Records and sheet music of The Well-Tempered Clavier to go free

MuseScore team, Robert Douglass, and Kimiko Ishizaka are joining forces again to liberate more work by J.S. Bach, this time — The Well-Tempered Clavier.

Two years after their first successful project, Open Goldberg Variations, they are about to meet in Teldex Studio, Berlin, to record all 48 pieces of “The Well-Tempered Clavier” and release them into public domain.

“The 48” (BWV 846–893) is a compilation of a book of preludes and fugues in all 24 major and minor keys from 1722 and a much later book of the same kind from 1742. Originally composed “for the profit and use of musical youth desirous of learning, and especially for the pastime of those already skilled in this study”, The Well-Tempered Clavier is generally regarded as being among the most influential works in the history of Western classical music.

All recordings will be freely available in MP3, WAV, and lossless FLAC file formats. The master multi-track WAV files containing all tracks and microphones will also be published online, should you want to remix them.

The score will be produced by Olivier Miquel, a long time MuseScore user from France and a music teacher by contract. Much like the Open Golberg Variations project, this is likely to help improving MuseScore itself. Thomas Bonte (MuseScore team) explains:

The score will be made with the nightly build of MuseScore. When we release the score, it will come together with a 2.0 beta release. In our dreams however, 2.0 will be released already.

Together with the typesetter Olivier Miquel, we already started investigating where MuseScore lacks and improvements are applied already. Olivier had already typesetted some parts of Book I in MuseScore 1.x, and we noticed that the import of the file into the nightly build came with some issues. So that was already an immediate improvement for MuseScore.

Werner Schweer, lead developer of MuseScore who did all the typesetting for Open Goldberg Variations, will be focusing on actual development this time. And Olivier is not an arbitrary choice. Over to Thomas again:

We picked, because we know him, and since he is really into MuseScore and well as doing typesetting work with MuseScore, he was the right match. Olivier is also proponent of Creative Commons, so we didn’t have to explain the license.

We asked Robert Douglass, what lessons they learned from the previous campaign, and how they are going to improve on it this time. Robert kindly replied:

We learned that it is harder, and more expensive, to make a world class recording than one would imagine. You have to be obsessive about quality, and you have to have the resources to follow that obsession.

For example, you can’t rush the time in the studio. If you really care about the sound, and the perfection of the playing, you need time. So we did two things in this project to help with that.

We’re asking for more money. That’s in part because it is a longer piece, and therefore will naturally take more time, but also because we understand the budget better.

The team is also enlisting the help of a real record label for the production and distribution of the CD:

PARMA Recordings has been an amazing resource for us so far in the campaign, and they’re going to boost the level of quality of the final product to a new level.

It’s just amazing that, at a time when the rest of the recording industry is suing their customers, PARMA is enthusiastically investing in a public domain recording that will literally say “Copy this CD. Share this music with someone and teach them to love the music of J.S. Bach.”

Thomas Bonte adds to that:

Last year Jan Nieuwenhuizen, co-founder of Lilypond, upon learning that Bösendorfer sponsored the Open Goldberg Project, started a thread called “What are we missing”. At first I thought the Lilypond community had simply been missing a “Robert” among their midst — someone who can package a idea in a such a way that people can understand to it and are even willing to invest in it.

But it was more than that. You also need an idea. In itself software is boring, it just needs to do what it’s supposed to do. So the question is how software can transcend its boring nature. It’s by letting it become an instrumental tool to reach a much higher goal. This is exactly what we achieved with OpenGoldberg and what we would like to repeat with OpenWTC.

OpenGoldberg gave us a platform to develop new ideas and made it possible to us to present those at live events worldwide. The MuseScore software alone would never succeed receiving this platform. This is what I learned.

Much like the recent Musopen campaign that aims to liberate Chopin’s work, stretch goals here include creating iPad and Android apps with digital scores following actual music. They also feature publishing vinyl records (now that’s a fan service!), producing high quality MIDI files, and adding more cities to the CD release tour (backers will vote on cities).

During the Kickstarter campaign Kimiko Ishizaka will be doing a promo tour 12 cities in Germany, Czech Republic, Austria, Belgium, and USA, starting on September 24, 2013 (see the Kickstarter page for more details).

Anna Osipanova, a Russian filmmaker, will be doing a documentary about the 12 concerts tour, and the recording session. Robert Douglass comments:

She discovered the project, because she needed free music for a film and used Open Goldberg, then she looked up Kimiko and fell in love with her as a “strong heroine”.

So you should expect a lot of video as well.

Speaking of Musopen, Robert Douglass recently interviewed Aarun Dunn. It’s a quite interesting discussion that touches many aspects of Musopen’s efforts in making classical music freely available.

Even with just 48 pieces involved, Open Well-Tempered Clavier is still an ambitious project, but the community seems supportive: the campaign is already 45% funded after just three days of running.

Will it make a difference to the recording and score publishing industries in the log run? We don’t know. But, as Robert Douglass nicely put it in the interview with Aaron Dunn, artist is happy, audience is happy, and who else is there?