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On-line Book Review


Measuring 19.5 x 12 x 2.5 cm
TITLE Johann Sebastian Bach. Das Wohltemperierte Klavier von Alfred Dürr.
PUBL. DETAILS Kassel: Bärenreiter-Verlag (1998) 459p; paper back. Price: DM 34.
ISBN 3-7618-1229-9
TO ORDER Bärenreiter-Verlag, Heinrich-Schütz-Allee 35, D-34131 Kassel, Germany.
DESCRIPTION Comprehensive discussion of the Well-Tempered Clavier, book 1 and 2.
READERSHIP All students and scholars who are looking for a definitive monograph of WTC.
Based on his original research presented in Kritischer Bericht to the Neue Bach Ausgabe V/6.1 (1989) and V/6.2 (1996), the author re-presents much of highly interesting information in an accessible form that would have otherwise been too technical for most readers to digest; his reassessment of previous discussions by Riemann, Keller, Czaczkes is also valuable.

Many people consider the Well-Tempered Clavier as one of the most important works of Western music. For some music historians who discuss such issues as temperament, key characteristics, musical form and styles, and so on, its significance is self-evident. To the majority of music lovers of our time, however, these issues belong to the lost tradition of music, which may resonate very little in their modes of listening. It is fascinating, to say the least, that even without knowing the historical context in which the work was produced, one can still appreciate the work—be it in an educational setting or purely musically—the points actually stated by the composer in the work’s title-page: ‘for the use and profit of the musical youth desirous of learning as well as for the pastime of those already skilled in this study...’

As our attachment to the work grows, so does our appetite for knowledge; to gain further insight into the work, two paths are usually open to us: historical and analytical approaches. But owing to the enormous popularity of the work, it is difficult to find suitable literature among the flood of articles and books that are discussed the work from many different perspectives—from very technical to highly speculative. I do not mean to say that there were no good monographs on WTC in the past; those by Cecil Gray and Hermann Keller were perfectly adequate, until early 1970s; yet no one has attempted to fill the absence of an up-to-date volume before Dürr despite the huge progress being made recently in the source study of WTC. So, is this the one to fill the gap, which offers credible and insightful discussion on the matters of real import?

Yes, this is a ground-breaking monograph of WTC. It not only offers a comprehensive overview of historical issues that were discussed by other scholars in recent years (Chapters I and II), but also unfolds the author’s original arguments on Bach’s compositional approaches to individual pieces by drawing evidence from primary sources (Chapters III and IV). One may get a better overview of Dürr’s arguments from the chapter structure of the book:


I. Zur Vorgeschichte des Wohltemperierten Klaviers
    1. Präludium und Fuge als Einheit
    2. Die norddeutsche Tradition
    3. Die süddeutsche Tradition
    4. Weitere Vorgänger Bachs
    Das Präludium
    1. Zum Begriff
    2. Bachs frühe Präludien
    Die Fuge
    1. Die Fuge bis zum 17. Jahrhundert (Italien)
    2. Die Fuge im 17. Jahrhundert in den Niederlanden und Deutschland
    3. Die Fuge zur Zeit Bachs
    4. Die Fuge bei Bach
    5. Kontrapunktische Künste der Fuge
    small but rich in contents
II. Das Wohltemperierte Klavier
    Das Problem der musikalischen Temperatur
    1. Reine Stimmung und ihre Komplicationen
    2. Die mitteltönige Stimmung
    3. Versuche zur Vermeidung der Wolfsquinte: Temperierte Stimmungen
    4. Zur Frage der »wahren« Bach-Stimmung
    1. Entstehung
    2. Zur Instrumentenfrage
    3. Zur Tonartenästhetik
    4. Gedanken zur Typologie
    5. Zum Tempo
    6. Zur Dynamik
    7. Zur Artikulation
    8. Zur Ornamentik
    9. Notierungsgewohnheiten
    10. Zum Zusammenhang von Präludium und Fuge
    11. Das Gesamtwerk
III. Werkbesprechungen: Das Wohltemperierte Klavier I
IV. Werkbesprechungen: Das Wohltemperierte Klavier II
Dürr’s main contribution is the discussion of individual movements of WTC (Chapters III and IV) where he not only reassesses the discussions by the previous scholars, such as Czaczkes, J. N. David, Hermelink, Keller and Riemann, and provides his own analysis, but also presents evidence from recent source studies and describes Bach’s highly stimulating approaches to his compositions. Remember that these scholars made their views from a different context; Czaczkes, in particular, presented his ideas purely from the analytical examination of music. So it is also quite amusing to read Dürr’s reaction to some of quite unreasonable theories put forward by his predecessors! All this is done concisely, mostly within two-four pages per movement. It is assuring that Dürr’s discussion is easy to follow; his logic is clear, and his use of numerous music examples and diagrams helps to capture certain important facts quickly.
charts and tables are used effectively

In sum, it is an excellent, well-balanced monograph written for general readership. Even though various issues that are directly relevant to performers may not be addressed properly, this book provides some sense of Bach’s approach to musical ideas through Dürr’s masterly observations.

Published online on 18 April 2000

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