. Chris, I remember that you suggested BWV 869 but if it is OK with you we might just start from the beginning and see how far we get...

Hopefully more people will be joining in. I would like to think that the 48 are a little bit more "mainstream" than the cantatas!!

 

RE: The Well-Tempered Clavicord

Do you mean Clavier?

A "clavichord" is a very particular kind of keyboard instrument, but "clavier" (the usual title for this work) is far more general and includes many more instruments.........

RE: The Well-Tempered Clavicord

'All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself'.

God! If only I'd known all these years, it would have saved me playing more bum notes than there are in Stockhausen's entire output!

Reminds me of the comedy sketch that was a skit on Blue Peter (Camaron if you're not old enough, this was a children's programme on BBC).

'And now over to John, who's going to tell you all how to play the flute'.
'Great! It's easy really. You blow into one end and move your fingers up and down the holes at the other'.
'Great! Thanks John. And now over to...'

Sounds like a good idea Camaron...back whenever.

Fraz Jo - disapntd. Bn ringin this grl al week. No ansr...looks lke she changed her mnd. O well...Ldwg...

RE: The Well-Tempered Clavicord

Too much of a good thing is a bad thing, they say. I guess the Dutch radio program Socrates referred to, called "Not a day without Bach" is possessing this forum. Fortunately, Bachmania is a...good thing!

If we have to embark on such a pedagogic task, I would go a bit further from the original proposal of Camaron, suggesting to take each pair of both books, so that we can indulge in some comparative observations and identify some differences, similarities etc.

With the above suggestion and on the basis we dedicate one week for each pair, we can finish in 24 weeks instead of 48! More feasible, I trust.

Parla

P.S.: The "48" are not "mainstream". They are one of a kind with whatever this can cause to each listener...

RE: The Well-Tempered Clavicord

After an epically bad start (getting the tittle of the thread so wrong and being unable to change it) it is encouraging to see such a good and quick response! Maybe a mod could do us all a favour and change the thread title to "clavier"?

Mark, I'm not old enough probably, but then again I'm not even British so nope, I don't know about Blue Peter.

Apart for that I'm certainly hoping you'll use some of your little spare time here with us!

Chris, I've had David Schulenberg's book for some years now. I don't know if he is the Durr's of Bach's keyboard music, but his book is encyclopedic, comprehensive and easy to follow. It is excellent. It covers the whole corpus of his keyboard music (but not organ). He pretty much discusses every single piece in the repertoire. There is plenty of other pertinent information, such as historical background or performance issues. I thought you might know it and if you don't I believe you would get a great deal out of it.

Parla, your idea sounds very good to me, but I honestly doubt I have the time to commit to 2-4 cantatas a week plus two pairs from the 48. A compromise could be to alternate the books each week, with a prelude/fugue pair a week. To me this sounds even better than my original suggestion. This shouldn't prevent any of you from speeding things up if you like. As I said, I expect to introduce a pair at the beginning of each week but you guys are welcome to not wait for me!

RE: The Well-Tempered Clavicord

I think that we do need some clarity as to the instruments as Jane has suggested. Clavier, klavier in German, refers to a variety of stringed keyboard instruments from the late 17th century. These could include the harpsichord/cembalo, the clavichord, and the piano. So I guess that we are talking about Bach's 'keyboard' music.

This is not unimportant in making any comparisions since many pieces originally written for the harpsichord have been transcribed at a later date for the piano. This can result in quite distinctive 'listening experiences' and indeed differences in the reception of the original and later transcriptions.

This also points to the interesting but often forgotten question as to how the development of the technical/material dimensions of sound production actually influenced the music which composers were enabled to compose as a consequence of technical development.

This may become a minor issue in comparisons, but it should not be forgotten. 

 

 

RE: The Well-Tempered Clavicord

My idea of comparing (or simply dealing with) two pairs at a time, based on something in common, which in the case of such a work (based on the totality of tonalities), the common tonality in both books could give us some insights, which, we, inevitably, have to observe in any analysis we chose.

There is such a striking difference from the most popular item of the whole WTC, namely the Prelude in C of Book I (based practically only on broken chords and a simply harmonic progression, passing from the dominant) with the almost "anonymous" one from the Book II (with almost no distinct themes and 8 structural sections, moving from C to d minor, F, G to C).

My idea is based on the fact that such a work of strict order requires a discipline and good time framework to deal with. 48 weeks seems to me a very long time to keep us all around. However, you (the majority rule) decide. 

Parla

RE: The Well-Tempered Clavicord

Before the "universe starts" taking shape, don't you think, camaron and the rest, that a general approach to such a unique work is needed? Some general remarks, information, observations etc. to exchange and, then, we may move to the...specifics?

