Bach: The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book One

Mark front

18 November 2019, 7:30 p.m.

Artistic Director Mark Edwards presents the first book of J.S. Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier

Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours Chapel
400 Saint-Paul St. East, Montréal

Programme Notes

The first book of The Well-Tempered Clavier  (WTC) is a compilation of 24 preludes and fugues, one for every major and minor tone of the scale, arranged in chromatic order from C major to b minor. By 1722, Bach had compiled earlier versions of the pieces (W.F. Bach’s Clavierbüchlein), reworking and/or transposing them, and composing new pieces to complete the collection. Since the 19th century, pianists such as Beethoven, Czerny, and Schumann have appreciated the fugues of the WTC.  

It is customary to perform the WTC as a cycle that reproduces the chromatic index of the collection. Mark Edwards does not follow this order tonight. Inspired by Chopin’s 24 Preludes, Op. 28, he starts with a major prelude and fugue coupled with those of its relative minor; he then jumps up a fifth from the major key and repeats the process until all 24 preludes and fugues have been heard. This method allows for 12 different orders in which to play and listen to the music of the WTC, depending on where one starts. Mr. Edwards has chosen to start with the preludes and fugues in A/f# and end with those in D/b. 

True to the ethical impulse of Poiesis, this alternative ordering provides new ways of hearing a masterpiece of the baroque repertoire. Instead of experiencing an alternation of major and minor tonalities (C/c) and chromatic progressions (C/C#), the listener is invited to discover new pairings of relative minors (C/a) and to hear them related by a circle of fifths. In tonight’s order, the iconic prelude in C major—which every piano student has played and others know from Gounod’s Ave Maria—is only heard halfway through the second part of the performance.  

Although each piece is titled “prelude” or “fugue,” the music in this collection is quite varied. The preludes are cast in a variety of styles and genres current to the 17th and 18th centuries: sectional Praeludia (Eb, Bb), figuration preludes (C, c, C#, D, d), inventions (A), ritornellos (E, F#), and a Corellian chamber sonata (b). The fugues are also varied: in number of voices (â 2 to â 5), in the presence or not of a regular countersubject, and in their style and genre—as dance types (bourrée in C#, passepied in F, entrée in D), in stile antico (c#, bb) or like concertos (c, G, C#).


Temperament: Bach/Hill 
Instrument: Keith Hill after Blanchet, 2010