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Johann Sebastian Bach

Prelude and Fugue in B-flat Major from Well-Tempered Clavier Book I  Play

Konstantyn Travinsky Piano

Recorded on 11/21/2006, uploaded on 01/25/2009

Musician's or Publisher's Notes

Prelude and Fugue in B flat major, from  Book I, 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 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.

The Prelude in B flat major from Book I essentially divides into two sections. The first consists mainly of a melodic motif in the left hand accompanied by broken chords in the right hand. The music comes to a full close in the dominant key of F in measure ten before being swept away into the next section. In measure eleven, a stately dotted-eighth-sixteenth motif is introduced with each statement separated by swift runs. The Prelude closes with a short synthesis of the two sections in which the arpeggio figures of the first section are mixed with the scalar runs of the second. The following fugue is in three voices and its subject is accompanied by two countersubjects. The subject persists throughout the fugue except for the closing bars. Episodes are built using the inversion of the subject's first measure combined with a sixteenth-note figure extracted from its ending. The final statement of the fugue subject is extended by repeating and varying its last two measures, leading to the final cadence.      Joseph DuBose

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