Daniel Lebhardt the simple grandeur of J.S.Bach at St Mary’s

Tuesday 20 July 4.00 pm 

Bach: The Well-Tempered Clavier Book 1 nos 1-12 

No. 1: Prelude and Fugue in C major, BWV 846 

No. 2: Prelude and Fugue in C minor, BWV 847 

No. 3: Prelude and Fugue in C sharp major, BWV 848

No. 4: Prelude and Fugue in C sharp minor, BWV 849

No. 5: Prelude and Fugue in D major, BWV 850 

No. 6: Prelude and Fugue in D minor, BWV 851 

No. 7: Prelude and Fugue in E flat major, BWV 852

No. 8: Prelude and Fugue in E flat minor, BWV 853

No. 9: Prelude and Fugue in E major, BWV 854

No. 10: Prelude and Fugue in E minor, BWV 855 

No. 11: Prelude and Fugue in F major, BWV 856 

No. 12: Prelude and Fugue in F minor, BWV 857 


As Dott.Hugh Mather rightly said the last word goes to the universal genius of Bach.After 85 concerts this year and a total of 154 during the lockdown it was fitting that the final word should be given to J.S.Bach especially when played with the simplicity,intelligence and eloquence of a master.I have heard Daniel play many times and he is one of a select group of young musicians fast making a name for themselves .We hear so often in these showcase recitals streamed into our homes wherever that may be on the globe,the great romantic works of the piano repertoire and especially a plethora of Russian classics from Mussorgsky and Scriabin to Shostakovich and Prokofiev but it is rare indeed to hear included the monumental works of J.S.Bach.Goldberg Variations played by Cristian Sandrin and Jonathan Ferrucci stand on an unforgettable pedestal this season on which they are now joined by Daniel Lebhardt today. https://christopheraxworthymusiccommentary.wordpress.com/2021/03/25/goldberg-ferrucci-at-st-marys-the-start-of-a-glorious-journey-of-discovery/. https://christopheraxworthymusiccommentary.wordpress.com/2020/10/13/cristian-sandrin-at-st-marys/

A luminosity and clarity from the very opening simplicity of the Prelude in C to the perpetual movement of the second and the graceful elegance of the third.There was an absolute simplicity to the great C sharp minor Prelude and a monumental inevitability to the five part fugue that follows.Delicacy and virtuosity in the D major Prelude and absolutely no doubt about the French overture dotted rhythm of the fugue.There was a sense of mystery and buoyancy of the D minor Prelude and a beautifully shaped E flat was followed by the joyful playfulness of the fugue.There was absolute stillness and mature serenity followed by a haunting fugue in E flat minor.A pastoral simplicity to the E major with its fugue of real ‘knotty twine’ to use the words of Delius.There was gentleness in the E minor with a luminous melodic line over a continuous stream of mellifluous sounds like a continual gentle flow of water followed by the frantic contrast of the fugue.Simplicity in F major with its continual gentle movement followed by the bucolic fun of the fugue.And to end a gentle melodic line in F minor and the stillness of the fugue .Hopefully this is just the beginning of a complete survey of Bach’s ‘48 from the hands of this master musician.

In 2014 Daniel Lebhardt won 1st Prize at the Young Concert Artists International auditions in Paris and New York. A year later he was invited to record music by Bartók for Decca and in 2016 won the “Geoffrey Tozer Most Promising Pianist” prize at the Sydney International Competition. In 2018 he has been signed for commercial management by Askonas Holt. March 2020 saw Daniel make his debut with The Hallé, performing Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No 5 – a work he has also performed at the Barbican, London and Symphony Hall, Birmingham. The last two concert seasons have also witnessed recital debuts in Dublin and Kiev, and at the Lucerne International, Tallinn International and Miami International Piano festivals. He has received reinvitations to Wigmore Hall, London, the Auditorium du Louvre, Paris and Merkin Concert Hall in New York (‘He brought narrative sweep and youthful abandon to [Liszt’s B minor Sonata], along with power, poetry and formidable technique’ – The New York Times). Other recent highlights include a return to Paris for a recital at L’Église Saint-Germain-des-Près, as part of the festival ‘Un week-end à l’Est’; an appearance as soloist in Mozart’s Piano Concerto No 21 at the Royal Festival Hall, London; and tours in China, South America and the USA. Born in Hungary, Daniel studied at the Franz Liszt Academy in Budapest with István Gulyás and Gyöngyi Keveházi, then with Pascal Nemirovski at the Royal Academy of Music and Royal Birmingham Conservatoire. He was a prizewinner at the Young Classical Artists Trust auditions in 2015 and currently lives in Birmingham.

