from Siglind Bruhn
J.S. Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier
In-depth Analysis and Interpretation
II/14.1.1 The prelude type
The F# minor prelude is conceived in three-part texture. These three parts are, however, not of equal importance in carrying out melodic ideas. The upper voice dominates by far the largest number of bars. Occasional imitations take place between upper and middle voice but never involve the lower voice which is basically limited to cadential accompaniment, some ornamented broken chords and occasional links.
Although the main melodic idea of the prelude recurs - complete with its accompaniment and imitation - twice in the course of the piece, we cannot speak of a motivically determined composition. This idea, as well as a few other models which recur in sequences, is used in an almost improvising manner. It would thus be fitting to speak of an improvisation on a few thematic models, connected by passages in free play.
II/14.1.2 The overall design of the prelude
A cursory glance at the beginning of the piece reveals that each of the three initial bars contains a perfect cadence in the home key. These certainly do not serve as structural breaks. Bach allows for a first `taking of breath' at the modulation to the dominant key (see bar 72 where the C# major chord is preceded by a partial representation of the G#9, B#-D#-F# A which confirms the establishment of the key of C#).
As this harmonic conclusion takes place on a weak beat, the truly convincing section ending may still be pending. It occurs with the reconfirmation of the modulation to C# and the return of the first idea (see bar 12).
The prelude can be divided into four sections:
|I||bars 1-12d||tonic to dominant||F# minor-C# minor|
|(Ia 1 72, Ib 72 12d)|
dominant to relative major
|C# minor-A major|
|III||bars 21-291||relative major to dominant||A major-C# major|
|link 29/30||return to tonic|
|IV||bars 30-43||tonic confirmed|
There are no substantial analogous portions in this prelude.
II/14.1.3 Practical considerations for performers
The F#-minor prelude emanates a sense of calm and floating unearthliness. This effect is achieved by a combination of various means. There are, first of all, a striking number of different note values and their alternate use in melodic lines, as part of hidden two-part structure, and in ornamental patterns: half-notes with or without tie prolongation, dotted quarter-notes and quarter-notes, dotted eighth-notes and eighth-notes, normal sixteenth-notes and sixteenth-note triplets, and even dotted sixteenth-notes and thirty-second-notes all take part in the melodic processes of this piece. In addition to numerous ties which may often only have a passive function in complementary-rhythm patterns, there are also syncopations occurring in very active positions (see e.g. bars 1 and 2 the syncopated quarter-notes, bars 3, 5 etc. the syncopated eighth-notes).
The pitch patterns used in this prelude suggest constant changes in the melodic value of the single note. The first two bars may serve as an example for what exerts crucial influence on the mood and character of the piece.
In the upper voice,
||the notes in beats 1 and 2 are melodic;|
||the sixteenth-note triplets are an ornamentation of the simple line C#-B-A;|
||even the regular sixteenth-notes in bar 21-2 actually represent a written-out "turn" figure around A, the target note of the little motive;|
||the sixteenth-note C# is a link;|
||the following eight notes are a parallel to the middle voice which is now in the lead with its imitation of the main melodic idea.|
The "essential" melodic content of these two bars consists thus merely of the following line: F#-C#--A-B-C#-B-A. Very subtle touch control and dynamic coloring is vital to bring out all the nuances.
In the lower voice,
||all notes in bar 1 represent melodic steps of secondary importance;|
||the octave displacement on the downbeat of bar 2, however, determines this note as only of harmonic (not melodic) value, while the melodic target of the lower voice line is the (middle voice) higher F# which triggers the imitation.|
In the middle voice,
||the three notes which form the F#-minor broken chords do not represent a melodic event; on the contrary, they form, together with the initial F# of the lower voice, a harmonic support -- spread in broken-chord fashion for the convenience of continuous pulse rather than for melodic reasons;|
||the high F# marks the beginning of one of the traditional harmonic closing formulas (keynote / leading note / keynote) and thus acquires secondary melodic quality;|
||its resolution, however, is at the same time the beginning of the imitation of the main idea. This F#, together with the subsequent C#-A-B, are melodic notes of primary importance, while the triplets which conclude the bar are again an ornamentation of C#-B-A.|
The articulation in this piece is slightly more simple. Basically, legato applies to all notes that either belong to a melodic line, an ornamented melodic line, or a broken chord representing a vertical effect (i.e. a harmonic support, as explained above for bar 1). Non legato is appropriate only for those of the slower note values which progress melodically in skips (see e.g. lower voice bars 14/15, 16/17, 18/19; 22/23 C#-F#-B etc., also lower voice bars 1/2 A C#-F#) and for cadential-bass patterns (see e.g. bars 11/12: F#-G#-C#, bars 20/21 D-E-E-A).
