2nd Blog – My WTC Journey
to whom it may concern:
My study of the Well Tempered Clavier has been an ongoing project. Here I will try and recount when I first tackled these pieces, and the process of progressively including larger tracts of this work into my fingers.
WTC BK I, Prelude in C Major was one of the earliest Bach Pieces that I learned (maybe 1991? so at age 15 or 16). This was followed by the prelude in bm, and shortly after the cm prelude and fugue which remains to this day one of my favourite pieces of all time. The DM fugue from book one I played at about this time while the prelude I never committed until much later, though I played from the page often. Bb Major and am preludes were also learned at about this time.
WTC BK II, prelude in CM, dm and cm was to go first, (about 1993/1994?) . I learned the dm and cm fugues in my uni days some time later (1995?).
Uni days 1995 -2000, These years saw me attach the cm & dm fugues bk II to their respective preludes. Other additions from bk II were the DM fugue, Prelude & fugue in Eb Major, fm, GM, and prelude in gm. Back to the first book, I learned the d#m fugue bk I (not the prelude, why?), prelude in C#M bk I, EM prelude bk I, em Fugue bk I, F Major prelude & Fugue bk I, fm prelude bk I, F# Major prelude & Fugue bk I, f# minor prelude & fugue bk I, GM prelude bk I, gm Prelude & fugue bk I, and AM prelude & fugue bk I.
Although by this time there were still some gaps in my WTC journey, I made a point of keeping up to a dozen or so individual pieces memorised at any point in time, and would often rotate new pieces in and out of this set. I performed some of these at open concerts, and performance class, though none were included in my two senior recitals.
After a break from music, I resumed my WTC journey while doing my Masters degree at UNSW, around 2003/2004 (age? very old). I recorded on a little portable DAT player over the space of a week or so in the practice rooms at UNSW, BK II Prelude & Fugue in CM, cm, dm, d#m, and C#M. In this set some of the pieces I had known for some time, of which the new ones can be deduced. At this time I also did some recording on a keyboard in my bedroom where I was renting. Newly learned was the bk I prelude & fugue in Ab Major. I also learned at about this time bk II prelude & fugue in Bb major, the bbm prelude from book II and the bm fugue, also bk II.
A break followed, before again doing some new work, this at about the start of my Ph.D at UNSW (in 2006). New pieces were the prelude and fugue from bk II in f#m and g#m and the F#M and Ab Major preludes. Again a break followed.
Upon finishing my Phd (many years later), I resumed study, preparing the AM bk II prelude & fugue as part of my AmusA exam, but which I then substituted for with the EM prelude and fugue also bk II.
It was not until I started teaching at the Joan that I started to fill in some gaps from book one, attaching the EM fugue to its prelude, learning the BM prelude & Fugue, the Eb Major prelude & fugue, and g#m prelude & fugue, though this one I had played before at times from the page. It was around 2010/2011 that I learned the famed c# minor prelude & fugue from book I, my favourite of all time. In about 2015/2016 I attached the d#m prelude to its fugue and played both the c#m and d#m preludes and fugues as part of my LmusA exam held in 2016. These formed a nice precursor to the Mozart a-minor sonata, Brahms intermezzo and Chopin black notes etude that followed. To this day, this constitutes perhaps the best and certainly the most difficult performance I have ever done.
So that is about were I am at with the Well Tempered Clavier. So not quite Beethoven standard, who it is reported had learned the entire work (96 individual pieces) by age 11, or even more impressive the report of Claudio Arrau being able to perform each and every prelude and fugue from memory in any key, on request (picked out of a hat?). This last exercise I do not bother with, though it apparently is a bit of a tradition and which was first started by Beethoven who asked Liszt to transpose the cm Fugue from BK I on the spot. Liszt recounts that “luckily I was able to do so” and “only then did he look impressed” (or words to that effect).
A more accurate description of the report of Claudio Arrau transposing preludes and fugues on the spot, which comes from a mentor of mine during my Uni days who was a student of Arrau’s and who became an accomplished pianist in his own right, is that Arrau would invite students, friends and colleagues assembled in the room to test his abilities with Bach, at the keyboard. Apparently he would ask “which prelude and fugue would you like me to play?”
Whereupon one of those assembled would offer one from a particular key and book (for example) “prelude and fugue in c minor bk 1, please Signore. ” For which he would then reply “very good, and which key?”, and that [German said] “he was able to do it!”. I could never ascertain whether this story was some form of inside joke between my then mentor and the deceased Maestro, used to bamboozle me and various other students which it must have been told to, however, embellishing or exaggerating an account was not at all in keeping with the character of my piano teacher, so it must be surmised that Arrau was able to play and transpose at random perhaps a majority of preludes and fugues, in part, perhaps some complete, to various keys, perhaps the more common ones, and that Arrau’s reply was simply a reflection of his natural wit.