Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra: making great music personal



program notes: baroque conversations 3

Thursday March 21, 2013

Bach French Suite No. 5 in G major, BWV 816

orchestration: solo piano

Bach Selections from The Well-Tempered Clavier, BWV 846-893

orchestration: solo piano

Bach Partita No. 4 in D major, BWV 828

orchestration: solo piano

For many composers that followed him, JS Bach was the master of all masters. Composers Mozart, Haydn and Liszt revered his work, studying his counterpoint, dissecting the fugues and gleaning whatever information they could from his surviving pieces. Much of his work was preserved, although it was only after his death that it became popularized and published. One of his most famous collections of keyboard works, The Well-Tempered Clavier, wasn’t published formally until 50 years after Bach’s death. However, man¬uscript copies were passed around among composers in the know.

Bach composed the first book of The Well-Tempered Clavier in 1722 when he was working in Köthen, and he wrote the second volume in Leipzig 20 years later. The books are a methodical exploration of each key in the well-tempered tuning system. In this method, the 12 half steps of the octave are tuned at a near-equal distance, resulting in a system in which every key was said to sound in tune. (Our modern ears are used to so-called “equal temperament,” an even more precise division of the 12 half steps). The tuning of Bach’s time—called meantone tuning—made some keys sound different, and consequently made them less desir¬able to composers. The well-tempered tuning system, therefore, allowed a composer to write in any of the possible keys. To show off this new development, Bach composed a prelude and fugue for each of the 24 keys, 12 major and 12 minor. Each prelude is free in structure, while the fugues are structured around strict imitation of a main theme. In both books, Bach arranged the preludes and fugues in an ascending chromatic pattern. Starting in C major, each subsequent prelude and fugue begins in a key that is one half step higher than the previous key.