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Untitled

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by

Timothy Kwok

on 9 August 2013

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Transcript of Untitled

photo credit Nasa / Goddard Space Flight Center / Reto Stöckli
The Interpretation of
Bach
on the Piano

Why play Bach?
Bach influenced so much music after him.
Bach's world
Bach on the
modern piano

Final thoughts
Learning a musical style is like learning a new language
‘Music owes as much to Bach as religion to its founder.’
- Robert Schumann

'Study Bach. There you will find everything.'
- Johannes Brahms

What you can learn from playing Bach:
finger and hand independence
ear training
mental focus
general musicianship
On a practical level,
piano exams
and
auditions
always have
Bach
Why are so many people put off by Bach?
Difficulty of comprehending his works:
Abstract
Unprogrammatic
Too religious

Cultural/aesthetic vacuum in our interpretation of Bach and other Baroque composers
General lack of
expressive markings
,
tempo indications
,
dynamic markings, etc.
‘To my mind there are mistakes in the way we notate music which derive from the way we notate language. Our pieces are not notated as they are played. For this reason foreigners do not play our music as well as their own.’

-- Francois Couperin
Knowing the unwritten assumptions through the study of performance practice helps us understand what Bach truly intended
How was
Bach
like?
Bach the believer
The devout Lutheran who thought wrote ‘S.D.G.’ at the end of his works
Bach the workaholic
Bach the human being
Turned out one cantata per week when he was in Leipzig

Stubborn, especially when it came to artistic matters which often led to disputes with his employers
Married twice,
had 20 children,
but only 10 survived
‘Fish incident’
on the way from
Hamburg
back to
Luneburg
'Geyersbach incident’
August 1705
Instruments
‘Clavier’ can refer to
harpsichord
,
clavichord
or
organ

Clavichords do have
d
y
n
a
m
i
c

g
r
a
d
a
t
i
o
n
s
, an instrument that Bach loved
Bach actually knew and sold fortepianos!
He praised its
tone
,
but thought the
treble
too weak
and the
touch
too heavy
Two things that organ and harpsichord exploit because of their lack of dynamics:
timing
and
articulation
Bach’s playing style
Brisk tempos,
deft and efficient technique,

strong contrasts,

emotional directness
‘I was instructed by my teacher, Capellmeister Bach, not to play the songs merely offhand but according to the
Affekt
of the words.’
‘However, whoever knows the
excellent legato style
, with which Bach treated the organ, could not possibly be pleased by Shroter’s style, for he always played
staccato
on the organ.’
In the famous preface to the inventions and sinfonias, Bach suggest a
‘singing style of playing’
Can Bach be played authentically on the modern piano?
Bach himself might have thought this question irrelevant, as he would have played his works on whatever instrument available to him.
He often transcribed the same piece for different instrumentation
He was more concerned with the musical content rather than the instrument itself.
What is necessary is to have some knowledge of the effects and resources of Bach’s instruments, so that informed choices can be made when playing his music on the modern piano
Some misconceptions about ‘reproducing’ historical effects on the piano
Playing at a uniform dynamic level
Everything detached (staccato)
Machine-like evenness
Playing very softly
General Baroque musical concepts
The doctrine of affectation
Music should move the listener in a particular way by nature of its distinct ‘affekt’ (mood).
Consonance and Dissonance
The interplay of
consonance
and
dissonance
is central to Bach's music
Metrical Hierarchy
Unlike later music, Baroque music adheres to
strong
and
weak
beats clearly
love
/
hate
joy
/
sorrow
wonder
/
desire

Baroque compositions usually consist of
one
mood per piece
Identifying the ‘affekt’ of the piece is the
first thing
the performer has to do.
Dissonance=tension

consonance=release
Different musical intervals
=
different levels of tension
Triad=Trinity

Tritone=devil
'In general it can be said that
dissonances are played loudly
and
consonances softly
since the former rouse our emotions and the latter quiet them.'
- C P E Bach
Identifying dissonances and highlighting them is of greatest importance in Bach.

This goes on to subdivision level as well

The ‘sewing machine’ regularity and evenness of much Baroque music performance owes more to 20th century aesthetic than 18th century
Particular issues
Articulation
Notes
->
figures
syllables
->
words
Tempo
Determined by the
affekt
and
metre
, and
tempo marking
(if available)
Dynamics
Bach’s keyboard scores rarely indicate dynamics, but there are many clues in the score
Ornamentation
Ornamentation is the most debated field in performance practice
Pedalling
Two schools of thought on pedalling
pedalling for legato
pedalling for colour
Big intervals
->
detached
Stepwise
->
legato
Affekt has a direct effect on articulation:
energetic -> detached
sad -> legato.
Slurs goes from
loud
to
soft
Try different levels of detachedness
Use a mixture of different articulations

The faster the note value in the metre, the quicker the tempo
3/8 is quicker than 3/4
The same is not true for later music
Pick a tempo that works for all sections

Know the dance forms and their traditional tempi
Bach's dynamics are often
‘written in’.
Vertical and lateral density
of musical texture is a crucial factor
Rather than restricting a piece to simple contrasts, the pianist should seek out the dynamics implied by textural contrasts, harmonies and other elements.
In general, it’s safest to play ornaments from the upper auxiliary and on the beat to satisfy teachers and examiners
Most ornaments have a
harmonic
as well as
melodic
function.
If you absorb yourself in the vocabulary of the new language, soon it will be part of you and you no longer have to think of rules.
Ultimately performance practice expands rather than limits the choices you can make.
The important thing is to see through the veil of notes and convey the spiritual essence of Bach’s music
Una corda
as registration (change of manual)
Full transcript