Happy Sad Sad Happy

Book I

Bach does something special with perspective in the last movement of his transcription of Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater BWV 1083: he first writes the notes of Pergolesi, then he writes the same notes again, but this time with a different key signature. The first half is in minor, the second in major. A simple intervention that completely changes the character of the music.

I wonder if Bach's trick of changing the perspective by changing the key signature can also be applied to his two sets of preludes and fugues in all 24 minor and major keys, The Well Tempered Clavier Book 1 & 2.

From sad to happy and vice versa. That is way beyond my imagination and understanding.

But it is not beyond my ability trying to figure it out. So I made double scores; the original above a version with an adapted key signature. BWV 846 C major prelude and fugue are metamorphosed to c minor, BWV 847 c minor is changed to C major, and so on.

Scores available at Patreon



Bach does something special with perspective in the last movement of his transcription of Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater BWV 1083: he first writes the notes of Pergolesi, then he writes the same notes again, but this time with a different key signature. The first half is in minor, the second in major.

A simple intervention that completely changes the character of the music.

I wonder if Bach's trick of changing the perspective by changing the key signature can also be applied to his two sets of preludes and fugues in all 24 minor and major keys, The Well Tempered Clavier Book 1 & 2. From sad to happy and vice versa.
That is way beyond my imagination and understanding.

But it is not beyond my ability trying to figure it out. So I made double scores; the original above a version with an adapted key signature. BWV 846 C - major prelude and fugue are  metamorphosed to c -minor, BWV 847 c - minor is changed to C - major, and so on.

Just wandering a little beyond imagination and understanding, I hope you will join me along the ride.

Fugues share structure. They start with a subject in all voices, end with a confirmation of the key, and in the middle part they modulate.

In my adaption of the Well Tempered Clavier not only is the key signature changed from major to minor and vice versa, but also are all incidental accidentals removed.

For the middle part this means that modulations enter the domain of church modi, colouring the expressed emotions in unexpected visions.

My handbook on fugues says that modulations in fugues are necessary to avoid dullness.

That has always surprised me a bit: so many brilliant tricks are unleashed on lively subjects and contrapunti and yet it is necessary to avoid boringness in the relatively short pieces?

I suspect modulations have a positive foundation, grounded in the realm of possible expressions.

Bach to basics

Picardy Third

So what would Bach have thought about this reversal of keys?

Bach was a strong harmonizer and would nod approvingly when he heard a composer applying worthwhile tricks to a subject, potential he knew instantaneously. We can delete surprise.

This was familiar territory, it's a look behind the scenes, back (bach) to basics.

My guess would be that he would at once saw which incidental accidents would strengthen, deepen and transform the renewed character of subject and counterpoint. And there would be an element of surprise: the inspirational drive to explore and express propelling the composition to new facets.

My reversed adaptions lack this completion but offers harmonic transparency. And as listener or musician who knows the original music there is this constant contrast: this is wrong but sounds right - incorporating the element of surprise by inverting the affects.

Testifies this adaptation of the mind-set of a vandal who applies his graffiti on a millennia-old Greek temple? I feel more like a little boy taking a clock apart and putting it back together. And surprise: it's ticking!

Bach loved a happy ending. In his first book of the Well Tempered Clavier there are twenty tree final chords in the minor keys with a Picardy third: a happy major harmony.

He compiled a second book twenty years later. His tendency to close positively had changed, only eleven Piardian final chords can be found in it. There is also an avoidance to speak out clearly: seven closing chords are without a defining third. (None of this happens in the first book.)

The reason for this change can be experienced: the Picardy third is something of an anomaly, deviating from what is to be expected in terms of temper. To be suddenly happy after having been so sad can be unfulfilling and unmotivated. Not impossible, but it shouldn't come out of the blue.

The inversion of the major and minor scales in this project causes the disappearance of the Picardy closure. Retentive to the blues, sticking to theory and harmonious framework it brings clarity and satisfying, acknowledging comfort.
It is an emotional paradox: to become happy in a minor scale music has to end sad. With a happy end in a minor key you feel sad.

Stick to Squid


The outstanding essay’s and videos of Timothy A. Smith have puzzled me for long: https://www.youtube.com/c/DigitalBach_NAU_Archive/videos
Timothy A. Smith

The imagery is very illustrative, and as such very clarifying structure and meaning.  As one of the possible ways of combining music and visuals I wrestled with the concepts manifested in it.

Freedom and inspiration came to me when I allowed myself to unleash the one on one illustration.

The tricks Bach uses in his music translate well into visual equivalents. Augmenation, inversion, mirroring, diminution, stretti; the whole arsenal makes sense to depict.

Beethoven once remarked that Bach should not be called Brook (Bach) but Ocean. To explore the depth of the Ocean I choose to stick with squid. Besides from being one the most intelligent animals it manifests in so many intriguing ways.

Masters of disguise, transformers pre-eminently, with many brains, able to ink and change colour.

A part was propelled by being impressed by the dramatic series Squid Game. The combination of playful children's game and life being at stake touches somehow something elementary. It touches on what Bach's music means to me.

There is something arbitrary about Timothy A. Smith's profound and eloquent associations, but that argues for rather than against his interpretations. I think personal articulation and research are more interesting and meaningful than accounting inventories and analyses.

Of all the predecessors of Bach's Well Tempered Clavier one stands out because of its grand scale, thorough conceptual foundation and artistic craftsmanship: Vincenzo Galilei's First Book for Lute from 1584.

His music offers a rich variety of emotions, embedded in all major and minor scales.

Unlike Bach, Galilei wrote clearly about music. He promoted well temperament in his writings and in 1589 tempered a keyboard at a court in Bavaria, which was very sweet to hear.

An interesting aspect of the romanesca's in Vincenzo's compilation is that they are designed to accompany epic poetry.

Each stanza of four lines of an epic poem can verbal multiple moods. In binary reduction the succession could be for example: happy - sad - sad - happy.

The Baroque prescripts one mood in one piece of music. As a consequence a sad line can be set musically happy and vice versa.

This phenomenon can also be observed in Bach's cantatas.  Sad words set happy, happy words set sad. Death as joy, love as burden.

The contradiction at first sight does actually justice to the complexity with which we experience the world.

The effect is far from random. As a listener you can undergo puzzling meanings. Reversal of emotions is familiar territory in life. The feeling that there is (no) solid ground under your feet, that emotions have their opposite, it's all part of including art.


Banality of simpleness

Eleven chorales are traced in Bach’s famous chaconne for violin (see the thesis of Irene Stroh from 2011!). They connect instrumental music with words and meanings.

While I enjoy reading and admiring such analyses, I also suffer from the fear of missing out on something essential if I don't know enough.

Clever decipherment of numbers in the solo violin pieces might lead to the conclusion that Bach symbolically wrote his name and that of his family, the year of composition and loss of his wife.

The numbers are impressive, but the decipherment provides information that is known, the kind you find on the front page of autographs or in short biographical entries.

I suspect that Bach had support from numbers while consciously composing and structuring his compositions.

The ciaccona bears sacred vocals, which all testify in essence to death and resurrection. The main chorale framing the whole derived from Luther and was written in 1524. This chorale is also found in cantata BWV 4.

Bach’s bookshelves and mind housed thousands chorales spanning centuries. Collage artist Johann Sebastian Bach quotes melodies and words of colleagues like a winking modernist.

Many of those chorales I don’t know and I miss the reference. But I do know that cantata BWV 4 In Todes Banden.

For learning what Bach wants to express in his instrumental music, without words, it is rewarding and fulfilling to know his vocal music and secondary literature. And for getting a grasp on the conceptual foundations of the chaconne.

Laborious encryption of numbers in the Well Tempered Clavier Book 1 would tell that Bach was born in 1685, that he wrote the music and that he was a religious man.

I suspect that Bach's method of using chorales for instrumental music, was much more common to him than is known.

Studying his cantatas might lead to be in touch with the conceptual ideas that may be hidden in undiscovered chorales references in the Well Tempered Clavier.

The fear of missing can be dealt with by rewardingly getting to know all of his art.

Bach recycled many of his music.

When all his compositions were inventoried it became clear that much of his religious works was originally secular.

It always went from worldly to pious, never the other way around, I think for practical reasons - time pressure and having ready what is good.

This aroused repulsion among learned Bach connoisseurs: the banality and simpleness of inspiration recontextualized in serious business.

When Bach set music to a text, he often chose a single word as source of inspiration for the main subject, which then dominated the whole. The character of that musical subject gave all the words colour and meaning.

