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First Love Bach Fugue in F minor, BWV 881

What a divine pairing from J.S. Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier, Book 2! The ethereal, “sighing” Prelude is joined by a somber, though monumental Fugue in three voices.

The Subject with its characteristic three-8th note repetitions followed by two-16ths, meanders in stepwise movement with small skip deviations while its borrowed melodic and rhythmic components weave through the composition as spin-offs. (That’s why a student should carefully analyze the Subject’s character and chemistry at the very outset of learning)

In the counter-subject realm, this FUGUE does not adhere to strict rules of FORM, but instead it reveals a host of ideas that should be recognized and mapped out as to occurrence and recurrence.

In this early learning experience, which is admittedly my falling in love PHASE, I still make sure to keep an analytical eye and ear open to what this masterpiece is about as I play through it in a slow, deliberate tempo discovering its architectural features.

Page ONE:
Fugue in F minor p. 1 revised

Later Play Through:

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Teaching J.S. Bach

As mentors immersed in a two-way sharing process with students, we’re grateful for opportunities to delve deeply into the masterworks.

One companion traveler of mine dotes exclusively on the music of J.S. Bach, preferring this singular journey to any other. And without doubt, I can sympathize with his emphasis because the Baroque Master’s body of work provides a solid foundation for all music that followed.

Last night, the divinely inspired F minor Prelude, Bk 2, Well-Tempered Clavier was the centerpiece of a mutually illuminating piano lesson. It certainly gave me a chance to clarify my ideas while the student imparted his own.

This composition has a recurring “sighing” couplet, appoggiatura figure that permeates its fabric, (opening treble range) buts its tenor/bass lines, are often forgotten or neglected. Threads of couplets, augmentation (lengthening a rhythmic figure), counterpoint or imitation between voices (there are THREE) all form the ingredients of this emotionally riveting composition.


During a piano lesson, attentive listening is the mainstay of any student/teacher interaction. It’s central to the refinement of phrases and articulation.

Bach f minor p 1 my markings

Working on the first page:

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Me, My Neighbors and J.S. Bach

J.S. Bach

I spent two full nights with J.S.B., recording at ungodly hours, deleting a lion’s share of playings, worrying about my neighbors’ patience threshold. With a “runner’s high,” equivalent of being in the zone, I just couldn’t let go of the momentum, as tenants beside me were trying to get some sleep.


Four adjacent apartments in our Berkeley complex have paper thin walls, so sound travels right through them, and while I’m separated from one tenant by a vast laundry room, the fellow to my right, takes the brunt of my repetitions.

Happily, in his the Love Thy Neighbor spirit, he insists that my nocturnal and pre-dawn recording sessions are fine with him. After all, in a heart-BEAT, he can retreat to his second-story bedroom and don a pair of ear plugs.

I’m lucky that he and others make sacrifices so I can pump out a few videos and post them on You Tube.

Historically, this wasn’t always the case. At age 6, the neighbor living below us, in a 14-story building, banged on the ceiling, (if that was possible) when I played my two-note Diller-Quaille “Ding-Dong” song. And when I bumped into him in the elevator, he’d yell, “Shadd-up!” communicating loud and clear that I was a gargantuan annoyance! Miraculously, I had the fortitude to return to practicing each day.

Decades later, I’m thankfully free of disapproving neighbors as I make baby-step advances through Bach’s Prelude in F minor, BWV 881, from the Well-Tempered Clavier, Book 2.

One of my adult students is doing the same.


Questions cropped up immediately.

Was the Prelude a lament with its F minor framing? Should it logically be played at a funereal tempo because of its doleful sighs of descending thirds? (I thought of Handel’s Messiah and the sorrowful lines, “He was Despised and Rejected” set to a falling motif)

After parceling out three separate voices, setting fingering, and analyzing motivic and harmonic relationships, I decided to check Richter and Barenboim’s readings on You Tube to widen my perspective.

Barenboim played more slowly and sorrowfully, while Richter adopted a brisker tempo. So where did I fit on the temporal spectrum?

My first impression:

Second one:

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Bach to basics, Bach to nature, and Bach forever! (Videos)

When it comes right down to it, I’m always drawn back to Bach for solace, counsel, wisdom, insight, and more. He was the Father of our Western music in all its infinite forms.

