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The Well-Tempered February

Updated: Mar 21

Update: For the music and commentaries to this project, go here: "The Well-Tempered February" You'll find a recording of each piece and a further link to a short bit of color commentary. Click here for the completed Album.


Like many of you, I suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder, brought on by the dark days and long nights of the winter. Growing up in England at a latitude of 51.75 (the same latitude as Calgary), the only recourse during the winter months was to take a bus to London and see the Christmas Lights, which we never did. So it was a particularly perverse choice to go to Finland for six months, which it is dark out when you wake up at 8:00, dark when you have breakfast at 9:00, and dark when you set off to work at 10:00. Here are some SAD Finns:

Here is why they are SAD:

Here is how SAD sufferers feel in Winter:

The solution, as I've said before (see "Top Ten Reasons to Live in Finland" and "The Colors of Tampere"), is color. From 9:30 to 10:00, after I've had my breakfast, I color pictures until the sun begins to rise.

Coloring While Waiting for the Sun

It's standard therapy for SADs (was there ever a more perfect acronym?), and the Finns know it - when you ask for "coloring books for adults" they immediately show you where to find them, with a sympathetic look that says "you too?" Colored pencils, colored bus passes, the colored backs of bank cards: it's all part of the same philosophy that a spectrum a day keeps the blackness away.

You Get Four Choices of University Library Card, Dark Blue, Light Blue, Yellow, and Olive Green
You Get a Veritable Rainbow of Choices for the Plastic Case of Your Bus Pass (I Went for Purple)
I Had To Go Back to the Bank to Ask What This Was - It Turns Out You Can Choose One of Seven Different Colors for the Back of Your Debit Card (If You Choose White They Lock You Up Until Spring)
Six of the Ice Sculptures in the Central Square
There's Always Marimekko (see if you can spot the item that Janette immediately wanted)
10 Points If You Said the Purple Apron
Seriously, This is the Faculty Lounge
Colored Meals with Colored Moomin Napkins (I Asked What These Were And Didn't Understand the Answer - Delicious)
The Market Where You Get Delicious Unidentified Food Objects
Where It All Started - We're All Basically Epiphytes Really

At the same time, I have been playing Bach as a form of meditative exercise, annoying the neighbors by actually practicing the pieces for 2 hours every late afternoon and early evening. And suddenly the penny dropped: the Well-Tempered Klavier is color therapy too. For what is the F major Prelude but a Spring morning, clad in rising green? What is the Prelude in C if not a clear blue sky, the kind that perfect blue that became famous after 9/11 as "severe clear"? In the first Prelude, you can see for ever: there's not a cloud in the horizon. I've written about the piece elsewhere (see "Prelude in C"), so this is a good place to lay out the idea of the whole project. There are 24 hours in a day. There are 24 pencils in the box of Stabilo Watercolor pencils I have in front of me:

And there are 24 Preludes & Fugues in each book of the Well-Tempered Klavier. The 48 Preludes & Fugues of the Well-Tempered Klavier are actually 96 separate pieces: 24 Preludes x 24 Fugues x 2 books. I propose to play the first quarter of them, #1-24, over the month of February 2020. That will take me up to the Fugue in F minor in Book 1. Maybe in February 2021 I'll try the second 24 (F# major - B minor), and the third in February 2022 (C major - F minor in Book 2), and the fourth (you get the idea). With an extra day for leap year, I have 29 chances to get this first set right. Some of them are easy, some are fiendishly hard; there will be days when I record nothing just to practice. And there will be mistakes, false starts, absurdly slow tempi, and far too much pedal. But the colors will shine through.


The CD liner notes for the Sviatoslav Richter performance of the Well-Tempered Klavier that I got from the amazing public library in Tampere says that there isn't much that readily identifies a connection between each Prelude and Fugue, except the shared opus number: "Although attempts have been made to discover motivic similarities between the two pieces, they are not very convincing, and today it is generally held that Bach could only have had a very loose connection in mind." Like most CD liner notes, this is dead wrong. They are connected by COLOR and MOOD. Just listening to Book I, the B minor Prelude is blue, and the B minor Fugue is darkest indigo. The E-flat Prelude is yellow, and the E-flat Fugue is dazzling gold. I have always heard keys in different colors: I don't know of a musician who doesn't. D major will always be red, E major emerald green, C minor is black: there is no escaping these connections. And the Prelude in C major is the dazzling blue of a September sky.


This exercise, which I am calling "The Well-Tempered February," is for all you Seasonal Affective Disorder sufferers out there, to bring a brief band of color into our lives. We don't have to be like this:

We can be like this:

This musical journey will also be a way of paying the proper respect to the wonderful Grotrian Steinway upright in Johnny Riquet's apartment here in Pirkankatu 24, seen in the background below:

And finally, it will be a chance for me to pay homage to the composer after whom I was named, who has always been my chief inspiration, and my Virgilian guide. Bach was a genius with color.

Here's the lot of them:

Prelude in C major - Sky Blue

Fugue in C major - Ocean Blue

​Prelude in C minor - Black

Fugue in C minor - Violet

​Prelude in C# major - White

Fugue in C# major - Silver

​Prelude in C# minor - Forest Green

Fugue in C# minor - Indigo

​Prelude in D major - Red

Fugue in D major - Crimson

​Prelude in D minor - Orange

Fugue in D minor - Ochre

Prelude in E-flat major - Yellow

Fugue in E-flat major - Gold

Prelude in E-flat minor - Peach

Fugue in E-flat minor - Coral

​Prelude in E major - Emerald Green

Fugue in E major - Teal

​Prelude in E minor - Dark Blue

Fugue in E minor - Magenta

​Prelude in F major - Spring Green

Fugue in F major - Olive Green

​Prelude in F minor - Light Brown

Fugue in F minor - Dark Brown


Oddly, these are exactly the 24 colors in my pencil set (go figure). On the main website (sebastianknowles.com), go to "The Well-Tempered February" (it's linked from the Home Page). You'll find a recording of each piece as soon as I make it, and a further link to a short bit of color commentary. When I was making my way through the old paper edition my father had with its falling-apart acid paper to see if there was one I could actually play, the best part was reading the editor's commentary for each set. I wanted to see if they loved what I loved. So read along, and take a listen to the first one.

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