Friday Night Beauty: J. S. Bach, Prelude and Fugue in F minor from WTC book 1, BWV 857

There is a prejudice among aficionados of more “romantic” classical music that Bach is “cold”, as his music is so formal and structured. In fact, Bach wrote some incredibly emotional music — but emotional in a “stiff upper lip”/never-lose-your-composure (no pun intended) way. Tonight’s “Friday night beauty”, the F minor prelude and fugue from Book One of the Well-Tempered Clavier, is a case in point. The prelude has a definite de profundis (“from the depths”) quality, like his organ chorale prelude in the same key, “Ich ruf zu Dich”/”I call upon Thee”, BWV 639 (known to sci-fi buffs as the theme music of the original “Solaris” movie). The fugue, with its expressive, chromatic subject, stretches the form to the very limit and plays out like an epic struggle between light and darkness.

The video below presents Sviatoslav Richter’s performance with an animation of the sheet music.

Another representative of the Russian school: Tatiana Nikolayeva’s performance (audio and still images only): link. One of my greatest musical treasures is a double CD of her performance of The Art of Fugue BWV 1080: if I could only take one CD to a desert island, that would be the one.

Glenn Gould’s performance (audio and still images only): link. Like Gould often did with pieces he was especially fond of, he plays the prelude at an idiosyncratically slow tempo.



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