While recording the second book of J.S. Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier as part of its All of Bach initiative, the Netherlands Bach Society chose twelve locations around the Dutch city of Utrecht. The Prelude and Fugue No. 17 in A-flat Major, BWV 886 was recorded on a top floor of the high-rise seat of Utrecht’s Provincial Council. Christine Schornsheim, the outstanding German harpsichordist who performs the entire Book II set, found the location, which overlooks the entire city, appropriately “proud, perfect, and grand.” “The prelude is proud and lofty like this skyscraper,” Schornsheim commented. “The fugue is sonorous and with a generous character.”
For some listeners, the Prelude suggests the celebratory grandeur of an orchestral Sinfonia, complete with trumpets. While Bach wrote this music in 1741, the Fugue which follows was adapted from a piece composed twenty one years earlier. The four-part fugue’s spirited subject, repeated fifteen times, joins a descending chromatic countersubject. While providing a brief remembrance of the Prelude’s concluding bars, the Fugue ends deliriously, with the subject displaced, rhythmically.
Featured Image: The Hearst Tower in New York, designed by Norman Foster