Johann Sebastian Bach
Prelude & Fugue 1
in C Major, BWV 846
from The Well-Tempered Clavier Book 1

If Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier is the “Old Testament of piano music”, then this Prelude must be Genesis, chapter 1: In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth… Like the first verses of the Bible, it speaks a universal language, characterized by solemn simplicity and soothing repetitiveness.

ID: 392
Key: C Major
Year: 1722
Level: 8
Period: Baroque
piano sheet music Piano score: PS Urtext Download
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piano music mp3 recording Prelude & Fugue 1 BWV 846 Prelude - FREE SAMPLE (mp3 file)
piano music mp3 recording Prelude & Fugue 1 BWV 846 Fugue - FREE SAMPLE (mp3 file)

Indispensable Bach

The chords and texture of this Prelude seem so basic and repetitive, that it should really put anyone to sleep in less that the two and a half minute it takes to listen to it. But because of the perfection with which Bach has put these simple building blocks together, many find that they can play or listen to this piece thousands of times without ever tiring of it. The music is not just a sequence of chords but it has several melodic lines with their own, individual itinerary - a bass line, a melodic line, and lines in between. When you start noticing these, the musical roadmap of the piece gets even clearer. On a modern piano, the sensitive musician will voice the individual chords and balance subsequent chords against each other with subtle dynamic changes to bring out the inexorability of the harmonic progression.


The C major prelude has served as an inspiration for many later composers. For example, it was used as the accompaniment for Gounod’s setting of Ave Maria, and Chopin alluded to it in his first etude for piano, op. 10 no 1.

Practice & Performance Tips:

Bach probably played this piece as a chorale first and then broke the chords into arpeggios. In order to understand the harmonic structure of this piece, play the chord progressions first. If possible, write down the label for each harmony. Play each group of sixteenth-notes (semiquavers) as a chord, making the piece sound like a chorale.
While you play this piece in chords, listen to the bass line. In fact, it is useful to play, hear and also sing the bass line alone!

Find the highest note in each measure for the right hand. This will become the "melody". After you found this "melody", play it many times alone (without the other notes). Then, add the bass line (left hand). See how the lines relate to each other. Are they in contrary motion? Parallel motion? Or does the bass stay the same and the top line moves? This will also help you memorize this prelude more easily.

The best musicians find different ways to interpret passages that sound repetitive. How can you interpret this prelude, making it sound alive and... Sign up for a Gold membership to read the practice tips.

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Prelude & Fugue in C Major BWV 846 No. 1 by Johann Sebastian Bach. Sheet music and recordings of thousands of piano pieces by Johann Sebastian Bach and many other famous composers to view in your digital device, print out or listen to.
Prelude & Fugue in C Major - BWV 846 No. 1 is a piece by the baroque composer Johann Sebastian Bach.
The composition was first published in 1722 and is included in WTC 1 by Bach.