Bach vs Equal Temperament, part 1 -- Bradley Lehman





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Published on Nov 27, 2007

PART 1 OF 2. Five preludes from book 1 of Bach's "Well-Tempered Clavier" are performed on harpsichord, twice each. Part 1 of the video presentation has the preludes in B major, C major, and E major. Part 2 has the preludes in F minor and E-flat minor.

The first performance of each pair is in equal temperament, and the second is in the "Bach/Lehman 1722" which I believe to have been Bach's own practice for this book of music. (Details: see http://www.larips.com )

The performances are by Bradley Lehman, May 31 2005. Same instrument, same camera, same day, trying to play as similarly as possible. All of the equal-temperament "takes" were recorded first, then the instrument retuned, and then all of the Bach-temperament takes.

My own impression, hearing these 2 1/2 years later and editing them together into this presentation: the Bach temperament sounds enough like equal to fool just about anybody, and yet...it brings both more intensity and more relaxation to the music. In any event, it encourages me as a player to bend the music more freely and naturally, investing it with more nuances, in reaction to the sound. It makes me listen more closely to melody and counterpoint, the way the musical lines interact with one another. Tonality "locks in" with a subtly different character and mood for every key (scale).

Equal temperament, by contrast, goes on and on with a relatively bland inoffensiveness...being less than inspiring, and encouraging "run-on" uninflected performances. The performer has to work harder to make something special of the music. Why not tune instead with a subtle inequality, and let the intonation itself do part of the interpretive work?

Better-miked versions of most of these pieces are on my CD "Playing from Bach's fancy", recorded a few weeks before these videos. Details:

There are also (as of autumn 2007) two complete recordings of the Well-Tempered Clavier book 1 by other harpsichordists using this same Bach tuning: Peter Watchorn and Richard Egarr.



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