All of Bach: a project by the Netherlands Bach Society
The Well-Tempered Clavier I No. 8 in E-flat minor
Technical mastery and incredible expressiveness go hand in hand here.
Organist and harpsichordist Bart Jacobs lives in the idyllic countryside to the south of Antwerp. From the remaining parts of the first book of Das Wohltemperirte Clavier, he chose to play the Prelude and fugue in the unusual key of E-flat minor. This key is rarely heard in the Baroque, but in view of the structure of Bach’s project, it had to be included, of course. Incidentally, it produced one of the more extensive and ambitious additions to the collection.
The Prelude is a very stately piece with some beautiful ornamentation. Bart Jacobs calls it a “tombeau-like funeral march”. The pulse of the three-four time is ever present and the atmosphere is indeed sombre. The Prelude already existed in an earlier version, in the pedagogical keyboard book that Bach compiled for his eldest son Wilhelm Friedemann.
The relationship to the Fugue is not very clear. It is suspected by some – including Bart Jacobs – that Bach simply took an existing fugue in D for the Fugue in E-flat minor and added the necessary sharps to it (6 of them), thus putting the piece into D-sharp minor, which sounds the same as E-flat minor. Bach could be very pragmatic at times.
The three-part Fugue is otherwise one of the most well-wrought and strictly constructed of the whole Wolhtemperirte Clavier. Bach subjects the very classical, almost archaic theme to a whole range of contrapuntal techniques. So once again, we clearly see the ease with which technical mastery and incredible expressiveness go hand in hand in Bach’s music.
Das Wohltemperirte Clavier, BWV 846-893
Composing 48 keyboard pieces in all 24 keys was the sort of challenge Bach enjoyed. In each of the two parts of the Wohltemperirte Clavier, he brought together the musical couple prelude and fugue 24 times; twelve in minor keys and twelve in major. In the preludes, he gave free rein to his imagination, and demonstrated mathematical tours de force in the fugues. In contrast to the iron discipline Bach had to apply to his church compositions, here he could abandon himself to intellectual Spielerei without worrying about deadlines.
The first part of the Wohltemperirte Clavier dates from 1722, although it contains some music that was written in the preceding five years. There is less clarity about the history of part two. Bach compiled this second manuscript only around 1740, although once again some of the preludes and fugues it contains date from a much earlier period. Bach described the target group for this collection of pieces as follows: ‘Zum Nutzen und Gebrauch der Lehr-begierigen Musicalischen Jugend, als auch dere in diesem studio schon habil seyenden besonderem ZeitVertreib’ (For both the education of the industrious musical youngster and the enjoyment of those well-versed in this material’).
- Prelude in E-flat minor and fugue in d-sharp minor
- no. 8 from The Well-Tempered Clavier I
- keyboard work
- Das Wohltemperirte Clavier I
- 1722 or earlier
- Cöthen (or Weimar?)
Cast & Crew
|Release date||9 February 2018|
|Recording date||23 March 2017|
|Harpsichord||Andreas Kilström (2009) after I. Couchet, Antwerp (about 1650)|
|Director||Jan van den Bossche, Hanna Schreuders|
|Music recording||Guido Tichelman|
|Camera and interview||Gijs Besseling|