Use and re-use were among his standard tools where a single element led to complex meanings and connections.

Carefree recontextualization was an inherent structural element of his efficient working method, providing drama and multiple views.

A consequence of this working method is that happy words can be set musically sad and vice versa. Sometimes that is a puzzling experience, but mostly it is as how we experience the secular, full of contradictions and conflicting emotions.

Every step in tonal modes with its major and minor triads also has this structural element of recontextualization. The constant alternation of happy and sad harmonies makes us experience a subject from all sides. 

Complexity built with simple worldly elements, the banality of simpleness is a serious matter.

Moods, modes and modulations


Happiness and sadness comes in many moods and modes.
With the erasing of incidental accidentals in my reversed adaptions, modulations enter the realm of church modes.

The most common modulation that Bach uses is a step to the right on the circle of fifths, and also shortly roams to their parallels.

The step to the right with a major scale means a change of centre of gravity from a Ionian tonality (our usual major scale) to a Mixolydian mode. Also a happy major scale, but differently happy.

Trips to the two parallel minor keys occur regularly. The Aeolian mode: our natural minor and the parallel of the Mixolydian: the minor Phrygian, also a sad scale, but differently sad.

Statistically second in line is the modulatory step to the left, counter clockwise on the spicy circle of fifths: going up to the more smooth circle of fourths. The happy major mode here is Lydian and it’s minor parallel is Doric. Differently happy, differently sad.

In my adaption of keys what was Mixolydian became Phrygian, what was Lydian became Doric, or vice versa if the original case was major.

Transcribing the scores I had to evaluate the accidentals - to be honest I scarcely did. It soon became clear that accidentals of a chromatic line has their own harmonic rules, they are preserved. For the rest I restored them only when the result sounded wrong, which is done sparsely. My guess is that Bach mostly whipped out specifics of the church modes and sticks to the Ionian and Aeolian and its two harmonic and melodic variations and added special harmonization’s when he felt inspired to - those last are lost.

So what is the aim of reversing? For the joy, the wondering, because it can be done, for postulating the philosophical question what does it mean, for stepping around in a parallel universe, to view things from a different position, an unexpected beautiful melodic transformation or harmonisation, serving as food for thought thinking about Bach, exploring how to make a crisp digital score, trying to see what makes the clock tick.

Charles Rosen, the godfather of musical analysis, wrote a book about Music and Sentiment in 2010.

One chapter describes Bach's music.

Some quotes: “The works that escape the unity of sentiment are those that give the impression of improvisation, like toccata or fantasy.

Formally constructed pieces, however were subject to the requirement of a single affect. In Bach's music a formal piece was a rhythmic continuum with an unstoppable drive to the final cadence.

Bach remains unchanged affectively throughout except for nuances of intensity.

It is true that the variations are so significant that we might like to claim that the sentiment has altered as the work proceeds, but there is no place where we can draw a line to differentiate one affect from another.

The technique of representing an affect does not essentially differ from that used in his most complex constructions.

One exception can be seen in the opening chorus of the Passion with the superimpositions of a chorale tune over the main body of the chorus, a procedure parallel to the double fugue, with two motifs of contrasting character.

The technique demands that both motifs be eventually sounded together if not at once, and the basic affect that determines the unity is the of combination of the two motifs.”

I would like to draw a couple of lines.

The works that escape the unity of sentiment are also complex formally constructed pieces - as many cantata opening pieces testify.

Take, for example, the opening of BWV 69, a double fugue with contrasting themes: exuberant coloratura versus modest humility. The first worked out in an extremely strict form, the second more freely with unexpected combinations of vocalists and instrumentalists.

There is a thin line between double fugues and fugues with fixed counterpoint. Fixed counterpoint contrasts as much as possible with the subject in rhythmic and motivic sense.

Bach's music is not propelled by a rapid succession of mood swings as in the Classical Style. But in the Well Tempered Clavier the successive parts do have dramatic contrast.

The godfather of musicology declaring in 2010 that Bach has interwoven a contrasting chorale in only one exception evokes in me a range of disunited sentiments: amazement, bewilderment, irritation, sadness, anger, contempt, disbelief.

BWV 78 Meine Seele: Bach assimilates choral fantasy, church song, motet, concerto, ritornello, chaconne and sarabande in one magisterial piece with a broad range of sentiments. Depicting the paradox that suffering is a liberating joy.

