My passion is to help others in the community, young, old, and everyone in between, find relevance and joy in learning, performing or listening to classical music.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

From simplicity to complexity - Bach's C minor Prelude and Fugue

I have been looking forward to recording the second Prelude and Fugue from the second book of Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier for quite a while now.  For me, it is a journey from simplicity into complexity.  The Prelude is very reminiscent of one of Bach's Inventions, with a simple passing of musical material between the right and left hands of the pianist.  Every few measures, he then joins the hands, engaging them together in sequences that take the listener from one key to another.  Harmonically speaking, there are no curve balls here.  In the first half, Bach takes us from C minor to the relative major, E-flat.  Starting the second section in the same key, he sequentially moves us up to F minor where he then begins a final long sequential descent back to the home key of C minor.  The simplicity of all of this would be difficult to miss.  The passing of a steady stream of fast notes between the hands has a bit of a hypnotic effect on me when I play or listen to this piece.  It's almost as if Bach wanted to get me to a certain place before beginning one of the richest fugues I know.

In this relatively short fugue of only 28 measures, Bach pulls out just about all the cards he can.  He takes the subject, made up of only 5 notes, and varies it, sometimes by changing the subject's rhythm, but also by inverting it (what went up the first-time around, now goes down and what went down, now goes up), by augmenting it (he makes every note twice as long) and also has them entering in stretto (the voices enter with the subject before another voice has finished its turn - basically, it's interrupting!).  And if that isn't enough, he combines all of these variations of the subject in the second half, placing them one on top of another.  Another interesting thing to note is that although this fugue is considered a four-voice fugue, the fourth voice does not enter into the picture until well into the second half of the fugue and when it does come in, it is augmented and surrounded by the other voices that are involved in some complex rhythmic interplay.  When I get to this spot I can't help but feel that Bach is trying to say's as if he is saying, "Listen - this is what I have to say!"  I only wish I knew what that something is.  

Any thoughts?

So here they are...first the Prelude in C minor:

And the Fugue...

Other posts in this series:
Prelude and Fugue 1 in C major
Prelude and Fugue 3 in C-sharp major
Prelude and Fugue 4 in  C-sharp minor
Prelude and Fugue 5 in D major
Prelude and Fugue 6 in D minor
Prelude and Fugue 7 in E-flat major

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