Originally posted by George K:
I found this list at another forum: Here.
Ok, this deserves to be copied; it's very good stuff.
Typed by Bernhard on Piano Street:
"1. There is no evidence that Bach considered the WTC as a cycle to be performed in its entirety. Quite the opposite, all the evidence is that in his time (and his pupils according to his teaching) would not even pair the preludes and fugues.
2. The WTC – again according to all evidence available at present – was never intended for public performance (Bach composed plenty of other works for that purpose). Rather these were teaching/studying pieces.
3. However – and here there is a very wrong assumption – what they were intended to teach was most emphatically not keyboard technique, that is finger dexterity, hand independence and so on. But rather music in its most comprehensive meaning.
4. A student of Bach’s time would derive the following understandings from working on the WTC:
a. Theory and harmony: how to create motifs; how to develop them; relationship between keys; musical patterns (arpeggios, scales, broken chords, etc.); how to structure fugues, etc.
b. Composition: based on the above, how to compose one’s own prelude and fugue, with Bach’s own serving as models and inspiration.
c. Tuning. Musicians had to tune their own instruments at the time. In order to play the WTC one needed to be versed in Bach’s own well-temperament system (which by the way is lost: we do not know how he tuned his instruments). You cannot play the WTC in the usual temperaments of the time, and that was a turning point in muscal history that eventually lead to the supremacy of equal temperament (although Bach and his contemporaries did not use equal temperament as we know it today). This is particularly important for the WTC I, but possibly less so for WTC II – composed 20 years later – by which time equal temperament (well temperament) was pretty much established.
d. Keyboard technique. Which of course was catered for as well.
e. These understandings were taken for granted at the time: the division between performing and composing is a very recent phenomenon. In fact other keyboard works like the Little preludes, the Inventions and the Sinfonias shared the same aims.
From all that, it necessarily follows that if you truly want to squeeze from these pieces all that you can, the analysis and study of preludes and fugues, composing similar pieces, and improvising in their style, and even may be trying your hand at tuning a clavichord (the most common house instrument, Bach’s favourite keyboard instrument after the organ, and arguably the instrument the WTC was intended for) should make part of your study. (Several modern manufacturers of historical instruments make clavichords at a surprisingly reasonable price. If you have never played one, it is quite a shock how fragile they are, and how soft their sound is).
5. The most likely scenario for the performance for the WTC in Bach’s time would be with the keyboardist playing a selected prelude or fugue (not necessarily paired) and discerning the several voices by associating them with the hand and finger movement/distribution. The actual sound was used to delight in the blending[i/] and bringing up one voice above the others, or pointing out through accenting the entries of the theme would have been considered in bad taste and patronising. Meanwhile the students listening would [i]have a copy of the piece in their laps in order to visually follow the separate voices, while their ears would get the blending of it all. Most likely the piece would be repeated several times to let the students “hear” the several motif manipulations. The modern way of performing the WTC by playing it once and with the audience without a clue about what is going on – which forces the perform into systematically destroying the subtlety and complexity of these pieces by forcibly hammering down separate voices and showing by soundthe different entries of a theme must make Bach turn several times in his grave. These pieces are not about a “nice tune” (although they do have superb tunes). These are intricate tapestries of sound, and they are for the cognoscenti. One must study and study hard before one starts to glimpse what they are all about, let alone appreciate them properly.
This is not very different from wine appreciation. You would be unlikely to share a bottle of Chateaux Margaux with some ignoramus whose idea of a satisfying meal is a Big Mac with double chips and coke.
6. Personally, I think that the preludes are the real technical exercises (many of them are not that different in structure form Czerny), while the fugues are the musical tour –de-force, since there is no more difficult form in which to compose. There is some evidence for that in the fact that 11 of the preludes of the WTC1 first appear in the Little notebook of W.F Bach, which Bach wrote for his son’s keyboard instruction.
7. The order in which they appear (chromatically) most likely is simply because it makes it easier to find a particular prelude in the book. Bach himself almost certainly taught them in a different order. See this thread for more details: http://pianoforum.net/smf/index.php/topic,5143.msg49995.html#msg49995
8. Summing it all up:
a. No, I would not start with the most difficult prelude and fugue. I would start with the easiest and proceed in an ascending order of difficulty, since in this way one P&F prepares for the next. The list I provided is the one I use, but it is by no means a definitive or in any way an authoritative list. In fact I would be most interested in seeing alternative listings.
b. Personally, I always learn/teach the prelude paired with its fugue. But again, this is a purely personal bias. As I said there is no evidence (even of a musical nature) that says they should be played together.
c. In learning these pieces, the best way is to do a motif analysis (since this was Bach’s preferred mode of composition) and learn first the motifs, then the separate voices and finally the whole piece. At each of these steps (motif-voices-full piece) it is usually not necessary to work HS, it is perfectly possible to do HT straightaway. But this depends on the student.
d. Technically, fingering is the most important consideration, and it will all hinge on articulation. So before deciding on fingering one must decide on articulation. This is by no means an easy task, since Bach left precious little information about it and the experts more or less all disagree.
e. Here are a few references that I found particularly useful (tip of the iceberg):
i. Ralph Kirkpatrick – Interpreting Bach’s Well Tempered Clavier (Yale University Press).
ii. Paul Badura-Skoda – Interpreting Bach at the Keyboard (Oxford University Press).
iii. Frederick Iliffe: Analysis Of Bach's 48 Preludes & Fugues (2 vols. – Novello)
iv. Joseph Groocock - Fugal Composition: A Guide to the Study of Bach's '48'. (Greenwood Press)
v. David Ledbetter - Bach's Well-tempered Clavier: The 48 Preludes and Fugues. (Yale University Press)
vi. Also have a look here: http://jan.ucc.nau.edu/~tas3/wtc.html
9. And last but not least, keep in mind Bach’s own words:
“Composed for music-lovers, to refresh their spirits” Cheesy
I hope this helps.