The story goes that Bach penned this work to brighten the insomniac nights of Count Kaiserling. Whatever the truth, the beautiful aria and 30 dazzling variations add up to a remarkable work, published in 1741.
The Well-Tempered Clavier
This mighty collection is made up of two books of preludes and fugues in all 24 major and minor keys, written 20 years apart. The title refers to the emerging ‘well-tempered’ tuning system, which meant that all the keys sounded equally in tune on a keyboard instrument.
These six keyboard suites of dance movements were first published in 1726. Although they were his Op. 1, Bach had been composing for 20 years. He offered them ‘to music lovers in order to refresh their spirits’.
This solo keyboard work was published alongside the French Overture as the second part of Bach’s Clavier-Übung (keyboard practice). The German composer was alive to popular French and Italian styles, and absorbed them into his own music to great effect.
The Art of Fugue
This unfinished marvel isn’t strictly a keyboard work, as Bach didn’t specify any instrumentation for his 14 fugues and four canons. Yet pianists have often taken it into their repertoire, embracing the challenge of its contrapuntal complexity and austere undertone.