BWV 854

All of Bach: a project by the Netherlands Bach Society

The Well-Tempered Clavier I No. 9 in E major

BWV 854 performed by Christian Rieger
at home in Cologne, Germany

"I don't think Bach intended the Well-tempered Clavier to be seen as a cycle."

A lively second

Bach added a short and simple fugue to the sweet prelude.

The prelude in E major is sweet and pastoral – mainly due to the drawn-out, tuneful melody with which the right hand opens. Beneath it, the left hand moves quietly forward, providing harmonic support and here and there some thematic comments. At the end of the exposition, Bach briefly seeks out the borders of the key with a couple of chromatic accents, but this does not disturb the sweet character of the piece. The prelude ends with an almost literal repeat of the exposition, but then transposed by a fourth.

An initial version of this prelude already appeared in the music booklet compiled by Bach for his ten-year-old son Wilhelm Friedemann. Bach probably added the fugue to it later, and included the pieces in the Wohltemperirte Clavier  (Well-Tempered Clavier).

The theme of the three-part fugue is one of the shortest and simplest of the whole collection. It opens in very lively fashion with two notes, or a ‘second’, which is stressed by the rest that follows. With this little motif, Bach takes one step away from the fundamental tone of E, returning to base again after the tense rest with a run of semiquavers. However, this run does not know when to stop and forms the basic material for the continuation of the fugue.

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 and fugue in E major

no. 9 from The Well-Tempered Clavier I

keyboard work

Das Wohltemperirte Clavier I

1722 or earlier

Cöthen (or Weimar?)

Cast & Crew

Release date 10 November 2017
Recording date 20 April 2017
Location Cologne, Germany
Harpsichordist Christian Rieger
Harpsichord David Sutherland (Michigan 1990) after Christian Zell (Hamburg 1728)
Director Jan Van den Bossche, Hanna Schreuders
Music recording, edit and mix Guido Tichelman
Camera and interview Gijs Besseling
Edditing Augustine Huijsser
Producer Jessie Verbrugh

Vocal Texts




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