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Contrasts of BWV 850

Updated on February 1, 2013

Prelude & Fugue BWV 850 Book I

Every prelude and fugue of the Well Tempered Clavier has its own individual characteristic, which display a full range of human emotions. From peacefulness and tranquility to anguish and despair. Johann Sebastian Bach used rhythms, motives as well as melodies and harmonic movement to capture many of these human emotions in addition to the temperaments of the different keys to establish the mood of each prelude and fugue.

The Prelude and Fugue BWV 850 in D Major from book I is quite interesting displaying two contrasting emotions. Jovial lighthearted and virtuosic is the nature of the prelude with a somewhat restless feel that is continuously modulating. The virtuosic feel is due to the continuous flow of sixteenth notes. The prelude stays in the tonal center of D Major and then after continually modulating arrives in the tonal center of G Major at bar 20.

The Fugue is followed by a regal processional fugue in the style of the French Overture. The opening subject has a very regal sound and makes a grand entrance. The answer comes in for bars two and three in the tenor. Between bars three and four there is a codetta. Bar four through five have the subject in the alto with the answer in the soprano voice for bars five and six. Bars six through seven have another codetta and then the subject in the bass for bars seven through eight. The subject appears in the soprano at bar eight but is now beginning on the VI (B). The first episode appears in bar nine through twelve. Bars eleven through twelve the subject is in the soprano on the IV. Bar twelve through thirteen the subject is in the alto voice back in the tonic key of D Major. Bar thirteen to fourteen the subject is in the soprano. Bar fourteen to fifteen the subject is in the tenor starting on the IV. Bar fifteen to sixteen the subject is in the bass. Bar seventeen through twenty-three is the second episode. From bar twenty-three to bar twenty-five the head of the motive is played alternating between soprano and bass. The conclusion begins at bar twenty-four on the second beat.

The coda is again reminiscent of the French Overture style and is very regal and dramatic. Prelude and Fugue No. V, BWV 850 is one of the most beloved of 'The Well Tempered Clavier' because of it's interesting contrasts between the Prelude and the Fugue.

To understand the intricate details of a fugue please read my hub on: The Art of Fugue

BWV 850 in D Major Performed by Keith Jarrett

Favorite Prelude or Fugue

What is your favorite Prelude or Fugue from the Well Tempered Clavier

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