Past events

31 July 2016, 7pm
with nationally and internationally acclaimed Robert Costin (UK) at the Christ Church South Yarra

Tickets: $35 (regular), $25 (concession)

Venue details

Christ Church South Yarra, cnr Toorak Road and Punt Road

About the performer

Robert Costin

Robert Costin studied organ and harpsichord at the Royal Academy of Music before taking up an organ scholarship to Pembroke College, Cambridge. His principal teachers were Nicholas Danby, David Sanger and John Toll. He combines a busy freelance playing career with the post of Organist at All Saints’ Church, Blackheath, London and a position at St Paul’s Cathedral School, London.

After graduation, Robert moved to New Zealand to take up the post of Assistant Director of Music at St Paul’s Cathedral, Wellington. During this period he became a National Recording Artist for Radio New Zealand, making numerous solo organ broadcasts. He was a major prize winner in the first Hamilton International Organ Competition. He has also held posts at Holy Trinity Cathedral, Auckland, Blackburn Cathedral, Worksop College, Bedford School, Ardingly College and Highgate School.

Robert’s career has taken him all over the world, including Africa, North America, Asia and Australasia. Recent highlights have included his debut with the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra, broadcast live on national radio, and recitals in Washington National Cathedral, The Cathedral of St John Divine, New York, and Notre Dame de Paris. He has also performed in many of the major British venues, including King’s College, Cambridge, St Paul’s Cathedral and Westminster Abbey. Robert has broadcast on Radio New Zealand and the BBC, and his recordings have featured on the popular US radio programme ‘Pipedreams’. He has released six critically acclaimed CDs on the Atoll, Kiwi Pacific and Stone record labels.

More information at

The following youtube clip is a recording by Robert Costin on the Metzler organ of Trinity College Cambridge (December 2014).


Johann Sebastian Bach Das Wohltemperirte Clavier I (“The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book 1”), BWV 846–869

1.    Prelude and Fugue in C major, BWV 846
2.    Prelude and Fugue in C minor, BWV 847
3.    Prelude and Fugue in C-sharp major, BWV 848
4.    Prelude and Fugue in C-sharp minor, BWV 849
5.    Prelude and Fugue in D major, BWV 850
6.    Prelude and Fugue in D minor, BWV 851
7.    Prelude and Fugue in E-flat major, BWV 852
8.    Prelude in E-flat minor and Fugue in D-sharp minor, BWV 853
9.    Prelude and Fugue in E major, BWV 854
10.    Prelude and Fugue in E minor, BWV 855
11.    Prelude and Fugue in F major, BWV 856
12.    Prelude and Fugue in F minor, BWV 857


13.    Prelude and Fugue in F-sharp major, BWV 858
14.    Prelude and Fugue in F-sharp minor, BWV 859
15.    Prelude and Fugue in G major, BWV 860
16.    Prelude and Fugue in G minor, BWV 861
17.    Prelude and Fugue in A-flat major, BWV 862
18.    Prelude and Fugue in G-sharp minor, BWV 863
19.    Prelude and Fugue in A major, BWV 864
20.    Prelude and Fugue in A minor, BWV 865
21.    Prelude and Fugue in B-flat major, BWV 866
22.    Prelude and Fugue in B-flat minor, BWV 867
23.    Prelude and Fugue in B major, BWV 868
24.    Prelude and Fugue in B minor, BWV 869

Click here to access Robert's detailed notes on the program.

“If ever a composer has shown polyphony in all its strength, it was surely Bach.… Nobody has shown as much as he, in works which normally seem so dry, as much imagination and originality of thought.... His melodies were indeed unusual, but they were always varied, rich in invention, and they are not at all like those of other composers. His serious temperament drew him privately towards elaborate music which was grave and profound.”

So wrote Johann Sebastian Bach’s second son, Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (1714–1788), just four years after his father’s death, a rare tribute from the son who in his day was considered an even more eminent composer. It would be difficult to find words more apt for the two volumes of Das Wolhtemperirte Clavier (WTC).

Bach outlines his ambitions for WTC 1 on the elaborate ornamental title page of the autograph fair copy of 1722, echoing the ancient classical tie between the pleasure and profit of art: "For the use and profit of the musical youth desirous of learning, as well as for the pastime of those already skilled in this study". Indeed, for the strict Lutheran, learning itself was a divine gift. Similar intentions had been included in the title pages of two other volumes he had compiled around the same time, the Orgelbüchlein (c.1713–1715) and the 15 two-part Inventions and 15 three-part Sinfonias (1723). All these collections can certainly be regarded as compendia of contrapuntal devices and as unique teaching resources. For Bach's pupils the WTC became the prime vehicle for advanced study in both keyboard playing and composition.

Bach was 37 when he completed WTC 1 and it marks an important stage in his development, fully revealing his large-scale organisational power and supreme intellectual control. The second volume was compiled 20 years later and is 50% longer than WTC 1, showing his imagination running more freely and expansively in his full maturity. The WTC spans much of Bach’s professional life, the earliest pieces probably having been written in his twenties and the last ones when he was nearly 60; they provide a striking insight into the development of his musical mind and compositional priorities. Early versions of some of the 'white-note' preludes (C, D, E and F) are found in the Clavierbüchlein (1720) for Bach's eldest son, Wilhelm Friedemann Bach (1710–1784). No two of the 96 movements are similar and they reveal his inimitable skill in weaving strong pieces out of original, pithy musical ideas.

The WTC has been described as a monument to the ambiguities of tonal relations. Experiments in keyboard tuning in the later seventeenth century had resulted in various systems that made remoter keys tolerable to the ear, involving the evening out, or 'tempering', of the necessary intervals. Just how equal Bach’s system of tuning was is a debatable subject, but there is no doubt that his ’well-tempered‘tuning at least made all keys possible. No doubt some keys were probably more equal than others, giving each one its own character, an effect lost in modern equal temperament in which all semitones are equidistant from each other in every key. An important precursor to WTC 1 is Ariadne Musica (1702, republished in 1715) by Johann Caspar Ferdinand Fischer (c1656–1746), a collection of preludes and little fugues for organ using 19 major and minor keys and the Phrygian mode on E. The first to use all 24 keys was not Bach, but Johann Mattheson (1681–1764) who in 1719 wrote figured-bass exercises in all the keys in his Die Exemplarische Organistenprobe (Exemplary Test Exercises for Organists).

A recording by Robert of the complete 'Well-tempered clavier' is now available on Spotify and at iTunes and Amazon.

'Well-tempered clavier, Book I' on organ (July 2016)

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    Robert Costin playing 'Well-tempered clavier, Book I' on organ (July 2016)
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