from Siglind Bruhn
J.S. Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier
In-depth Analysis and Interpretation
II/13.1.1 The prelude type
Immediately striking in this prelude are several rhythmic features. Firstly, dotted-note groups are extremely frequent. In fact, a close look at the score reveals that there is not a single bar without at least one dotted eighth-note pattern, and in many bars these patterns are present on each of the three beats. The aural impression is slightly different from bar to bar only because the dotted note may sound either shortened by an appoggiatura (see e.g. bar 41) or ornamented (see e.g. bars 29-32).
Secondly, the triple time in this prelude displays a particularly large number of syncopations on the second beat in the bar (see e.g. bars 1, 2, 12-14, 17, 18). This feature is reminiscent of sarabande rhythm.
A third feature regards what could be called the "large-scale rhythm"; i.e. the long and short patterns created by the phrases. A first glance at only the most obvious elements reveals that bars 1-16 (in other pieces, particularly in sarabandes, commonly structured in 4 + 4 + 4 + 4) encompass an irregular grouping into 3 + 3 + 5 + 5 here.
The prelude in F# major can therefore be regarded as determined, both on the smaller and the larger scale, by rhythmic features.
II/13.1.2 The overall design of the prelude
The first harmonic progression concludes on the downbeat of bar 4 with a return to the tonic. This harmonic conclusion coincides with the end of a three-bar melodic motive and should therefore not be regarded as a structural caesura. The subsequent case is similar. The modulation to the dominant is completed on the downbeat of bar 7, coinciding again with the end of one motive and the beginning of the next one.
A cursory glance at the remainder of the prelude shows that all small scale cadences coincide with motive statements and are therefore not to be relied on for an understanding of the overall design. For a first overview it will be necessary to identify (a) recurrences of the first motive and (b) explicit cadential formulas. M1 (see bars 1-3) is restated in bars 17 19/20 22, 57-59 and developed in bars 16/17, 42-44 and 65-67. Closing-formulas occur twice (see in bars 44/45 and 67/68). The prelude thus discloses itself as being composed of five sections.
The numbers in brackets below represent phrasing within each section.
|I||bars 1-16||(3 + 3 + 5 + 5||= 16)|
|II||bars 17-44||(3 + 3 + 3 + 3 + 5 + 4 + 4 + 3||= 28)|
|III||bars 45-56||(4 + 4 + 4||= 12)|
|IV||bars 57-67||(3 + 5 + 3||= 11)|
|V||bars 68-75||(5 + 3||= 8)|
There are two instances of structurally analogous portions in this prelude; both occur between the first and the forth sections:
|bars 57-59 (same key, hardly varied)|
|bars 60-66 (transposed from V to I)|
II/13.1.3. Practical considerations for performers
The tempo of this prelude is slowly swinging slow enough to accommodate sixty-fourth-notes without any haste. Articulation and touch must be considered very carefully, with regard to each of the rhythmic and melodic features:
|legato||in melodically intense touch and with expressive dynamic shading should be adopted for all thematic lines which are characterized primarily by step wise motion (see e.g. U: bars 1/2, L: bars 17-192); it applies to all note values equally here.|
|legato||in neutral touch and low intensity is appropriate for the regular sixteenth-note figures which serve as an accompaniment in bars 4-11, 17 41, 45-56, 60-64 and 68-72.|
|quasi legato||should be attempted in those dotted-note groups which are designed in hidden two-part structure (see e.g. L: bars 4-6). Within the hidden two-part texture, the harmonic background, featured here by the repeated indirect pedal note C#, sounds most convincing if played with the idea of a rhythmically vibrating sustained note in mind. The melodic part of the texture (F#-A#-E#-G#-D#-F#-C#) deserves warmth and thus weighted playing in each note.|
|non legato||in melodically intense touch and with expressive dynamic shaping applies for all the other dotted-note groups (see e.g. L: bars 1-3, 7-11). The degree of detachment can be increased in consecutive jumps and broken chords, and the melodic intensity may give way to a more neutral color in cadential bass patterns. (Bach's dotted notes sometimes confuse players. In the early 18th century, the dot after the note did not yet have the rigid meaning it was to acquire later, i.e. to lengthen the note by exactly half of its value. In this era it meant "a little longer" the following notes determine in each case how much extension is implied. Whenever the actual value of the dot is only a thirty-second-note (as e.g. in bars 12-16), the same legato applies between the prolonged note and its complement as would be used between other melodic thirty-second-notes in this piece.)|
There are a number of ornaments in this prelude: grace-notes, mordents, inverted mordents, and trills.
