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About this Piece

The two books of The Well-Tempered Clavier, one compiled in 1722, and the other completed late in his career (1744), remained, like so much of Bach’s music, unpublished for decades after the composer’s lifetime. Public interest in his work may have waned until the mid-19th-century revival spearheaded by Mendelssohn, but all the major composers in the interim (Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, Schumann among them) played Bach privately, praised his genius, and used his music for instruction. Copies of the music, transcribed by hand, were passed from teacher to pupil and from generation to generation. The concentration and contrasts to be found in these selections are astonishing. For example, the F-major Prelude begins in oceanic calm, only to be met immediately with the jauntiness of a Fugue in the form of a gigue. The C-major Prelude features a continuously flowing sequence of melodic ideas that give it the character of an improvisation. What other single composer could provide such a variety of moods in a single evening’s music? —Grant Hiroshima