The Urtext (original) editions of Bach’s keyboard music offer sparse directions about phrasing/articulation, (groupings of notes) so the player has to make important decisions that reflect a Baroque style. But what are the guidelines in a process that has an intellectual and affective dimension?
To the extreme, some pianists use pedal and soak up linear lines of counterpoint. These independent strands of skips and steps that move along at Andantino or Allegretto pace, etc. are drowned in sustain. (Phrase markings, detached note playing, etc. will not compensate for an over-soaked musical fabric)
In Bach’s Little Prelude in C minor, BWV 934, for example, my most recent undertaking, I was sent a score that seemed to be edited in a way that the harmonic rhythm (flow of harmony) and sequences were mostly ignored. Dynamics inserted did not necessarily reflect a fall down in measures that were modulations a step down. A counter melody in the bass (measures 33-37) that occurred in three sub-divided measures was marked off by pure legato slurs. (In this editing, an important line was lost)
In addition, there were long groupings of legato-slurred melodic phrases that would suit a Romantic era composition, not one originating in the Baroque.
But did I want to imitate the harpsichord as I took my pencil in a slash-mode fashion, making my own edits?
I had no intention of playing never-ending detached notes, especially where a melody had its own charming contour, and seemed grouped in two-measure frames at the start. My own aesthetic, based upon playing a modern-day piano, would not embrace imitating an instrument that had its own built-in character and form of expression.
Purists might think otherwise.
In my soul-searching, I decided to consult two pianists known for their interpretations of Bach.
Here are Glenn Gould and Angela Hewitt playing Little Prelude in C minor, BWV 934, followed by my own performance and that of a child. (Note the lovely ornamentation in Gould/Hewitt’s readings)
In the first section, Gould plays the soprano line detachee, while on the repeat of the same, he’s playing legato. His sequences have consistent internal groupings.
Characteristically, he seems to flesh out detached phrases as against the same in legato. I also noted his long lines of bass legato, against treble detached notes. Then he reversed it.
Gould exhibits a variety of articulations in a very relaxed tempo that suits this approach. (you can hear him singing occasionally, which matched the selected pace)
Hewitt’s performance moves more briskly in dance-like fashion, and I particularly underscored her bass sequence articulations in measures 33-37. In measures 16, 17 and 18 she detached the treble line quarters, which fleshed out the agogic dimension of tied notes. (a natural accent by dint of their length amidst surrounding shorter note values) I favored her note groupings at the cadences, A and B sections.
My own revised playing: (A tad faster than Hewitt’s performance)
A child’s lovely reading without repeats: (Listen to her phrasing/articulation)
These inserted edits, in the aftermath of my having separately studied the first two interpretations, were a synthesis of what made sense to me in Hewitt’s reading, re: phrasing/articulation/harmonic rhythm, and my own idea strands. (dynamics were influenced by sequences and harmonic flow)
My original, preliminary ideas about this Prelude, after I had carefully listened to Hewitt’s rendition, though I made changes in the course of practicing the work: