Last year I managed to learn all 24 of the preludes and fugues from J.S. Bach's Well Tempered Clavier. It was challenging, inspiring, and incredibly interesting. But of course as with any project such as this, I found myself asking, "Now what?" as soon as I had finished what I had set out to do. Unlike most musical projects I work on, this was one that I couldn't easily present as a neat and tidy package at the very end - 24 preludes and fugues? Who wants to sit through all of that? I toyed around with several different ideas about how I could perform them but I never found a solution I was happy with. But I'm back at it again and I have figured out my next move. Starting today and ending within a year, I am going to videotape each and every prelude and fugue and put them up on YouTube. I'm using a Flip video camera, which doesn't have the best sound, but that's ok. This is just something I feel I have to do. And when I post each video on my blog, I'm going to try and say a few words about the music because this music is incredible and I want to share why I feel that way about each individual piece.
I do think I've finally lost it.
All right then...ready...set...GO!
Prelude and Fugue in C major
The Prelude in this set makes me smile because Bach was his typically clever self when putting this one together. It took me a while to figure it out, but about halfway through this prelude, Bach takes the first part, excluding the introductory measures, and repeats it only in a different key and, here's the kicker, he shifts everything by two beats. In other words, what fell on the first beat in the first section, now falls on the third beat; what fell on the third beat in the first section, now falls on the downbeat. I don't think this is really perceptible to the listener and as I suggested before, it took many hours of practicing before I even knew what was going on. But to me, that makes it all the more clever. I feel like Bach is one of my kindred spirits...he takes such great joy out of challenging himself, playing games, and creating a lot out of just a little. If he still lived today I would tell him he's a very "green" composer.
The Fugue is a pretty straight-forward three-voice fugue. Basically Bach just plays around with the two different figures that make up the subject. There's the opening motive that dances around the interval of a perfect fifth and then there's a string of sixteenths that weaves around the notes from that first motive. What I love about the subject is that Bach managed to squeeze in two very different feelings within such a short subject. Again, I consider him a green composer because he is so compact in the way he presents the material. For the remainder of the fugue, he composes sequence after sequence, using the first motive first and then using the second motive to build on in the next sequence. What I love about this fugue is that it is simple, not profound, and that it is incredibly light and bubbly - a nice way to start off this mammoth work!
With that said, here's Prelude #1, in C major:
And the Fugue: