The "Well Tempered Klavier" - famous cycles known to every musician and music
lover, - is one of the highest acmes in the heritage of J. S.Bach. The first
volume was written in 1722 in Kothen, the second was composed in 1744 in
Leipzig. Each volume includes 24 preludes and fugues in all major and minor
keys, set in chromatic order.
The music of the preludes and fugues is filled with high humanism. Human
feelings and passions, philosophic meditations are reflected in these diverse
and yet joint by the general conception polyphonic pieces.
"You can find here, - Anton Rubinstein wrote, - fugues of the religious, heroic,
melancholic, solemn, pitiful, humoristic, pastoral, and dramatic character;
there is only one thing in which they are alike - their beauty. And the preludes
are charming, perfect, their diversity is wonderful" ("Music and its
In polyphonic structures with three, four or five voices Bach keeps the
independence of each voice. The form of the fugue synthesizes all melodic lines.
The preludes in the cycle are often of the same importance as fugues. They are
written in a more free style, as introductions to the strict features of fugues
counterpoint development. Some of the preludes do not yield to the fugues by the
difficulty of their polyphonic structure, while others resemble improvisations
or have the character of a free lyric expression.
The significance of the WTK preludes and fugues for the future development of
the music culture was enormous.
In these beautiful compositions, not only the secret of musical wisdom is
contained. Until our days, the very style of piano texture in WTK gives rich
possibilities for the very subtle, perfect performance and remains a beautiful
example of the liveliest virtuosity.
Bach uses the possibilities of harpsichord in a new way. Many of the works from
"Well-Tempered Klavier" resemble choir and orchestra ensembles, many of them
reproduce the tenderness of the human voice and demand the most lively
observation of frasing.
In Bach's times, composers mostly used keys with only a few sharps or flats.
Other keys demanded a very careful tuning. Composing his preludes and fugues in
24 major and minor keys, Bach established a new way of temperation that was just
coming in use - a method based on equal division of the octave to 12 semitones.
That is the reason why the cycle was called "The Well-Tempered Klavier". It is
also possible that it was Bach's intention to show the individual coloring of
each key. For instance, it is quite impossible to imagine an elegant fugue in C
sharp major from volume I in any other key with smaller quantity of sharps or in
WTK was not published during Bach's life time. That is why a lot of work had to
be done to restore the original text and clear it from later additions and
alterations. The corrected text with the supplement of all versions known at the
time was published by the Bach Society in the fifties of the nineteenth century
under the editorship of Kroll. Some other additions were made in the eighties by
WTK, like all other Bach's works, are not just examples of high artistic value,
but real art, full of life and emotion, that finds a broad response among those
who love music.
From an early age until his last days the music of J.S.Bach was Samuel
Feinberg's constant companion. His concert debut, which took place in February
1914 in a hall at Moscow Synod Institute (now the Rachmaninov Hall of the Moscow
Conservatory), was the performance of two volumes of "Well-Tempered Clavier".
And later, in the course of many years of giving concerts, Feinberg repeatedly
played both "Well-Tempered Clavier" and most of other Bach's clavier
The issue of the style in which Bach's works should be played has a long
history: arguments on how Bach should be played and how the composer himself
played his music rage to this day and will probably never wane. Some performers
seeking the greatest approximation to the style of that era use with the piano
the register principles of sound control characteristic to the organ and clavier
style. They try to achieve an irreproachable sonic equality within the limits of
one episode and an instantaneous change of sound in the transition to another.
They seek full metrical accuracy, and often refuse to use the pedal and to
Others consider that early music must be played on early instruments. They study
the testimony of contemporaries about the peculiarities of the performance
techniques of the time.
Feinberg put the question in another way: "How would the brilliant composer
himself use the merits of the contemporary piano? It is possible that having
familiarized himself with the peculiarities of our instruments, the author of
'Well-Tempered Clavier' would not have approved of the trends in musical
restoration."Recognizing the legitimacy of these trends and the appropriateness
of the use of "ornamental" interpretations for pieces and episodes in the
toccata form, and delighted by the independent successes of outstanding
performers using these techniques (e.g. Vanda Landovskaya), Feinberg
nevertheless decisively advocated a lively method of playing Bach, a method that
uses completely the rich possibilities of the contemporary piano - its sonic
power, flexibility and expressive dynamics.
