The Well-Tempered Clavier

Two sets of preludes and fugues in all 24 major and minor keys for keyboard by Johann Sebastian Bach

The Well-Tempered Clavier, also known as Das Wohltemperierte Klavier in German, is a collection of keyboard music composed by Johann Sebastian Bach. It consists of two volumes, each containing a prelude and fugue in all 24 major and minor keys, totaling 48 pieces.

The main purpose of The Well-Tempered Clavier was to showcase the possibilities of tuning systems that allowed for all keys to be played in tune, known as well temperament. Prior to this, keyboards were typically tuned in a way that favored certain keys, making it challenging to play in all tonalities.

The collection is highly regarded for its musical and technical complexity, as well as its pedagogical value. Each prelude and fugue presents unique challenges and explores various musical ideas and techniques. They serve as both artistic compositions and as exercises for keyboard technique and musical understanding.

The Well-Tempered Clavier has had a significant influence on Western music, not only as a keyboard repertoire but also as a theoretical and pedagogical resource. Its exploration of all 24 major and minor keys and the mastery of counterpoint and musical structure showcased in the fugues have made it a cornerstone of keyboard literature.

The collection is widely studied and performed by pianists, harpsichordists, and other keyboard players, and it continues to be an important part of classical music repertoire. The Well-Tempered Clavier remains a testament to Bach's compositional genius and his contributions to music theory and keyboard performance.

Example of The Well-Tempered Clavier

Lang Lang – Bach: The Well-Tempered Clavier: Book 1, 1.Prelude C Major, BWV 846