The forty-two-year-old Swiss pianist Cédric Pescia magnifies Johann Sebastian Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier. He demonstrates by setting out in a few moments an ‘acoustic theatre’. Here is the blinding evidence of a great performer.
Robert Schumann, who revered Johann Sebastian Bach, recommended that young pianists should make the two books of The Well-Tempered Clavier their ‘daily bread’. The collection is indeed familiar to many from an early age, but most performers (pianists, harpsichordists and even organists) only give it in concert and record it after ‘moulding’ that bread every day in the secrecy of their practice rooms.
Musicians tackle The Well-Tempered Clavier in the same way as actors play Shakespeare’s Lear or singers perform Schubert’s Winterreise, once they have reached the appropriate age. The cycle is testing for the fingers, but perhaps even more so for the brain: these stylistically differentiated preludes and complex fugues must be given an overall coherence that does not diminish the singularity of their parts. Each component of The Well-Tempered Clavier can be one thing and its opposite.