Grace-notes appear in bars 1, 15, 41, 43, 44 and 67. As was the convention in Bach's time, all are noted in eighth-notes. This note value does not, however, indicate the desired duration of the appoggiatura (as is the case with appoggiaturas in Mozart and Haydn). Instead, performance practice of the era, together with considerations of the particular piece, decided the duration of the grace-note.
The following points apply here: Grace-notes preceding dotted-note values were played as one third of the main note, with two thirds left for the resolution. In the case of very long notes which signify a momentary retreat from the melodic field, the appoggiatura may even be resolved "as early as harmonically possible". Finally, appoggiaturas were regarded as part of the melodic flow and therefore not intended to be played in note values otherwise not used in the piece.
Applying these facts to the F#-major prelude means: the grace-notes in bars 15, 41, 43, and 44 beat 1 precede dotted eighth-notes and should therefore be played as sixteenth-notes followed by eighth-note resolutions. The same ornament in bar 1 is attached to a longer note value. Most performers feel, however, that the melodic line actually ends in the middle of the second beat, and interpret the dotted quarter-note as a mere extension of sound to avoid a long rest; in this light, this grace-note would also be rendered as a sixteenth-note. Another good reason for this solution is that melodic eighth-notes do not ever appear in the entire prelude; the only eighth-notes -- to be built also by appoggiaturas -- occur in almost identical closing-formulas (see bars 44 and 67). Here one should respect the rhythmic pattern established for such formulas: eighth-note / quarter-note / eighth-note / downbeat.
Inverted mordents appear, as is often the case in Bach's music, on notes which are thus specifically enhanced; see e.g. bar 12. As the figure presented in this bar is sequenced twice (see bars 13/14), it is advisable to transfer the inverted mordent to the corresponding notes. By the same token, the ornament may also be added on the syncopations in the analogous bars 65 and 66. In bar 22, however, the written inverted mordent seems less appropriate: the note it decorates is not particularly important in the melodic development, and has also remained unornamented in identical circumstances just before (compare right hand bar 22 with left hand bar 19).
There are only two mordents in this prelude, namely in bars 28 and 74; both decorate typical closing-formulas and commence on the main note. The former mordent contains only one three note shake while the ornament in the final cadence, appearing in ritardando, could be played with five notes.
Trills occur in bars 26/27, 29-32, 38, 44, 52, 56 and 67. Most of them commence regularly on the upper note; only the three trills which are preceded by appoggiaturas (bars 44 and 67) or step wise approach (bar 52) respectively begin on the (extended) main note. The speed of the shake depends on the interpretation of the fast note values in the piece. Performers who feel that all thirty-second-notes in this prelude actually represent written-out ornaments might decide to shake the trills in the same values. There is, however, good reason to regard the thirty-second-notes as fully-weighted melodic notes; this is supported particularly in figures like the one in bars 1/2 etc.. Another indication is the fact that the final cadential formula actually contains written out sixty-fourth-notes; these should probably not sound faster than the trill notes. The suffixes, however, must in any case be rendered as spelled out by Bach and are therefore slower than the shakes -- a common practice particularly in dances and other non polyphonic music of the time. The example shows possible executions for the trills in bars 26-32 and in bars 44 and 67.