Only very few ornaments occur in this prelude (see bars 9, 23 and 25). They are all mordents indicated in brackets, suggesting that they do not appear in the main sources regarded by today's scholars as authoritative for Bach's intentions. If played, all three ornaments commence on the main note and contain a simple three-note shake. It might, however, be worth considering whether one would not abstain altogether from additional ornamentation in a piece which is so particularly rich in written out embellishments.
II/14.1.4 What is happening in this prelude
The musical events in this prelude can be viewed from two entirely different angles. One describes whatever melodic patterns or models can be found; the other tries to trace a hidden large scale framework which, while technically only the skeleton of the prelude, might provide important orientation for the necessary integration of small-scale events into a larger design. The following analysis will attempt to follow up both procedures.
The main idea, together with is "contrapuntal" lower voice, the filling broken chord, closing formula and subsequent melodic imitation in the middle voice, recurs in bars 12/13 (imitation shortened) and in bars 30/31.
The syncopation figure introduced in U: bar 3 reappears in a large variety of pitch patterns throughout the prelude (see bars 5, 22, 24, 28, 32, 33, 34, 36, 41); its occurrences are exclusively restricted to the upper voice.
In bars 13m-15m, a three-part model is presented which is sequenced one note lower in bars 15m 17m (small variations in the lower voice), then followed by two contracted sequences (see bars 17m 18m and 18m 19m) and a cadential close. A second three-part model is introduced in bars 21/22 (U: from bar 212 E; M+L from bar 21d). This model is sequenced one note higher (see bars 23/24), also followed by three contracted sequences (see bars 25, 26, 27) and a harmonic conclusion in an imperfect cadence with fermata and general pause (bar 29).
The final section of the prelude, having commenced once more with the main idea, does not establish any new models but freely alternates the syncopation figure with patterns made up of sixteenth-note triplets.
The large-scale processes, together with the dynamic outlines in the main components, are better explained in a musical example rather than verbally (see ex. 19).
WTC II/14 in F# minor - Fugue
II/14.2.1 The subject
Commencing on the fourth eighth-note of bar 1 and concluding on the downbeat of bar 4, this subject spans a little less than three bars. The characteristic trill on the second last note - so often used in the first volume of the Well-Tempered Clavier but only this once in the second volume - clearly marks the ending of the phrase.
The pitch pattern contains a broken chord and three large intervals (sixth, fourth and fifth), as well as two written-out inverted mordents. A quick glance across the remainder of the fugue reveals that jumps and broken chords are a constant feature throughout the work. With regard to the rhythmic pattern, the subject features a combination of sixteenth-notes, eighth-notes, three quarter-notes lengthened by ties to form syncopations, and the ornamented half-note. This rhythmic complexity, however, is not typical for the entire piece; it later gives way to long stretches of a much simpler pattern.
The phrase structure in the subject allows for two interpretations, depending whether the interpreter wishes to emphasize the rhythmic particularities or the melodic "backbone".
The rhythmic pattern can be regarded as consisting of two
similar halves, of which the second is slightly extended:
|plus tail (F#-G#- F#)|
|In this light, the subject presents itself as divided into
The pitch pattern can be regarded as containing, after
the broken-chord upbeat, an ornamented descending scale. This scale features
three syncopated half-notes followed, after a quarter-note which "corrects
the meter" so to speak, by a strong-beat half-note which resolves onto
(There is no "right" and "wrong"! Preference at this point depends entirely on the view adopted by the individual interpreter. Later on, one may find that other components of the material in this fugue work better with one of these concepts than with the other - but so far, any preference is one of taste only.)
