Dorset, 21st-28th October 1997
and 28th-31st March 1998
Sound Engineer: Brad Michel
Edited: 2nd-9th September 1998,
Clarion Productions, Newton,
Liner notes (extract), by Diana Boyle
The two books of forty-eight preludes and fugues known as the Well-Tempered Clavier were not written for public performance but conceived of as manuals, teaching texts for compositional and keyboard technique. The first set was put together by Bach in the early1720’s, the second set in 1744. The first complete editions were not published until 1801-2, fifty years after Bach’s death. The gensis of The Well-Tempered Clavier as an academic and educational project suggests a certain dryness that is startlingly belied by the character of what Bach actually wrote. The range of music in both books is extraordinarily varied, and this is especially true of Book II, where the pieces tend to be conceived on a bigger scale than those in Book I, and to be more technically, intellectually and emotionally complex, stranger, more abtruse. Indeed, there are pieces in Book II which stake out points on the outer boundary of Bach’s musical universe. Perhaps for this reason, Book II is performed less often and is less well known.
This recording was made at Forde Abbey in the seclusion of the Dorset countryside. The quality of silence there varied as each day progressed. In the morning, the music might sound very different from the way it sounded in the really deep silence of the late evening, when the hall was dark and the piano was cocooned in a halo of light from a single lamp. On a wet day the piano would speak quite differently from the way it spoke on a dry day. And sometimes, other creatures would sing in the carefully crafted silences within and between the pieces: a horse neighing, a dog barking, or a bee that had made its way into the hall. Sadly, these contributions had to be taken out, but, if you listen very carefully, in bar seven of the C# major Prelude, you might just hear a bird.
The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book II, by Diana Boyle is available is available from Divine Art – buy on CD in the UK or in the USA.