II/13.1.4 What is happening in this prelude
a) The material
Bach invents three motives for this prelude as well as a standard accompaniment pattern. The motives recur both with small variation and in strongly developed format, and occasionally swap their accompaniment patterns. The result is very pleasant for the listener since there are always enough familiar features to be recognized but it never sounds quite the same. Even when, towards the end of the prelude, a kind of recapitulation appears, the principle of subtle variation be it concerning details or the order of events - is maintained.
|Acc||The standard accompaniment pattern in this prelude is introduced in the right hand part of bar 4. In the attempt to describe it in such a way that all further variations can easily be recognized, one can state the following features: (For different shapes of Acc compare bars 4, 18 and 45.)|
||the two initial sixteenth-notes may vary in each occurrence, depending, among other reasons, on the connection to the preceding bar;|
||the third to ninth sixteenth-notes move within the confines of a broken chord in which they represent the steps 1-2-3-1 followed by the falling chord;|
||the three final sixteenth-notes are joined to the previously described
triad by a variety of intervals, but always move in descending line.
|M1||is the main melodic motive. Characterized by a melodic line
which, though interrupted by rests, contains neither sequence nor repetition,
it extends over a little more than three bars (see bars 1-4d). Its most
striking feature is the syncopation on the second beat (see both bars 1
and 2). Its rhythmic characteristic, the dotted eighth-note, is complemented
in bar 1 by three notes, in bar 2 by two, and in bar 3 by one note only
-- a gradual shift from a very smooth to a more and more pronounced rhythm.
The dynamic design of this motive is complex. Its two sixteenth-note rests divide it into three segments with independent dynamic gestures.
|Within the first segment (bar 1), the syncopation is softened by a grace-note which takes away much of the stringent power of this metric feature. The descending line can therefore be expressed in a simple motion of decreasing tension.|
|The second segment can be rendered in two ways: focussing the tension on the syncopation has a stronger impact, while accenting the downbeat supports a more lyrical interpretation of the motive.|
|Within the longer third segment, it is clearly the downbeat of bar 3 which carries the climax.|
Regarding the motive as a whole, the overall dynamic shaping
depends on the decision made in the second segment. If the climax here
is on the metrically enhanced note the syncopation and the performer has
thus already expressed his preference for the rhythmic aspect of the motive,
then it makes sense to regard this central syncopation as the overall
climax of M1. If, however, the climax in the second segment is placed
on the downbeat, thus advocating a more lyrical interpretation of the
motive, then it may be preferable to shape the overall line in accordance
with the harmonic design and let the dynamic curve peak at the subdominant
harmony on the downbeat of bar 3.
|M2||is first presented in the left hand part of bars 4-7d. It
is clearly conceived in hidden two-part structure. The "harmonic
background" is represented by a repeated indirect pedal C#
which only at the very end of the motive gives way to the harmonically more
appropriate leading-note. The "melodic part" of the texture consists, in
the downbeat notes, of a descending line (F#-E#-D#-C#)
which is paralleled, on the third beat of each bar, by a similar line a
This motive thus expresses a single gesture: falling lines and harmonic resolution. The dynamic equivalent is a straight diminuendo throughout the melodic notes, while the "harmonic background" is best kept very soft and even colored throughout, imitating as much as possible the effect of a sustained pedal note.
M2 is accompanied, in this first statement as always in this prelude, by the standard accompaniment pattern Acc described above.
appears in the left-hand part of bars 7/8. Its prominent feature is the combination
of a descending broken V7 chord with
the harmonic resolution, represented by steps 8 5 1 also in descending
broken chord pattern.
b) The structure
The first section of the prelude commences with the original statements of the three motives (M1 with its dotted-note accompaniment, M2 with Acc, M3 with Acc). This is followed by a free development of the characteristic rhythm in which dotted-note groups with one sixteenth-note and three thirty-second-note complements are set against each other in a quasi contrapuntal texture (see bars 12-16). Acc is suspended during this development. The dynamic shape is determined by ascending peak note lines in both voices (see bars 121, 131, 141, L: A#, B#, C#; bars 122, 132, 142, U: F#, G#, A#). A reminiscence of the accompaniment pattern in bar 14, descending lines in bar 15 and a cadential close in bars 16-17d complete the tension curve.
