Open Bach Recordings by Kimiko Ishizaka

This episode of HPR is inspired by the recent release of a new recording by Kimiko Ishizaka of J.S. Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier, Book I. This is a very special recording because it is free and open, licensed to be shared freely forever. The recording was crowdfunded and immediately released with a public license after editing. This allows for legal remixing and sharing, and also makes it perfect for stuff like I do in this episode—cutting the recordings up for inserting as musical examples and then presenting the whole thing for your listening enjoyment. Here is an excerpt from the open Goldberg variation website, the open Goldberg Variations were an early project released in 2012.

"The Open Goldberg Variations were released on May 28, 2012. Recorded by Kimiko Ishizaka on a Bösendorfer 290 Imperial in the Teldex Studio, Berlin, produced by Anne-Marie Sylvestre, this recording is the first fan-funded, open source and completely free recording ever produced. In addition, has made a new published edition of the Goldbergs using an open peer review process and leading-edge open source software. Best of all, everything produced is free for you to use, share, and copy, forever."
Also, Kimiko Ishizaka has successfully funded another exciting project, the recording of the 24 Préludes for solo piano by Frédéric Chopin, which will also be released to the public under a CC license.

Intro to the Fugue

The fugue is a Baroque imitative polyphonic genre usually in three or more voice voices based on a single theme, or subject. The fugue is a great illustration of late baroque complexity and learnedness, and normally fugues are also paired with a companion piece that is sort of improvisatory in style such as a Toccata or a prelude, so you'll often hear of a "Toccata and Fugue" or "Prelude and Fugue" and so forth.

Some great examples of these include the Well-Tempered Clavier by J. S. Bach. This is two collections of 24 preludes and fugues in all the major and minor keys. The first book is from 1722 and book 2 is from 1744. He also did a sort of encyclopedic study of the fugue that he calls The Art of Fugue.

Principles of Fugue

Imitation: When a melodic idea is repeated in another voice, either using the same pitches in a different octave, or transposing the melody to some other pitch level. Here's the HPR Theme imitated at the 4th:


In a fugue there's an alternation of sections that have the main theme (the subject) and sections that don't have the main theme. The most identifiable part of the fugue is the Exposition and it's very distinctive because each voice in the fugue is presented one at a time in turn until all the voices are in. For example a three voice fugue will start with a single voice doing the subject that will be followed by another voice coming in and doing the subject well it's actually called the answer at that point—the subject is in the tonic, the answer will be in the dominant—and then when the third voice comes in it's back to the tonic so it's the subject again.

Now when the second voice comes in and does the answer the first voice doesn't just go away, it does something different called the counter-subject. The counter-subject is what happens against the main theme after two or more voices are into the texture. There can be two or three counter-subjects depending on how many voices there are in the fugue. So the exposition is where the main theme is first introduced, and each voice comes in successively with the main theme either, "subject" or "answer" depending on whether it's tonic or dominant.

After the exposition it's a little bit less predictable. What you know is that there is going to be a series of sections that feature the subject called Restatements (or "middle entries") of the subject, and passages that don't have the subject, and at those are called Episodes.

Episodes are passages where the subject is absent, and the purpose of them is to provide variety and modulate to a new key for another restatement of the subject. Episodes will sound kind of unstable because they're moving somewhere. In an episode you're also liable to hear lots of sequential repetition, or "sequences." Sequential repetition is when a melodic fragment is repeated at successively higher or lower pitch levels. As an example, I've taken a fragment of the Hacker Public Radio theme song and made a sequence out of it.


Restatements, or Middle Entries, are sections where the subject reappears in at least one voice and often it is joined by the counter-subject. Or, if there's more than one counter-subject, then the two or three counter-subjects may reappear along with the subject.

Sometimes composers like to do fun things with their subjects in the course of a fugue. This is something that allows them to show how clever they are as composers. Some of the ways they manipulate the subject are as follows:

A Whole Fugue

Now for an example. We are going to listen to several excerpts from the Fugue in d-sharp minor, BWV 853, from Book I of Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier, to demonstrate several of the things I talked about. Then I will simply play the entire fugue uninterupted so that you can listen to it and see if you hear them as they go along without my pointing them out.

Subject (m. 1)


Inverted Subject (m. 30)


Subjects in Stretto (m. 19)