Bach with Pluck played by Elaine Comparone and Dusan Bogdanovic, Dusan Bogdanovic guitarist, Elaine Comparone, harpsichord, Harpsichord.org, wordpress.com, you tube, you tube.com

Bach with and without Pluck

images-1Elaine Comparone and Dusan Bogdanovic produced a stunning CD, combining harpsichord and guitar in their J.S Bach Inventions and Sinfonias collaboration.

Both musicians have firmly established reputations as fine performers and recording artists so their get-together has surely been a treat for listeners far and wide.

Just today, I broke out my Bach with Pluck!, and dashed off a few emails to Elaine about my reaction to the disk, piece by piece.

images

It was an overwhelming thumbs up, but the thought popped into my head to post a side-by-side acoustic piano rendering of the first offering, Invention 1 in C.

LINKS:

Harpsichord.org

http://www.harpsichord.org

The Harpsichord has a new lease on life

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2012/01/20/the-harpsichord-has-a-new-lease-on-life-elaine-comparone-is-its-biggest-advocate/

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2012/12/04/a-visit-with-elaine-comparone-at-her-harpsichord-palace-in-new-york-city/

Dusan Bogdanovic
WIKI
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dušan_Bogdanović

Berkeley CA, Berkeley Fellowship of Unitarian Universalists, Elaine Comparone, First Moravian Church of NYC, Harpsichord.org, music in churches, piano, Shirley Kirsten, Shirley Smith Kirsten, wordpress, yout tube, youtube.com

What’s Happened to Music in Churches, Temples and other religious sanctuaries with the latest update from Berkeley CA

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2011/11/20/whats-happened-to-music-in-churches-temples-and-other-religious-sanctuaries/

update 2013

"Tales of a Musical Journey" by Irina Gorin, classissima, classissima.com, Elaine Comparone, Harpsichord.org, how to improve memorization at the piano, Irina Gorin, piano, piano addict.com, Seymour Bernstein, Uncategorized

The Haydn Piano Sonata in C, UNPINNED, and matters of Memorization

Well, it’s still not memorized yet, but the clips and staples mounted far too high on the rack, have been undone. I no longer need a giraffe’s neck to play through the sonata’s many first movement pages. The music has descended to eye-level.

Incidentally, my feeble excuse for using music was my relatively recent exposure to this work–It would take a while to absorb it minus an unreliable cut and paste exhibit.

And this brings up the subject of memorization, and whether it advances a composition’s performance. Many would attest that owning this masterwork without reliance on the score, would free the spirit and soul?

Or maybe not?

Here’s feedback from a few well-known music teachers/performers:

Irina Gorin: (creator, Tales of a Musical Journey, Books I and II–her own unique approach to teaching piano to beginners and on)

“For me performance with music looks a lot like practicing. I’m used to performing by memory, and I require from all my students that they perform from memory, unless there are some really big problems. But, so far, in 30 years of teaching, every single student of mine was able to perform from memory. There are tons of articles written about memorization and different tricks to help with that. I don’t think I have anything new to say.”

I interjected that Sviatoslav Richter, the great Russian virtuoso, often performed in public with music as exemplified in these videos:

Haydn Piano Concerto in D, movement 1


Handel Suite in D Minor

If I close my eyes, I enjoy these readings, without any distraction of watching the artist’s eyes glued to the score. And what difference should this detail of production make? It was Richter’s philosophy, in any case, that he “played for himself and not the audience.” His personal pleasure was transmitted outward.

To which Gorin responded:

“Richter had music only in a few very last years of performing, and he was over 70 years old. His late performances were not his best. Also, there are different types of performances” formal and informal. I would not mind sheet music if played for a circle of friends or home video, but the big stage is a different story. IMO :)”

Not to be argumentative, but pianists are put to a higher standard in this realm than instrumentalists such as flautists and clarinetists. The latter routinely march onto the stage with the music and no one much cares.

Certainly music critics, on pedestals of power, don’t specifically fault a performer for playing with the score.

A well-reviewed pianist, Leon Fleisher, played Book I of the Well Tempered Clavier with music propped on the rack at the Fresno Keyboard Concerts Series.

Would he have played better without the page turner peering over his shoulder? In some instances, the answer might be a resounding, yes!

I watched an awkward page turner push an Urtext album into accompanist, Martin Katz’s lap in Carnegie Hall. The soloist was either Milstein, violinist, or Shafrin Cellist. Ironically, MY MEMORY FAILS ME! Yet I do recall Katz carrying on gloriously without music to the final cadence. (A good example of MEMORY having come to his rescue!)