Section II brings a lavish development of all the features exposed in section I. It begins with a variation of M1 in the left hand part, supported by Acc (see bars 17-20d) which is imitated freely in inverted voices (see bars 20-23d). M2 is also stated twice: first in a variation which places the "melodic part" of the hidden two-part texture above the "harmonic background" (see bars 23-26d), and then in imitation, in a strongly embellished version (see bars 26-29d: note that the elaborate trills decorate the "background" notes, i.e. the soft part of the two part texture, and must be extremely light so as not to divert the listener's attention from the melodic descent A#-G#-F# not an easy task). This embellished version with its extended trills triggers further development. The subsequent four bars are dedicated to combining the melodic features of the dotted note + three thirty-second-note group from bars 12/13 with the trill of the preceding M2 variation and Acc, in a bar-to-bar inversion of voices (see bars 29-33d). After a transitory close in A# major (bar 33), the next four bars present a pattern which blends the melodic descent and interspersed note repetition of M2 with the descending broken chords of M3 (see left hand: bars 34-37), accompanied again by a variant of Acc. In the following four bars, the downbeat notes of Acc in the left hand take up the descending line which characterizes M2, while the right hand part presents a free development of the different melodic segments. The final three bars of this section (see bars 42-44) recall a variation of M1, accompanied for one bar by Acc and then met by a contrapuntal voice, and concluding with a cadential formula in D# minor (see bars 44-45d).
Section III, still developing, begins with a version of M2 which, apart from being extended to four bars, is very close to the original. The following four bars develop M3 in an intriguing way. It appears in the upper voice, its chord (no longer a V7) is inverted (i.e. ascending), the downbeat is preceded by the three thirty-second-note figure used so frequently in the preceding developments, and the resolution is shortened to a single note which merges with the beginning of the sequence, thus contracting the motive to one bar length. The section is rounded off with four bars of gentle transition in which a parallel version of Acc is interspersed with reminiscences of the very first development in bars 12-16.
Section IV shows definite traces of a recapitulation. Bars 57-60d review M1 with its original accompaniment and almost identical melody line, bars 60-65d are a transposition of M3, and bars 65/66 recall bars 12/13, equally transposed. The section concludes with a closing-formula similar to that at the end of section III.
The short final section completes the recapitulation of the thematic material with the one element which the previous section had omitted: M2 appears in a generously extended version of five bars and leads into a highly decorated cadential formula in four-part homophonic texture.
WTC II/13 in F# major - Fugue
II/13.2.1 The subject
This three-part fugue, more than 80 bars long in the score, develops from a very unusual subject. The commencement on the leading-note is certainly unique, as is the flattening of this leading-note in its next appearance (see bar 2: E natural) which seems apt to demolish a not quite established tonality. And while the beginning with a half bar upbeat is not unheard of (it is, in fact, typical for the gavotte with which this fugue shares the time), such metric organization creates a strong expectation for a phrase ending on a strong beat. Yet none of the strong beats before the entrance of the answer offers itself as a convincing conclusion.
A harmonic analysis reveals that the return to the tonic occurs on the downbeat of the fourth bar where the subject presents an appoggiatura (see bar 4: B-A#) which resolves on the third eighth-note. The F# in the middle of bar 4 cannot conclude the subject because by then, the tonic harmony has already been abandoned: this F# does not belong to the F# major chord but, together with the B#, to a V7 chord in C# major. Should further proof be needed, it should be noted that Bach gives six of the eleven subject statements in this fugue an ending which clearly establishes the conclusion with the appoggiatura-resolution (see bars 24, 40, 56, 68, 74, 80). Only in one case is the conclusion suspended until the middle beat, but this delay is supported by two voices and leads to a perfect resolution (see bar 44).
