The Well-Tempered February - Commentary #11
Prelude in D Minor, BWV 851
If D major is the heart of the body, D minor is the pulse. You can tell by the first two notes in the left hand, that are the same as the second two, and the third, and the fourth, and the fifth:
D-D-D-D-D-D-D-D-D-D. The next two (and we're already in the second beat of the second bar) are - you guessed it - two more Ds, this time in a higher register. And then it's the cycle of fifths (D - G - C - F - B-flat), some spinny bits, and back to F, D minor's relative major, in measure 6.
Bach is juggling oranges, spinning plates, spiraling around a center. If Fugues are essentially centrifugal (and how can they not be?), Preludes are essentially centripetal, circling upon themselves. Think of the satisfaction you get from hearing the chords turn in the prismatic light of the Prelude in C. This is like that, but with a quicker heart-rate, a more rapid pulse. We're off the beat for some glorious moments here, on a tightrope with one leg and the other swaying in the wind, drawing "oohs" and "aahs" from the crowd below. At one point we're fully syncopated, in triplets, which makes no sense:
Bach the trapeze artist has taken us to the circus. All the time the LH gives us the trampoline beat, marking the Ds on the off beat from measures 16 to 20: 18 syncopated Ds in a row. And then the D holds:
The trapeze artist wraps into a ball, taking a smaller and smaller space in the imagination until the LH grows mysteriously larger, reaches for new chords (both tritones - see blue arrows) and then springs to life. The RH has no choice but to follow suit, and is released into orbit:
A vertiginous fall, and the strongman catches the girl on the flying trapeze just in time. The left and the right hand hold each other, and bow. Curtain.
Prelude in D Minor, BWV 851, measures 1-2
Prelude in D Minor, BWV 851, measure 16
Prelude in D Minor, BWV 851, measures 19-20 (LH)
Prelude in D Minor, BWV 851, measures 21-26