Seymour Bernstein explored this very subject in his popular book, With Your Own Two Hands, Chapter 10

Sub-heading, “Why Memorize?”

“There is something very important to be gained from memorization that many musicians themselves may not be aware of. Apart from freeing a performer in musical and technical ways, memorization, per se, despite current opinion to the contrary, actually sharpens the mind.” (He quotes, by analogy, students of ancient Greece who had to memorize all their texts and recitations as a key to mastery in public speaking AND to hone their minds)

Back to the piano: “Some performers are distracted by any visual contact with notation, and therefore prefer to play without a score. Better to risk forgetting, they feel, than do anything that might interfere with their involvement in the music. Other musicians have a complete sense of freedom only when the score is before them.”

Bernstein went on to discuss recording sessions, where he asserts, the decision whether to use music or not, resides with the recording company. He cites a case in point:

“I had been invited to record a recital for the BBC and was somewhat surprised to find in my contract, a stipulation that a page turner be present in the studio. The reason, of course, was that the BBC quite simply did not want to waste more time than was necessary with retakes owing to memory slips.”

In tune with Bernstein’s reflections, I noted a videotaped recording session memorialized on You Tube where Vladimir Horowitz has the mandatory page turner sitting beside him at a reading of Mozart’s Concerto No. 23. (Carlo Maria Guilini conducts)

**

Elaine Comparone, renowned harpsichordist, shared her own valuable insights about memorizing: portraitelainecomparone2

“Memorizing is as physical as mental but it’s not at all an intellectual process as such. Once you memorize a composition, then those tools are useful for preparing it for performance– kind of as an adjunct practice tool. But the piece has to take hold of your subconscious as well as your conscious mind via your fingers and your ears.”

This statement dispels myths about over-reliance on the analytic ingredients of score, making one further probe the depths of a memorization process.

***

(As usual, thoughts and ideas are welcomed from the teaching and student community about a controversial area of performing)
See PIANO WORLD.com thread related to this topic:

http://www.pianoworld.com/forum/ubbthreads.php/topics/2022450/1.html

And on this note, here’s my personal confession about memorization in performance that may ring familiar. It’s in the form of a letter sent to a piano teacher:

“One of the big issues for pianists is the psychological dimension of memorization, and sadly, many teachers equate a student’s inability to memorize with his failure to properly organize or analyze the score according to theoretical and structural content in his protracted learning process. (harmonic rhythm, modulations of course included in this universe)

“But as COMPARONE points out, this type of analysis is not enough.

“I once played a recital, that began without music on the rack.. it was being recorded for airing later on Valley Public Radio. It opened with the rather straightforward first Scene of Childhood, “Of Foreign Lands and People.”

“I knew that piece in my sleep, yet I don’t even know what I played for the first phrase. At that point my music was taken out and put up before me, with my page turner standing by.

“Am I to feel any less of a musician because I play with music? Did this mean that I hadn’t studied my pieces thoroughly, as you know my learning emphasis is ground up, baby-step, layering. (and impart this approach to all my students)

“I gave one of the most inspiring performances of my life at Temple Beth Israel WITH music, and I couldn’t imagine ever having played for two hours without my music.

“I guess I’m writing this because each musician must decide for him/herself what works, and what produces the highest performance standard at any given time that he is capable of.

“So it follows that I refuse to be hard on my students if they cannot play without music. I still say it’s a tradition-bound construct that does not universally apply across the board to ALL musicians. (flautists, violinists, cellists, and the like)

“Recently, I watched violinist, Sarah Chang perform Beethoven sonatas with music, and I enjoyed her performance just the same which affirms my opinions in this universe of discussion.”

***

Pertinent LINKS

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2013/01/21/a-well-known-haydn-piano-sonata-is-pinned/

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2011/06/17/memorization-at-the-piano-how-to-improve-your-skills/

IRINA GORIN:
https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2012/03/24/irina-gorin-creator-of-tales-of-a-musical-journey-shares-her-thoughts-about-braving-a-new-piano-teaching-universe/

SEYMOUR BERNSTEIN, author, With Your Own Two Hands
with_your_own_two_hands

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2012/12/06/my-nyc-visit-with-seymour-bernstein-pianist-teacher-author-and-composer/


http://www.seymourbernstein.com


ELAINE COMPARONE:

http://www.harpsichord.org

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2012/12/04/a-visit-with-elaine-comparone-at-her-harpsichord-palace-in-new-york-city/

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2013/01/07/vibrant-music-making-at-rest-or-at-play/

Andras Schiff, Bach Prelude in C BWV 846, Elaine Comparone, Harpsichord Unlimited, Harpsichord.org, piano, playing Bach with pedal, playing Bach without pedal, playing the piano, The Well Tempered Clavier, word press, word press.com, wordpress, wordpress.com, you tube video, you tube.com, yout tube, youtube.com

Playing Bach on the piano: pedal or no pedal

I thought I was dazed silly on this topic, ready to bury it in a time capsule for generation Z Baroque scholars to quibble about while the polar ice caps have their ominous, final meltdown.

