Comparing Interpretations of Bach Prelude in C minor, BWV 847 (Well-Tempered Clavier Book 1)

Over a year ago, I posted a tutorial about the harmonic rhythm of Bach’s C minor Prelude (WTC I) to help myself and others navigate strings of 16th notes with an awareness of shape, direction, and resolution.

This was my springboard to learning the composition and it remains a good reference.

However, my you tube meanderings, that brought discoveries of wide-range interpretations, provided food for thought.

Andras Schiff, for example, adhered to his no pedal approach throughout the Prelude, but in the ad lib Adagio interludes with their series of broken chord spreads, he used tasteful finger pedaling. (holding down notes with fingers)

In the opening, he did an admirable job fleshing out the upper most voice, and revealed a few INNER voices that most would overlook. I ended up favoring his reading the most. (His tempo, particularly in the first section, was not rushed)

Nairi Grigorian, delivered what I thought was an impressive opener, but the slower interludes had some extreme tempo shifts, with the second ad lib, having a stretched rubato. As I kept listening over and again, I was drawn into her cosmos, and ended up embracing her approach that had a distinctly personal autograph.

Angela Hewitt, took a brisk pace, and with her naturally musical approach, nicely emphasized what would be the soprano voice in the first section. (The melodic thread was clear, though she played these highest notes a bit detached) while the middle voice 16ths were otherwise legato. (I preferred Schiff’s tempo)

The first Adagio interlude, seemed to whiz by, for an unknown reason that if queried about it, Hewitt would amply explain. Her second one was more relaxed, spaced, and feeling nicely improvised.

Glenn Gould’s reading was for me a bit surprising in its ultra-detached note opening, though he led the listener through a conspicuous melodic landscape. The slower, interludes were masterfully, played, and he was the only pianist, to take the first one at a relaxed tempo, and not race through it.

I loved this reading from the first interlude to the end.

Dare I follow with my own reading at my Steinway M Grand (followed by the Fugue)

If I were to record the Prelude again, the performances I ingested on you tube would have an influence on me. Still, it would be invaluable to first allow myself a uniquely individual adventure.

I always tell my students to give themselves a period of time to follow their own inclinations with a new composition, and not be copycats.

About arioso7: Shirley Kirsten

International piano teacher by Skype, recording artist, composer, piano finder, freelance writer, film maker, story teller: Grad of the NYC HS of Performing Arts, Oberlin Conservatory, NYU (Master of Arts) Studies with Lillian Freundlich and Ena Bronstein; Master classes with Murray Perahia and Oxana Yablonskaya. Studios in BERKELEY and EL CERRITO, California; Member, Music Teachers Assoc. of California, MTAC; Distance learning and Skyped instruction with supplementary videos: SKYPE ID, shirleypiano1 Contact me at: OR or at FACEBOOK: Shirley Smith Kirsten, /shirley.kirsten TWITTER: Private fund-raising for non-profits as pianist--Public Speaking re: piano teaching and creative approaches
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3 Responses to Comparing Interpretations of Bach Prelude in C minor, BWV 847 (Well-Tempered Clavier Book 1)

  1. LaDona's Music Studio says:

    A fascinating journey you’ve taken us on! In the end, I, too, like Schiff’s reading of it the best.


  2. Doug says:

    An excellent post. You drew my attention to aspects of the piece and the performances I would have missed. Is there any reason you wear a coat while performing? This is an excellent blog. Thanks for all your work on it.


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