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The interpretation of Bach on the piano
Transcript of The interpretation of Bach on the piano
The Interpretation of
on the Piano
Why play Bach?
Bach influenced so much music after him
Bach on the
Learning a musical style is like learning a new language
‘Let The Well-Tempered Clavier be your daily bread. Then you will certainly become a solid musician.’
- Robert Schumann
'Study Bach. There you will find everything.'
- Johannes Brahms
What you can learn from playing Bach:
finger and hand independence
On a practical level,
Why are so many people put off by Bach?
Difficulty of comprehending his works:
Cultural/aesthetic vacuum in our interpretation of Bach and other Baroque composers
General lack of
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.’
- François Couperin
Knowing the unwritten assumptions through the study of performance practice helps us understand what Bach truly intended
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
had 20 children,
but only 10 survived to adulthood
on the way from
‘Clavier’ can refer to
Clavichords do have
, an instrument that Bach loved
Bach actually knew and sold
He praised its
but thought the
Two things that organ and harpsichord exploit because of their lack of dynamics:
Bach’s playing style
deft and efficient technique,
‘I was instructed by my teacher, Capellmeister Bach, not to play the songs merely offhand but according to the
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
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)
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
is central to Bach's music
Unlike later music, Baroque music adheres to
Baroque compositions usually consist of
mood per piece
Identifying the ‘affekt’ of the piece is the
the performer has to do.
Dissonance = tension
consonance = release
Different musical intervals
different levels of tension
'In general it can be said that
dissonances are played loudly
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 levels as well
The ‘sewing machine’ regularity and evenness of much Baroque music performance owes more to 20th century aesthetic than 18th century
Determined by the
Bach’s keyboard scores rarely indicate dynamics, when they do, they refer to registration changes on the harpsichord.
Ornamentation is the most debated field in performance practice
Two schools of thought on pedalling
pedalling for legato
pedalling for colour
Affekt has a direct effect on articulation:
energetic -> detached
sad -> legato
1. Slurs goes from
3. Try different levels of detachedness - listen to the release of notes
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
More often, Bach's dynamics are
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...
Most ornaments have a
as well as
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
as registration (change of manual)
2. If you create a gap between two notes, you will emphasise the second note.
‘Music prior to 1800 speaks, while subsequent music paints. The former must be understood, since anything that is spoken presupposes understanding. The latter affects us by means of moods which need not be understood, because they should be felt.’
- Nicolas Harnoncourt