In the composer’s ingenious 2 volume, Well-Tempered Clavier, Bach explored all keys around the Circle of Fifths in impeccable counterpoint. It’s the gold standard in keyboard learning and the musical equivalent of the Bible.

During the past few weeks, I’d been pleasantly enduring a Bach fever that had swept me off my feet and onto the piano bench.

In this exalted spirit, yesterday and into the night, to the dismay of my neighbors, I recorded the Prelude and Fugue in C minor BWV 847–WTC I (Don’t ask how many times I pressed the Capture Event button on my iMac) And for each undying effort, I typed in a title with an auto-suggestion, like I was coaching myself ringside for a big match:

“Relax,” “Take it slow,” For God sakes, LISTEN,” “pep talk again,” “You’re not listening,” “Where’s the darn melody?” “Control tempo,” “Where are you racing?” “Courage,” “Fortitude,” “Give it another whirl,” “Oh come on, don’t give up,” and the beat goes on….

Now the Prelude poses the same challenge as WTC Prelude no. 1 in the parallel C MAJOR, because a melody is ingrained in the harmony but must lead the player, measure by measure through a miasma of notes. It’s easy for the busy-body 16ths in both works to become the mainstay of the music, but resist the temptation. The Messiah melody emerges if you listen intently through a magnificently created Harmonic rhythm. (Block out the harmonies or chords as a start)

The Fugue in BWV 847 is the next challenge. It’s crafted in three voices, with each needing recognition and not any, falling by the wayside. Some performers like to whiz through it, others linger. I tend to place myself somewhere in the middle.

To parcel out each voice in the very beginning of learning is a must, not to mention the value of selecting a voice and combining it with one other, until you have permuted them in such way that the mosaic is thoroughly understood. Patience, patience and even more are required.

So after all was said and done, here’s what finally rose from the dead and made it to You Tube.

RELATED: Exploring the chordal outline of the Prelude by blocking out harmonies

Claudia, age 11, a piano student, plays the Prelude with me in duet form, 4 hands, two pianos. We’re at practice tempo.

Bach to Nature (Okay, so music historians are now questioning whether J.S. Bach really wrote this, and claim his son, C.P.E. is the true creator)

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Practicing the Bach Prelude in C from the Well-Tempered Clavier, by a process of chord blocking (Video)

Blocking out the lush harmonic progressions of Bach’s C Major Prelude is an important first step in learning it. A melodic line that sings through these sonorities, albeit, in waves of broken chords, is the composer’s stroke of genius. The chord inversions are perfectly in place to flesh out a divinely “voiced” melody in the treble.

In the attached video, I focus on the value of listening from chord to chord; being sensitive to relationships between them as Dominant to Tonic, or to a Deceptive harmonic event, among others— “feeling” resolutions, modulations, suspensions, sequences, etc. that are part of the “Harmonic Rhythm.”

Shaping lines, in part, according to rhythmic flow enriches a player’s understanding of the composition, giving insights about its phrasing and interpretation.


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A different view of Bach and the piano (Prelude in C) Video

On a whim, I decided to keep my Mac at a distance from the Steinway, walk over to the piano without being too conspicuous, and offhandedly play the Bach Prelude in C from the Well-Tempered Clavier. Since I hadn’t yet mastered the editing side of iMovie, I figured a majestic lead into the playing would still work even with my back turned to the camera as I made my way to the piano bench.

In any case, I would preserve unedited moments with the flick of my Sony Cyber-shot digital if I had successfully trimmed the footage.

The upper screen had the original frames before they were transferred to the editing arena down below.

So here’s how it played out after I had managed editing and uploading. (A sigh of relief!)


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Piano Instruction: Analysis J.S. Bach Fugue in C minor, BWV847 (Videos)

This first video represents Part One of my Discussion and Analysis of the Fugue, BWV 847, inclusive of the Exposition. (I use the Palmer edition)

In the course of a fugue, the SUBJECT should always be fleshed out in whatever voice it appears, but an awareness of counter-subject one, counter-subject 2 and motivic, imitative devices cloaking the subject is always required.

Part Two: Analysis Fugue, BWV 847

Part Three: Analysis Fugue, BWV 847

The manuscript below incorporates the theoretical mapping of Jose Rodriguez Alvira

RELATED: Prelude in C minor, BWV 847 (Harmonic Analysis)