BWV 25 Meinem Leibe: Bach shows how a gloomy and desperate atmosphere is overshadowed by the prospect of redemption.

BWV 39 Dein  Brot: Bach at the peak of his ability depicts lines with many musical word paintings without falling into a structureless sequence of pieces.

BWV 524 Hochzeits-Quodlibet: involves simultaneously sounding (fragments of) different texts sometimes far from comical or light-hearted.

BWV 101 Bach's version of Picasso's Guernica. Relentless modern dissonances with a hammer motif based on the chorale The Ten Commandments and a sighing motif set against an old-fashioned melodious motet in Renaissance style.

In the first year in which Bach writes a cantata every week, he starts experimenting with chorales. This turns out so artistically fruitful that he writes a subsequent series of chorale cantatas in his second year.

For the listeners, the simple melodies were a feast of recognition, familiar through and through, resounding in complex music: a sentiment in itself. A clever way to get the listener involved and  engaged.

Rosen's text was first used as a lecture and has been commented on for publication by highly educated colleagues, the reviews are generally favourable, the Bach chapter digested without criticism. That tells me that the merit and meaning of Bach's music has not penetrated the collective consciousness and connaisseurs. Bach is unknown.



As a young boy Bach would have noticed well-tempered tuning on lutes.

In 1715 a chromatic cycle of 20 preludes and fugues in different keys by Johann Caspar Ferdinand Fischer was re-issued.

Bach admired Fischer and he did use one of Fischer’s fugue subjects in BWV 878 WTC II no 9.

In 1715 Johann Gottfried Walter, cousin of Bach, made a copy in Weimar of suite BWV 996 composed for Lautenwerk (Lute-clavichord).

The instrument was an invention of Johann Nicolaus Bach: a gut strung keyboard. The sound could deceive a professional lutenist. Nicolaus made them with two and three manuals, whose keys sounded the same strings but with different quills and at different points, providing three grades of dynamic and timbre.

Around 1717 Bach composed BWV 903 a chromatic fantasy and fugue using all keys.

In 1720 Nicolaus Bach built a lute-clavichord for his cousin Johann Sebastian Bach in Cöthen.

In 1740 organ builder Zacharias Hildebrandt made a lute-harpsichord designed by Bach. It looked similar as a normal harpsichord but smaller because gut strings don’t need to be as long as metal wounded.

Two lute-clavichords and one lute are listed in the inventory on Bach’s death in 1750.

1720 and 1740 are also years connected to the two cycles of the Welltempered Klavier.

A few compositions can be attributed to be originally composed for the lute-clavichord, each standing out for being very inspired and remarkably beautiful.

Welltempered tuning was common on lutes for centuries. In 1581 lutenist Vincenzo Galilei wrote a grand plea for it and mentions tuning a clavichord Welltempered at a court in Bavaria.

The first prelude of WTC I is a tribute to the style brisé that originated by instrumental lute music in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries in which long notes are suggested more than sounded because of the rapid decay of vibrations.

The polyphonic harmony of individual voices is also indebted to this history.

The lute harpsichord and the common well-tempered tuning of lutes may have contributed to the concept of a cycle with all major and minor scales on keyboard.

Bach wrote little for lute, but in his music it is omnipresent.

Recently I updated the Bach fugal list on Wikipedia.

About eighty cantata movements are fugues - some manifesting as prelude.

Bach liked to apply different principles of form in a piece of music.

I think a collection arranged according to the system of the Well-Tempered Clavier on two pianos would come into its own.

The cantata-fugues are often very complex because of their intertwining with other forms.

Bach's unimaginable productivity in his first two cantata years also seems to me fuelled by the artistic possibilities and exploration of combining.

It could be a nice project to work out, to collect and transcribe, educational and fulfilling. Maybe something to accomplish in my old age.

Order of keys

Gödel, Escher, Bach

Fugue subjects are prepared in the preludes and often occur in slightly modified form. Worth analysing, a miracle in itself, but usually not immediately clear. The connectedness indicate that fugues were composed first.

The oldest source of WTC 1 are eleven preludes without fugues in the keyboard book of his son Wilhelm Friedemann. In the order: C - c - d - D - e - E - F - Cis - cis - es - f.

Next source in line is a copy of Bernhard Kayser, a very interesting intermediate stage with early versions. His handwriting is so similar to Bach's that it has long been thought to be an autograph.

