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Suite in Em, BWV 996

|1| Praeludio (2:47)
|2| Allemande (2:57)
|3| Courante (2:31)
|4| Sarabande (3:35)
|5| Bourée (1:12)
|6| Gigue (3:16)

Sonata in Cm, BWV 997

|7| Preludio (3:02)
|8| Fuga (7:23)
|9| Sarabande (4:18)
|10| Gigue/Double (3:11)

Prelude, Fuga & Allegro in Eb, BWV 998

|11| Prelude (2:21)
|12| Fuga (6:18)
|13| Allegro (3:22)

Daniel Lippel – Well-Tempered Guitar

About the Artist 

DANIEL LIPPEL—called an “exciting soloist” (New York Times) and “precise and sensitive” (Boston Globe)—has a multi-faceted career as a performer, recording artist, and label owner. He has premiered more than fifty solo and chamber works, many written for him, recording several on his label, New Focus Recordings. Lippel has been a member of the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE) since 2006, counter)induction since 2019, FretX duo with Mak Grgic since 2015, as well as a guest with many other ensembles.

He has worked closely with many eminent composers including Mario Davidovsky, Nils Vigeland, and John Zorn, and collaborated with several prominent mid-career composers, including Dai Fujikura, Tyshawn Sorey, Reiko Fueting, Du Yun, Mikel Kuehn, Christopher Trapani, Ken Ueno, and Wang Lu. In addition to New Focus, he appears on Kairos, Bridge, Innova, Sono Luminus, Albany, Tzadik, Wergo, and New World record labels, and as a producer on several New Focus releases.

Of his first Bach recording, Gramophone wrote, “An impressive release, then. Full marks to Lippel for daring to show a little humanity.”

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Program Notes


Though the landscape of music history may be littered with the corpses of now obscure instruments, many of those clever inventions did not live their short lives in vain. Were it not for the cumbersome baryton, much of Haydn’s charming chamber music would not exist, and is there a cellist or violist alive that does not thank Herr Stauffer for inventing the arpeggione? Schubert’s timeless Sonata (D.821) lives on, in spite of the demise of its virtually extinct progenitor. The lautenwerk has now joined the ranks of these marvelous musical devices, an ingenious apparatus whose charms prompted the creation of the works found on this recording.

The concept of stringing a plucked keyboard instrument with gut strings had been mentioned in music books for over a century before Bach’s creations, and while no extant instruments exist, two were listed among the Capellmeister’s effects at his death. It comes as no surprise that one of the greatest keyboardists of the era, one who was accustomed to having the kaleidoscopic palette of organ registrations at his fingertips, would yearn for similar variety of plucked timbres. It was reported that Bach himself had designed such an instrument—which was constructed by the organ builder Z. Hildebrandt—seen and heard in Leipzig around 1740 by his student Johann Agricola, which he described as

… smaller in size than a normal harpsichord but in all other respects similar. It had two choirs of gut strings, and a so-called little octave of brass strings. It is true that in its normal setting (that is, when only one stop was drawn) it sounded more like a theorbo than a lute. But if one drew the lute-stop (such as is found on a harpsichord) together with the cornet stop [the 4′ brass stop undamped], one could almost deceive professional lutenists.

Bach’s own cousin Johann Nicolaus Bach built several types of lute-harpsichords, circumventing the inevitable lack of dynamic expression by

ingeniously creating two, or three manual instruments whose extra keys—rather than plucking different sets of strings tuned to a different octave—plucked the same set of strings but with different quill materials and at different points along their length, mimicking the everchanging right hand positions of an actual lutenist.

And so this unusual instrument became midwife to the muse, as revealed by the title page for BWW 996: Praeludio – con La Suite / da / Gio: Bast. Bach / aufs Lauten Werk. The suite has long been heard on the classical guitar—especially its ubiquitous Bourée—in spite of the grueling contrapuntal challenges of its first and last movements, notes that fall much more easily on a keyboard. In fact, the Sonata BWV 997 that follows only underlines the fact that, for most of this repertoire, keys are much more sympathetic than frets.

