Registered: Dec 2002\r\nLocation: \r\nPosts: 174\r\n Bach's Well Tempered Clavier \r\nT H E W E L L T E M P E R E D C L A V I E R \r\n\r\nINTRODUCTORY NOTE, perhaps rather useless, as it is too complex for the non initiated and too simple for the initiated, and to be unremorsefully skipped. \r\n\r\nThe name itself is rather strange. I remember a young boy referring to it as the 'tempered clavier' - I think he though it wasn't as corny. \r\n\r\nBut to 'temperate' a clavier means to tune it. Now the old system of tuning was very different from the modern one. I a modern piano, if you play c sharp or d flat it is the same note. But theoretically they are different notes: the c sharp is lower than the d flat. \r\n\r\nOld instrument builders and tuners therefore had to chose, for each accidental (the black notes) if it was a lower note's sharp or the upper note's flat. \r\n\r\nUsually one chose the arrangements which allowed playing d minor, g minor and c minor, f major, g major and d major. Which means you have c sharp, e flat, f sharp, a flat and b flat. \r\n\r\nNow that implies that you cannot play a C major tune in c sharp major, because it would be helplessly out of tune: the relationships between the notes (all black notes) would be different than the one found in the original c major: some notes would be too flat and some too sharp. As a matter of fact, most 'remote' keys cannot be used at all, as they sound completely out of tune. \r\n\r\nThat prevented the use of modulation, that is, the possibility of changing keys within the same piece. \r\n\r\nNow in the modern tuning the interval between c and c sharp is exactly the same as between any other half tone. So you can change keys freely. \r\n\r\nBut that was not the case in Bach's time. Because he wished to be capable of playing in any key he made the point that a correctly tuned keyboard should be able to play in any key. That is, therefore, the reason of the title: a Weel Tuned Keyboard. \r\n\r\nThe structure of the WTC is, itself, revealing: there is a prelude and fugue in every possible key (of course, not the enharmonic ones). \r\n\r\n\r\n\r\nTHE WTC \r\n\r\nActually, there are two WTC: the 1st book and the second one. They were composed at different times and stylistically are quite different. The first one is, by far, the more approachable one. \r\n\r\nWhat is important to notice is that every key had a 'hidden' significance. For instance, c major was though of as peaceful, g major boisterously joyful, f minor very tragic, d minor deep, d major shiny and bright and so on. \r\n\r\nTherefore it is important to understand that all the preludes and fugues are supposed to convey an emotional message. In the preludes that is rather easily done: they are essentially free pieces of music, and the composer writes as he wishes. With the fugues it is rather different, because fugue writing is a very exact and rigorous exercise. But, and that is one of Bach's strange capabilities, he manages to make powerfully moving fugues. As a matter of fact, in a sense, the fugues of the WTC are more powerfully moving than the preludes. \r\n\r\nThe second book is much more abstract. It is also more modern. The preludes are more modern (more da capi, for instance, less rhapsodical) and the fugues are rather more abstract and contrapuntally complex; some of them are unbelievable beautiful.\r\n\r\nTHE VERSIONS \r\n\r\nThere are so many versions it is quite impossible to mention them all. As far as I know, there are harpsichord versions; clavichord versions; piano versions; and organ versions. \r\n\r\nThe word 'Klavier' just means keyboard. But as they are manualiter pieces (that is, there is no pedal part, only the hands are supposed to play), the likely attribution is to the harpsichord, the standard Klavier in Bach's day. Also, there are pieces which were clearly written for the harpsichord: the ringing spread chords don't work in the organ and only partially in the piano. The clavichord was thought as a study instrument (it is diabolically difficult to play), not a serious one. \r\n\r\nThe modern Grand piano is claimed to be a 'better' instrument than the harpsichord, because it allows dynamic gradations. That is true, but it is nothing as transparent as good harpsichord tune, an important aspect in contrapuntal music. \r\n\r\nI'll comment on the following. Kirkpatrick (Archiv), Walcha I (EMI), Walcha II (Archiv/DGG), Leonhardt (DHM), Gilbert (Archiv), Moroney (FHM), Koopman (Erato), Asperen (EMI), Verlet (AstrÃƒÂ©e). All those are currently available (the Walcha versions only in France, but they are easy to get through Amazon.fr). \r\n\r\nKIRKPATRICK: Ralph Kirpatrick recorded the work twice. First in a very ugly sounding harpsichord, second in a sweet sounding clavichord. His approach is very rhythmical and, at the same time, motoric and melodic. \r\n\r\nHis reading is very down to earth, very human: there's nothing abstract about the way he plays Bach. There is almost a Sturm und Drang approach I feel Bach would not be comfortable with. Nevertheless, it is very enrapturing. \r\n\r\nBut I wouldn't suggest this as a first approach to the WTC. The reasons are twofold. First, as I said before, the clavichord is very difficult to play. As the pressure you apply to the key is directly relayed to the key, if you press it too strongly it will play louder, but also sharper as the string tension is increased. That means it is very easy to go out of tune. Also, if you throw you finger over the key, it will likely produce a buzz: the finger must just caress the key. \r\n\r\nNow Kirkpatrick plays rather fast - sometimes incredibly so - and all the passion is bound to produce all kinds of technical faults: you must be sure you