Having determined where the subject ends, one immediately faces the next question. The characteristic motive of the counter-subject is launched, as a comparison with later statements proves (see e.g. bars 32, 40, 64, 76), on the fourth quarter-note of the bar (the upbeat F# of the "sigh motive" group F#-F#-E#). This leaves two notes between the end of the subject and the beginning of the counter-subject. Their function is to serve as a harmonic support of the first note of the answer. (Similar harmonic "fillers" can be found in several other fugues where a delayed entry of the counter-subject leaves the beginning of the subject unaccompanied.)
The rhythmic pattern in the subject contains five different values. There are sixteenth-notes, eighth-notes, quarter-notes, dotted quarter-notes and a half-note; this is the actual value of the upbeat, hidden behind the trill and the written out suffix.
The pitch pattern displays mainly stepwise motion, with only a few skips that are confined to bar 3. Observing the pitch pattern leads necessarily to the question of phrase structure which within this subject is all but simple. Whether or not all the skips in bar 3 are in fact interval jumps within a melodic context, or whether one of them marks the line between two subphrases, is a question of eminent importance for the performance as well as for the understanding of the piece. As it seems almost impossible to answer this question without further insight, let us turn to Bach's harmonization for a clue.
The harmonic layout of this subject is very strange indeed, but also very clear. It consists of four essentially equal harmonic movements, in a metric organization of perfect regularity. Each weak beat represents a V7 chord which resolves on the following downbeat. In the initial upbeat as well as in bar 4, this V7 is instituted on the middle beat, while in bars 1 and 2 it only appears on the final quarter-note and eighth-note respectively (ex. 8):
With this pattern in mind one detects that the melodic line actually contains an equivalent to this harmonic structure: a triple sequence followed by a "sigh motive", all these wrapped in linking and embellishing notes (ex. 9):
The harmonic functions represented by the four different tonics correspond, within the key of F# major, with the steps I-IV/IV-IV-I, a truly unusual progression. As a performer, one can interpret this harmonic progression in two completely different ways:
|a)||One can follow the hidden melodic line given in the example above. In this case, the assumption is of four subphrases. While the end of the first subphrase is given in the rest, and the fourth follows the pattern of the well known "sigh motive" and begins with the repeated B, the second and third of these, however, are so tightly linked by embellishing notes that it seems impossible to determine a phrase ending. (The options include a phrase cut after the dotted quarter-note in bar 2, or after the B on the middle beat, or no cut at all.)|
|b)||One can also decide that subphrasing in bar 2 is unlikely and that, while a hidden line is there, what Bach made out of it particularly in bars 2/3 is quite different. In that case, the interpretation suggests only three subphrases: the first consisting of a trill on the unusual seventh-degree beginning and its resolution onto the tonic, the second comprising two bars from C# in bar 1 to G# in bar 3, and the third featuring the "sigh motive".|
All implications for the dynamic outline depend, obviously, on the choice made with regard to the phrase structure (and, implicitly, with regard to the importance of the hidden line.). Another factor of considerable importance lies in the steps of the harmonic progression.
|a)||Performers who assume four subphrases automatically stress that the harmonic pattern consists of four structurally analogous V7-I progressions. In this two layered pattern, the tonic chords are the essentials; the dominant seventh chords serve as preparations which lead actively to their tonic, instead of passively back into them. The dynamic line of the subject will thus include four little increases: E#-F#, C#-D#-E, (..)B-C#-D#, B-B. Among these four climaxes, the E natural which represents the IV/IV is the strongest. In bar 1, the subphrase ends at the height of the little crescendo; in bars 3 and 4, the climaxes are followed each by a diminuendo (D#-E#-F#-D#-F# and B-A#). In bar 2, however, the subtle dynamic shaping depends on the individual performer's decision regarding the above expounded question of subphrasing.|
|b)||Performers who prefer the view with the more generous second subphrase obtain a completely different picture. With the structural design of four similar segments no longer of prime importance, they can direct their attention to the large scale harmonic design and the melodic features representing it. This leads to two vital changes over and against the interpretation described under a). In the first subphrase, the ornamented leading-note thus captures much more tension than the keynote onto which it resolves passively. And in the long second subphrase, the flattened seventh degree remains comparatively relaxed, while the tension grows to the representative of the subdominant, the D# on the downbeat of bar 3. Only the decrease of tension after this climax and the shaping of the third subphrase is the same in both interpretations.|
II/13.2.2 The statements of the subject
The fugue contains eleven entries of the subject.
