Bernard Lagacé is a native of Saint-Hyacinthe, Québec. Since the 1950’s, he has been a leader in the revival of the classical organ in North America. He is an internationally known performer and teacher, [...]
J.S. Bach: Das Wohl Temperierte Clavier/The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book II: Preludes & Fugues 18-24, Prelude in G major BWV 902
They spoke about it
The translations long in use for the twofold collection of Preludes and Fugues by J.S. Bach, called in German Das Wohl Temperierte Clavier are incorrect in English (The Well-Tempered Clavichord) as well as in French (Le Clavecin bien tempéré). With The Well-Tempered Clavier, Bach continues and culminates a long tradition which assigns many works to any one of the keyboard instruments in use during the Baroque era, (harpsichord, organ or even clavichord) as can be seen on the title pages of several collections (by Cabezon, Frescobaldi, or Froberger, for example).
The organ has always been justifiably considered the ideal instrument to convey polyphony most faithfully. This ability which the organ has of prolonging sounds indifinitely assures each voice a perfect independence, and allows the long notes to be heard for their full value, frequently showing suspensions and dissonnances which could not be perceived on the harpsichord (or piano…).
In addition, the organ, with its many registration possibilities, allows for more character and individuality of each of the pieces–bestowing on one the tenderness of a Bourdon, and on another the grandeur of a Plein-Jeu, for example, thus conferring on the whole work a greater variety of sound. It is interesting to point out that this tradition of playing the Preludes and Fugues of the Well-Tempered Clavier on the organ was still very much alive by the time of Beethoven, as attested to by the preface of Carl Czerny to his edition of the 48 (though faulty in other respects…).
So as not to be misunderstood–I do not want to maintain that it would be better to play The Well-Tempered Clavier on the organ rather than on the harpsichord (though for certain pieces this would be the case…); but simply that it is a marvelous way to discover or rediscover this wonderful collection, which one might well choose to take to a desert island, because of its inexhaustible richness.
I would like to conclude with this beautiful remark by Robert Schumann: “Make your daily bread The Well-Tempered Clavier. It will make of you a good musician.”
© Bernard Lagacé
Translation: Thomas Miles