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Favourite Bach Preludes and Fugues? (Read 944 times)

Offline ggrant4569

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Favourite Bach Preludes and Fugues?
« on: January 27, 2021, 10:13:02 PM »
Hello. I'm pretty new to learning Bach pieces, and I'm looking at some of his WTC Preludes and Fugues to learn. I've already done his 11th in F Major in WTC 1 (BWV 856), and had a lot of fun with it, but I'm curious about your guys' personal favourites, both to play and to listen to. Also let me know if there's any specific reason for your choices. Thanks in advance for any input.  :)

Sheet music to download and print: WTC 1 by Bach



Sheet music to download and print: WTC 2 by Bach



Offline brogers70

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Re: Favourite Bach Preludes and Fugues?
«Reply #1 on: January 27, 2021, 11:39:45 PM »
My personal favorite is the Eb major Prelude and Fugue from Book I, because, apart from being beautiful and majestic, the prelude contains a triple fugue itself, and the official fugue that follows is light and sweet.

Offline j_tour

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Re: Favourite Bach Preludes and Fugues?
«Reply #2 on: January 28, 2021, 03:50:30 AM »
The WTCI Eb major is certainly one that gets under one's ear, as mentioned above.

As it is, I personally favor some of the simpler ones that are, however, a bit strange.  Well, the WTCI E major fugue is not very strange, but even though it's considered one of the less demanding fugues (there are a few places where it's tricky to make the subject come out), I find it exuberant and clever. 

There are odd fugues that are not especially difficult but that I find delightful, almost in a perverse way.  The WTCI E minor fugue, although brief and simple, with only two voices, I think is hilarious, in a dark, bewitching sort of way.

And, with a similarly chromatic idea, the Am from WTCII I find amusing.  As well as the prélude from the WTCI Am (the fugue from that same is, of course, a bit more than that).  They're just devilish little pieces full of a kind of impish humor.

Also usually considered one of the easier sets, from WTCI, the Bb (both p&f) is exciting to me.  Busoni (I think) had a neat idea of doing those odd scalar runs (with their odd roiling shapes) in thirds, but I haven't mastered that variation.  The prélude is still just fun to play at full speed.  And the fugue, on the modern piano, produces incomparable textures in thirds and sixths that I find captivating, almost in a mechanical, machine-like fashion.

The A major set from WTCI is fascinating as well.  Supposedly one of Beethoven's favorites, if that matters.

WTCII C minor p&f, WTCII Emaj as well, but I'm running out of energy to explain why.

This is corny, but the 48 are really a treasury of music, and I'm relatively a beginner at them myself.
My name is Nellie, and I take pride in helping protect the children of my community through active leadership roles in my local church and in the Boy Scouts of America.  Bad word make me sad.

Offline lelle

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Re: Favourite Bach Preludes and Fugues?
«Reply #3 on: January 28, 2021, 03:26:06 PM »
I love the WTCI as a whole. In WTC2 I love most of the fugues, but not all preludes. I have studied the entirety of book I, here are my favorites:

C major: Well, the prelude in this one is a classic that everyone knows, and the fugue has a great theme and is a masterclass in making a great little piece with economic material. It's a very pleasant and inviting beginning to the whole set and it just feels good to play.
c minor: Another classic, also well known for good reasons. The fugue theme is very memorable and the prelude has a nice drama to it.
C sharp major: I feel this p & f has a very sunny character to it, and the fugue theme just bubbles with happiness and fun with its turn and continuous melodic leaps. It's tricky to play but a lot of fun.
c sharp minor: I love the serious drama of this fugue. It just keeps unfolding into its fantastic climax. I'm not religious but the fugue nearly convinces me to change my mind. This piece shows that Bach could be just as romantic as the Romantics. It's exhilarating to play even though it is not fast just because it's so emotionally rich.
D major: The prelude is difficult and therefore rewarding to work on and the fugue is fun to play and not too difficult.
d minor: I'm not sure if the prelude is famous but I just feel it's opening motif is iconic.´ and memorable. Another one that's fun to play. I don't love the fugue as much as the prelude but it has a cool atmosphere to it.
F sharp major: A piece that is made of sunny gold and just melts my heart with its occasional tinges of expressive minor harmonies in the fugue. Also very enjoyable to play though I struggle with the trills in some of the voices in the fugue.
g minor: I love the prelude with its mysterious atmosphere with the trills. The fugue has another great theme that I just enjoy hearing.
Ab major: This has some kind of regal character to it and I enjoy the majestic calm of the fugue. The prelude is tricky with some of the fingering but I enjoy the music so it's worth it.
a minor: I'd say the hardest fugue in book I, but the way he uses the theme in different stretti configurations is just incredible.
B flat major: Another one that is just fun to play and listen to.
b flat minor: Here I love the prelude the most, very serious and expressive.

Which ones are your favorites so far?

Offline ggrant4569

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Re: Favourite Bach Preludes and Fugues?
«Reply #4 on: January 28, 2021, 05:36:37 PM »
Thank you guys for all of the valuable information! I really do love that WTC1 Eb Major Prelude and Fugue; I might end up playing that one next. We'll see, though.

Which ones are your favorites so far?

It's hard to say which are my favourites yet, but some that stuck out for me are:
WTC1:
c minor
C# major
E major
F major
a minor

WTC2:
c# minor
D major
E major
g# minor (I was thinking about doing this one next, but the fugue seems perhaps a little bit daunting for my second one)
Bb Major


Offline nw746

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Re: Favourite Bach Preludes and Fugues?
«Reply #5 on: January 28, 2021, 09:51:50 PM »
WTC I: B minor (BWV 869). Maybe a cliché choice. The fugue has been considered a musical representation of the Crucifixion. I have no idea if this is true but it's a very moving piece. I also like the E-flat minor/D-sharp minor (BWV 853) but who doesn't.

WTC II: G minor (BWV 885), G-sharp minor (BWV 887), A minor (BWV 889), B-flat major (BWV 890). The fugue of BWV 887 and prelude of BWV 890 are rarely played at the right tempi; they are both gigues, and should move at roughly the tempi of the gigue from the 2nd English Suite and the 5th French Suite respectively. When they are played this way, they are quite exciting, with the B flat major prelude sounding almost like Scarlatti with all its hand crossing. The A minor prelude is one of Bach's most radical works, a two-part invention in chromatic scales that stretches the limits of tonality, and the fugue is fun and dramatic. The G minor is essentially a French overture, with its slow prelude in dotted rhythms and then a large-scale fugue, and has a real sense of majesty.

Offline j_tour

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Re: Favourite Bach Preludes and Fugues?
«Reply #6 on: January 30, 2021, 04:44:48 AM »
WTCI] c minor: Another classic, also well known for good reasons. The fugue theme is very memorable and the prelude has a nice drama to it.

Yes, this is a must.

I'll be very honest and say the main attraction was to play the two Slonimisky "Minitudes" based on the subject without feeling as though I were cheating by not being able to play it straight.  It's also just plain fun to play, the fugue:  you can tell it was written by a keyboard player.  Very comfortable under the hands.  Slow, fast, whatever.

Obviously, it's one of those classic "model fugues" (no, dingus, not like a "model toy space video game controller man piece") just like the WTCI in C is a perfect model of how stretto is done, even if a bit to excess! 

As an aside, if you want to freak people out, either of the Slonimsky Minitudes based on the WTCI Cm fugue would do it, or his version of "Happy Birthday."

EDIT and yes, as someone else mentioned above, the WTCII D major is humorous and clever.  There are just so many.  Well, 48, to be exact, but, you know, it's a lot!
My name is Nellie, and I take pride in helping protect the children of my community through active leadership roles in my local church and in the Boy Scouts of America.  Bad word make me sad.

Offline lelle

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Re: Favourite Bach Preludes and Fugues?
«Reply #7 on: January 31, 2021, 12:10:06 AM »


WTC II: G minor (BWV 885), G-sharp minor (BWV 887), A minor (BWV 889), B-flat major (BWV 890). The fugue of BWV 887 and prelude of BWV 890 are rarely played at the right tempi; they are both gigues, and should move at roughly the tempi of the gigue from the 2nd English Suite and the 5th French Suite respectively. When they are played this way, they are quite exciting, with the B flat major prelude sounding almost like Scarlatti with all its hand crossing. The A minor prelude is one of Bach's most radical works, a two-part invention in chromatic scales that stretches the limits of tonality, and the fugue is fun and dramatic. The G minor is essentially a French overture, with its slow prelude in dotted rhythms and then a large-scale fugue, and has a real sense of majesty.

Do you have a link to a video of something played at the tempo/character of a gigue (either that fugue or something else by Bach)? I always thought the g sharp minor fugue was a bit dull so I'd love to discover a more appropriate tempo!

The g minor from book II is a good choice, I love that one so much. Darn, now I feel inspired to list my favorites from book 2!

c minor - fugue
C sharp major - prelude & fugue
D major - fugue
f minor - prelude & fugue
F sharp major - fugue
f sharp minor - prelude & fugue (probably one of my absolute favorites from book 2, just really profound music)
G major - fugue
g minor - prelude & fugue
a minor - prelude & fugue (the fugue is really awesome)



Offline nw746

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Re: Favourite Bach Preludes and Fugues?
«Reply #8 on: February 01, 2021, 08:00:43 AM »
Do you have a link to a video of something played at the tempo/character of a gigue (either that fugue or something else by Bach)? I always thought the g sharp minor fugue was a bit dull so I'd love to discover a more appropriate tempo!
Here is the G sharp minor fugue at the "correct" tempo (at least to my ears):
Richard Egarr (harpsichord)
Ivo Janssen (piano)

The B-flat major prelude, likewise:
Céline Frisch (harpsichord)
Wilhelm Backhaus (piano)

Compare the following gigues:
6/8 gigue / 8th predominant note value, some 16ths - 4th French Suite - similar tempo to G-sharp minor fugue
12/16 gigue / 16th predominant note value, no 32nds - 5th French Suite - similar tempo to B-flat major prelude, C-sharp minor fugue

Offline lelle

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Re: Favourite Bach Preludes and Fugues?
«Reply #9 on: February 01, 2021, 11:12:59 PM »
Here is the G sharp minor fugue at the "correct" tempo (at least to my ears):
Richard Egarr (harpsichord)
Ivo Janssen (piano)

The B-flat major prelude, likewise:
Céline Frisch (harpsichord)
Wilhelm Backhaus (piano)

Compare the following gigues:
6/8 gigue / 8th predominant note value, some 16ths - 4th French Suite - similar tempo to G-sharp minor fugue
12/16 gigue / 16th predominant note value, no 32nds - 5th French Suite - similar tempo to B-flat major prelude, C-sharp minor fugue

Super interesting, thank you so much! The G sharp minor fugue is much more interesting at this faster tempo. It makes me wish I had better insight into the baroque dance styles, because I don't always recognize what "form" the different preludes and fugues are based on, even though I have played all of WTC1 and a chunk of WTC2 and I know many of them are different kinds of dances and similar. You seem to have a lot of insight in this topic, do you have any recommendations on books/videos I could use to educate myself further on these styles and learn to recognize them?

Offline nw746

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Re: Favourite Bach Preludes and Fugues?
«Reply #10 on: February 01, 2021, 11:29:51 PM »
Super interesting, thank you so much! The G sharp minor fugue is much more interesting at this faster tempo. It makes me wish I had better insight into the baroque dance styles, because I don't always recognize what "form" the different preludes and fugues are based on, even though I have played all of WTC1 and a chunk of WTC2 and I know many of them are different kinds of dances and similar. You seem to have a lot of insight in this topic, do you have any recommendations on books/videos I could use to educate myself further on these styles and learn to recognize them?
https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/334304.Bach_s_Well_tempered_Clavier has been my primary reference, although I have to say I don't always agree with Ledbetter's analyses—but it was an important starting point for me to look at the 48 in a new light and gain more enjoyment in playing & analysing them, at least. (Had to do a class on fugue at university, which focused entirely on the Well-Tempered Clavier; this was one of the set readings.)

Offline lelle

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Re: Favourite Bach Preludes and Fugues?
«Reply #11 on: February 05, 2021, 10:24:24 PM »
Thank you, I will check it out!