The order of the keys in it is: C - c - cis - Cis - d - D - Es - es - e - E - F - f - Fis - fis - G - g - As - gis - a - A - Bes - bes - B - b.
Four times the sad minor couple stands for the happy major scale.

Kayser analysed harmony and noted distance from notes to the root.

He also copied the title page with detailed description of the major and minor scales. Ut  Re  Mi for major and Re  Mi  Fa for minor.

According to Bach's student Kirnberger, Bach demanded all major thirds be on the high side.

From this we can deduce that Bach preferred a slightly disproportionately tempered tuning, in which the individual keys retained their individual character.

Having listened to some interpretations I noticed it not seldom in practice comes down to The Randomly Slightly Out of Tune Tempered Clavier.

Kayser's copy has an additional prelude in B minor: BWV 923, a virtuoso piece. You might think Bach considered using a composition like the chromatic prelude and fugue BWV 903 as a conclusion. Its spectacular character could be the reason not to include it.

A question is whether the WTC offers a program or a repertoire. Bach played it in its entirety at least three times for his students. There are so many aspects that play a role in the dramatic structure, like music history from style antico, contemporary, Empfindsamkeit, sonatas to twelve-tone music, numerical control, encyclopically possibilities of motives and moods.

Kayser's manuscript is a marvellous peek into the kitchen.

Godel, Escher, Bach by Douglas R. Hofstadter

In Gödel, Escher, Bach author Douglas R. Hofstadter has three friends (Anteater, Achilles and Crab) comment on an illustrated score of Bach's WTC.

ANTEATER: “Have you ever noticed how in these pieces the prelude always sets the mood perfectly for the following fugue?”

Between prelude and fugue a calligrapher made an illustration. It can be read as REDUCTIONISM,  HOLISM or MU -  depending on the level of observation.

(The letter M consist of the word Holism, which letters are formed by the word Reductionism, which letters are made by the letters MU.)

Reductionism stands for: a whole can be understood completely if you understand its parts, and the nature of their sum.

Holism means the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Mu(sic) rejects the premises that one or the other must be chosen.

ACHILLES: “I am a little confused.”

Prelude and double fugue 19 are constructed around the chorale " Oh head, full of blood and wounds / O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden".

(See the x-marks at the prelude melody.)

Bach will later use that melody as the main Leitmotiv in the St Matthew Passion.

It also appears in six cantatas, the Christmas Oratorio and as a separate chorale.

The chorale text does not seem to fit the happy mood of prelude and fugue 19.

Perhaps Bach had the original text by Paul Gerhardt of the melody in mind: “My mind is confused, that makes a virgin tender / Mein G’müt ist mir verwirret, das macht ein Jungfrau zart.”

The older text is an acrostic: it gives the name MARIA in the first letters of the stanzas. The words can be understood both in the sense of the worldly love for a girl with this name, but also in the spiritual sense for the Blessed Mother Mary.

CRAB: “It's a shame I didn't have you over to meet her last week.”

Transposing prelude 19 from major to minor allows the text of Bach's beloved chorale melody "O Haupt" to come into its own with its familiar meaning.



Beethoven played the first note of fugue 19 very loudly: ff - fortissimo and resumed quite after the rests: p - piano.

It is a pity that we do not have any recordings of his performances of the Well-Tempered Clavier, which he could already play well as an 11-year-old.

Nevertheless, it is possible to get an idea of his interpretation.

His student Carl Czerny produced an edition with detailed directions for tempo, phrasing, dynamics, adjustments, fingerings and processing what he had learned from Beethoven.

The edition was heavily criticized by Robert Schuman, who therefore wanted to make his own edition, but that never happened.

Even now Czerny's edition does not have a good reputation: unreliable and foolish, but one with influence on many later editions. You could say that baroque and romanticism are combined.

A fusion of two styles is at odds with an authentic pursuit or "refined taste". Unless you see the historical merger again as an authentic representation of a certain time or are open to the possibilities of another vision.

It is actually not possible to be purely authentic, even a conception of authenticity is time-bound.

The authentic representation of a combination of styles is itself time-bound.

Constanze Mozart Weber

Constanze Weber, wife of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, loved the Well Tempered Clavier.

A score of the WTC stood permanently on their pianoforte.

She stimulated Mozart to write fugues.

