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A comparison of Preludes I from WTC I and II

Bach wrote the WTC I preludes and fugues covering all keys to show how the well tempered system excelled all others. But why do it all over again 20+ years later.

Maybe to show how his musical knowledge had developed over those intervening years. It is fascinating to compare the corresponding pieces from both books.

Here is the first prelude in C Major:

Book I: Scales used (7): Major, Melodic, Harmonic Major, Harmonic minor, Harmonic minor b5, Melodic b5 and Neapolitan minor.

Book II: Scales used (12): Major, Melodic, Harmonic Major, Harmonic minor, Neapolitan minor, Hungarian minor, Persian, Harmonic minor b5, Harmonic Major b5, Locrian natural 7, Neapolitan Major b5 and Melodic b5 in that order.

It is surely no coincidence that Bach uses all seven of the scales that appeared in Book I in his second prelude in C, but now his harmonic growth over the years has become evident. Persian, Locrian natural 7, Harmonic Major b5, and Neapolitan Major b5 are all scales that are one step further into a deeper harmonic world, one that only Bach as an older man, with all the experience that he had attained by this point, could explore.

Gone is the gentle, simplistic style of the prelude from Book I. Now Bach shows his advanced mental processes at work. In bar 18 of the prelude from Book II, for example, the modulation is A minor to G minor. Here is how Bach approaches such a change:

A Harmonic minor - A Harmonic minor b5 - A Harmonic Major b5 - A Persian - A Locrian natural 7 - A Neapolitan Major b5 - G Harmonic minor. This is one bar of music. He is really letting all go now, he has nothing else to prove to anyone except himself. I wonder if he was satisfied with his results?

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