Bach gave the title Das Wohltemperierte Klavier to a book of preludes and fugues in all twenty-four major and minor keys, dated 1722, composed “for the profit and use of musical youth desirous of learning, and especially for the pastime of those already skilled in this study”. Some twenty years later Bach compiled Book 2, completed in 1742, which was intended as a complement to Book 1. It is generally far more difficult than Book 1, with greater technical and structural difficulty for the performer. It was the ultimate work book, open to constant change and refining by Bach himself.Busoni famously said the first book was for performers and the second for composers. Each set contains twenty-four pairs of preludes and fugues.The first pair is in C major, the second in C minor, the third in C sharp major, the fourth in C sharp minor, and so on. The rising chromatic pattern continues until every key has been represented, finishing with a B minor fugue. The first set was compiled in 1722 during Bach’s appointment in Köthen; the second followed 20 years later in 1742 while he was in Leipzig. Book 2 was written during a period of Bach’s life when many keyboard works appeared including the Klavierübungen Parts 2 and 3, the ‘Goldberg’ Variations of 1741 and the first version of The Art of Fugue. As with these other works, it exemplifies Bach’s inexhaustible musical appetite for different styles.Bach recycled some of the preludes and fugues from earlier sources: the 1720 Klavierbüchlein für Wilhelm Friedemann Bach, J.S.B’s son, for instance, contains versions of eleven of the preludes of the first book of the Well-Tempered Clavier. The C sharp major prelude and fugue in Book 1 was originally in C major. Bach’s title suggests that he had written for a (12-note) well-tempered tuning system in which all keys sounded in tune (also known as “circular temperament”). The opposing system in Bach’s day was “meantone temperament” in which keys with many accidentals sound out of tune.Bach would have been familiar with different tuning systems, and in particular as an organist would have played instruments tuned to a meantone system. It is sometimes assumed that by “well-tempered” Bach intended equal temperament which had been described by theorists and musicians for at least a century before Bach’s birth. Evidence for this may be seen in the fact that in Book 1 Bach paired the E flat minor prelude (six flats) with its enharmonic key of D sharp minor (six sharps) for the fugue. This represents an equation of the most tonally remote enharmonic keys where the flat and sharp arms of the circle of fifths cross each other opposite to C major. Any performance of this pair would have required both of these enharmonic keys to sound identically tuned, thus implying equal temperament in the one pair, as the entire work implies as a whole.Forkel, Bach’s first biographer, reports that Bach tuned his own instruments and found other people’s tunings unsatisfactory; his own allowed him to play in all keys and to modulate into distant keys almost without the listener noticing it. More recently there has been a series of proposals of temperaments derived from the handwritten pattern of loops on Bach’s 1722 title page.

These loops (though truncated by a later clipping of the page) can be seen at the top of the title page of the first book of The Well-Tempered Clavier, 1722, showing the handwritten loops which some have interpreted as tuning instructions:Each prelude is followed by a fugue in the same key. In each book the first prelude and fugue is in C major, followed by a prelude and fugue in its parallel minor key C minor. Then all keys, each major key followed by its parallel minor key, are followed through, each time moving up a half tone:C → C♯ → D → E♭ → E → F → F♯ … →ending with … → B♭ → B.The two major primary sources for the collection of preludes and fugues in Book 2 are the “London Original” manuscript, dated between 1739 and 1742, with scribes including Bach, his wife Anna Magdalena and his eldest son Wilhelm Friedemann, which is the basis for Version A. Version B is the version published by the nineteenth-century Bach-Gesellschaft, a 1744 copy primarily written by Johann Christoph Altnickol (Bach’s son-in-law), with some corrections by Bach himself, and later also by Altnickol and others.Mozart transcribed seven of the fugues of the Well-Tempered Clavier Book 2 for string ensemble showing the influence that the Well-Tempered Clavier had on him. Beethoven played the entire Well-Tempered Clavier by the time he was eleven, and produced an arrangement of BWV 867 no. 22 in B flat minor Book 1, for string quintet.Hans von Bulow, Liszt’s son in law, called The Well-Tempered Clavier the “Old Testament” where Beethoven’s sonatas were the “New Testament”. Von Bülow gave the first performance of Tchaikovsky’s famous piano concerto and also Liszt’s B minor Sonata, but had a distaste for the endless insistence for encores. He would raise his hand, saying “Ladies and Gentlemen! If you do not stop this immediately I shall play you Bach’s forty-eight preludes and fugues from beginning to end!” The audience laughed but also stopped applauding as they knew von Bülow was able to perform the work from memory.Bach’s example inspired numerous composers of the nineteenth century. For instance, in 1835, Chopin composed his 24 Preludes op. 28;

Ileana Ghione in our theatre with Tatyana Nikolaeva

Dmitri Shostakovich wrote his 24 Preludes and Fugues after he had been inspired by Tatyana Nikolayeva’s Gold Medal performances at the Bach Competition in Leipzig in 1950 marking the bicentennial of J.S.Bach’s death.Inspired by the competition and impressed by Nikolayeva’s playing, Shostakovich returned to Moscow and started composing his own cycle of 24 preludes and fugues. He worked quickly, taking only three days on average to write each piece. The cycle was dedicated to Nikolayeva on completion in 1951.Musically, the structural regularities of the Well-Tempered Clavier encompass an extraordinarily wide range of styles, more so than most pieces. The preludes are formally free, although many of them exhibit typical Baroque melodic forms, often coupled to an extended free coda.The preludes are also notable for their odd or irregular numbers of measures, in terms of both the phrases and the total number of measures in a given prelude.Each fugue is marked with the number of voices, three or four only in Book 2. There are ten binary movements among the preludes (double bar in the middle, with repeats and written in the new ‘sonata form’) which is the most obvious innovation in Book 2, though ‘sonata’ here is close to Scarlatti’s conception, not Mozart’s. This gives the preludes much greater size and stature on average than they had in Book 1.Book 2 shows very clearly Bach’s integration of European styles, in particular between the Italian tradition for display and French dance forms that we see also in the partitas.It is interesting to note Rosalyn Tureck’s observation that Bach writes in his own ornamentation for Book 2 whereas the ornamentation for Book 1 was left to the artist’s discretion, much to Bach’s dissatisfaction.