Offline johnlewisgrant

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Re: Favourite Bach Preludes and Fugues?
«Reply #12 on: February 06, 2021, 09:35:05 PM »
Difficult question.  Each prelude and fugue opens up a musical universe of its own. And the same piece under different fingers can sound almost unrecognizable.  Feinberg, Hewitt, Aldwell, Schiff, Richter, Koroliov, Schepkin (to cite only a few piano versions): completely and utterly different.

My journey started with the F Minor prelude & fugue from Book 1. You won't have any trouble with the prelude, although (as is always the case with Bach) on a close reading even the simplest prelude can be daunting.  The fugue is in quadruple counterpoint, but (except for a few impossible stretches) falls pretty nicely under the fingers. 

Right next to it (numerically) is the sunny F sharp Major prelude & fugue, which is great fun to play.

I agree with the observation above that, as far as book 1 is concerned, the A minor Fugue is the most difficult, more difficult than the A major Fugue, which Beethoven is said to have liked a lot.

There are the "usual suspect" fugues from book 1--B Minor, B flat Minor, G sharp Minor, C sharp Minor, D sharp Minor, F sharp Minor--all masterpieces.

But book 2 has been my favorite for the last 15 years or so.  (That may not last).  I find it even more diverse than Book 1.  In no particular order, my favorites from book 2 are:
C minor Fugue;
C sharp Major prelude;
F sharp Minor Prelude and Fugue...fantastic...;
D Major fugue... serene, contemplative, and stunningly beautiful;
D Minor fugue (one of several explorations of chromaticism in the 48); E-flat Major prelude & Fugue ... incredibly optimistic and masterful;
D sharp Minor fugue;
E Major prelude ... well-known "List A" piece on many examination syllabi followed by another noble yet peaceful and contemplative fugue that seems to me an almost perfect fugue;
the joyful F sharp Major prelude;
A-flat Major fugue: another optimistic, proud, joyful fugue;
G-sharp Minor fugue ... unearthly...proves that Bach was basically super-human;
B Minor prelude, if you like chromatic music...;
B-flat Major prelude falls nicely under the fingers and is like series of unending waterfalls;
B-flat Minor prelude... one of Bach's greatest preludes IMO... and I'm afraid I can't say why I think that's the case.
B Major fugue... music from outer space.  Amazing stuff.

My piano vst take on Book 2 (might provide a quick take on each P&F)
Click on the little mug that is my face to get a quick take, otherwise you lose access to the WTC 2 list as a whole and the capacity to quickly check out individual preludes and fugues.

https://soundcloud.com/johnlgrant/sets/bach-well-tempered-clavier


Offline 2hottohandel

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Re: Favourite Bach Preludes and Fugues?
«Reply #13 on: May 02, 2021, 11:07:28 PM »
My favorite prelude: E minor WTC1
My favorite fugue: C major WTC1

For the prelude and with Bach in general, there are many ways play it. Sometimes I just like to sit down and experiment with:
- rolled chords vs not rolled
- different articulations in the left hand
- fast vs 32nd note trills
- forte vs piano on the repetitive thirds

The C major fugue has a very fun contrapuntal style and is probably my favorite fugue. My second favorite is the e minor fugue because of all the interesting chromaticism and counterpoint

However, I am very very far from being an expert on the WTC, (I haven't started even playing book 2  :(). so take my opinions with a grain of salt.

My favorite pianists that play the WTC are:
- Schiff
- Richter
- Baremboim
- Gould if I'm feeling really crazy

Offline j_tour

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Re: Favourite Bach Preludes and Fugues?
«Reply #14 on: May 03, 2021, 02:41:50 AM »
The C major fugue has a very fun contrapuntal style and is probably my favorite fugue. My second favorite is the e minor fugue because of all the interesting chromaticism and counterpoint.

I like the way you think!  Yeah, although it would take me an envelope full of money to play the WTCI C major prélude again, even just in private, I still enjoy the fugue.  For me, the WTCI C major fugue is a tightly knitted ball of yarn:  there are only so many ways to repeat yet again the subject in stretto, but each time is another step toward a better interpretation.

The fugue from WTCI C maj is, as well, a tiny bit of a workout for both hands, when played at tempo and with the correct phrasing.  Neither particularly long in length nor distant in modulation.