The harmonic layout of the subject (which can be observed very clearly in bars 16-19) emphasizes the syncopations by allotting each of them a shift from a primary function to a secondary dominant (ex. 20):
The dynamic development within the subject must obviously depend on the view adopted with regard to phrasing. The overall climax, however, is undoubtedly the D# since this note combines all tension-enhancing aspects:
||as the first syncopation, it is metrically most exposed;|
||as the representative of the subdominant chord, it is the target of a harmonic step which, in the 18th century, has a distinctively active quality;|
||as the sixth degree of a minor scale, it holds special melodic tension;|
||in terms of intervals, it is approached in what is both the largest jump in the subject and a traditional high-tension interval.|
The two differing interpretations can therefore be distinguished by what happens in the middle of bar 2. In an indivisible phrase, the C# is not too relaxed as it holds tension which will be released throughout the descent to the final note. The eighth-note F# following the C# is played lightly, as a kind of charm note which interrupts the (more important) line from C# to B. By contrast, in a divided phrase the syncopated C# is the ending of the first subphrase and thus very relaxed, while the ensuing F# acts as a new upbeat and is thus a very important, active note.
II/14.2.2 The statements of the subject
The complete subject appears ten times in the course of the fugue.
|1||bars 1-4||M||6||bars 34-37||L|
|2||bars 4-7||U||7||bars 51-54||M|
|3||bars 8-11||L||8||bars 54-57||U|
|4||bars 16-19||U||9||bars 60-63||L|
|5||bars 28-31||M||10||bars 66-69||U|
Only minor changes can be observed in the shape of the subject; inversion, stretto and parallel do not occur. The adjustment of the initial interval in the answer can clearly be observed only in bar 4. The two remaining subject statements which appear in the harmonic position of an answer both feature a varied beginning (see bars 54 and 60). The subject's ending is modified in bars 36/37 where the ornamented step is replaced by a cadential bass pattern, and in bar 69 where the resolution of the trill is delayed.
II/14.2.3 The counter-subjects
There are no regular counter-subjects in this fugue. Instead, we can recognize components of the subject used in different combination as contrapuntal material. (See e.g. in bars 4-7. What begins like an independent voice - a diatonic ascent followed by chromatic steps and a tritone skip interrupted by rests - ends in bars 6/7 with a partial imitation of the subject's end. In bars 8-11, on the other hand, both accompanying voices imitate the subject's initial broken chord.)
Yet this is by no means the end to the primary material of this fugue, for the F#-minor fugue is a triple fugue - a fugue with three subjects! The second and third subjects are introduced separately before they are combined with the first. Moreover, like the first subject several of their components also appear as contrapuntal material, accompanying any of the three subjects.
The second subject
The second subject makes its first appearance in bars 20-22 (L) after an A major cadence. Commencing thus in the major mode, its initial descent with the characteristic dotted note group leads to a raised fifth which implies a modulation back to the original tonic (E# leaves A major as it is the leading note to F#). The fourth jump to the syncopated F# seems to introduce a traditional closing formula, and indeed this closing formula constitutes the ending of the second subject in several of its later statements (see e.g. M: bars 56/57 and bars 62/63; L: bars 68/69; see also with slight variation L: bars 24/25). In the first few presentations of this second subject, however, the resolution is omitted and instead replaced by a chromatic descent to E natural. This is tied and resolves belatedly onto a note which is at the same time the beginning of a cadential bass pattern.
The rhythmic pattern of this second subject is thus extremely intricate, with a sixteenth-note, eighth-notes, a dotted eighth-note and two syncopations of different duration. The salient feature in the pitch pattern is the fourth jump which confirms the modulation. This jump will also capture dynamic tension, so that the second subject expresses a single curve with the climax on the syncopated half-note.
The following table lists the complete statements of the second subject. (The head motive particularly is used freely in-between). Interestingly, the number of these statements is the same as that of the statements of the main subject.
|1||bars 20m-22d||L||6||bars 27-29||M|
|2||bars 21m-23d||U||7||bars 30/31||L|
|3||bars 22m-24d||M||8||bars 56/57||M|
|4||bars 23d-25d||L||9||bars 61-63||M|
|5||bars 27/28||U||10||bars bars 68/69||L|
The third subject
The third subject is introduced in bars 36/37 (M). Apart from its eighth-note upbeat it consists exclusively of sixteenth-notes in ornamental pattern. Its structure is very simple as the second half is a sequence of the first, so that we could describe the phrase as "upbeat + half bar with sixteenth-notes + half bar sequence + final note". (The ensuing eighth-note jumps, while included in the first imitation, do not form part of this subject later on. Also, the harmonic conclusion is reached with the D# on the middle beat of bar 37.) The dynamic shape consists of a long decrease after a very active upbeat.