No such luck. A hot debate is brewing on Facebook, of all places, and the posts are surviving annoying POKES.

Bottom line:

What does it take to convert a pianist who always played the first Bach Prelude in C, Well-Tempered Clavier, Book One, WITH pedal. (Remember how it became the sonorous underpinning for the religioso “Ave Maria”) Should we therefore trade a rich bed of harmony for a bare bones framing?

Bach Prelude in C

I was a cynic, if not a blatant heathen, refusing to surrender my precious RIGHT pedal in the interests of PURITANICAL purity, even if Andras Schiff adjudicated my aesthetic decision about Prelude 1 on the Final Judgment Day! (Schiff’s Bach performances were notoriously sustain-less)

With stubborn resistance, I would stick to my pedal, holding it down as long as I needed to….

That is, until I had a consciousness-raising in the days following my recent trip to New York City.

Seymour Bernstein, celebrated pianist, author, scholar and composer, weighed in at the piano, while Elaine Comparone, world-renowned harpsichordist demonstrated at her music/love/repository.

Two side-by-side playings with commentary fed my intellect and spirit.

Seymour advocated a pedaling that was NOT at the beginning of the measure, in the usual legato bar-to-bar sequence, so commonly embraced, especially by those who were into the harp-like effect. His mid-measure pedal depression after the first E of the opening broken chord, with an echo effect driven by sub-groupings of notes, was inviting. In a unique way, it allowed a counter-voice in the bass/tenor to have a clear and defined outline, and for the first time, I heard a separation of voices reflected in a pleasing counterpoint.

The uppermost soprano line had also gained more prominence through this approach.

Finally, Seymour’s revolutionary impulses were registered in a decision to make the CLIMAX of the prelude the final secondary DOMINANT of the Sub-Dominant in measure 32 right before the Coda. He insisted that this very CODA would “lay an egg” otherwise. (Would I chuckle and go along with the menu?) I always considered the peak of this composition to be measure 29 at the PRIMARY DOMINANT juncture after which I tapered off to a relative whisper in a silky diminuendo. (using judicious pedaling so as not to muddle the notes)

Seymour chose to leave the coda entirely pure.. no pedal underfoot.

Juxtapose his interpretation with Elaine Comparone’s. But why should we compare what the harpsichord might say in its own unique language? Still, harpsichord-inspired ideas swam around my head for days in the wake of my NYC departure.

**

Harpichordists use finger pedaling at times to create desired sustain. And I watched Elaine hold down notes as she played the Prelude in C both at the harpsichord and then at the piano. Sandwiched in were performances that were improvised in a charming way to flesh out hidden appoggiature. A cascade of FOUR voices emerged to my astonishment!

The video provides more detail and explanation.

The upshot of this touchdown was my having second thoughts about my former pedaling choices that were framed in legato style, but had become modified by Seymour’s awakenings.

Where would I ultimately settle along the pedal/no pedal spectrum?

As I resumed my practicing and teaching schedule in California, I was wooed to the following performance rendered by Irena Koblar, a favorite of mine in the Scarlatti-playing universe. Naturally, I was more than curious about her feel for Bach, a Baroque contemporary:

While I loved her singing tone, I felt something was missing in the counterpoint. (She used legato pedaling through the Coda) and made the climax at the predictable PRIMARY DOMINANT measure, with a nice tapering to the end.

Last year, one of my student’s used the same legato pedaling in our annual Spring recital, producing a lovely reading. Naturally, at the time, the fruit didn’t fall far from the tree.

Into the present:

At the request and prodding of a FACEBOOK friend, Louise Hullinger, and having absorbed Elaine Comparone’s example at her Knabe grand piano following the harpsichord rendition, I decided to try Bach’s Prelude in C without pedal. It was the first time I ventured into a drier yet equally satisfying universe.

Enlightenment! I didn’t feel stripped of the piano’s soul. And I could follow voices, without undue attention to my foot pedaling activity.

While the final verdict isn’t in, I’m going to separate from my pedal companion in a civilized manner.

