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Johann Sebastian Bach

Prelude and Fugue in B flat minor, Well Tempered Piano Book 2  Play

Irina Klyuev Piano

Recorded on 07/30/2004, uploaded on 01/30/2010

Musician's or Publisher's Notes

Prelude and Fugue in B flat minor, from Book II, Well-Tempered Clavier    Johann Sebastian Bach

The forty-eight preludes and fugues that make up the two books of the Well-Tempered Clavier were compiled at two different times-the first book in 1722 while Bach was in Köthen and in 1742 in Leipzig. In each book, the first prelude and fugue set is in C major, followed by the next in C minor and so they ascend chromatically in major-minor pairs. The preludes for the most part exhibit simple binary or ternary forms;  a few (Nos. 9 and 12 in Book II) use the old Baroque sonata form well-known in the works of Scarlatti. Quite exceptionally, the Prelude in D of Book II nearly approaches the requirements of the modern sonata form. The fugues range from two to five voices, with three and four being the preferable choices, and employ a wide range of contrapuntal techniques.

The title page of Bach's autograph fair copy (in the possession of the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin Preußischer Kulturbesitz) states that the Well-Tempered Clavier is a set of preludes and fugues "for the Use and Profit of the Musical Youth Desirous of Learning." Although not published during his lifetime, Bach made use of the Well-Tempered Clavier with his own students, usually lending his manuscript to them and letting them make their own personal copy. These copies were slowly spread across Europe and several later influential composers, most notably Mozart and Beethoven, obtained their own manuscripts of the Well-Tempered Clavier. During the course of the nineteenth century, this remarkable set of preludes and fugue became a cornerstone in the piano literature, a position which it still holds today. As proof of its importance in the literature, the famous nineteenth century music critic, Hans von Bülow, called the the Well-Tempered Clavier the "Pianists' Old Testament."

Interesting is Bach's rather general statement on the title page: "for the Use and Profit of the Musical Youth Desirous of Learning." Bach was not specific concerning the subject of his instruction, so it can only be left to assume it is not one specific element, but music in all its aspects that he wished to teach. In the Well-Tempered Clavier, the music student has the most comprehensive and practical instructional manual to harmony and counterpoint, far surpassingly any textbook written on these subjects. From these two disciplines comes the foundation needed for a complete understanding of music of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. In assuming Bach's only intention was to teach keyboard technique, we fail to recognize the full potential of these forty-eight preludes and fugues.

Despite the prevailing key of B flat minor, the twenty-second Prelude of Book II possesses a peculiar dignity and refinement of expression. The nearly ubiquitous eighth-notes not only create a sense rhythmic regularity, but also emotional consistency. There is little room in this prelude for wide ranging emotional outbursts. Combined with the consistent eighth-notes, the three-part counterpoint comes off as almost cold and calculating. Therein, however, lies the intrinsic beauty of this prelude-music that abandons trivial emotions and speaks directly to the rational mind, allowing the listener to grasp something deeper than momentary feelings and of far more permanent value.

The fugue, if anything, heightens the logical argument of the prelude. The four measure subject, like the prelude, is seemingly devoid of any overt sentiments. It is, on the other hand, full of contrapuntal possibilities. After the exposition, the subject appears in stretto at the distance of only a half-note and at the interval of a seventh. Following this, another stretto appears at the same rhythmical distance, though this time at the interval of the ninth (in essence, an inversion in the octave of the first stretto). A counter-exposition follows which concerns itself with the inversion of both the subject and its countersubject. Bach then employs the same strettos as earlier in reverse order-first at the ninth, then at the seventh-however, this time using the inversion of the subject. Another pair of stretto entries follow, still at the rhythmical distance of a half-note, but employing the subject against its own inversion. Finally, Bach makes one last daring contrapuntal display in the final statement of the subject. The subject is heard again accompanied by its inversion in close stretto. However, this time both subject and inversion are accompanied in thirds and sixths. On the surface, it appears to be only a simple means of filling in the harmony of the subject, but underneath it amounts to a cunning use of double counterpoint in the tenth, as well as a partial inversion in the thirteenth. This last statement then leads to the final cadence bringing this magnificent fugue to a close.        Joseph DuBose

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Listeners' Comments        (You have to be logged in to leave comments)

What was wrong with the piano in this recording? One note keeps intruding and sounds like a honky tonk piano from the Old West

Submitted by mistiinaqp on Thu, 01/02/2014 - 13:56. Report abuse