can endure out of tune playing, twangy notes and so on. \r\n\r\nThe second reason is that I think it is too personal an approach to the WTC. It is exciting, moving, enthusiastic even, pathetical sometimes, but it is rather extreme. \r\n\r\nThe second book is very well recorded. You can listen to the very subtle beauty of clavichord tone. \r\n\r\nWALCHA I. Helmut Walcha recorded the cycle twice. The first version is available from France, together with the Goldberg variations and the inventions and symphonies, from EMI France (Amazon. fr: search Clavecin bien tempÃƒÂ©rÃƒÂ©; at Amazon.uk search for Clavecin bien TempÃƒÂ¹rÃƒÂ¹, on pop music (!!)). \r\n\r\nThis is a powerful, masterful rendering of the WTC. The harpsichord used is a XXth century one, rather ponderous, but the version is top notch. Walcha was always a very cerebral player, and you'll find structure even in the smaller fugues. But this particular version is very noble and impressive. Manly but otherworldly if I may use that contradiction. The fugues are relentless, fantastically beautiful. One might prefer a more human approach, however. \r\n\r\nWALCHA II. Released by DGG France. When he was 70, Walcha rerecorded the work, at two very fine instruments. The readings are similar, but there is a decantation of emotion, as if Walcha is playing for eternity. An extremely beautiful version, perhaps one of the least approachable but perhaps the most subtly moving of them all. \r\n\r\nLEONHARDT. Leohardt's version bursts with human passion. A rather dark and somber passion, as always with this musician, but impressive, heroic and tragic. The second book is particularly impressive - fantastic, really. The great pathetic fugues of the 1st book (c#minor, b minor) are purely magical. Sound is not very good. But it is passable, it won't aggress and the rendering is so successful and impressive that you won't care about it. One of the major versions. \r\n\r\nGILBERT. Kenneth Gilbert is a subtle and poetic player. He never relies on strength but only on phrasing. I personally think this is the best version currently available. It won't impress, but it is so perfect, in such a good taste, so musical - not a simple piece is weak - and so akin to the flowing nature of Bach's phrasing that I don't think you could go wrong with this one. The harpsichord (Gilbert's own) is a pure marvel (if rather brightly recorded) and music just flows, crystal clear and poetic, as if water from a source. \r\n\r\nMORONEY. Davitt Moroney loves counterpoint. He is very cerebral and not particularly poetic. But the fugues are always interesting and his is a very austere but accurate approach to Bach. \r\n\r\nASPEREN. Bob van Asperen was a pupil of Leonhardt. But he is a very different musician from his teacher. Whereas Leonhardt is dark and powerful, Asperen is alternately tender, sad or overjoyed. His is a very contrasted view of the WTC. The harpsichord is marvelous (but an old one, and difficult to master - which sometimes shows) and several pieces are very interesting. A good recommendation, although not at the same heights as Gilbert's, Walcha's or Leonhardt's. \r\n\r\nKOOPMAN. Koopman was the first well known pupil of Leonhardt to play the WTC. His version is very ornate, sometimes rather intense, at moments purely beautiful, but too rococo for my taste. Also, the more complex fugues and preludes totally lack structure, which I find rather disturbing. Dull sounding harpsichord. I almost never listen to it. I bought it because I saw Koopman play it live and it was breathtaking. But live music is a different experience from recorded music, and what seemed passion turned out to be something rather more superficial in the recordings. A 'second version' - very fun and interesting, but it lacks the gravity and deepness Bach requires. \r\n\r\nVERLET. The last version (chronologically) is Blandine Verlet's. Verlet's Bach is sometimes marvelous, sometimes almost derangingly strange. The WTC 1 is rather beautiful, very emotionally involving. The 2nd book less so. She phrases Bach with complete freedom. That is very refreshing, although in the process she gives the music a sort of unbalance quite alien to Bach. She has an abrupt musicianship, stressing all the contrasts and exploiting all the drama inherent to the music. But whereas Kirkpatrick does it in a forceful, manly way, and Leonhardt does it by an introspection of intensity, Verlet does it by an almost theatrical display of emotion, of ruptures and stresses. The harpsichord she plays is a marvel, with a certain amount of dynamics. \r\n\r\nThat's it. I also know some commendable organ and piano versions (Gould's being absolutely NOT one of them). \r\n\r\nHope you find it interesting.\r\n\r\nP.S.\r\n\r\nPierre ahntaÂ¨just recorded the first book. \r\nI was wishing to like it, and got it as soon as I could. \r\n\r\nI was mildly disapointed. This is because I cannot follow him in all the liberties he takes with the text. \r\n\r\nOf course when a musician plays to himself he usually indulges in liberties, but I need to feel they are suggested - I mean, really suggested - by the text; And I need to feel that the text is not too Â«bouleversÃƒÂ©Â» - too modified. \r\n\r\nI could not agree with many of HantaÃƒÂ¯'s ways but it must be said that he gave an interview to Diapason where he said that the WTCI was a puzzle to him: he never seemed to be sure how to play many of the pieces. \r\n\r\nSo perhaps that is an explanation. It is perhaps not a completely mature version. Pianists used to wait a very long time before really performing the WTC in public. \r\n\r\nThat said, it is of course a very good version, sometimes very thrilling. \r\n\r\nWhen I listen to it again I may post further.