Tuesday 18 January 2022

Bach, Gould - the A-flat major prelude from Well-Tempered Clavier Volume 1

Bach's Preludes and Fugues from the Well-Tempered (i.e. equally-divided-octave tuning) Clavier (keyboard instrument) comprise two volumes (each of 24 pieces) of a prelude and a fugue in each of the twelve major and minor keys. 

The first volume of WTC is generally fresher, more varied in style and substance, and more spontaneously-fluent than the second - and I prefer it. 

The above prelude is an example of why I love WTC Volume 1. It is a short, simple, two-part 'invention'; making considerable use of 'perpetual motion' semi-quavers in the bass, to drive a melodic line that transcends its typically baroque-era use of sequences to combine (or alternate) joy and yearning-pathos in a deliciously bittersweet fashion. 

It also represents very lucidly what is special about Glenn Gould, because this two-part texture lets the listener hear everything that is going-on; in terms of the crisply-detached separation yet subtle phrasing of each individual note - even the decorative flourishes; and the over-arching shape and mood that Gould creates. 

In other hands, this tiny piece can seem merely pleasant - even trite; but Gould's musical concentration and insight raises it to a level that has given me repeated happiness for the past 44 years, and counting. 


Poppop said...

Strictly speaking well tempered is not the same tuning as equal temperament

But Glenn Gould Bach and WTC Book 1 are all majestic so no argument from me there!!

Bruce Charlton said...

@P - I daresay, I'm not an expert on tuning! The reason for mentioning it was that this type of keyboard tuning was relatively novel at the time of composition, and it enabled all keys to be played 'equally' well - and that was what lay behind the idea of writing pieces in every key - as a sort of demonstration of the possibilities of the new tuning.

Previously, usual keyboard tunings were better than well-tempered for some keys, but at the price of being worse/ unbearable for others.