This subject appears in the fugue as follows:
|1||bars 36/37||M||6||bars 42/43||M|
|2||bars 37/38||U||7||bars 44-46||L|
|3||bars 38/39||L||8||bars 45-47||U|
|4||bars 39/40||M||9||bars 55-57||L|
|5||bars 40-42||L||10||bars 60-63||U|
Two kinds of modifications of this subject can be observed. One concerns the beginning which is varied (see M: bar 42 = fifth instead of second; L: bars 44/45, U: bars 45/46 and L: bar 55 = three sixteenth-notes instead of one eighth-note). The other consists of an extension to twice the original length (see the last three entries of the third subject where its scope seems adjusted to that of the first subject).
The subject juxtapositions
The appearance of the three subjects in this fugue follows a pattern which allows for an almost ideal appreciation of each one. S1 appears in its three initial statements plus one redundant entry (see M, U, L, U) before S2 materializes. S2 is then given space for an equal number of statements (see bars 20 25d: L, U, M, L) plus an additional tight stretto (bars 27 29). The redundant lower voice entry of S2 in bars 23 25 and the stretto both hint at the re emergence of S1 (see the broken chord followed by a syncopation in M: bars 24/25 and L: bars 28/29); the actual juxtaposition of S1 and S2 in bars 28 31 is thus gradually prepared. It retreats equally gradually in that the following lower voice entry of S1 is contrasted only by the head motive of S2, not with the full subject.
S3 then seems eager to make its appearance and overlaps with both the conclusion of the S1 entry and the melodic closing formula in U: bars 36/37. After thus taking the stage somewhat impatiently, S3 is given room not only for its first round of three plus-one (see bars 36-40: M, U, L, M, concluded by a melodic closing formula in U: bars 40/41) but for two more pairs of S3 statements (see bars 40-43: L, M; bars 44-47: L, U). The first entry of these is accompanied by two reminders of S1: the inversion of the S1 answer's head (see the parallel in U+M: bar 41) and the syncopation plus-inverted mordent figure (see M: bars 41/42). The two quotations may be interpreted as an anticipation of the juxtaposition between first and third subject. They are, however, not followed up, and further S3 statements unfold without any interference of the two earlier subjects.
The re-emergence of the main subject announces the great synthesis:
three three subject juxtapositions:
The following sketch attempts to show the dynamic outline in all three subjects (ex. 22):
II/14.2.4 The episodes
The fugue contains ten subject-freepassages.
In the absence of counter-subjects, the lines accompanying the various subject entries must be investigated for secondary material along with the actual subject-freepassages. Material from the three subjects plays an important role in both cases.
is represented by three components: the broken chord (with or without the subsequent jump), the syncopation followed by inverted mordent figure, and the falling fifth in the rhythm of eighth-note-plus-syncopation. The broken chord recurs as an accompanying feature to subject statements in bars 9/10 (U). In bars 10/11 (M) it appears in inversion and in the interval pattern of the answer.
Three more substantial episode motives derive from this.
|M1||appears in U: bars 11m 13d (A A) and is imitated in M: bars 13/14;|
is introduced in M: bars 11 13d (F#-E) and imitated in U: bars 13/14.