It is interesting to note the figure of Ebenezer Prout (1 March 1835 – 5 December 1909) who was an English musical theorist, writer, music teacher and composer, whose instruction has been embodied in a series of standard works still used today, and underpins the work of many British classical musicians of succeeding generations.He has one rather unexpectedly appealing trait: he added words to the fugue subjects of Bach’s ‘48’ to help his pupils remember them. The idea being that not only did the words help them memorise the fugue subject but they also helped delineate when the fugue subject started and finished.

Book I

  1. He went to town in a hat that made all the people stare.
  2. John Sebastian Bach sat upon a tack, but he soon got up again with a howl!
  3. O what a very jolly thing it is to kiss a pretty girl!
  4. Broad beans and bacon…(1st countersubject)…make an excellent good dinner for a man who hasn’t anything to eat.(2nd countersubject)…with half a pint of stout.
  5. (Subject) Gin a body meet a body Comin’ through the rye,
    (Answer) Gin a body kiss a body, Need a body cry?
  6. He trod upon my corns with heavy boots—I yelled!
  7. When I get aboard a Channel steamer I begin to feel sick.
  8. You dirty boy! Just look at your face! Ain’t you ashamed?
  9. Hallo! Why, what the devil is the matter with the thing?
  10. Half a dozen dirty little beggar boys are playing with a puppy at the bottom of the street.
  11. The Bishop of Exeter was a most energetic man.
  12. The slimy worm was writhing on the footpath.
  13. Old Abram Brown was plagued with fleas, which caused him great alarm.
  14. As I sat at the organ, the wretched blower went and let the wind out.
  15. O Isabella Jane! Isabella Jane! Hold your jaw! Don’t make such a fuss! Shut up! Here’s a pretty row! What’s it all about?
  16. He spent his money, like a stupid ass.
  17. Put me in my little bed.
  18. How sad our state by nature is! What beastly fools we be!
  19. There! I have given too much to the cabman!
  20. On a bank of mud in the river Nile, upon a summer morning, a little hippopotamus was eating bread and jam.
  21. A little three-part fugue, which a gentleman named Bach composed, there’s a lot of triple counterpoint about it, and it isn’t very difficult to play.
  22. Brethren, the time is short!
  23. He went and slept under a bathing-machine at Margate.
  24. The man was very drunk, as to and fro, from left to right, across the road he staggered.
The ovation greeting Rosalyn Tureck’s return to the concert platform in 1991

It was in 1991 that I had invited both Rosalyn Tureck and Tatyana Nikokaeva to perform the Goldberg Variations within a month of each other in my series of ‘Euromusica -Teatro Ghione’ in Rome.I was fascinated by the different approach of these two master musicians.Tureck like an unmovable rock on which Bach was carved in stone.Nikolaeva where the natural flexibility of the song and dance was somewhat reminiscent of Edwin Fischer.Tureck had been studying the A minor fugue from book 1 n.20 during her studies at Juilliard with Olga Samaroff ( Lucy Hickenlooper ,wife of Leopold Stokowski (Leonard Stokes),when she had a revelation that rather than change instrument she would renew the pianistic style to suit Bach.It created quite a revolution that much influenced Glenn Gould which he later brought to rockstar proportions.

Rosalyn Tureck retired to Oxford to study in depth the more scientific aspects of the genius of Bach with the creation of her Tureck Bach Research Institute.After I had persuaded her to return to public performance she had a true Indian summer and became at the age of 78 a star shining brightly again in Italy and elsewhere.I was invited to be a trustee of her Oxford Institute where she would hold symposia for mathematicians,scientists and musicians to delve deep into the different aspects of the genius of Bach.Alas at the age of 85 her friend and long time sponsor died and she had to provide documents and details for his foundation that had been sustaining her research,which she found too onerous at her age.She fled to Marbella and got the Queen Elisabeth to return to New York in style.She had be diagnosed with cancer years before but it had remained stationary until now.She arrived back in New York on 9/11 much to everyone’s deep concern for her safety.She took a house overlooking the Hudson in Riverdale much as Toscanini had done before her and the very day she died she had been celebrated with a special award for her life’s work.Michael Cherry her lifelong friend and founder of her American Bach Institute hurried to take it to her in person but she had died half an hour before.

Ileana Ghione at our home in Sabaudia with Rosalyn Tureck

It was also interesting to hear another young musician ,Andrea Bacchetti,playing Book 2 in Genoa during the lockdown and I include some notes that I made that will be included in the CD that is being published shortly .


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