Parla

RE: The Well-Tempered Clavicord

Camaron I think you should post your essay - or edit it down a bit and then post it. I'm sure it will be fascinating.

Herr Professors Camaron and Chris I'm not sure I want to take this module. How many credits does it gain? Do I get extra credits for taking all three Bach modules - the Autumn cantatas, the Advent cantatas and this one? I'm feeling a bit Bached out. However, there aren't many options, since I don't fancy the others that were posted by the faculty this week - The use of the gamelan in Indonesian music/Writing film scores/Post-structuralist dynamics in Graphic notation with Dr. Finkelstein in room 216. Most of my friends are opting for that one.

Seriously, I'll have a listen to this first suggestion Camaron tomorrow. I've just had a listen and posted on cantata 61. Great stuff as always.

Fraz Jo - disapntd. Bn ringin this grl al week. No ansr...looks lke she changed her mnd. O well...Ldwg...

RE: The Well-Tempered Clavicord

Camaron, thanks for comprehending my point and I would be more than happy to "get the ball rolling", but the next three days are going to be the busiest of this year. So, if I do not manage to produce something till midnight (it is here 15:30 now), please anyone feel free to start with the general approach of the WTC and I'll come back soon.

Thanks again,

Parla

RE: The Well-Tempered Clavicord

OK Parla, I hope the following will be enough for now to give a bit of context. I have -generally- being guided by Schulenberg here:

The Well Tempered Clavier is a sort of educational text book in composition and instrument technique. It is also just to play it for fun! (For the profit and use of musical youth desiring instruction, and for the particular delight of those who are already skilled).

It serves as compendium of inventions, forms and styles, not just of Bach, but of a whole era. Some of the pieces evoke the old masters, Frescobaldi and Froberger and indeed some theorize that Frescobaldi's Capricci (1626) could have provided a model.

Fischer's Ariadne music has also been name as a more direct model: it contains 20 preludes and fugues in different keys, but some are missing (hence "including those with a major third or Ut-Re-Mi as well as those with a minor third or Re-Mi-Fa").

Neither of the books was composed at once. The first one dates from 1722 (Kothen), the second from 1748 (Leipzig). Both are compilations of pieces that Bach had already composed and pieces that he composed newly, possibly to fill the gaps in certain keys. Many of the pieces survive in different manuscripts that show the pieces were modified several times over the years. There is not much indication either that he composed the pairs (prelude with a fugue) at the same time.

When most of Bach's chamber and religious music was forgotten about until his revival in the second half of the 19th century in Germany, manuscript copies of the WTC circulated among a circle of pupils and connoisseurs since Bach's death (and probably before). It was first printed in 1801, interestingly by three different publishers (Leipzig, Bonn and Zurich) pretty much at the same time. This should give an indication that the work already circulated widely.

What goes in the title?

Well:

Contrary to what is often assumed "well" does not mean "equal" so the the title should not be understood as "The clavier tempered in equal intervals". There is not evidence that Bach (and other composers) composed this kind of keys compendiums as a result of the invention of the equal temperament. This had in fact been known for a long time by then. It seems more likely that by the late baroque the range of keys used in composition had extended greatly, partly due to extensions in how far the music was allowed to modulate.

So a good temperament is not an equal one, but one that allows for the use of all the keys. In Bach's times several good temperaments were used. It is also known that Bach tuned his own instruments (he would, wouldn't he?). What is not known is what temperament he used, but it is not unreasonable to think he used different ones, in different times and for different instruments. There seems to be some indications that by the second book he might have settled on equal temperament. It has been established that his son CPE used this soon after his father's death.

Clavier:

This has been mentioned already. Four instruments can play this work and have -each of them- been proposed at some point, by one or the other, as the most suitable one for the 48. As a taster here is a very interesting 15 minutes conversation on the piano with Andras Schiff, where he argues -with music- how the piano is more appropriate than the harpsichord in certain pieces.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TdzLWKuo0YA

What kind of music we'll find?

Fugues:

Lots of them. Anything between 2 and 5 voices, plus fugues with more than one subject (double and triple). Any kind of contrapunctistic device and a variety of styles, from the old riecercar to the the newst galant manner.

Preludes:

Binary pieces in the old way (dances) or in the newer one: sonatas consisting of extended binary forms, with the basic armonic sonata plan (exposition, modulation, re-exposition), but lacking a second theme. Pieces resembling the sinfonias and inventions, more fugues, French Overtures, ritornellos, tocatas, etc.

Significance

The value of the Well Tempered Clavier is -at least- threefold:

-It has been used by students wanting to learn the instrument uninterruptedly for nearly three hundred years.

-It has been used by innumerable composers to learn the art of counterpoint. Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Mendelssohn...

-It is great music.

 

So now to the music!

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