Using this technique Feinberg managed to achieve the utmost expressivity of
play. He was able to convey a vocal expression of Bach's music through the most
delicate nuances of timbre and dynamism which color not only each voice and each
phrase, but sometimes even each note.
Great rhythmic freedom (especially in the interpretation of the cadenzas) is
demonstrated by Feinberg first through exceptional expressivity and second,
through the absence of impressive reasons to think that Bach did not in any way
use this type of expression. In this regard Feinberg emphasized that a "lively",
fully expressive style of playing Bach demands special creative tact and an
ability to restrain oneself within the limits allowed by taste and style, and
that the performance of Bach's polyphony is above all a system of the most
delicate hues. And he commanded this arsenal of resources to perfection: he,
like nobody else, was able to give the music a "special stamp" through details
such as his characteristic modulation, style, dynamic shades of phrasing or
nuances in motion. One of the reasons why you can always tell Feinberg's play
from anyone else's lies in the uniqueness of these details, which are always
The absence in Feinberg's interpretations of the usual canons sometimes scared
away from him those who adhere to the "textbook rules". His play says more to
the subtle expert and unbiased amateur than to the moderate follower of
tradition. This is the famous mark of innovative art to which the future always
belongs. This is corroborated by Feinberg's deeply spiritual and vivacious
mastery which not only does not grow old but, on the contrary, becomes ever
fresher and younger in our time.
Samuel Feinberg was one of the most important and refined musicians of the
20th century. A great pianist, an outstanding composer, a unique pedagogue and a
musicologist, he became one of the legendary figures in the history of the
Russian music culture.
Samuel Feinberg was born in 1890 in Odessa. Since 1894, his family lived in
His outstanding musical talent was recognized rather early. He studied music
with Alexander Jensen and later with Professor Alexander Goldenweiser, the
meeting with whom became the turning point in Feinberg's artistic destiny. A
wonderful pedagogue and outstanding pianist, he disclosed to the young pupil the
secrets of virtuosity and a deep understanding of classical music. At the same
time, Feinberg studied composition with Nikolai Zhiliaev (his first opuses were
written when the young composer was only 11 and already attracted the attention
In 1911, Samuel Feinberg graduated from the Moscow Conservatory. For his final
exam, he prepared a program that included all 48 preludes and fugues from Bach's
"Well-Tempered Clavier". Even for the Moscow Conservatory, it was sensational.
After the declaration of the First World War, Feinberg was called to the army,
but discharged after falling sick with typhoid fever in 1915. In that same year
he gave a cycle of concerts and continued to study composing. His sonatas,
romances, and concertos for piano and orchestra became famous in Russia and
In 1922 Samuel Feinberg became a professor at the Moscow Conservatory. In the
course of many years he created his own piano school marked by a special
virtuosity, and developed a whole galaxy of fine musicians: Viktor Merzhanov,
Nina Yemelyanova, Vladimir Natanson, Ludmila Roschina, Zinaida Ignatieva,
Viktor Bunin and many others. At the class in the Moscow Conservatory where
Samuel Yevgenyevich taught hangs a memorial plaque in his honor.
It is no exaggeration to say that Feinberg was one of the most eminent pianists
of his time. His concerts always evoked great interest among music lovers.
Profound wisdom and great expression of his interpretations, enormous emotional
power and intellect made each his concert unique. He played concerts in Russia
and abroad; in 1925 he successfully performed at a festival in Venice; later,
toured in Germany: in Berlin, Leipzig, Hamburg...
Here is an excerpt from an article by a famous critic of that time, Yevgeny
Braudo ("Soviet Musicians in Germany", Pravda, 1927):
"Feinberg's brilliant dexterity and very strong musicality created an impression
of something unprecedented and fresh for a German public used to less complex
and expressive pianism."
The phenomenal musical memory of Feinberg became proverbial. He knew by heart
and could play by the request of his audience any piano composition by Bach,
Beethoven, Chopin, Schumann, and Scriabin.
He was the first performer of many works by contemporary Soviet composers -
Prokofiev, Miaskovsky, Anatoly Alexandrov...
Samuel Feinberg authored several unique theoretical works: the book The Fate of
the Musical Form, and the monograph Pianism as an Art, which has become
reference books for many musicians.
Samuel Feinberg died in 1962.