It is a challenge to know the past. Take for example the photo taken October 1840 by Karl Croce at the home of composer Max Keller. Some say the woman on the left is Constanze.

Experts have refuted this with arguments. I would like to add some question marks, observations and thoughts.

It is stated that Constanze at 78 must have been so old that her hair must have been as white as that of Josefa, seating at the other side of Max Keller. Is it white? Josefa has a white forehead and cap, but her hair is as dark as the woman on the left.

You don’t have to be an expert to validate the white hair argument, it is something you can see for yourself. Maybe the expert was remembering Constanze’s wig in Amadeus and got confused.

Constanze was crippled and because of that it is said she couldn't travel. If she was immobile, that doesn't mean she couldn't travel with help.
Another argument in the discussion is that it was not possible in 1840 to take sharp outdoor pictures of people as long as the necessary exposure time amounted to about three minutes. Can people sit still for three minutes? It sounds like a counterpoint to the immobile argument.

A balanced conclusion might be that the subject of this photograph has not conclusively been identified as Constance Mozart Weber, there are disputes among Mozart scholars, but doubts concerning the technical ability to take a group picture in 1840 are unfounded.

Somehow, some arguments lack imagination and grope for generalization: all old people have white hair, when you're sick you're stuck. Prudence and reservation are virtues for a historian, but besides facts history cannot do without imagination.

When Mozart in the imaginative movie Amadeus is asked to play like Salieri he answers: "Now that is a challenge!".

Constanze in real life asking him to compose like Bach was a challenge for the imagination of Mozart.

He wrote that while composing a fugue he was thinking out the prelude - it seems logical to me that Bach did the same.

Many of Mozart's fugues are unfinished and stranded in the development section.

"Woelfie" could have felt mocked for mediocrity as a fictional Salieri.

Playing string quartets with Haydn showed him how to solve that and compose like Mozart.

Bach's WTC had a major influence on the profound repertoire for string quartet, the independence of the parts and rich harmony were an exemplary source of inspiration.



Das Wohltemperierte Klavier ornaments curls

Bach embellished his neat score of WTC 1 with baroque curls.

Bradley Lehman qualified it as a Rosetta Stone and decoded it as a well tempered tuning diagram:
"His pupils were expected to make their own handwritten copies from source manuscripts. To learn Bach’s tuning method, all one has to do is to make a handwritten copy of the drawing and understand what it means.
The solution, as students of drawing know, is to turn the page upside-down to see if it might be easier to copy that way. Indeed, Bach’s diagram is difficult to copy right-side-up, in ink without smudging, getting loops and sub-loops in the same direction as his.
There are five loops with double spiral outward. Next come three empty loops. Next are three loops with single spirals inserted on the down-stroke, followed by casual flourish at the end of the line.
Decoded they can be interpreted as five 1/6 comma fifths for F-C-G-D-A-E, three pure 5ths E-B-Fis-Cis, three 1/12 comma fifths Cis-Gis-Dis-Ais."

It's an imaginative theory that we can investigate.

While compiling the WTC 1 bundle, he made a tutorial for his son Friedemann, who started to learn how to play keyboard. It includes an overview of musical embellishments and eleven WTC preludes, but a curly tuning diagram is missing.

Advanced pupil Bernard Kayser was the only copyist who took over curls on the title page. In his score are various musical embellishments written in ink by Bach himself. Kayser’s covercurls do not match Bach's version.

I would like to expand this discussion and point out the curl sequences in the wigs on Bach portraits.

They provide a solid basis for establishing that Bach had not one but different temperaments.

On one occasion Görner, struck a wrong chord at a rehearsal, whereupon Bach tore off his wig and threw it at the unfortunate organist’s head, thundering out: “You ought to have been a cobbler!” This was Bach having a Bad Wig Day with a sad temperament.

To hide any unwanted odors powders scented with lavender or orange were used on the wigs. Doing so Bach shows a happy temperament.

His son Johann Christian temperamentfully called him "die alte Perücke" - the Old Wig.

According to Glenn Gould the purpose of art is the gradual, lifelong construction of a state of wonder and serenity.

Music he liked the best, he liked to hear played very slowly.
In his WTC he is not as extreme as in his Goldbergs, but striking in his interpretations are a speeding up or slowing down of the tempo.

His humming along habit originated in  having been taught by his mother to sing everything that he played.

