The Well-Tempered Clavier, book I by J.S. Bach, BWV 846-869
J. S. Bach completed the 24 preludes and fugues that make up the first book of the Well-Tempered Clavier in 1722 in Cöthen, where much of his other important instrumental chamber music was written. The twenty-four segments go through all of the major and minorkeys, with an prelude which explores a single texture or figuration and a contrasting fugue ineither 2, 3, 4 or 5 voices. In this arrangement, the different voices are either shared by thefour instruments or, in the case of the five voices of the Fugue in Bb minor, implied through arpeggios in the alto and tenor voices. Care must be taken to make these implied chordssound through discretely sustaining these voices through resonance.
The preludes are generally in relatively free improvisatory forms which explore different types of baroque devises, including italianate keyboard figuration, "arioso" ornamented melodies with ostinato accompaniments, and more abstract forms. Two of the preludes areespecially notable: the stately harmonic progression of the First prelude in C major, one ofBach´s most well-known works, and the gigantic prelude and double fugue of the Eb Major prelude.
The fugues represent an exploration of all styles, ranging from the Ricacare in the Fugue no.4 in c# minor and the use of augmentation, canon and inversion in no. 8 in Eb minor.
The notion of "well-tempered" in the title does not imply our usual modern tuning (a tuning which is a compromise and therefore uniformly out of tune), but most likely a tuning of Bach´s own invention which (according to several theories put forward by Forkel, Marpurgand Kimberger) which probably included a number of sharp major thirds which allow theperformer to modulate into different keys. It might also be that Bach intended for the tuningto be changed between pieces, as Bach tuned his own harpsichords and clavichords. Use ofthe saxophone and the instrument´s relatively elastic properties of tuning can be used togreat advantage if one allows the major thirds to be slightly sharp. What an intelligentmusician would not do is to use a modern electronic tuning device to impose modern tuningon music which was not intended to be performed in this manner, which would be clearly counter-productive. Nothing replaces one´s own ears, provided that one has listened to thesetunings and has their acoustical properties in one´s own aural imagination.
Another fallacy that is often put forward is that the piano is the model to emulate in terms ofarticulation and voicing in the music of Bach. We do not know what Bach would havethought of the Saxophone as he never heard it (although his fondness for reed instruments such as the Oboe d´amore might suggest that perhaps he might have liked this kind of sound), but we do know what Bach thought of the Piano: he heard a prototype at the end ofhis life and even granted that this instrument was not the same as the modern instrument,this type of sustained attack could not have replaced the clear and precise articulation of the harpsichord. In general, clarity of articulation is very important in making these works sound. I hope that these arrangements will allow these works to enter into the repertoire of saxophone quartets everywhere.
8 September, 2003 Lagny-sur-Marne