The Well-Tempered Synthesizer

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The Well-Tempered Synthesizer
Reissue front cover
Studio album by Wendy Carlos
Released November 1969
Recorded 1969
Genre Electronic, classical
Length 35:50
Label Columbia Masterworks Records
Producer Rachel Elkind
Wendy Carlos chronology
Switched-On Bach
The Well-Tempered Synthesizer
Sonic Seasonings
Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
Allmusic 5/5 stars [1]

The Well-Tempered Synthesizer is the second studio album from the American musician and composer Wendy Carlos, originally released under her birth name, Walter Carlos, in November 1969 on Columbia Masterworks Records. Following the success of her previous album, Switched-On Bach (1968), Carlos proceeded to record a second album of classical music performed on a modular Moog synthesizer from multiple composers, including Johann Sebastian Bach, Claudio Monteverdi, Domenico Scarlatti, and Handel. Its title is a play on words from Bach's set of preludes and fugues named The Well-Tempered Clavier.

Upon its release, the album peaked at No. 199 on the US Billboard 200 chart and was nominated for two Grammy Awards.


In 1969, during the unexpected commercial success of her debut studio album Switched-On Bach (1968), Carlos and her friend, collaborator, and producer Rachel Elkind started work on a follow-up using the same formula as Switched-On Bach: performing selections of classical music on a modular Moog synthesizer. Carlos planned to record an "ambitious 19th-century work", but the lack of sufficient multi-track recording capabilities at the time could not allow such an undertaking. Ideas for Carlos to record her own compositions seemed "untimely" and was shelved for potential future albums. The two decided on a "new switched on Baroque album" featuring multiple composers, including Johann Sebastian Bach, Claudio Monteverdi, Domenico Scarlatti, and Handel.[2]

Like Switched-On Bach, the album was recorded on an 8-track Ampex tape recorder using numerous takes and overdubs. Carlos chose pieces from Handel's Water Music suites as the music contained passages that suited to the limitations of the Moog synthesizer.[3]

Canadian pianist Glenn Gould spoke about Carlos' rendition of Brandenburg Concerto No. 4 in G major: "To put it bluntly, the finest performance of any of the Brandenburgs—live, canned, or intuited—I've ever heard."[2]


The Well-Tempered Synthesizer was released in November 1969. It peaked at No. 199 on the Billboard 200 chart and was nominated for two Grammy Awards. In February 1974, Billboard reported that the album had sold around 200,000 copies in the US.[4]

Track listing[edit]

  1. "Stereo Test Tone"
  2. Monteverdi: "Orfeo Suite" (Toccata; Ritornello I; Choro II; Ritornello II; Choro II; Ritornello II)
  3. Scarlatti: "Sonata In G Major, L. 209/K. 455"
  4. Scarlatti: "Sonata In D Major, L. 164/K. 491"
  5. Handel: "Water Music: Bourrée"
  6. Handel: "Water Music: Air"
  7. Handel: "Water Music: Allegro Deciso"
  8. Scarlatti: "Sonata In E Major, L. 430/K. 531"
  9. Scarlatti: "Sonata In D Major, L. 465/K. 96"
  10. Bach: "Brandenburg Concerto #4 in G Major: Allegro"
  11. Bach: "Brandenburg Concerto #4 in G Major: Andante"
  12. Bach: "Brandenburg Concerto #4 in G Major: Presto"
  13. Monteverdi: "Domine Ad Adjuvandum" (from the 1610 Vespers)



  1. ^ The Well-Tempered Synthesizer at AllMusic
  2. ^ a b The Well-Tempered Synthesizer (Media notes). Columbia Masterworks Records. 1969. MS 7286. 
  3. ^ - The Well-Tempered Synthesizer
  4. ^ 16 February 1974 edition of Billboard magazine, page 27.