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8.554160 - BACH, J.S.: Well-Tempered Clavier (The) (Selection)
Johann Sebastian Bach
Johann Sebastian Bach was a member of a family that had for generations been occupied in music. His sons were to continue the tradition, providing the foundation of a new style of music that prevailed in the later part of the eighteenth century. Johann Sebastian Bach himself represented the end of an age, the culmination of the Baroque in a magnificent synthesis of Italian melodic invention, French rhythmic dance forms and German contrapuntal mastery.
Born in Eisenach in 1685, Bach was educated largely by his eldest brother, after the early death of his parents. At the age of eighteen he embarked on his career as a musician, serving first as a court musician at Weimar, before appointment as organist at Arnstadt. Four years later he moved to Mühlhausen as organist and the following year became organist and chamber musician to Duke Wilhelm Ernst of Weimar. Securing his release with difficulty, in 1717 he was appointed Kapellmeister to Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Cöthen and remained at Cöthen until 1723, when he moved to Leipzig as Cantor at the School of St. Thomas, with responsibility for the music of the five principal city churches. Bach was to remain in Leipzig until his death in 1750.
As a craftsman obliged to fulfil the terms of his employment, Bach provided music suited to his various appointments. It was natural that his earlier work as an organist and something of an expert on the construction of organs, should result in music for that instrument. At Cöthen, where the Pietist leanings of the court made church music unnecessary, he provided a quantity of instrumental music for the court orchestra and its players. In Leipzig he began by composing series of cantatas for the church year, later turning his attention to instrumental music for the Collegium musicum of the University, and to the collection and ordering of his own compositions. Throughout his life he continued to write music for the harpsichord or clavichord, some of which served a pedagogical purpose in his own family or with other pupils.
The collections of Preludes and Fugues in all keys, major and minor, known as The Well-tempered Clavier, or, from their number, as The Forty-Eight, explore the possibilities inherent in every possible key. Experiments in keyboard tuning in the later seventeenth century had resulted in differing systems that, nevertheless, made the use of remoter keys feasible. Earlier composers, including Johann Caspar Ferdinand Fischer, Pachelbel, Pepusch and Mattheson had already made use of some form of equal temperament tuning in collections of pieces in varying numbers of keys. While the precise nature of the tuning system used by Bach may not be clear, his well-tempered tuning at least made all keys possible, although, in the system of equal temperament employed, some keys were probably more equal than others, an effect lost in modern piano tuning.
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