He wrote a fugue in the style of Bach containing the lyrics “So go ahead and write a fugue that we can sing”.

After singing about not being too clever, there is a segment from the prelude to Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg composed by Richard Wagner.

The hero of Wagner’s opera is Hans Sachs who is a cobbler (Bach once threw his wig at an organist who missed a chord, while shouting he was a cobbler).

Bach's cantata BWV 138 Why do you mourn, my heart? begins with a chorale text that at the time was attributed to the historical Hans Sachs. The coral aims to direct attention from the earthly to the higher, one could say to a state of wonder and serenity.

Gould admired the opening of Wagner’s Mastersinger and made a very clever transcription of it.

In his parodic Bach fugue the Meistersinger segment is made fun of by the device of speeding up of the tempo and because the key is changed from major to minor.



As a boy Bach secretly copied for six months by moonlight scores which his brother kept in a locked closet.

Among the compositions were works by Johann Caspar Ferdinand Fischer, who Bach loved and studied.

Fischer’s pieces are inventive and original, with lively subjects and sparkling motives.

His Prelude from Suite number 2 Musical Flower Booklet 1696 has many similarities with Bach's prelude 22 and both are stunningly beautiful.

Fischer published in 1702 twenty preludes and fugues that can be qualified as a blueprint for Bach's Welltempered Clavier.

It is easy to see that it must have been a goldmine for inspiration and further elaboration.

It was one small step for Bach the man, one giant leap for mankind.
In his initial draft for the WTC, Bach adopted the order of keys from Fischer, in which several minor pieces were placed before the major.

Edwin Fischer was the first to make a complete recording of the Well Tempered Clavier.

His playing was influenced by Ferrucio Busoni. The WTC Book One edited by Busoni not only documents Bach’s notes but also gives a very subjective interpretation of how to play, with a broad range of dynamics and detailed prescriptions.
He would go as far as changing notes (who would ever think of doing such a thing?). Twenty years later Busoni ended up at the other side of the possible spectrum with his edition of the second book of the WTC, which is more like an Urtext.

Fischer’s edition and recording ended up between these two extremes, smoothing out the spectacular dynamics of Busoni and keeping it simpler, but still following some of Busoni’s characteristics.

There is consistency in their conceptual approach, Illustrating their aim to shine light on structural elements of the music. With Busoni the subject is played very loud in exposition and episodes, Fisher just plays it loud, their counterpoint interpretation comes second place. Busoni divides episodes into several drama’s, Fischer chooses to build it up as a whole.

Fischer was an esteemed teacher and helped his students to make a grounded personal interpretation. His Bach recording is a frozen conception that runs counter to his ideal of possible performances. Different interpretations of the same pieces would do more justice to his philosophy.

Harpsichordist Bradley V. Brookshire wrote a great thesis about the concepts and influences of Fischer’s performance: “Edwin Fischer and Bach Performance Practice of the Weimar Republic” - available at the web and highly recommended.



Ralph Kirkpatrick wrote an original book about playing the WTC and it is staked with worthwhile analyses:

“Most analytical studies are of little use to me as interpreter, many might bear the title: The Autopsy. There is very little that I actually read.
A distinction should be made between the kind of analysis which closes the ears and that which opens them.
Tonal structure is not as directly apparent to the ear as the relations of chords. Maintenance of tonal relationships makes the difference between controlling or letting it fall into insufficiently related fragments.”

I can well imagine unwillingness and resistance to analysis.

I find the way Kirkpatrick formulates his restraint rather sad: to analyse is to examine a corpse and if you are not aware of tonal proportions, doom will be the result: your performance falls apart and with it the participation of the listener.

It always touches me when someone voices their strong aversion to analysis. It has struck me that people with the greatest aversion after expressing their disgust often take the liberty of making very firm analytical statements immediately afterwards. I have good friends who do this with great carelessness.

Overseeing the tonal adventure in a piece of music by Bach costs me a lot of brainpower, and I also find reading secondary literature about it strenuous. It is a subject that I find difficult to understand.

Fortunately, there are some excellent books (David Schulenberg, David Ledbetter) that help me do that. What strikes me about those are their tranquillity, wisdom, piece of mind and underlying sense of happiness.

Ebenezer Prout wrote a crystal clear book about Bach's 48  Well Tempered Fugues, published a year after his death in 1910 and it is a great joy to read.

