Das Wohltemperierte Klavier
Between an opera and a novel
For his Das Wohltemperierte Klavier cycle, Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) adopted an encyclopaedic approach. For each key (there are twelve, corresponding with the twelve tones of the chromatic scale) he composed a prelude and a fugue, each in the two main modes used at the time, namely major and minor. This makes 12 x 2 x 2 = 48. And because there are also two books, this gives us 96 short works.
Each of the 96 works has a profile, an individual character, its own dynamics and an individual time sequence. As they are also all composed tonally, each has its own ‘figuration’. Alain Franco: ‘I see them as 96 ‘novellas’ which I link together by applying editing principles and so arrive at a form that hovers somewhere between an opera and a novel. In this way I try to insert a given form into a speculative form. That to me is the definition of History, namely an entanglement of decisions: the decision of a writer or composer and the decision of a performer. Writer and performer each bear a part of History. A writer is the executor of an era and a performer is the author of a performance. A form is never given as a whole, but arises and exists only as a transference.’
• Alain Franco is a pianist and conductor. He has worked as a musical dramaturge with Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker, Meg Stuart and others.