Maybe the Contrapunctus I from Ars fuga is comparable:  although there are stretti in the latter, it's difficult to find a compelling way to play it.  The only solution I've found for the WTCI C major fugue is to play it rather quickly, and vary the articulation, but I don't find my way of performing it terribly satisfactory.  As a Frenchperson might say, it's correct but it's not just.

Equally the E minor WTCI fugue:  no, it's not maybe the most sophisticated, but I like it for the sheer audacity and the sheer fun of the chromatic subject.

It's one of those where one can try to play at absolute maximum speed, and usually it turns out all right!  And the "accompanying" prélude is fun as well, if not representative of the best Bach has to offer in that key.  Additionally, it's right next to the E major WTCI, where similarly the prélude is not much compared to the fugue:  the E major WTCI fugue is considered one of the more straightforward fugues among "The 48," but there I have a challenging time playing it at the fairly brisk pace I think it requires.  But, unlike the E minor WTCI fugue, it needn't be played frightfully quickly to be of interest musically.

However, I am very very far from being an expert on the WTC, (I haven't started even playing book 2  :(). so take my opinions with a grain of salt.

No, me neither, and I as well don't present myself as an expert:  I wouldn't sell yourself short on the WTCII.  These are not necessarily more difficult.  In many cases, the opposite.

Perhaps less familiar to the average civilian :) but that doesn't mean anything.

My favorite pianists that play the WTC are:
- Schiff
- Richter
- Baremboim
- Gould if I'm feeling really crazy

Edited to reply:  Yeah, I'm a Schiff man myself.  Gould as well (you know, with some cautions!).  Hewitt. 

More or less I listen to various performers to get metronome indications and an idea of the pulse (in the technical sense) for very slow "movements" among the suites. which latter are challenging for me to read off the page despite a slow tempo. 

And, yes, I often use a metronome at the desk while listening to such pieces and make a note of the range of tempi.

But I like even Richter, although he's by far the most outrageous of the Bach performers IMHO.  (Well, "like" is a strong word, but I do listen to Sv.R. when trying to find my way in a given piece or suite....he's the most idiosyncratic performer I can think of when it comes to Bach).

I think if forced to listen to somebody other than me play Bach, I find Schiff the least offensive.  In that I hear a lot of interpretive space in his silences, so as a listener, I can imagine how I would execute a given passage during the performance.
My name is Nellie, and I take pride in helping protect the children of my community through active leadership roles in my local church and in the Boy Scouts of America.  Bad word make me sad.

Offline lelle

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Re: Favourite Bach Preludes and Fugues?
«Reply #15 on: May 03, 2021, 04:04:26 PM »
My favorite prelude: E minor WTC1
My favorite fugue: C major WTC1

For the prelude and with Bach in general, there are many ways play it. Sometimes I just like to sit down and experiment with:
- rolled chords vs not rolled
- different articulations in the left hand
- fast vs 32nd note trills
- forte vs piano on the repetitive thirds

The C major fugue has a very fun contrapuntal style and is probably my favorite fugue. My second favorite is the e minor fugue because of all the interesting chromaticism and counterpoint

However, I am very very far from being an expert on the WTC, (I haven't started even playing book 2  :(). so take my opinions with a grain of salt.

My favorite pianists that play the WTC are:
- Schiff
- Richter
- Baremboim
- Gould if I'm feeling really crazy

The C major fugue is pretty much a perfect piece. Take away or add just one note, and it'll no longer be as good. Perfect length, perfect structure, perfect craftmanship, incredible economy and invention with the material, sounds great to listen to. I love it.

I don't like book 2 as much as book 1 but it has some gems in it too.

Richter is a great choice, I find his choices of tempi a bit extreme sometimes, and he is not very flexible with the tempo, but I grew up with those recordings and there is much positive to say about them as well.

Offline jimf12

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Re: Favourite Bach Preludes and Fugues?
«Reply #16 on: May 06, 2021, 11:03:13 AM »
If forced to pick one fugue I would say C# major, WTC I.   

Offline lelle

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Re: Favourite Bach Preludes and Fugues?
«Reply #17 on: May 06, 2021, 10:05:09 PM »
Good choice. It's a great fugue (and prelude).