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ClassicsOnline Home » BACH, J.S.: Well-Tempered Clavier (The) (Selection)
Johann Sebastian Bach
Johann Sebastian Bach was a member of a family that had for generations
been occupied in music. His sons were to continue the tradition, providing the
foundation of a new style of music that prevailed in the later part of the
eighteenth century. Johann Sebastian Bach himself represented the end of an
age, the culmination of the Baroque in a magnificent synthesis of Italian
melodic invention, French rhythmic dance forms and German contrapuntal mastery.
Born in Eisenach in 1685, Bach was educated largely by his eldest
brother, after the early death of his parents. At the age of eighteen he
embarked on his career as a musician, serving first as a court musician at
Weimar, before appointment as organist at Arnstadt. Four years later he moved
to Mühlhausen as organist and the following year became organist and chamber
musician to Duke Wilhelm Ernst of Weimar. Securing his release with difficulty,
in 1717 he was appointed Kapellmeister to Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Cöthen and
remained at Cöthen until 1723, when he moved to Leipzig as Cantor at the School
of St. Thomas, with responsibility for the music of the five principal city
churches. Bach was to remain in Leipzig until his death in 1750.
As a craftsman obliged to fulfil the terms of his employment, Bach
provided music suited to his various appointments. It was natural that his
earlier work as an organist and something of an expert on the construction of
organs, should result in music for that instrument. At Cöthen, where the
Pietist leanings of the court made church music unnecessary, he provided a
quantity of instrumental music for the court orchestra and its players. In
Leipzig he began by composing series of cantatas for the church year, later
turning his attention to instrumental music for the Collegium musicum of the
University, and to the collection and ordering of his own compositions.
Throughout his life he continued to write music for the harpsichord or
clavichord, some of which served a pedagogical purpose in his own family or
with other pupils.
The collections of Preludes and Fugues in all keys, major and
minor, known as The Well-tempered Clavier, or, from their number, as The
Forty-Eight, explore the possibilities inherent in every possible key.
Experiments in keyboard tuning in the later seventeenth century had resulted in
differing systems that, nevertheless, made the use of remoter keys feasible.
Earlier composers, including Johann Caspar Ferdinand Fischer, Pachelbel, Pepusch
and Mattheson had already made use of some form of equal temperament tuning in
collections of pieces in varying numbers of keys. While the precise nature of
the tuning system used by Bach may not be clear, his well-tempered tuning at
least made all keys possible, although, in the system of equal temperament
employed, some keys were probably more equal than others, an effect lost in
modern piano tuning.
The Hungarian pianist Jenő Jandó has won a number of piano
competitions in Hungary and abroad, including first prize in the 1973 Hungarian
Piano Concours and a first prize in the chamber music category at the Sydney
International Piano Competition in 1977. He has recorded for Naxos all the
piano concertos and sonatas of Mozart. Other recordings for the Naxos label
include the concertos of Grieg and Schumann as well as Rachmaninov's Second
Concerto and Paganini Rhapsody and Beethoven's complete piano
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BACH, J.S.: Well-Tempered Clavier (The) (Selection...