|1||bars 0-4||M||7||bars 40-44||U|
|2||bars 4-8||U||8||bars 52-56||M|
|3||bars 8-12||L||9||bars 64-68||L|
|4||bars 20-24||U||10||bars 70-74||M|
|5||bars 32-36||L||11||bars 76-80||U|
There are few modifications of the subject in this fugue. The answer is real, i.e. without any interval adjustment, and neither the inversion nor the stretto or parallel entries occur. The only variation is found where the trill on the first subject note is replaced by a written-out ornament of similar pitch pattern but different rhythm (see bar 20). The same variation recurs in bars 70/71 where one might be further confused because the original trill ascent, although with the wrong interval due to its changed position in the scale, appears as a parallel in the lower voice here.
II/13.2.3 The counter-subjects
Bach invented two counter-subjects for this fugue.
|CS1||is introduced regularly, i.e. against the answer of the subject (see M: bars 4-8). It has particularly close ties with the subject as its initial "sigh motive" sounds like an immediate continuation of the subject's final subphrase. This "sigh motive" is sequenced in chromatic descent, followed by a third subphrase which culminates on the long trill and concludes with the resolution on the following downbeat. The first counter-subject is a very regular companion of the subject.|
|CS2||is first presented against the third subject statement (see M: bars 8 12). Like CS1 it begins with a one bar sequence which leads here through a falling fifth to the climax on the syncopation, after which it resolves downwards onto the tonic. The second counter-subject can be found several times with small modifications (see bars 32-36 and 64-68 where CS2 swaps endings with CS1); in other instances variations are very significant (see e.g. bars 20 24: M, bars 37 40 U) and make recognition, particularly for the listener, very difficult.|
Due to the two contrasting interpretations of the subject, the combination of primary material in this fugue allows for two options (see examples below). Yet as one studies these options carefully and listens to their polyphonic pattern, it becomes clear that the first rendition of the subject destroys the independence of the voices by creating parallel phrasing and parallel dynamics between subject and CS1. Thus there is, after all, only one polyphonically meaningful interpretation of the subject: the one described above under b).
II/13.2.4 The episodes
The fugue includes seven subject-free passages.
|E1||bars 12*-20m||E3||bars 44**-52m||E6||bars 74m-76m|
|E2||bars 24*-32m||E4||bars 56m-64m||E7||bars 80m-84|
(The episodes marked with an asterisk begin as follows: the voice which carries CS1: after the downbeat; the voice which carries the subject: after the resolution on the third eighth-note. At the double asterisk, the episode begins after the downbeat in the middle voice but after the middle beat in the upper and lower voices.)
Two categories of material are used in the episodes of this fugue: subject derived motives with lower-voice accompaniment occur in E2, E4, E5, E6 and E7, and independent episode motives in a highly complex imitation pattern are found in E1 and E3. The only segment of a subject-free passage not to fall under either of these descriptions is the final two bar cadential close (see bars 82m-84).
Let us begin with the easier part of the task. E2 introduces the four final notes of the subject as a partial (descending) sequence which follows the subject in the upper voice (bars 24/25). After another sequence the motive and its sequence are imitated first in the middle voice (bars 26 28), then in the upper voice (bars 28 30) and again in the middle voice (bars 30 32: The parallel created to the "sigh motive" has to be touched very gently each time, or else the imitation pattern will easily get lost.) The lower voice accompanies this imitative pattern with a two bar figure which features, in its peak notes, sequences of the second half of the harmonic minor scale (see bars 24 36: A#-B-Cx-D#, D#-E-Fx-G#, B#-C#-Dx-E#, E#-F#-Gx-A#). E4 is an exact transposition of E2, while E6 and the first half of E7 (see bars 80-82) only quote one quarter (with a free version of the lower voice figure), and E5 recalls this quarter with inverted voices.
