Bach’s Well-tempered Clavier

Bach’s Well-tempered Clavier: The 48 Preludes and Fugues

David Ledbetter
Copyright Date: 2002
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 432
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt1npnnf
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  • Book Info
    Bach’s Well-tempered Clavier
    Book Description:

    Bach'sWell-tempered Clavier(or the 48 Preludes and Fugues) stands at the core of baroque keyboard music and has been a model and inspiration for performers and composers ever since it was written. This invaluable guide to the 96 pieces explains Bach's various purposes in compiling the music, describes the rich traditions on which he drew, and provides commentaries for each prelude and fugue.In his text, David Ledbetter addresses the main focal points mentioned by Bach in his original 1722 title page. Drawing on Bach literature over the past three hundred years, he explores German traditions of composition types and Bach's novel expansion of them; explains Bach's instruments and innovations in keyboard technique in the general context of early eighteenth-century developments; reviews instructive and theoretical literature relating to keyboard temperaments from 1680 to 1750; and discusses Bach's pedagogical intent when composing theWell-tempered Clavier. Ledbetter's commentaries on individual preludes and fugues equip readers with the concepts necessary to make their own assessment and include information about the sources when details of notation, ornaments, and fingerings have a bearing on performance.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-12898-7
    Subjects: Music

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-ix)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. x-x)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. Abbreviations
    (pp. xv-xvi)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-10)

    Bach had little patience with expressing his artistic purposes in words, at least in written form. The first volume of theBach-Dokumente, in which his writings are collected, is by far the slimmest of the three, and the writings consist mainly of business letters and references. The one place where he did express his musical intentions verbally is in title-pages, whether of publications or of faircopy manuscript collections such as theOrgel-Büchlein, the Inventions and Sinfonias, andThe Well-tempered Clavier. In these the terms he used and the intentions he expressed are very revealing if read with a sense of...

  7. PART ONE Concepts
    • CHAPTER ONE Clavier
      (pp. 13-34)

      The unspecific nature of the wordClavierin early eighteenth-century Germany has left the question of Bach’s preferred instrument forThe Well-tempered Clavieropen to much argumentation and assumptions based on personal prejudice. The main arguments for harpsichord and clavichord respectively were set out in a debate which ran through the first decade of the twentieth century: those on the harpsichord side by Karl Nef in two well-informed and rational articles (1903, 1909); those on the clavichord side by Richard Buchmayer (1908). Nef’s arguments provided the substantive element in further articles by the arch-champion of the harpsichord, Wanda Landowska (1907,...

    • CHAPTER TWO Well-tempered
      (pp. 35-50)

      For Bach the issue of tuning was important, or he would not have put it in the title. But it would be a mistake to see it as the main issue, as Marpurg does in calling the collectionThe Art of Temperament.¹ The function ofThe Welltempered Clavieris, according to the title-page, to demonstrate the possibility of writing and playing in all 24 major and minor keys. The tuning of the instrument was a means to that end.²

      The term ‘well-tempered’ does not in itself imply a specific tuning, any more than ‘clavier’ implies a specific instrument. It means...

    • CHAPTER THREE Preludes
      (pp. 51-71)

      Traditionally the separate prelude and fugue combination in Bach’s mature work has been seen as the result of a loosening, and eventually separation, of the elements of the composite, sectional form of the seventeenth-century toccata/praeludium/canzona into its component parts. There is much truth in this view, and it is a readily observable phenomenon in the works of Bach’s immediate predecessors. Already in Kuhnau’s secondClavier Übung(1692) the Praeludia which refer to this seventeenth-century sectional model tend to be in a clear bipartite form with a break between sections. Openings have a more motivically worked, concertante character than the improvisatory...

    • CHAPTER FOUR Fugues
      (pp. 72-103)

      There are many modern misconceptions about the nature of fugue as practised by Bach, and many definitions have been attempted. Most of these suffer from being at once too precise and too vague. Vaughan Williams, for example, in an otherwise sympathetic article in the 5th edition ofGrove’s Dictionary(1954, ‘Fugue’) defines it as ‘A musical movement in which a definite number of parts or voices combine in starting and developing a single theme, the interest being cumulative’. This is a perfectly good general definition for a concept of fugue which developed after Bach’s time, represented most typically in the...

    • CHAPTER FIVE All the Tones and Semitones
      (pp. 104-125)

      We are so accustomed to the equal-tempered chromatic scale as a fundamental musical material that it takes some effort to appreciate the novelty and sophistication of the system reflected in Bach’s terminology. The view that the traditional modal system was an antiquarian anachronism and a primitive step on the way to the clear light of tonal day does not do justice to the rich period at the beginning of the eighteenth century when several traditions overlapped and enmeshed, giving rise to a complex system in which composers were sensitive to the possibilities of different materials and the tensions between them.¹...

    • CHAPTER SIX Bach as Teacher
      (pp. 126-140)

      The 48 is the apex of Bach’s clavier teaching programme. In his formulation of the title-page he puts the educational intention first, before the ‘rare entertainment of those already skilled in this discipline’. Here again Bach’s wording has significant resonances in his tradition, which clarify and give focus to his intentions.¹

      Firstly, it is squarely in the tradition of verset collections of the previous halfcentury, where these two objectives had become commonplace (Constantini 1969 p.43). While Johann Caspar Kerll dedicated hisModulatio organica(Munich 1686) primarily to the Church, later ones were dedicated more typically to learning youth and for...

  8. PART TWO Commentaries
    • CHAPTER SEVEN Book I
      (pp. 143-234)

      PRELUDE The traditions that contribute to this type of prelude are outlined in Chapter Three section 4. One is of the toccata arpeggiata, which goes back at least to Kapsberger’s examples for chitarrone (Rome, 1604). These are a kind of harmonicrecherche, exploring sonorities of ties and dissonances, and so provide a plucked-string equivalent to organ toccatasdi durezze e ligature, just as passages of bow tremolo in seventeenth-century Italian sonatas and concertos provide the equivalent for bowed-string instruments.

      The other tradition is of beginners’ preludes, designed to develop a relationship between hand and keyboard in basic chord shapes. Purcell...

    • CHAPTER EIGHT Book II
      (pp. 235-332)

      PRELUDE Bach seems initially to have been undecided about which C major prelude to use to open the second collection. He used the C major prelude BWV 872a in the second (advanced-key) group of entries to the London autograph(c. 1740–1), but transposed into C sharp major. He may well have thought it too similar to the opening prelude of Book I to use here, and have wished to demonstrate alternative possibilities for keys. It serves its purpose very well in C sharp precisely because it is such a typical C major prelude, and so embodies the desirability of being...

  9. Appendix A: Examples 7.30, 8.9 and 8.21
    (pp. 333-342)
  10. Appendix B: The problem of temperament
    (pp. 343-343)
  11. Notes
    (pp. 344-369)
  12. Glossary
    (pp. 370-373)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 374-398)
  14. Index
    (pp. 399-414)