He is remembered for fitting witty whimsical words to the subjects of the fugues from Bach's Well Tempered Clavier Book One and Two.

The subject of the 23th fugue was adorned by Prout with the line: “He went and slept under a bathing-machine at Margate”.

The bathing Machine was developed in Margate, Kent in 1750: four-wheeled carriages, covered with canvas, and having at one end of them an umbrella of the same materials which is let down to the surface of the water, so that the bather descending from the machine by a few steps is concealed from the public view, whereby the most refined female is enabled to enjoy the advantages of the sea with the strictest delicacy.

Prout was just making fun, and offered a little help to memorise the music.

In 1952 Hans Nissen projected religious words over the subjects of the second book of the WTC. His attempt is pure fiction but presents itself as grounded in explanation of symbolism. There is not much to laugh with Nissen, it is rather sad instead of giving happy insights.

In 2024 Yo Tomita will publish a study about the influence of Bach’s great passions on the Second Book of the WTC. He takes the perspective of Nissen but his findings will be scientifically motivated.

Behind Bars

Smallest and largest

Bach might started composing the WTC in 1717 in the Weimar Bastille.

Ernst Gerber wrote in 1790 that Bach told his father that it took place where displeasure, boredom and a lack of any kind of musical instruments made this pastime necessary for him.

A cryptic description that is understandable if you assume that it is not pleasant to say that you were in prison.

Oral history is approached with caution, but it may be factually accurate.

Some researchers have hypothesized that Bach's trips to Karlsbad in 1718 and 1720 also fits the description. There is, however, a note of the court payment of three persons for the transport of his keyboard. What makes this possibility interesting again is that the composer Fischer, who was a source of inspiration for the design of the WTC, worked near Karlsbad. In addition, journeys can be very inspiring and with opportunities to find new music, it seems likely that they were happy rather than sad trips.

A conceptual journey through all the keys seems like a good pastime when you have to sit. Bach was 32, he arrived at the Bastille on November 6 and was released on December 2. Once a week his wife was allowed to visit him.

The reason for his imprisonment was that his employee could not appreciate his job hopping. A horn player who had to sit for the same reason several years later escaped the prison, was caught and hanged.

Bach's stay at the court of Cöthen 1717 - 1723 coincides with the history of the creation of the first WTC and he later described this period as the happiest in his life.

The WTC, together with the inventions and sinfonias, forms a learning program. Bach made a neat score to show his skills during his application as Kapellmeister in 1723.

The eleven preludes in his son Wilhelm Friedemann's notebook, begun in 1720, are the earliest scores. They form a programmatic unit: systematic finger exercises for learning to play. Their preparation for the fugue subjects shows that the fugues were composed but not notated.

Bach was confident in the footing of his faith, but was also a pragmatist with an inquiring mind.

He ran into paradoxes on the smallest and the largest scale.
Whatever the precise tuning concept of Wohltemperiert, on a small scale it is an embracing of imperfections.

12 Semitones function as major and minor tonal gravity centre, presented in chromatic order. Chromatism breaks the harmonic rules of major and minor tonality.

The bar numbers of the WTC present his aim to mirror proportions on the largest scale.

(WTC 1 and the Inventions and Sinfonias have 3120 bar numbers, the total same as Clavir Ubung 1 and 2. The numbers can be decoded as self-referential to Bach himself and as a pleasing reference to the well-constructed proportional order of reality.)

Bach made very little substantive annotations in the Bible commentary he owned. But he did scribbled approval at a passage that describes heavenly music that sounded in unison, as with one voice. At first glance, not exactly a solid foundation for polyphonic textures.

Theorists had answered the question of substantiation of polyphony by positing that the passage was written by a blind heathen who had no understanding of the triad. A substantive disqualification of the text.

Not a trace of disquiet can be seen with Bach regarding to these disturbing facts: imperfect tuning relations between notes, rules that can be broken and the ideal of perfect proportions based on a disqualified text.

Modern physics testifies to uncertainty relationships on the smallest scale, at the heart of every galaxy is a black hole, a gravity centre wherein the laws of nature don't apply, and speaks of infinite possible worlds on the largest scale.

Bach didn't devote time to discuss theoretical, has he done so, much would be outdated.

But he did enter into confrontation in his art and thus escaped time-bound philosophy. You can even see modern physics reflected in it as his art transcends conscious knowledge.