About this Piece
The structure of The Well-Tempered Clavier, codified by Bach in Book I (1722) and then revisited 15 years later in Book II, is simple and methodical, making a logical progression through the 12 successive notes of the scale, each presented in major mode then minor, from C major to B minor.
This music has been a specialty of pianist András Schiff, whose commentary for his second complete recording of the cycle (ECM) includes these pertinent observations: “To me, Bach’s music is not all black and white; it’s full of colors. In my imagination each tonality corresponds to a color. The Well-Tempered Clavier … provides an ideal opportunity for this fanciful fantasy. […] The last piece … is in B minor which is the key to death. Compare the fugue … to the Kyrie of the B-minor Mass. This has to be pitch-black.”
As annotator Paul Griffiths points out, Book I “culminates in [the] first of the preludes to have two repeated panels, followed by what is by far the longest fugue – a fugue that, moreover, models the endless staircase that has brought us this far, and that could now take us on, by the same step, back to the C major of this book’s opening or on to the C major of the next.”