The remaining two episodes are made up of material that is independent from the subject and its counter-subjects, and is intricately polyphonic. These episodes thus create a distinct color contrast to the primary material. They encompass three motives.
consists unusually for a motive of two segments (see bars 12-14m: U).
The characteristic figure A#-G#-A#-F#-D#
is sequenced one note lower; while the first figure is preceded by a three
eighth-note upbeat, the sequence is followed by a four eighth-note tail
begins with a syncopated half-note, followed by an inverted mordent
figure and two cadential notes (if in the lower voice; see bars 12-14:
L) or another tied note (if in the upper or middle voice).
|M3||features a short upbeat leading to a three note ascent in half-notes; see bars 12-14: M, bars 14 16: U (upbeat varied), bars 16 18: L, bars 18 20: M; and bars 44 46: U, bars 46 48: M (upbeat varied), bars 48 50: L (upbeat extended), bars 50-52: U.|
The role played by the episodes in the dynamic design of the fugue follows directly from their different contents. The color contrast in the two episodes characterized by independent motives was already mentioned, and the descending sequences in the two longer episodes determined by sequences from the subject's tail as well as in the shorter E6 imply gradually decreasing tension. Their two other relatives (E5 and E7), however, quote the sequences in ascending direction and thus build up tension, and the cadential close of the final bars features the rhythmic pattern which one associates not with a release but with a "triumphant close", thus concluding the fugue in a full tone.
II/13.2.5 Character, tempo, articulation, ornament realization
The highly emotional quality of the subject, together with the complex rhythmic pattern throughout most of the fugue, determines the basic character of this fugue as rather calm. This has to be taken into account when choosing the appropriate tempo in the alla breve meter: the half-notes are gently flowing, far from any haste.
The relative tempo of the prelude to the fugue can be taken as either simple or complex; the special rhythmic features of the prelude provide a guard against monotony even in note-to-note translation. The complex proportion needs more imagination (one would artificially divide the quarter-notes in the final chord into triplets). While it may retain the individual character of each of the two pieces best, its feasibility depends on whether or not a performer can play (in the left hand as well as the right) very fast but metrically anchored trills. The equally acceptable simple proportion relates the main note values.
|a)||each (assumed) triplet eighth-note||
|in the prelude||in the fugue|
|b)||one quarter-note in the prelude||
|one half-note in the fugue|
Approximate metronome settings: (a) prelude beats = 60, fugue beats = 45; (b) all beats = 56.
The articulation that corresponds with the character of the fugue demands legato for all notes in melodic context. Non legato occurs only where quarter-notes form cadential bass patterns (see e.g. L bars 55/56, 83/84) or consecutive jumps (see e.g. L in M2: bars 13/14, 19/20, 45/46).
There are, however, passages in this fugue which require a different approach. The five episodes which develop the subject's tail (E2, E4, E5, E6, E7) display features which would normally indicate rather lively character: simple rhythmic pattern with only eighth-notes and quarter-notes, and frequent large intervals. In the quarter-notes, these leaps stem from the fact that Bach uses for these episodes not just the last phrase from the subject but also the sixth which precedes it a leap which in the subject divides two subphrases and thus is not really conceived (and heard) as an interval jump. The accompanying eighth-notes even contain regular written out inverted mordent figures, another feature indicating lively character. While the tempo in these episodes may certainly not vary against that in the subject dominated passages, these episodes obviously invite a third touch quality. In the quarter-notes, lightly bouncing non legato is interrupted only for the appoggiatura-resolution pairs; in the eighth-notes, quasi legato alternates with tight legato in the ornamental figures.
To sum up this point: the fugue in F# major thus encompasses three fairly different colors: one is reserved for the subject-dominated passages, a second one applies in the motivically determined episodes E1 and E3, and a third one distinguishes the other five episodes.