While the original autograph of 997 has never been found, the three extant keyboard versions of the piece—one copied by the above-mentioned Agricola, another by Johann Kirnberger, whose temperament was used for this recording—contain all five movements. There also exists a copy in French lute tablature by J.C. Weyrauch, an amateur lutenist who excluded the Fuga and Double, clearly the two most difficult movements and beyond his capabilities. He also names the remaining triptych “Partita,” rechristening the opening movement as a “Fantasia.”

In fact, 997 is already a hybrid, mirroring as it does many aspects of the solo Violin works (BWV 1001–1006). It opens with a Prelude & Fugue familiar from the Sonatas, while the Sarabande, Gigue & Double mirror the Partitas (shall we rechristen it as a “Son-ita”?). Further, the Prelude, Fugue, & Allegro BWV 998 is surely a Sonata da Chiesa sans sarabande, though it boasts one of the composers rare da capo fugues, as does the preceding 997.

In Bach’s autograph, 998’s Prelude invites either lutenist or harpsichordist to perform (pour la Luth.`o Cembal) though surprisingly, the last few bars are written in organ tablature. The final Allegro clearly favors the latter player, but instrument choice is certainly not the only issue. All keyed instruments have the innate ability to tune each individual note, whether connected to pipe or string, whereas frets must serve all strings at once. Moving one fret on the Baroque lute actually changes the tuning of eight notes at a time, so a lute could never accurately reproduce the tuning of a keyboard.


Bach’s generation inherited a tuning system in which the chromatic notes—the five black notes in each octave of the piano—were spelled and tuned as either a sharp or a flat. The advantage was that the ‘correctly’ spelled triads were beautifully consonant, while sourness of a misspelled chord was frightfully dissonant, so much so, that only eight of twelve keys in either major or minor were available. The offending intervals were known as ‘wolves,’ and during the late 1600’s, northern European musicians endeavored to tame these wild beasts.

Without going into too many details—and believe me they are legion—the previous legacy system of meantone temperament tuned eleven identical so-called perfect 5ths slightly flat to produce pure major 3rds. The twelfth fifth, however, falls short of the starting point by half a semitone, creating a spiral of 5ths rather than a circle (imagine a circular racetrack gradually sloping downward from the starting point: runners would be surprised to find the finish line above their heads upon their return).

Wishing to make all notes available in all the keys, Andreas Werckmeister devised an elegant solution that interspersed eight wider, pure 5ths amongst four that were flattened, such that the last note was the same as the first. The resulting well temperament (1691) finally achieved the goal of a keyboard that produced acceptable intervals in all keys. The system also contained the delightful by-product of gradually widening major thirds from triad to triad, such that each key (A-major, C-minor, etc.) had its own specific color or ‘character.’ In other words, each triad actually vibrated in a slightly different manner, affecting the harmony, while melodies were shaped by the unequal distance between scale steps, which were never the same from key to key. (Though the modern method of tuning known as equal temperament was also known in Bach’s day, it was rejected by most musicians because it was extremely difficult to tune, and while it certainly ‘closed the circle’ of fifths, all the keys sounded the same.) The wonderful attribute of shifting triadic qualities was highly prized by Baroque musicians, who celebrated—but could never exactly agree on—the expressive characteristics of each key.

As a renowned improviser, Bach embraced this newfound freedom to play in all keys, celebrating the new development for posterity with not just one (1722), but two (1742) books called The Well-Tempered Clavier, each having 24 Preludes & Fugues in all major & minor keys. In the decades that followed, dozens of other well temperaments were concocted, since the three basic criteria of access to all keys, ease of tuning, and variegated key color could be met with various formulas. Yet to this day, it has never been discovered exactly which tuning method Bach preferred, though chances are that for his domestic instruments, they could well have been tuned according to the repertoire at hand, as he was known to be able to tune a harpsichord from scratch in 15 minutes (and preferred to do so).

