We all know about Bach's Well Tempered Clavier which we refer to as "book 1" of the "48". However, I have never seen Bach himself refer to the two books as being one glorious set of 48 preludes and fugues. As far as I know, Nach called book 2 simply 24 new preludes and fugues, and never called it "well tempered clavier". It definitely suggests to be a book 1 and 2 structure as the two sets are very similar in layout, but do you guys have any evidence (direct, no speculation please) that Bach intended the 48 as one "well tempered clavier" work?

  • They were completed over a decade apart - though maybe that still counts as speculation on my part. Also there are pictures of the front page of Book 1 in Bach's own hand giving the title - but I can't find if Bach's own copy survives for Book 2 (there are later editions titled by other people.)
    – Andy
    Commented Dec 30, 2015 at 16:46
  • Yeah I have seen bach's autograph for wtc book 1, so no autograph for book 2 survived?
    – user209347
    Commented Dec 30, 2015 at 17:33
  • 1
    I have nothing but speculation too I suppose, but the form isn't just similar, it's identical. No other collections range over every possible key, something only possible (within the musical norms of the time) on a well-tempered keyboard. I guess I'm saying it doesn't seem like a controversial description to me, though your point that he may have thought of them as "another 24" rather than a single 48 piece collection is well taken. Commented Dec 30, 2015 at 21:55
  • Ah what you say makes sense. Does anyone know the original title of book 2?
    – user209347
    Commented Dec 31, 2015 at 9:01
  • @user209347 Yes, "24 Preludes and Fugues" (in archaic German - probably something like "24 Präludien und Fugen").
    – 11684
    Commented Jan 5, 2016 at 13:53

1 Answer 1


An amateur Austrian musician named Philip Goeth has a website dedicated to studying the Well-Tempered Clavier works.


He says

JS Bach completed the first book in 1722 when he was "Hofkapellmeister" at the court in Köthen, while the second book (which technically has not been named "Well-tempered Clavier book II" by JSB) was completed much later when he was holding the post of "Thomaskantor" in Leipzig. The 2 books thus result from two quite different periods of JSBs life, which is reflected in the character of the 2 books.

The Wikipedia article on Bach says that the second book was completed in 1744.

However, the Wikipedia article on the Well-Tempered Clavier says that the two books were only circulated as hand-copied manuscripts in Bach's time, and were not properly published, or mass-produced, until 1801, which is 51 years after J. S. Bach died. I think it is fair to say that however the two books were presented or packaged for the public, by that time neither J. S. Bach nor any of his family had any say in the matter. I suspect that we call the two volumes one set because that is how the publishing companies marketed them.

  • Nice answer! Yeah, it seems like book 2 wasnt necessarily intended as a set with book 1. However, they both have an incredible amount to teach us and allow us to enjoy the tradition of polyphonic music. Thanks!
    – user209347
    Commented Jan 5, 2016 at 21:14
  • I once read something about young Liszt going to study with Czerny. Apparently Czerny (and Beethoven) suggested that Liszt study the Bach preludes and fugues. This would indicate that the musical community did know something of Bach's music though not necessarily the general public.
    – ttw
    Commented Oct 30, 2016 at 19:41
  • @ttw: And already Beethoven studied it early on.
    – false
    Commented Feb 26, 2023 at 14:52
  • True. Neefe, Beethoven's teacher in Bonn was a big fan of JS and KPE Bach. (He was also an Illumatus and a Freemason.) I read somewhere that Neefe did meet either John Christian or Karl Philip Emmanuel.
    – ttw
    Commented Feb 26, 2023 at 22:23

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