Return to Homepage

On-line Book Review


Dimension: 28 x 21.3 x 1.7 cm
TITLE The Well Tempered Clavier of J.S. Bach: A Handbook for Keyboard Teachers and Performers by Laurette Goldberg
PUBL. DETAILS MusicSources, Center for Historically Informed Performances, Inc. (Berkeley, California, 1995); viii+98pp; Paperback $25
ISBN 0-9648179-0-X
TO ORDER MusicSources, Center for Historically Informed Performances, Inc. 1000 The Alameda, Berkeley, CA 94707, USA. Phone 510-528-1685; Fax 510-524-1685; email:
DESCRIPTION Practical guide to performing and understanding of WTC.
READERSHIP Performers, teachers and students who are looking for a concise and friendly practical guide to the WTC
RESEARCH CONTRIBUTION Discussion of the general character of each movement and technical demand, with insightful commentary; there are some unfortunate misrepresentation of facts in her discussion, however.

nlike the literature on analysis, there aren’t many practical guides on the ‘48’ that performers and teachers can pick and choose. In Britain, Donald Francis Tovey’s commentary that accompanies the Associated Board edition is usually thought to be the top of the reading list, despite of its stiff style of writing (as it was written in 1920s) as well as the fact that the approach to performance and our understanding of the music have moved on dramatically since.

In this review I shall focus on whether the author inspires our students by the way she writes, and whether she conveys reliable information based on the latest scholarship.

Contents in brief


1. In Which the Reader Becomes Acquainted with the Keyboard Instruments and Harmonic System of Bach's Time
2. In Which We Review--Albeit Briefly--the History of the Prelude and Fugue Forms, and Learn to Appreciate Their Role in the WTC
3. In Which We Are Introduced to Bach's Performance Practice
4. In Which the Author Demonstrates Her Deepest Admiration for the Prelude
5. In Which the Author Proposes a Course of Study and Analysis for Keyboardists
6. In Which, After a Brief Introduction, the Author Discusses the Prelude / Fugue Pairs of the WTC and Humbly Offers a Guide to Their Performance



Brief Teacher's Guide


The Original Eleven Preludes

C. Character of Preludes
D. Articulation of the Fugue Subjects
E. Affektenlehre (Key Symbolism)
F. Glossary of Terms
commenting the pieces with great insight and conviction, but...
Positive points first: the most notable and original contribution in my view is Chapter 6 where the author discusses, however briefly, both the general character of each movement and its technical demands in order to advise on what piece is appropriate to study. When commenting on the pieces with both insight and conviction, her tone is friendly but enthusiastic, and often very witty. Her advice on tempo and phrasing (and breathing) is always cogent, too. In her discussion of fugues, she is not drawn too deeply into detailed analysis, which is sensible.

Unfortunately, there are also many problems in this book, which are of quite serious kind. I shall point out some of them so that the readers--who will be benefiting from this publication--do not get confused.

Firstly, it has to be pointed out that this handbook was produced with less than an adequate level of editorial input. See, for example:

  • a different account of Fischer's Ariadne Musica was given in chapters 1 and 2 (i.e. pp.4 and 9) as if two different authors wrote these chapters (viz. year of publication (1702/1715) and the unused keys);
  • the majority of music examples appears to be taken not from the Medallion Guild edition that the author mentions on p.1, but from the Henle and NBA editions without giving them credits;
  • Appendix E is confusing: surely Affektenlehre is not “Key Symbolism”!; who is Charles McDermott? (note 1, p.92); what is he to do with Bach and the Key Symbolism? (publication details should be given properly);
  • nearly half of the terms described in Appendix F are inadequate (e.g. "Double fugue = two or three subjects instead of one").
Secondly, the author often treats historical information without due care; she tends to assume her impression to be “facts”, as the following misunderstanding of facts  (selective) should illustrate:

Thirdly and finally, the areas where the author should have discussed with more care are as follows:

Despite all these problems, I still think that this handbook makes a notable contribution to a large body of performing community--the students and teachers engaged in the performance of the WTC; for this reason, I would encourage the author to work on the revised edition. And this time, the publisher should give it a proper proof-reading, ideally by a musicologist.

Published online on 3 April 2002

Return to the previous page