In order to tune a well temperament on guitar, one needs to determine the pitch of each note found on the fingerboard, a capability that was not readily available until the 20th century. This recording was made on an instrument built by the German luthier Walter Vogt, using his invention The Fine-Tunable Precision Fretboard. Each individual sliding fret has been placed according to a keyboard temperament designed by Johann Kirnberger, a composer who lived with the Bach family for over a year while studying with Johann Sebastian. Years later, he wrote:

Each key has its own special degrees and intervals through which it receives its own character, its own impression, both in the harmony and melody, and through which it is distinguished from all the others…It is difficult to explain what really makes up the differentiating quality of each key, but a practiced ear senses it and a composer of proper reflection and feeling will always know how to choose the key according to the character of the subject which he wishes to express…

But wait…don’t guitarists usually have to transpose these works to make them playable on the instrument? Kirnberger was very clear on the subject:

Whoever hears the various shades of thirds and other [intervallic] relationships (and they can be heard distinctly) will not, except with malicious forethought, transpose a piece into another key. For not a single composition by the late Bach, Graun, Handel, Capellmeister (C.P.E.) Bach in Hamburg and other great composers can be set in a different key without distorting it…

So what a joy it is to finally hear a guitarist offer these three familiar masterworks un-transposed, in all of their original key-colored glory. The modern composer & tuning aficionado Kyle Gann has suggested that, “Playing Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier in today’s equal temperament is like exhibiting Rembrandt paintings with wax paper taped over them.” The same may well be said of Bach played on the modern equal tempered guitar. — John Schneider


by Dan Lippel

Church organ design was the trigger that catalyzed my interest in performing Bach in period temperaments. I was taking a historically informed performance class as part of my doctoral studies at the Manhattan School of Music in 2002. The week’s topic brought us to a discussion of a few different churches in Germany that hosted historical organs with unique features to accommodate various temperaments. The notion that some instruments had separate keys for G# and A-flat because the temperament rendered one or the other untenable in certain keys was a revelation to me.

So many questions! What possibilities would a non-equal tempered octave unlock in terms of subtleties in color from chord to chord? How would it change how we perceived modulation? Or harmonic structure? Might there be a way to play Bach’s music on a guitar that was fretted to conform to the temperaments of the day? And how might the possibility of playing these works in period temperaments impact the ubiquitous practice among guitarists of transposing them to different keys? The prospect of enhancing the unique relationships between key areas and within chord verticalities was a rabbit hole that begged to be explored. It was akin to the difference between eating a frozen meal vs. a fresh meal, with factory-made versus fresh local ingredients. And once the potential sunk in, a deeper realization followed: to what extent had the advent of equal temperament robbed us of the unique flavor of these works, and of harmonic diversity in general?

My graduate school mind brimmed with what I felt were surely revolutionary thoughts (of course this was the hubris of youthful ignorance of the many who have been researching these topics for years). I shared my ideas with my guitar professor at MSM, David Starobin, and will never forget his reaction — a knowing chuckle, a shake of the head, and a raised eyebrow which seem to say, “relish this time while you can, you’ll be lucky to have a moment to consider this type of project once you’ve graduated.” He could not have been more right in so many ways. And yet, I am pinching myself as I write these notes that this project—which seemed so out of reach nearly twenty years ago—has come to fruition. And it has become clear that many others were ruminating around the same ideas. There has been an exciting flood of microtonal guitar activity over recent years, pioneered by those who have been immersed in this work for decades, John Schneider chief among them, and adopted by guitarists of my generation and younger who have also become captivated by the prospect of what lies beyond twelve equal divisions of the octave.

So it was with great enthusiasm that I was given the opportunity to play on and then record these pieces on John’s moveable fret Vogt guitar, arranged in Kirnberger III temperament. The Vogt is a unique instrument—unlike any other I’ve played—with a dense core to its fundamental and impressive sustain, both of which served to emphasize the rarefied colors of the pitch relationships in the Kirnberger tuning. I found the alternate fretting arrangement only slightly disorienting; mostly it kept me honest in terms of left hand placement, and there were only a few voicings that demanded revision. It was interesting to see how different listeners responded to the intonation. Some noticed no difference, likely rounding off the differences in cents to the nearest expected “gestalt” guitar chord in their mind (sadly, our instrument is often out of tune even on the best days). Others who were listening more acutely were really struck by the richness of the adjusted pitch landscape. I found that I heard the temperament most clearly during the close listening of the editing process, when I was freed of the task of playing the suites, and could notice a particularly high, brilliant third here, or a wonderfully compressed diminished seventh there. Performing BWV997 and 998 in the original keys of C minor and E-flat major respectively reveals the magic of the Kirnberger tuning — a generic harmonic progression becomes a unique movement from one chord to another, unlike the same functional series of chords in a different key. Playing 997 in C minor on guitar with a capo on the third fret also lends a lightness of color which is consistent with lute registration and helps brighten the dense middle register counterpoint of the fugue.

