Background

Having received my musical training at the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music and The Juilliard School, I had been advised to purchase J.S. Bach’s The Well-Tempered Clavier Books 1 & 2 (known as the WTC or the Bach 48). Everyone in the world has heard his Prelude Number One in C Major, BWV 846, with its simple, flowing and immediately recognizable arpeggiated melody, since it was written back around 1722. Now, finally, we will all be able to see and hear the rest of this monumental work, learning how this popular tune was only an introduction to a much greater gift, revealing Bach’s life-long passion for teaching.

As I entered Bach’s music into a computer notation system, I suddenly realized that I had created a new, practical and revealing pathway for gaining greater assimilation of this great material.  The desire for more nuanced performance, to soften the mechanical element, is something that computers are gradually addressing. The computer could play back the music for the eye, bar by bar, as a cursor scrolled over the written music. The primary challenge was setting a definitive tempo, which would give the ear a chance to hear the harmonic content while giving fingers the necessary time needed to physically perform the work. Musicologists often declare that every time they re-visit this music, they always discover something new, something they hadn’t heard before. When one listens to Bach experts perform this work, there are variations in interpretation among them, revealing, to some degree, the personality of each performer.  The tempos are different and the weight or volume given to the individual voices is disproportionate. The result here, instead, is a treatment that gives more equal impact to each of the voices, providing both listener and performer greater opportunity to discover something new every time this music heard. Eyes see and ears hear musical voices equally, free of various individual artists’ romanticized interpretation in performance, free to discover something new. Bach himself states, There’s nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself. Performance becomes a magical passageway through which the composers’ genius is revealed. Excellent performance results from understanding, as eyes learn to hear and ears begin to see. Bach, as we, the instrument, play the music.

Ornamentation, naturally, was difficult, since its placement in performance was the most human element of the project and may improve, hopefully, with each new software version. Ornamentation was added in a few traditional places where the system could perform it to an acceptable degree.  Many times ornamentation was left out, left to the imagination of the students with guidance from their teachers as to where, when and how they might be played in performance. Similarly, suggested fingerings were included on the printable files of only the first three Preludes and Fugues in Book One, so that students would enjoy the challenge of working them out, on their own, or with additional assistance. Suggesting ornamentation and fingering were not the motivating force behind the creation of this work. Instead, the critical task was finding a proper tempo for each Prelude and Fugue, primarily for use in the classroom study and less toward performance. When performing the music, if you understand its simplicity, you will bring it to life.

I challenge piano students to use these DVDs to accelerate their learning process, with the ultimate goal being memorization and performance of both Books, 1 & 2. There are few greater tasks in all of music that surpass this. You are encouraged to load Disc One into your computer, find the files with the music for both books and print out your own copies for the study, analysis, practice and performance of each Prelude and Fugue. Teachers may find the Title Lists useful for various testing purposes, as they are divided into four pages per book. They might cut up into strips the name of each Prelude and Fugue with their timings and BWV numbers and pass them out to their students for other creative uses. My goal is to set the bar at its highest point, looking to encourage excellence at every of stage of learning and ability.

This collection of highly educational pieces of exceptional artistry is, without question, every musicians’ Holy Grail. Gustav Mahler, once said of J.S. Bach, He did for music what God did for the world. Hans von Bulow’s aphorism, Pianists Old Testament and R. Schumann’s famous quote, Pianists Daily Bread are two of the most memorable salutations. The title page reads, The Well-Tempered Clavier or Preludes and Fugues through all the tones and semitones both as regards the tertia major or Ut Re Mi and as concerns the tertia minor or Re Mi Fa. For the Use and Profit of the Musical Youth Desirous of Learning as well as for the Pastime of those Already Skilled in this Study drawn up and written by Johann Sebastian Bach.

Piano Teachers & Educators: It would be very helpful if you tell us what you think about this project and how you use these DVDs. Please post your feedback and read other’s comments on our website www.seehearmusic.com. Let us know especially how your students react to the DVD’s. Having the whole WTC at their fingertips and the impact of seeing the video in time with the music should help develop their basic musicianship, and with proper guidance, their piano technique. Repeated use of the DVD’s should help to improve the students’ ear and sight-reading ability, as well as, ultimately, their ability to memorize the music.

Don’t overlook the MP3 files on Disc One and download them to your computer or player.

You will also find the Internet is a tremendous resource for learning more about J.S. Bach in general and this work specifically, The Well-Tempered Clavier, Books One and Two. Check out Yo Tomita on Google.

Stephen Colvin, Producer.