BACH Klavierbüchlein for WF Bach. Payne (Hanssler) – INKPOT

Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Klavierbüchlein for
Wilhelm Friedemann Bach

Joseph Payne
harpsichord/clavichord/organ

HANSSLER Classic CD 92.137
2 discs [59:47 + 62:46] full-price

by Benjamin Chee

In addition to the Clavier-Büchlein for his wife Anna Magdalena, Johann Sebastian Bach also prepared a musical notebook for his son Wilhelm Friedemann. It was compiled in Cöthen, in the halcyon days of his employment with Prince Leopold, where he wrote most of his major compositions. As the kapellmeister, Bach was right at the top of the musical hierarchy: composing, conducting, teaching and fairly well-paid for it, and from his point of view, it was surely not a difficult job.

The Wilhelm Friedemann Büchlein was compiled over a three-year period, with an almost haphazard approach. A telling point is that the works assembled presupposes a certain level of performing proficiency for its intended ten-year-old recipient, even if they do appear to have been collected in a fairly haphazard manner.

Much like the Clavier-Büchlein for Anna Magdalena, this scrapbook of personal pieces gives us a cross-section view into the lifestyle of the Bach family in the early 18th century. Unlike the AMB Clavier-Büchlein, the Notebook for Wilhelm Friedemann was not used for domestic entertainment, but for a relatively advanced instruction in the rudiments of keyboard technique, including ornamental practice. An examination of the contents of the Clavier-Büchlein show:

  1. tables of clefs, notes and eludication of ornaments.
  2. a set of simple practice pieces for keyboard fingering and technique, including several preludes and chorales (1-13).
  3. a set of eleven preludes, later included in the Well-Tempered Clavier Book I (14-24).
  4. fifteen two-part praeambula, later revised and published as Two-Part Inventions (32-46).
  5. a suite by Telemann and a partia by Stözel (47, 48).
  6. fifteen three-part fantasias, later revised and published as Three-Part Sinfonias (49-63).

Joseph Payne here has adopted artistic fiat to perform the Clavier-Büchlein on a selection of three keyboard instruments, choosing to ignore the polemic over whether the piano or the harpsichord (to say nothing of the clavier) is the preferrable instrument. He varies his decision according to the dictates of the music and personal taste.

It is worthwhile to mention here that Bach did not compose for an instrument as much as he assigned his work to an instrument. Indeed, Art of the Fugue and The Musical Offering were composed with no explicit indication of the instrument parts for which they were intended. (The Musical Offering calls for flute, two violins and keyboard, but it is not clear which part each instrument is to play.)

One could even say that the medium of performance was a minor detail to Bach. His concern was with other things, such as aspects of expressing his spirituality in music: at the start of the WF Clavier-Büchlein there is an inscription INJ, In Nomine Jesu.

The religious considerations behind Bach’s music is not always evident, but that in no way detracts from their attractiveness. An added advantage of exploring this music is, of course, the insight it gives us into the compositional methods of the grand master himself. Of especial interest will be the two early sets of keyboard execises: The Well-Tempered Clavier and Inventions and Sinfonias.

The former, here called by their Latinate forms Praeludium (Nos.14-24), are given a fairly nondescript interpretation. Most of the works are fairly short – less than two minutes – and there is little which Payne draws from this music, even though he does play an even earlier unnumbered Praeambulum (No.8) rather spiritedly.

The use of different instruments from item to item does relieve the monotony, but the dynamic level of the clavierchord is very soft and takes some getting used to – not helped, one could add, by quite a bit of breathing and sotto voce vocalization from the soloist.

All the Praeambula (Nos.32-46) – three years later to become the Inventions in a revised publication – are played on the clavierchord, to mixed results. A tendency of Payne’s is to think in terms of large phrases rather than short ones – it gives rise to some nice playing and legato, such as the pointed syncopation in Praeambulum 12 and a clear distinction between the two voices in Praeambulum 2.

But there are some aspects of playing which didn’t come off as well as they ought to: the staccatos on the disjunct quavers of Praeambulum 7 weren’t sharp enough to balance the slurs, and the ritard at the end of Praeambulum 11 is a bad idea, breaking up an otherwise taut rhythm and pattern.

That said, Payne generally avoids flashy displays of ornaments and stylism – the demisemiquaver rubato in Praeambulum 8 is barely perceptible – although he does play the shake in Praeambulum 15 which, on a single-manual keyboard, would be impossible to do so. For unavoidable reasons, the Praeambula are broken up over the two discs, seven at the end of disc o

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