Tuesday, September 14, 2010

30 Ways to Play the Well-Tempered Clavier

Today's post is about a 30-track playlist of music's most fascinating and intriguing work, The Well-Tempered Clavier composed by Johann Sebastian Bach. I chose 30 different recordings of this work made by 30 distinctive artists, and put every C Major prelude BWV 846 in this playlist. The result is great fun, you can listen to 30 different interpretations of this profoundly charming prelude in a row, or simple browse the artist names and pick up one complete recording of the WTC and listen to the full album.

Most of my favourite recordings are on Spotify now, Edwin Fischer, Glenn Gould, András Schiff, Till Fellner, Sviatoslav Richter, and Rosalyn Tureck. And in the progress of compiling this playlsit I found a truly great recording that was unknown to me, the complete WTC by Australian pianist Roger Woodward, here's a very informative blog post about him. Another stimulating recording is from Olli Mustonen, who mixed the Old Testament of piano literature with Shostakovich's 24 Prelude and Fugue Op. 87. The only important missing recordings of WTC I can think of are Pierre Hantai, Kenneth Gilbert and Angela Hewitt's. I hope Spotify makes a deal with Hyperion soon.

Here's the Spotify playlist: Well-Tempered Clavier (30 tracks, total time: to infinity and beyond). You can find lots of helpful reviews on these recordings here. And this video below clearly demonstrates the importance of interpreters in Bach's music:)


  1. That looks very interesting! Thanks, Ulysses! (Unfortunately, the two RCA Red Label recordings are not available in the UK but I guess I'll survive without them.)

  2. Woodward's Chopin is also worth hunting down - he's spent a lot of time studying in Poland. A lot of discs seem to be available for download and preview on ClassicsOnline.com. I'm going to look for his Bach now!

    As a matter of trivia: in the biopic 'Shine', Helfgott's rival is Woodward.

  3. Thanks for the recommendation, I'm listening to his Chopin on Spotify now, a chamber arrangement of the Piano Concerto No.2, played by Woodward and a string quartet!

  4. Quite a few surprises in that list. The first one was the universally fast tempo in the three "historic" German piano recordings (Fischer, Gieseking, Kempff), and the second one Ludwig van Beethoven's recording, sounding suprisingly contemporary.

  5. Haha, poor Ludwig... Spotify always credit Daniel Barenboim and Simon Rattle to him, I think he could do a lot better than that:(

  6. This was a great idea, and a very interesting way to listen - I've only every listened to Glenn Gould's version (endlessly).

  7. You mention here that you wish Spotify would make a deal with Hyperion. 4 years on and they seem adamant not to publish their music on the platform. I am not a Spotify subscriber, but I know that if Hyperion did a deal whereby only premium members could listen to their catalogue I know that I, for one, would purchase Spotify premium just for that.

    The Hyperion catalogue is fantastic, and their general unavailability on any online platform (youtube, spotify, etc.) has led me to purchase a few a of their CDs but I would absolutely love to have more access to their catalogue!

  8. I'm a classical newbie, but I quite enjoyed listening to the entire list, and learned a lot, though what I learned was perhaps rather more shallow that I'll learn in some future listen.
    I know that that piece is in the guitar repertoire, and am surprised that there were no such instances in the list. Not available in Spotify?

    1. Oh. I just now re-read your description of the playlist more carefully. Sorry. I mentioned I'm a newbie, right?!?

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