When we look back on music that was written two or three hundred years ago, it is easy to feel it is old, traditional, or even out of style. Truthfully, Bach and many composers during the 1600s and 1700s were very inventive and pushed the limits of what was considered acceptable.
Today, I want to recommend two short piano pieces from Bach’s, “The Well-Tempered Clavier.” This composition was written for two reasons. First, it is to help students master the piano-like instrument called the clavier and develop appropriate technique and style. Second, Bach wrote these pieces to encourage a specific system of tuning keyboard instruments that allow musicians to play in-tune in any key. Bach did not invent this system but it did become the standard way to tune a piano and is still used today. This doesn’t seem very innovative now, but this was a debated topic in the 1700s.
Aside from this innovation, Bach created a remarkable piano work that is among the standard repertoire for any advanced piano student today. In each key, Bach composed a Prelude and a Fugue. A prelude is a free-form piece that is intended to show off the skill of the musician. A fugue is a complex composition where the melody is repeated three, four, or five times, but each entry is staggered. The result is an elaborate work of music that is difficult to compose and is strenuous to play.
Thankfully, no practice is necessary to listen and enjoy. When you share the fugue with your kids, have them point out the first three entrances of the melody. After all three voices have entered, take note of how often the main melody is heard. The fugue offers a great opportunity to help kids actively engage with classical music. Enjoy!