|M3||comes closest to the original beginning of the main subject. It remains in the lower voice where it is first heard in bar 12: E to bar 14d: D#, after which it is sequenced in an extended version (bars 14-16). The broken chord then recurs as an accompaniment to the second subject (see M: bar 24, L: bar 28) and once in an episode (see M: bars 32/33).|
The syncopation and following inverted mordent figure is
heard as an accompaniment to S1 entries in M: bar 6, bars 17/18, bar 18,
bars 18/19. In the later course of the fugue it recurs in a similar position
but reaches far into an episode (see L: bars 31 and 32, U bars 31/32,
M bar 33). In M: 41/42 it links two S3 entries, in U: bar 51 it is part
of a melodic closing formula, and in M: bar 64/65 it appears for the last
|S2||is represented within the secondary material by its head,
the initial four notes. This motive accompanies complete subject statements
(see M: bar 21, bar 22, U: bar 23); it dominates episode E4 (see M: bars
25/26, U: bar 26, L: bars 26/ 27); finally, it also appears against entries
of S1 (see U: bar 29, U: bar 34/35, M: bar 35) and recurs in E5 (see U:
|S3||builds a motive which bridges full statements of the third subject. This motive is first heard in E6 (see U: bars 43/44), before it features prominently in E7 (see M: bars 47 and 49 51; U: bars 47 50, partly in inversion).|
Summing up we can state that the first subject is represented in secondary material mainly during the exposition of S1, i.e. before the emergence of the second subject (see in episodes E1, E2 and E3); the head of the second subject contributes above all to the exposition of S2 (i.e. to E4), and the motive which derives from the third subject plays the same role in the exposition of S3 (i.e. in the episodes E6 and E7). The juxtaposition of S1 and S2 is followed (in E5) by material from both S1 and S2.
Only E8 and E9 - the two episodes which link the three-subject-juxtapositions - contain fairly independent material. M2 introduces an ascending broken chord with a following strong-beat note in U: bars 57/58; it is imitated right away in M: bar 58 and recurs in M: bars 63 and 64). M3 consists of a four-note descent (see U: bars 58/59, bars 63/64, bars 64/65), and M4 is a one-bar sixteenth-note figure which characterizes E9 (see L: bars 63 64d, 64 65d, 65 66d, imitated in M: bars 66 67d); it is anticipated in free format in the lower voice runs of E8.
II/14.2.5 Character, tempo, articulation, ornament realization
A fugue with such complex thematic material certainly requires more than a simple answer when it comes to characterization. The pitch and rhythm patterns in the three subjects actually indicate different color shades within the same piece.
is definitely lively. Its rhythm pattern is
simple and its line clearly ornamental. Under the influence of the third
subject (see bars 37-51) the surrounding material also displays predominantly
eighth-notes and sixteenth-notes with frequent jumps. The appropriate
articulation for this subject is quasi legato (or very crisp,
light legato) in the sixteenth-notes and equally light-weighted non
legato in the S3 upbeat and the accompanying eighth-notes.
|S2||is the most melodious component in the fugue. Its beginning
and ending, i.e. the four-note descent and the conclusion in either closing
formula or chromatic deflection, are best expressed in legato.
The consecutive jumps in the middle of this subject involve detaching. Whether
the thus separated C# features as an active
force in preparing the climax note F#
(and is therefore only slightly softer than the syncopation), or whether
C# is regarded as an escape note from
a melodic line consisting of the stepwise progression A-G#-F#-E#-F#...
(and is thus very much softer than its surrounding) is the interpreter's
|S1||contains features of both characters. The complexity of the rhythm, particularly the two syncopations, need time (and thus calm) to bear fully, while the overwhelming content of jumps as well as the two ornamental figures epitomize liveliness. The secondary material that derives from this subject and often accompanies it also gives preference to jumps. The practical difference for the articulation in this subject is, however, minimal. In both calm and lively character, the initial broken chord with the ensuing jump and the consecutive jumps in bar 2 are non legato. As there is a harmonic change within the first and third syncopations which converts the tied portion into an appoggiatura, these long notes are tightly linked, in both calm and lively character, to the ornamented figures which follow (i.e. legato in bars 1/2 D-C#-B-C# and bars 2/3 B-A-G#-A). Only the three notes in bar 3 (A-F#-G#) are legato or non legato in the respective characters.|
The best solution for the entire fugue is to assume a rather lively basic character in a moderately flowing tempo. The relative tempo of the prelude to the fugue is complex. The easiest way of perceiving the proportion is the following:
one sixteenth-note of the triplets
in the prelude
in the fugue
(Approximate metronome settings: prelude beats 52, fugue beats 78.)