Who knows what the future might bring? It could invite a reconciliation or change of heart in the Baroque cosmos of performance practice.

For certain, the sustain will not be completely banished from my playing universe. I’ll continue to embrace it in the good company of Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, Schumann, Mendelssohn, and their heirs who followed in the long line of musical masters.

LINKS:

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2012/12/06/my-nyc-visit-with-seymour-bernstein-pianist-teacher-author-and-composer/


https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2012/12/04/a-visit-with-elaine-comparone-at-her-harpsichord-palace-in-new-york-city/


http://www.harpsichord.org

Bach counterpoint, Bach Prelude in C BWV 846, Carey Beebe, Elaine Comparone, Harpsichord Unlimited, Harpsichord.org, Hubbard Harpsichords, J.S. Bach, Johann Sebastian Bach, The Queen's Chamber Band

A Visit with Elaine Comparone at her Harpsichord Palace in New York City

best harpsichords and chandelier

The colors are splendid in a royal procession of well-maintained harpsichords. THREE reside in Elaine Comparone’s West Side musical sanctuary. They are at the service of her Majesty, the Queen. (She leads a chamber group known as The Queen’s Chamber Band which is Harpsichord Unlimited’s featured attraction) The nonprofit organization keeps harpsichords in the limelight as living, breathing instruments with well publicized performances of Baroque to Contemporary music. (You Tube has a growing archive of Comparone’s solo and ensemble offerings)

***

A towering, acoustically favorable space fleshes out subtle differences in timbre among Comparone’s instrumental treasures. Count in the Hubbard and Dowd (with two manuals or keyboards) and a Hubbard kit driven 16th Century Flemish model with one keyboard, whose case shimmers under chandeliers. A gorgeous floral pattern is embedded in the soundboard area beneath the strings.

DSC05285Dowd 4

***

A guest at Elaine’s divine milieu, I spent precious hours conversing with her about the harpsichord, piano, Bach, performance practice, and whatever else spontaneously came to mind. It was an intellectual, musical and spiritual feast, captured on video and uploaded to the Internet for universal sharing.

In a basic introduction to the harpsichord, (Part one) Comparone played her custom-made two manual Hubbard, and carefully explained mechanical features, stringing, instrumental voicing and use of “stops” in samples from the Bach literature. The Little Prelude in F Major, BWV 927, attained feature status with a whimsical ending, energized by a “harp” stop. (the notes suddenly became detached and lost resonance) Elaine mentioned that such timbre-related changes or “muted” sounds were often applied to repeated sections of music.

While J.S. Bach’s Little Preludes initially sparked our discussion, the interchange soon shifted to the issue of pedaling the Well-tempered Clavier, Book One, Prelude 1 in C Major, BWV 846.

Comparone emphasized the composition’s poly-rhythmic, multi-voice dimension and convincingly argued against using the sustain pedal in an acoustic piano rendering. Instead, she recommended a form of “hand pedaling” that’s commonly used by harpsichordists. (holding notes down with the fingers)

Following her more traditional performance of WTC I, Prelude 1, Comparone played a no holds barred jazzy version with a delightful syncopation that tweaked my ears. A new world of counterpoint emerged, with appealing threads of voices.

elaineshandshubbard

DSC05283

DSC05279

An Addendum:

Carey Beebe Harpsichords, Sydney, Australia

Website link: http://www.hpschd.nu/tpw/tpw.html

A little history behind the instruments we help you to build

“Wolfgang Joachim Zuckermann invented the concept of the harpsichord “kit” in the early 1960s. Produced in his New York workshop, it was a rather simple affair without a bentside. Even though the keyboard more resembled that of a piano and its soundboard was made from plywood, the “Slantside”, as it was affectionately known, became one of the most popular harpsichord models ever. The wooden pieces for the case, along with some other commonly available parts, were not included, so the price was set at a most economical $150. Little by little, the first Zuckermann “kit” became more elaborate and complete.

“In 1969, Wolfgang wrote The Modern Harpsichord, in which he described all the harpsichord makers of his time, together with their philosophies and details of their production. He soon became the close friend of his editor and publisher David Jacques Way of October House, to whom he in fact sold Zuckermann Harpsichords Inc. in 1970.

“David J. Way set about enthusiastically and rapidly modifying Wolfgang’s original kit, with the aim of making the design more traditionally based and aesthetically pleasing. A workshop was established in the picturesque fishing village of Stonington Connecticut (between Boston and New York) in 1972. The decade to 1980 saw the arrival of many models inspired by original instruments, commencing with the Flemish Single. The French Double followed, then a Virginal, Italian and Clavichord appeared. The Flemish keyboard range was enlarged and a second keyboard added. The English Bentside Spinet and the Fortepiano were next. During this time, original materials were also researched, and the Stonington workshop was the first in the world to establish the general use of solid wood, soft wire and historic-profiled tuning pins that we all take for granted on the finest instruments today.

