on 11 November 2012
This book sets out to analyse the Well-tempered Clavier, a very significant work in the repertoire. It starts by breaking down the full title of the work, providing a broad yet often very detailed contextual history that elucidates the work and indeed Baroque keyboard music more generally, including as it does information about various keyboard instruments and Bach's experience with them, tuning systems, keys, and the genres of prelude and fugue (considered individually as well as in combination). Subsequently, there is an analysis of each prelude and fugue, highlighting character, features of interest, context, as well as details of the harmony and counterpoint. Whilst the analysis of the fugues is somewhat less systematic than Prout's, the remit is wider (Prout analyses the fugues largely in terms of the fugal apparatus, and is more exhaustive in that aspect than Ledbetter).
The level of detail is, in general, greater than that of Schulenberg's book (on Bach's keyboard music), but if you are undertaking a thorough analysis of a specific Prelude and Fugue, it is probably a good idea to consult both Ledbetter and Schulenberg (and if specifically considering the fugal structure and techniques, it is also worth consulting Prout).
For me, the best feature was Appendix B, which explained concisely in a single page "The problem of temperament", in a manner that was both clear and specific. After reading this short explanation, everything made sense to me, after years of trying to understand temperament. If you find the mathematics behind temperament confusing, then I would strongly recommend you read this page (then read chapter 2 for more details of the history of tuning systems).
Whilst I do not fully agree with everything Ledbetter says in this book (e.g.: his suggestion that Bach did not have the organ in mind for any of the preludes and fugues), it is still by and large an excellent piece of scholarship. This is an academic book, yet I think some chapters would be locupletative to non-specialist readers that want to ameliorate their understanding of the history and context of the Well-tempered Clavier, keyboard instruments of the Baroque, or tuning systems.