The articulation of S1 accordingly features softly detached notes interrupted by the legato of the two syncopation-plus-ornament groups. The secondary material in bars 1-20 contains primarily lightly detached notes, with additional legato only in the two melodic closing formulas (see U: bars 10/11, L: bars 15/16) and neutrally colored cadential bass notes in L bar 20. S2 and the motive derived from it sound legato but are often surrounded by non legato notes. In the sphere dominated by S3, the only longer notes which require legato are those in melodic closing formulas (see U: bars 36/37, 49/51, 51/52 and 70). Finally, in the episodes E8 and E9 it is possible to suggest relationships between M2 and S1 (by playing M2 in non legato) and between M3 and S2 (by playing M3 in legato).
The prominent ornament in this fugue is the trill in the subject which forms part of the thematic material and must be played in each entry, regardless of whether or not Bach notes this. The trill is approached stepwise and therefore begins on the main note. Its shakes are twice the speed of the fastest note values, so that the trill contains an initial sixteenth-note followed by fourteen thirty-second-notes of which the last two constitute a suffix. There are only two S1 statements which, due to their varied endings, contain no ornament (see bars 36/37) or a trill which ends without suffix in a tie (see bar 69).
II/14.2.6 The design of the fugue
The structure of the F#-minor fugue is basically simple despite what could be described as a three dimensional layout. We can distinguish four larger blocks, dominated respectively by S1, S2, S3 and the three subject juxtaposition. These are the details.
|Section I||consists of the three initial entries of S1 (the third of
which concludes with a closing formula), the short linking E1, the more
substantial E2, a redundant entry and a concluding episode E3 whose cadential
bass pattern confirms the modulation to the relative major key (A major)
on the middle beat of bar 20.
(S1: M U L, U)
|Section II||encompasses two segments.|
|IIa||brings three initial statements of S2 plus a redundant entry.
This fourth entry introduces the final version of the second subject with
its harmonically conclusive ending and with this closes this segment on
the downbeat of bar 25, still in A major.
(S2: L U M, L)
commences with an episode which features three entries of the S2 derived
motive. It is followed by a S2 stretto, an S1/S2 juxtaposition, a longer
episode and an S1 entry accompanied by the S2 motive. The section concludes
with a cadential formula in the minor dominant (C#
minor) on the downbeat of bar 37.
|Section III||includes three segments.|
|IIIa||is launched prematurely in a bar long overlap with the previous section.
It presents the three initial statements of S3 plus a redundant entry. This
redundant entry is accompanied by a melodic closing formula (see bars 40/41)
which marks the modulation to G# major,
the double dominant (V/V).
(S3: M U L, M)
is very short, containing only two S3 entries and a reiteration of
the cadence in G# major (bar 43 middle
commences, similarly to the last segment of section II, with an episode
featuring the S3 derived motive. It is followed by two further entries
of S3 and a longer episode which concludes on bar 52 with a melodic closing
formula in the subdominant B major. (Note that there is a little misprint
in the score here: in bars 49/50, all voices cancel the G#
to G natural except for the lower voice on the middle beat of bar 50 where
the natural is almost certainly omitted by mistake.)
begins almost like section III with an overlap (here only
of eighth-notes). Its opening S1 statement represents the subdominant
key, but the second half of bar 54 modulates back to the tonic. Then follow
the three three subject juxtapositions which are linked by two episodes
and rounded off by a short cadential conclusion. For the four S1 entries
of this section Bach has chosen the same voices which carried the four
statements of the first section thus closing a large circle.
For a sketch showing the design of this fugue see ex. 23.
II/14.2.7 The overall dynamic outline of the fugue
As is obvious from the layout of the material, the issue in this fugue is the separate presentation and eventual juxtaposition of contrasting subjects. Superimposed dynamic developments are therefore not likely to be the composer's intention. While the exposition of S1 certainly constitutes a gradual build-up of the ensemble from single voice to three part texture, the lack of enhancing contrapuntal features restricts the dynamic development. The expositions of S2 and S3 present a similar picture.
Section IV is, without any doubt, the most intense within the fugue. This applies, however, again to the entire section rather than to any single entry. The fugue thus stands as a piece with four sections in four different shades of emotional intensity. The only color contrasts within each section are provided by the episodes.