The Well-Tempered Clavier Book II : Work information

Johann Sebastian Bach ( Music, Images,)
Performed by
Glenn Gould (Piano), Glenn Gould (Recording Artist), Howard H. Scott (Producer)

This work

Work name
The Well-Tempered Clavier Book II
Work number
BWV 870-893
1744-01-01 02:00:00

This recording

Recording date

The Composers

Johann Sebastian Bach

One of the greatest composers in history, Johann Sebastian Bach (father of C.P.E, J. C. and W. F. Bach) was by far the most significant member of the Bach dynasty of musicians.

He outshone his forebears and contemporaries, but did not always receive the respect he deserved in his own lifetime. After a brief engagement as a violinist in the court of Weimar, Bach became organist at the Neukirche in Arnstadt. In June 1707 he moved to St. Blasius, Mühlhausen, and married his cousin Maria Barbara Bach. In 1708 he was appointed court organist in Weimar where he composed most of his works for organ. In 1717, he was appointed Court Kapellmeister to the young Prince Leopold at Cöthen, but was refused permission to leave Weimar. The Duke only allowed Bach to go after holding him prisoner for nearly a month.

While at Weimar, Bach wrote his violin concertos and the six Brandenburg Concertos, as well as several suites, sonatas and keyboard works, including several, such as the Inventions and Book I of the 48 Preludes and Fugues (The Well-tempered Clavier). In 1720 Maria Barbara died, and the next year Bach married Anna Magdalena Wilcke. Bach resigned the post in Weimar in 1723 to become cantor at St. Thomas’ School in Leipzig where he was responsible for music in the four main churches of the city. Here he wrote the Magnificat and the St. John and St. Matthew Passions, as well as a large quantity of other church music. In Leipzig he eventually took charge of the University “Collegium Musicum” and occupied himself with the collection and publication of many of his earlier compositions.

Over the years that followed, Bach’s interest in composing church music declined somewhat, and he took to writing more keyboard music and cantatas. As his eyesight began to fail, he underwent operations to try and correct the problem, and these may have weakened him in his old age. He died at age 65, having fathered a total of 20 children with his two wives. Despite widespread neglect for almost a century after his death, Bach is now regarded as one of the greatest of all composers and is still an inexhaustible source of inspiration for musicians. Bach’s compositions are catalogued by means of the prefix BWV (Bach-Werke-Verzeichnis) and a numbering system which is generally accepted for convenience of reference.

Related Composers: Pachelbel, Telemann, Handel, Couperin

Also influenced: Mendelssohn, Brahms, Stravinsky, Hindemith 

Track listing

  • Fugue in F sharp minor BWV 883 3:18 min
  • Fugue in E BWV 878 4:18 min


The Well-Tempered Clavier was the title J S Bach gave to a. 1722 set of 24 paired preludes and fugues, one for each of the possible major and minor keys. This second collection was completed in 1744 and though its original title was not Das wohltemperirte Clavier, its identical structure has naturally led to its association with the earlier set.

In contrast to the first book, this later set of paired preludes and fugues was partly assembled from existing pieces, though as with book 1, some were undoubtedly transposed to fit the key scheme. There are some freshly composed pieces, however, dating from the late 1730s.

Together the two books are known colloquially as 'the 48' and for many years formed the basis of a solid clavichord or harpsichord technique. Bach, himself, would use the 48 as the conclusion of his own teaching course, which began with the Inventions and the English and French Suites, and Beethoven was just one of the future pupils to benefit from its thoroughness after Bach's death.