How to listen: Bach Little Prelude in C Minor

WEDNESDAY, April 1, 2020

This is what I do when studying music…

First, I try to approach it myself from every possible angle, exploring what can be done. Nothing is out of bounds except what does not sound good to me. Then, when I have a conception, I listen to other people to see if I’ve missed something.

Some “piano pieces” sound the least convincing on piano…

In the time of Bach there was no piano. At best there was a primitive instrument that you might recognize as the ancestor of the modern piano, and it did not sound very good. The most intimate keyboard instrument of that time was the clavichord, but unfortunately I could not find even one recording on that instrument. However, this prelude sounds great on guitar, so to make it sound anywhere near as effective on piano you would have to use a huge amount of variety and imagination. I picked different interpretations.


This guy has terrible posture and has all the musical feeling of a robot. This is truly awful playing, but I’m putting it here to remind people not to assume that when they click on something, it will be anything more than soulless, empty, mindless and just plain awful. I’m putting this recording FIRST because I want everyone to hear how often our first experience with a piece of music is absolutely awful, and from that awful playing we form a false impression of the music.

I like this, but I think it’s too slow…

It’s terribly important to realize that things written for “keyboard” in the time of Bach can be played on many different instruments. Note that this is no longer in the key of C minor. It is transposed down to B minor. Transposition for other instruments is not only OK, it’s smart.

Stupid video, but nice playing…

It is transposed to D minor, a better key for guitar. I don’t know why we can’t just see the player performing and not see all the stupid shots of audience members fawning over him. What’s that all about?

Gould was a genius, but this absolutely sucks…

The whole thing ultra staccato, and for me this plain does not work. I think the playing here is just plain awful, and it’s good to know that the best players in the world can lay an egg.

So far I like this best…

There is resonance, and it may be that his piece and many like it work the least effectively on piano. But so far I’m most convinced that on piano the players are not doing enough with it.

Another very nice guitar version, and

In the music I have there is a Db at one point that the pianists do not play, and most of the guitar players, but this one plays it. The guitarists are using vibrato (varying the speed) and doing really nice things with dynamics. This guy also changes the octave on one of the bass notes, which I very much like.

This works for me…

She is using pedal, and although I have people learn this without pedal – because using the pedal all the time can be a horrible habit, and damaging – I would do something like this myself. She is not as effective for me as the guitar players, but perhaps this piece just sounds better on those instruments. The best playing in this is in the other players, and this woman plays VERY well.

Another soulless piano version..

She plays this like a mindless robot.



7 thoughts on “How to listen: Bach Little Prelude in C Minor

  1. I listened to the first one. I like how it started off slow but then started to get faster . Also I realized that he lifts up his hand in the air more dramatically.

  2. I do agree, after listening to the recordings, it does sound better on guitar. The “left hand part” is accented (?) in most of the guitar parts. It is only accented (?) in one piano part, Dinova, who sound like she is going at speed of light. This really removes any hope at emotion, and this is exactly opposite of the guitars. The guitars play slowly (?), giving more emotion.

  3. I agree that this piece sounds better when played on the guitar. When it comes to the piano, I preferred Tatiana’s version. The tempo was right and it was very musical. Dinova sounds as though she is trying to win a race.

  4. gould may have changed his mind on this later in life. Who knows, I don’t think he did this one over.

    Bach most certainly composed this on a clav, or on a really bizarre instrument he had called a Lautenwerke — think harpsichord, but with a lute-ish sound.

    If it work on the lute it works on the guitar. Those two are kissing cousins.

    Me, being an early music nerd, rather like the lute.

    Try this one.

    One thing I’ve noticed about gould, I don’t know if it was his mood swings or whatnot, but sometimes he did absolutely phone it in, coming across as all mechanical and soul-less. And sometimes (the last Goldberg set) he just leaves you weeping. I have him doing some Beethoven variations (the Eroica variations, and some others) and,.. meh.

    Now… listen to this

    This is one of my absolute favorites by the old man, and this group called “LuteDuo” have done it justice. This was written for full orchestra, and Bach also reworked it for the organ in a collection of Sinfonias from his cantatas. This one is …. heroic. But these two did it with such sublime sweetness. They also added a bit of Spanish flair to it.

    And I did notice the open-reel reorder, spinning away… looks like 7 1/2 inches / sec.

    1. Heh, I should’ve googled it first.. it wasn’t composed for the clav, it was indeed composed for the lautenwerke, at least according to wiki.

      “Prelude in C Minor, BWV 999, also termed The “Little” Prelude in C Minor, is a piece written by Johann Sebastian Bach sometime between 1717 and 1723.[1] Though originally composed for Lute-Harpsichord (Lautenwerck) it has since been adapted for various instruments, including lute, piano and guitar. It is a pedagogical work much in the spirit of The Well-Tempered Clavier, with which it shares musical characteristics. The piece’s true authorship fell into question for decades before being proven to be Bach’s by publication of Hans Neemann’s J. S. Bach Lautenkompositionen (1931). “

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