About this Recording
8.110653-54 - BACH, J.S.: Well-Tempered Clavier (The), Book 2 (Fischer) (1935-1936)

J. S. Bach (1685-1750): The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book II


Edwin Fischer represented an ideal middle ground between objective intellectualism and unabashed romanticism. Two contrasting figures proved highly influential on the young Swiss pianist's development: Ferruccio Busoni, whose classical approach Fischer greatly appreciated, and that wildly romantic sprit, Eugen d' Albert Fischer viewed the differing philosophies of these two great artists as complementary to one another and was able to incorporate aspects of both into his own playing His interpretations were always logically thought out, yet, ultimately, guided by the heart and the ear.


Born in Basel, Switzerland on 6th October, 1886, Fischer's musical talent became evident at an early age when only four years old he struck a note on the piano and stated, correctly, "This is G." The following year his father died, leaving Fischer's mother to take charge of his musical training In 1896 Fischer began formal studies at the Basel Conservatory. He moved to Berlin in 1904 with his mother and enrolled at the Stern Conservatory, studying piano with Martin Krause, who was one of Liszt's last pupils and later the principal teacher of Claudio Arrau. Over the next several decades Fischer slowly built up a reputation as one of Europe's leading pianists, often collaborating with the continent's most important conductors, including Nikisch, Mengelberg and Furtwaengler Fischer was also a sought-after chamber musician, and even formed a highly successful trio with violinist Georg Kulenkampff and cellist Enrico Mainardi (Wolfgang Schneiderhan joined the trio after Kulenkampff's death in 1948). It was at this same time that he created the Edwin Fischer Chamber Orchestra As leader of the ensemble, Fischer did not limit himself solely to conducting concertos from the keyboard; symphonic works by Haydn, Mozart and others were frequently programmed.


In 1931 Fischer began a long association with the HMV recording company. Over the next eleven years he made many of his finest recordings, among which were Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier and Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue, Beethoven's Pathetique and Appassionata sonatas, Schubert's Wanderer Fantasy and Impromptus, Handel's Suite in D minor and several Mozart Piano Concertos. His recording of the Well-Tempered Clavier was considered a landmark achievement - no other pianist had recorded the complete Well-Tempered Clavier, and for many years Fischer remained the only pianist to have done so. Even today, more than 65 years after its release, it is still considered one of the finest recordings of Bach's masterwork.


The outbreak of World War II soon put Fischer's recording career on hold, and in 1943, after his Berlin home was bombed, he moved back to Switzerland. He still managed to playa limited number of concerts, but it was not until 1947 that he once again began recording for HMV in London. Over the next several years health problems (including high blood pressure) began to take their toll, and Fischer was forced to reduce his professional activities. By 1954 paralysis was setting in and his health had deteriorated to the point that he could barely play the piano. After a long period of illness he died on 24th January, 1960 in a Zurich hospital.


Fischer began recording the Well-Tempered Clavier, Book II on the 13thofFebruary, 1935 (almost six months after Book I had been finished), and returned in early June to complete the first ten Preludes and Fugues. It was not until June of the following year that the remaining 14 Preludes and Fugues were commited to disk. The playing sustains the high level of musicianship and pianistic beauty found in Book I. The legato in pianissimo passages is extraordinary as is his ability to colour the various contrapuntal voices. Textures are remarkably clear, with every voice distinct and audible, and the phrasing is naturally free without resort to fussiness or exaggeration. In almost every Prelude and Fugue there are certain details that stand out the colouring of the bass voice in the C major Fugue, the seamless legato of the C minor Fugue, the breathtaking pianissimos in the E flat major Fugue, the captivating matching of voices as they lead from one to another in the E major Prelude, and the phrasing and musicality of the F minor Prelude, to name but a few.


As in Book I of the Well-Tempered Clavier, there are numerous places where Fischer doubles bass lines by adding the lower octave note Examples of this include the loud emphatic octave near the end of the C major Prelude, several doublings near the end of the D major Fugue, much of the G minor Prelude, and the last section of the A minor Fugue. During Fischer's time there was little objection to this sort of textual alteration, but the mid to late 20th-century movement towards historical "authenticity" and strict adherence to the score has resulted in a more puritanical attitude towards such liberties. However, the 21st century is already showing signs of a rebellion against the historically unjustified concept of the score being sacred, and the resurgence of interest in historical recordings continues to be an important contributing factor towards this reversal of opinion.


Farhan Malik


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