A documentary and an audio/video recording produced by the International Beethoven Project
Released by Orchid Classics & distributed by Naxos
Martin Mirabel & Mariano Nante
The BACH48 project was started in 2015 and conceived as a long-term experiment intended to bring this fundamental music to a larger audience by making a new recording and revealing its lesser-known origins in a prison cell in Weimar through a documentary film and a dedicated website with complementary information and insights.
The recording was made at the Jakobskirche (Saint-James church), well-known to Bach, in Weimar, Germany, August 21-26 2017 on a concert grand Steinway D piano from Régie Pianos France. The documentary film was shot in the region of Thuringia, Germany and in the towns of Eisenach, Ohrdruf, Arnstadt, Weimar and Leipzig, as well as in Paris, France between August 20th, 2017 and September 2018. Film editing was done in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Additionally, the two performance films that accompany the project were also shot during the recording and edited in Argentina.
The Bach48 Album, in its physical 5 CD box set with a 28-page accompanying booklet as well as in its streaming version, was released worldwide on the Orchid Classics label (distributed by Naxos) based in London, UK on February 14th, 2020. The premium edition box set with the addition of the film DVDs will have a limited release in late 2020.
The critical reception to the recording in its opening weeks has been unanimous. ‘BBC Music Magazine’ has given the recording a 5-star rating and written that George Lepauw’s “journey through these wonderful pieces is contemplative, commendably articulate and enhanced by unfailing linear clarity. His use of the sustaining pedal is judicious, and his carefully controlled rhythmic elasticity emphasises the romance of Bach’s music.” London’s ‘Arts Desk’ wrote that “the high spots are too numerous to mention”, while ‘Planet Hugill’ judges that “the fugues have an admirable clarity of line with plenty of clear inner detail whilst the preludes venture into slightly more romantic territory”; also, the French-Canadian “Parnasse Musical” has given the Bach48 Album its top rating of 6 stars. The ‘BBC Music Magazine’ closes its review by saying that “there is much to enjoy in this imaginatively presented set.” The recording has also been specially featured on the UK’s ClassicFM and on Radio Canada.
The Well-Tempered Clavier is the title for a two-volume collection Bach composed between 1717 and 1742, each containing 24 pairs of Preludes and Fugues in all the major and minor keys of the twelve-note Western scale, adding up to 48 pairs of pieces (96 individual pieces). The “Bach 48” are fundamental to classical music, akin to the Magna Carta, upon which musicians have built ever since. Hans von Bülow, the 19th-century musician, called the Well-Tempered Clavier music’s “Old Testament”, in contrast to Beethoven’s 32 Sonatas, which he called music’s “New Testament.”
The Well-Tempered Clavier, a five hour epic of Homeric proportions, is a unique, compelling, and probing score as profound as it was for the composer to write as for the performer to play and the listener to hear. It is an initiation into the mysteries of the spirit through music, an unparalleled feat of compositional genius and a gift from the heart.
Bach48 was born out of pianist George Lepauw’s desire to become a more complete musician and also to better understand Ludwig van Beethoven’s debt to Bach, made evident in the first mention of Beethoven in the press, from a 1783 article in Cramer’s Music Magazine: “Louis van Betthoven [sic], … a boy of eleven years and of most promising talent […] plays chiefly The Well-Tempered Clavichord of Sebastian Bach, which Herr Neefe [Beethoven’s teacher] put into his hands. Whoever knows this collection of preludes and fugues in all the keys—which might almost be called the non plus ultra of our art—will know what this means.”
In an effort to gain greater insight into Johann Sebastian Bach’s experience of the world and to understand the origin of his greatest masterwork, the Well-Tempered Clavier, pianist George Lepauw explored the region of Thuringia, Germany in the Winter of 2017, retracing Bach’s footsteps in the places where he grew up, worked and died. These travels convinced George Lepauw to return to Germany a few months later to record the entire Well-Tempered Clavier in the Jakobskirche, Weimar’s oldest church, a few blocks from where Bach had served as Konzertmeister at the ducal court of Saxe-Weimar and near the local prison where he had been detained for four weeks in 1717. This imprisonment dramatically ended Bach’s tenure in Weimar, but gave him time to conceive the idea for the Well-Tempered Clavier.
Bach48 is made possible in part with generous support from the the Chauncey and Marion Deering McCormick Family Foundation, the Consulate General of the Federal Republic of Germany in Chicago, the Roger & Chaz Ebert Foundation, the Reynolds Family Foundation, and Marjorie Layden, as well as many individual donors. To consult the full list of supporters, please visit our support page.
The International Beethoven Project, producer of BACH48
A non-profit organization founded in Chicago in 2008, IBP’s mission is to bring the world of classical music into the 21st century for the benefit of all generations. Just as Beethoven launched a musical revolution two centuries ago by composing music for humanity in the idealistic spirit of the Enlightenment, the International Beethoven Project is committed to innovative approaches that make classical music culturally relevant for our times. IBP has produced extraordinary events including one-of-a-kind multidisciplinary festivals in Chicago, educational programs, Beethoven Birthday Bashes, recordings, podcasts, and short films. IBP is firmly committed to celebrating Beethoven’s 250th birthday in late 2020 by engaging new generations with the story and the music of Beethoven.