Guitarists invariably find themselves looking to other instrument groups for guidance in how to interpret Bach. On my previous Bach recording (New Focus FCR102), my model was the solo string works and the lineage of performance practice surrounding them, emphasizing longer, lyrical lines and implied counterpoint. For this recording, keyboard performance practice was the frame, and I chose to adopt a somewhat stricter rhythmic approach, with more reliance on ornamentation, and an emphasis on verticality, articulation, and counterpoint, which also serves to highlight the temperament.

The process of studying and performing Bach’s music is always an exercise in humility. Every new interpretive decision reveals several cascading implications. The skeleton of the music is so strong that it supports an infinite number of approaches, but there are just as many ways to fail to do justice to one’s own approach once it has been established. Our efforts to present these works in their original keys and in a period temperament are not meant to assert an authoritative stance (I am playing the music on a different instrument than the music was written, and one that did not yet exist after all), but instead to further open up the wealth of possibilities that might be afforded by conjuring some of the musical parameters that point to those of Bach’s time.

For me, the deepest gift of Bach’s music is the process of living and growing with these pieces, the opportunity to try a path, explore it, abandon it, regroup, and try another, all the while reaping the rewards of the genius and revelation of Bach’s impeccable musical constructions. Adding the richness of period temperament and the authenticity of original keys enhances this ever-evolving relationship with a blossoming awareness of the beauty revealed by the finest gradations of pitch.  — D.L.


The concept of dynamic thirds is beautifully illustrated by a temperament published in 1791 by J.S. Bach’s pupil Johann Kirnberger (1721-1783). Now known as Kirnberger III, it is one of the easiest to tune, and is actually an amalgam of two historic tunings – Pythagorean and Meantone. Starting with the note C, the first four 5ths are tempered flat (~), as in standard ¼-comma Meantone (696.5¢), producing a pure major 3rd C-E. Then the rest of the circle is tuned with pure 5ths (3/2 = 702¢), continuing on the sharp side E-B and B-F#, and then flatward from C: F-C, Bb-F, Eb-Bb, Ab-Eb, Db-Ab:

Kirnberger III’s Circle of 5ths, measured in deviation from Equal Tempermanet values:

The resulting “Circle of 3rds,” if you will, progresses from the pure 5/4 (386¢) of Meantone to the very wide 81/64 (408¢) of ‘Pythagorean’ tuning:

The variegation of Major 3rds is not quite symmetrical, nor is the variance of 5ths but the resulting temperament easily demonstrates the contrasting tonalities that result, as each key will have its own singular ‘character’ or ‘color’ that is literally determined by the internal dissonance of the chords. This wonderful attribute of shifting triadic qualities that was highly prized by Baroque musicians—who celebrated but could never agree on the exact characteristics of each key—is easily seen in this Triadograph. A pure 5th is colored sold black, a pure 3rd as solid white. All tempered intervals are various shades of gray:

For more on this and other tunings: Schneider, John. “Microtones: The Well-Tuned Guitar,” The Contemporary Guitar, 2nd Edition [Rowman & Littlefield, 2015], 141-214.


Producers: Dan Lippel & John Schneider
Recording Engineer & Editing: John Schneider
Mastering: Ryan Streber
Liner Notes: John Schneider & Dan Lippel
Art Direction: Jasper McMahon
Photographs: Dan Lippel —  by Andrew Fingland
Vogt Guitar — by Felix Salazar, Guitar Salon International
Lautenwork by Steven Sørli (cover), photo by Jose Luis Tamez
Recording Dates: January 6-8, 2017 —  Earthstar Creation Center, Venice CA

Special Thanks: Felix Salazar for the wonderful photographs, &
Michael Vest & John Volaitis at Earthstar Creation Center

MF 18


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