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Bach: WTC book 1, 24 scales - chromatic sequence

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Uploaded on Jun 10, 2008

Part 2 of 2. The contrasting 24 keys of Bach's "Well-tempered clavier", played in chromatic sequence (as printed in the book): which brings out much more contrast of character from each piece to the next.

Part 1 presents the same recordings, but in circle-of-fifths sequence to hear the gradual modulation.

Part 1 is here:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n6ikS0...

The question asked of each prelude/fugue is: IF we were try to retune the instrument per composition, exactly which notes are required in each one, and where should they be? And, what happens when the composition asks for two differently-spelled notes sharing the same key lever, such as D# and Eb? [Coming from the meantone-oriented systems of the 17th century, the D# should be tuned MUCH LOWER than the Eb.]

Peter Williams has asserted in print (_The Life of Bach_, 2007, p336): "For all one knows to the contrary, the intention in the Well-tempered Clavier could have been for the player to tune for each key as it was studied, something not requiring great skill. That no individual piece in WTC modulates very far means that no key needs to be tuned except for the piece concerned, even if theorists, who have no thought of playing all twenty-four in sequence, do not say so."

Well...that assertion collapses immediately when we study the music closely, listing all the required notes within each prelude/fugue. There are only a few preludes/fugues in the book that stay within 12 notes. Most use 13, 14, or 15 with these enharmonic overlaps. On a standard 12-key-per-octave keyboard, tuning compromises MUST be made to handle these dual-function notes. That is a major point of my research. The music itself constrains any proposed temperament to a small range of compromises in which this enharmonic swapping works passably, playing these compositions that go beyond 12 notes.

Bach's drawing on the title page (see http://www.larips.com) then provides the final necessary 10% of detail within that already-narrow range, showing exactly where and how those compromises should be made. The drawing shows what a skillful tuning procedure entails, adjusting which intervals and which relationships, so this one practical temperament can be left in place to play the entire book. (Furthermore, retuning-per-composition isn't feasible anyway on a fretted clavichord, but only on harpsichords.)

The recorded excerpts are from Peter Watchorn's 2-CD set, released 2006, used by kind permission of Dr Watchorn and Musica Omnia.

Another related video explains why F# and Gb are not the same note:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DnzGDx...

Bradley Lehman, http://www.larips.com

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