Prelude in D minor (BWV 935)
This little prelude is one of a great number of instructional pieces that Bach wrote for the musical education of his children, and for the general public. It was collected after his death as one of “Six Little Preludes for Beginners at the Keyboard,” as the earliest edition calls them. This is no easy first-year piece, however, and the word “beginners” would be better understood as “students.” When we play Bach, we are all his students, for even in his smallest pieces he instructs us in both the craft of keyboard playing, and the art of musical composition. This prelude is in fact a perfect little two-part invention, in some ways more musically sophisticated than the fourth Two-part Invention, with whom it shares the same key and meter.
Playing Bach is always a particular delight, and a particular challenge. Our delight comes from the technical mastery and emotional profundity of the music, our challenge from the dearth of explicit directions on how to play it. Bach’s scores usually contain only the notes and rhythms, rarely any tempos marks, dynamic nuances, articulation signs, or other performance indications. We can of course consult edited scores and recordings for ideas about how to interpret his music, but how much more satisfying it is to derive our own interpretation from a firsthand understanding of the score. In this edition, we’ll look at the D minor prelude from several angles – rhythmic, harmonic, and motivic – and draw conclusions for performance directly from our analysis of the score. This analysis will also help us to practise the piece more efficiently, and to memorize it more securely.
Resources and further reading