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So, since Camaron started his introduction and before I go for my three busiest days of this year, I can add my supplementary comments on the general approach of the WTC.
There were some precursors of the work in various works of different composers, including the Master himself (the Little Preludes BWV 933-943 as well as all the two-part Inventions and three-part Symphonias).
The work as such represents Bach's inclination to compile educational samples of his art, at his highest. They also demonstrate a development of a solid Germanic tradition of fugal writing for keyboard instruments. At the same time, the "48" constitute a codification of the notion of pairing a structurally free prelude with a strict and well-organised fugue. However, the fugues of the WTC cannot be compared in size, development grandeur and scope with the ones for Organ, except for very few (notably the b minor one from the First Book).
The First Part (Book I) constitute a more solid, consistent and inspired source of playing vis a vis Part II, which consists of works of almost any period of the composer. In the First Book, in almost all the Preludes, a single concrete demand is requested by the potential performer. In other words, these Preludes represent a precursor of the much later Etudes.
The Fugues, in a good variety of forms texture and development, are the epitome of the enormous ways a concise, monothematic work in this field can explore and develop to the highest degree (from ancient Ricercare to abstract musical structure, like a Fantasia).
Interpretative approach is an enormous task, rarely achieved, since the old Master's music of the WTC serves two basic purposes: a great extent of formal compositional complexity and a great deal of undeniable attraction. Normally, the latter is the obvious choice of both listeners and even players. Thus, rarely the performer can truly deliver the essence of these works and the listener to get the point...
Some of the key issues coming to the fore regarding the performing approach could be boiled down to the following issues: a) the most suitable tempo, b) the proper concept of the use of dynamics, c) the key decision-making as for the articulation, d) the need or not of ornamentation and, finally, the proper narrative to preserve and even project the flow of the musical material.
So, I trust we have some food for thought before we embark on the specifics.
All the best in this inexorable flow of music.
I've just had a couple of listens to Prelude and Fugue in C this afternoon.
First off, on youtube, I thought Gulda's playing of the prelude was just right - not too overstated emotionally. A fantastic example this piece of a pure prelude to me - just concentrating on one musical idea, it keeps the arpeggiated texture throughout.
Jane that was an extremely useful link to the University of Oregon site, and great to listen on their site and follow the fugue as you say unfolding entry by entry. Whoever plays it on this imo has the tempo just right. After loving Gulda's prelude I found his fugue too slow.
Meanwhile, Gould played the top note of each arpeggio in the prelude staccato, which I found a bit of a mannerism. I don't know if it is indicated in the music to be played that way, since trying to access it this aft on IMSLP caused some glitches.
As tomorrow is payday, I think I might invest in the sheet music...
Fraz Jo - disapntd. Bn ringin this grl al week. No ansr...looks lke she changed her mnd. O well...Ldwg...
Thanks Jane - very interesting indeed. I am thinking of ordering a 48 tomorrow as I'm ashamed to say I don't have one, but not sure who to order. Any recs?
Thanks very much Jane! I have just dropped it (the earlier one I think) in my shopping basket on Amazon, as you say, at a mere £16. That has to be do-able in these austere times. £4 a disc for such sublime music - you can't even get a glass of house red for under a fiver anywhere these days.
(Now come on payroll company - who should have paid me Friday, but as often happens, are late because of this business of timesheet approval - should be tomorrow, or whenever this week. And I have another keyboard enterprise on my list that I haven't yet got around to - but I recently bought the music for the Beethoven Bagatelles and, on a visit one Saturday to Clitheroe in Lancashire, came across a music shop sadly closing. The lady - very nice and musical family - was closing the shop and going back to teaching. (Closing a shop and going back to teaching - now where I have I heard that one before?!) Anyway, she invited me to raid the Naxos CD stack with an offer of five for a tenner, so the Beethoven Bagtelles went in there...don't know the pianist though).
Anyway, I ramble as always sorry! Thank God for that original version of the C major prelude, because, way back in the mists, Gounod's Ave Maria was always played at family funerals, so sadly it brings back a lot of memories, but the original Bach is nicely emotive without being a tear-jerker...
Since the debate is heated up and I can still use my gadgets, I may add some notable WTC, considering that there are more than 100 recordings available from various sources:
- For Harpsichord: Apart from the obvious Leonhardt, which, due to the instrument and recording, sounds somehow harsh, one has to try the exquisite and another true master of the instrument, namely Pierre Hantai or even Ton Koopman, if found.
- For Piano: Schiff for his musicianship and control, Richter for being Richter (it is enough, I trust), Koroliov for his impeccable articulation and precision, Jando for some flawless and human approach to this music, Fellner for his lucidity and clearcut performance, among those who are not going to be mentioned perhaps.
Hewitt is a very beloved and superb pianist in Bach, but her WTC (in both versions) is not her best recordings in this field despite enough praise from some reviewers across the globe. I find them a bit cold and uninvolved. Gould is full of mannerisms (take it or leave it). Goulda is uneven but, somehow always convincing (not that well recorded though).
Thanks and go on...
Chris, I thought you would be the first one to bring up Fischer. I've just started listening to him: not bad to my surprise. I'll be following his recording more closely from now.
Parla, Richter's recording was the first one to introduce me to the 48 (and pretty much to Bach) maybe 25 years ago so, although that recording is long lost, it has a place in my heart. These days I avoid "generic" pianists. Some people swear by Barenboim, who I've not listened, but I personally have my doubts.
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).
Parla, you've just been copied and pasted!
It is interesting to read about the recordings mentioned so far. As I am not into the technical side of things and focus on the listening experience, I would like to mention a few interpretations on different instruments that we appreciate.
Piano: we have Schiff on CD but also appreciate Daniel-Ben Pienaar (books 1&2) and Thomas Guenther (book 1) which is a SACD recording for the purists (Parla!).
Harpsichord: Yes, we too know Gustav Leonhardt and Ton Koopmans but there are two other Dutch harpsichordists with complete recordings worth mention. We are not too keen on the young Pieter-Jan Belder (his book 2 is better than his book 1), but we can highly recommend the very mature recordings by Rob van Asperen. One can also highly recommend the complete recordings by Christine Schornsheim who plays superbly on a Ruckers cembalo built in 1624! This is the one I will buy my wife for Christmas!
Organ: Philip Goeth (book 1) is of some interest, but we like Bernard Lagace very much despite his playing on a modern organ rather than a period instrument.
Purists may not appreciate him, but we have also listened with interest to the recordings by the jazz pianist Keith Jarrett. Will not buy, prefer his jazz!
Looking forward to other suggestions which will add newer recordings to the well-established repertoire.
The bank account looks a little rosier (the leftover account that is) Hewitt has been duly ordered and is on her way, God is in his Heaven and all is right with the world.
Whither next? Richter, Fellner and Pienaar are all on Amazon - Peter Hill?
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