Ornaments occur in several instances. To begin with, there is the trill on
the initial note of the subject. It definitely commences on the main note in
bars 1, 4, 8, 52 and 76, probably also in bars 36 and 40, but on the upper auxiliary
in bars 32 and 64.* It shakes in sixteenth-notes and ends in a suffix as indicated
by the composer. After the beginning on the main note, the uneven number of
notes requires that the initial note be held for the length of a eighth-note.
(* The rule reads: trills in 18th-century music generally begin on the upper note. Exceptions: they begin on the main note whenever the trill is (a) introduced stepwise, (b) opens a new phrase. Exception (b) applies without any doubt in all cases where the voice which presents the subject sets in newly (as at the beginning of the piece or after a rest). Even in bars 36 and 40, the considerable jump preceding the subject entry supports the interpretation of phrase end and new phrase beginning, while, on the other hand, the lower-voice figure in bars 31/32 and 63/64 seems to explicitly lead into the subject entry, so that phrasing here might sound artificial.)
The mordent on the second last subject note begins on the upper auxiliary and includes four notes. While the rhythm in a mordent is not necessarily fixed, it helps to imagine this ornament as beginning in a sixteenth-note triplet C#-B-C#. (While Bach, apparently out of consideration for his contemporaries, omits this ornament in the lower voice entries and in the context of large intervals (see L: bars 12, 36, 68 and M: bar 56), it is preferable to retain the mordent in each statement. The same holds true for the five episodes built on the subject's tail. Bach designates ornamentation here only in "comfortable" positions (see bars 25/26, 29/30, 75/76, 81) but not in double sixths and in the lower voice. Given today's standard of pianistic technique, such inhibition is no longer valid. What is more, this mordent can contribute tremendously to the effect of imitation. It should therefore be added on the downbeat notes in M: bars 27, 28, 31, 32; M: bars 57, 58, 61, 62; U: bars 59, 60, 63, 64; L: bars 69, 70. Note that in all cases, the mordent's upper neighbor note must match the harmony expressed by the other voices -- which may be different from the home key and its key signature. Thus the mordents on D# in M: bars 27d and 57d must both begin on E natural, that on A# in U: bar 30d commences on B#, that on G# in U: bar 59d is launched from A natural and that on A# in U: bar 63d from B natural.)
The trill at the end of the first counter-subject is the same as that which launches the subject: beginning from the main note (eighth-note), it continues with six sixteenth-notes including the suffix (C#-B#-C#-B#-A#-B#). It must be transferred to the end of the CS1 statements in bars 11 (E#), 23 (E#), 35 (B#), 39 (E#), 43 (Cx), 67 (E#), 79 (E#).
A cadential mordent may be added on the middle beat of bar 83. This ornament, commencing on the upper note and containing two shakes, would customarily have graced this kind of closing-formulas. By contrast, the mordent indicated only in one instance for the first appoggiatura of CS1 (see L: bar 37) seems slightly odd and sounds misleading to the listener (who will assume it to be a sequence of the subject ending). It might be preferable to omit this ornament for the sake of both clarity and consistency.
II/13.2.6 The design of the fugue
The layout of this fugue is very regular. Of the three sections, the first two (see bars 1-32 and 32-64) correspond with one another in their details: each comprises three consecutive entries, one motivically determined episode, a redundant entry and an episode derived from the subject's tail. The third section is shorter (see bars 64 84) and contains only three entries linked by the latter type of episode. Harmonically, the first section is in the key of the tonic, the entries in the second section are on dominant, tonic, relative minor and subdominant respectively, and the statements of the third section return to the realm of the tonic. (For a sketch of the design see ex. 12)
II/13.2.7 The overall dynamic outline of the fugue
Owing to the very carefully laid out contrasts within the material of this fugue, alternating colors (or levels of intensity) rather than overall dynamic developments are the expressive aim of this fugue. A good approach is to think in terms of different registers; not so much in the sense of the registers of organ or harpsichord, but in terms of different instrumental colors - e.g. woodwind for the primary material (subject, counter-subject and their accompanying notes), solo strings for the motivically determined episodes E1 and E3, and two recorders accompanied by a bassoon for the episodes E2, E4, E5, E6 and E7.