J.S. Bach The Well-Tempered Clavier


The Well-Tempered Clavier

A New Performing Edition by Vladimir Feltsman


Let me recommend to Bach players on the piano a new edition by Vladimir Feltsman of the WTC, complete with both historical and practical ways of playing stylistically complex baroque music. I find his suggestions very interesting”. Anthony Newman

This Edition is available in 2 Books, or as 48 separate ‘Preludes and Fugues’, either as a printed score or a pdf file. This New Performing Edition is accompanied by a video of ‘The Well-Tempered Clavier’ played by Vladimir Feltsman and an audio recording of ‘The Well-Tempered Clavier’ performed by Vladimir Feltsman is also available on CD, download and streaming.



About this edition

This edition presents the score (Urtext) of the WTC as published in 1866 by the Bach-Gesellschaft. The score itself is unaltered; performing suggestions are added in light grey. These are practical suggestions based on Baroque performing tradition (there is a useful digest of the important source material in Anthony Newman’s book Bach and the Baroque), modern practices, and the editor’s experience of studying, performing, recording and teaching the WTC. The purpose is to assist those “desirous of learning” who study the WTC to better comprehend and appreciate the score as it can be played on a modern piano.

There can never be just one “right way” to perform the WTC or any other work of Bach. All the suggestions offered here are intended only as options to be considered. It is hoped that different possibilities for phrasing, articulation, embellishment, dynamics, fingering and execution of repeats might initiate a creative process in those who study the score and enhance the expressive value and impact of the WTC by highlighting its structure.

Such terms as “ritenuto” and “meno mosso”, “pio mosso” and “accelerando”, “crescendo” and “diminuendo” are excluded, because Bach did not use them. Instead, arrows pointing from right to left and from left to right indicate a gradual slowing down and speeding up respectively. A comma means a delay of the material that follows it. Arrows pointing up and down indicate changes of dynamics, intensity and character of sound. A wavy line indicates a change of pace and a more improvisational manner of presentation. Staccato signs and accents have their conventional meaning. A short line over or under the note indicates a gentle separation between the notes, similar to “portamento”. A longer line calls for additional vertical pressure on the note, similar to “marcato”.

There are some basic requirements and rules of engagement that apply throughout the WTC: understanding the meaning of the time signatures and the distribution of strong and weak beats; not playing in a mechanical metronomic tempo, but in real musical time that is fluid and unfolds freely; articulating everything clearly; execution of all embellishments from the upper note on the beat (except where indicated otherwise); a slight delay (taking a breath) before coming to the last dominant point and before the final presentation of the main theme in the tonic; keeping the articulation of the main subject intact throughout the fugue; paying the utmost attention to the bass line; repetition of the sustained bass line over several bars (the organ point); playing the repeats in preludes with different dynamics, articulations and additional embellishments; making sure that the junctions between preludes and fugues take place in real “live” time, without dead gaps in between.

Tempo suggestions are simply that, not instructions to follow, as there is a wide variety of possible tempos inherent in the score. The choice of fingerings will depend to some extent on the size of the hands and personal preferences of the performer.  Vladimir Feltsman

To support the published scores Vladimir Feltsman has created a series of videos for each Prelude and Fugue which can be viewed via these links. 


“Vladimir Feltsman is one of the most brilliant and versatile pianists and musicians of our time and a renowned Bach specialist. His recent contribution, a new performing edition of J.S. Bach’s The Well-Tempered Clavier, is released under Nimbus Music Publishing. I was honoured to have an interview with Maestro Feltsman and we talked about music and life.”

Fanny Po Sim Head, Interlude READ FULL INTERVIEW