“In 1973, Marc Ducornet, who had initally learnt his craft of harpsichord making from an English builder, became the French representative of David J. Way. Their relationship developed so much so, that in 1982, he entered into partnership with David Way to open the Montreuil (Paris) workshop for the manufacture of the Zuckermann “kits” in France. The output of this workshop initially paralleled the American production, and both shops continued to work closely and successfully together over the years.

Little by little, the atelier in Montreuil thrived and before David Way died suddenly in February 1994, Marc Ducornet was supervising the conception and design of the instruments, as well as manufacturing fully 70% of the parts for USA and Europe.

“To avoid the possible closure of the American workshop at David Way’s death, Marc Ducornet, with the agreement of David’s wife Katherine, decided to keep it running to perpetuate David in our memories. Accordingly, Marc Ducornet offered Richard Auber—one of his early American apprentices who knew David and already lived nearby the Stonington shop—the position of heading the US operation.

“After five years of continued cooperation, it became apparent on both sides of the North Atlantic that it was time for change. For this to be best accomplished it was agreed that it would probably be impractical for two workshops on separate continents to continue working so closely together. In March 1999 therefore, Marc Ducornet decided to peacefully conclude his lengthy association with the American workshop so he could concentrate on the creation of numerous new instrument designs in France.

“To distinguish the differences with the original United States-based models which evolved over more than two decades, Marc Ducornet, together with his Agents, decided it was high time to come even closer to the historic principles of construction and materials—wooden jacks would be standard, for example—and to benefit from the excellent manufacturing facilities available at Montreuil and twenty-five years of experience to make the instruments even more professional. Wolfgang Zuckermann, who has been living in the south of France for many years, has come out of harpsichord retirement to eagerly join his friend Marc Ducornet in the “new” enterprise.

“The output of the newly-produced instruments from France will be known very simply under the name “THE PARIS WORKSHOP”, and will be available direct through a worldwide network of knowledgeable and helpful Agents.

Elaine Comparone:

portraitelainecomparone2

“Frank Hubbard Harpsichords, Inc. offers custom-built instruments (like my two big ones) as well as various kits, of which the yellow harpsichord is an example. In the old days, builders decorated not only the soundboards (under the strings) but the lids as well. You can find pictures of such instruments and examples in museums.

“The kits fed the “do-it-yourself” hunger of many people who liked to work with their hands in those days and thought building an instrument would be an exciting and rewarding task.

***

“As to your question of my version of the C Major, I’m charmed that you find it humorous. That may be because my interpretation is redolent of my love of jazz and my rejection of romantic interpretations of Baroque music, and specifically Bach. The appoggiatura idea comes from the repetition of that second voice in the right hand , that you correctly recognized as one of three, the third being the second two notes of the repeated chordal figure.

“Actually, the chord can be further broken down into two more “voices”—if we’re talking counterpoint—that move throughout the piece. Now, try playing the piece and eliminating those top two notes-voices of the chord throughout the whole piece. You’ll get an idea of what I initially heard and recognized as a melody—though not a melody in the 19th century meaning!

“My idea came from my awareness that in those days appoggiature were an integral part of the improvising vocabulary of the period—perhaps the most important element! One can create dissonance with an appoggiatura that inevitably adds to the flavor, expressivity and interest of a musical line and its harmonic surroundings. The early composers didn’t always write everything down. Bach did, though, and a legend–perhaps true—has it that he complained when people altered his lines. It was assumed that people would ornament and embellish, especially if you were a performing composer (all the Bachs!!)

“Bach had reached the summit of a musical era ( popular historians as well as musicologists frequently describe him as musically “summing up” what had come before.) But he was simultaneously at the beginning of the decline of his musical era (Bach’s style was referred to as the “learned style”) with C.P.E. and others of his children cheerfully leading the vanguard. Of course, they did not perceive it as a musical “decline” but as a simplification of musical composition and an increased emphasis of emotional expression as a value (“stile galant” and “empfindsamkeit”) But the strong improvising tradition continued and its importance has lasted a long time. Even now, the French organist tradition requires that students learn how to improvise. (You’ve gotta do something when the service is dragging and you need to fill up space—that’s a simple explanation of course!)

“So back to the appoggiatura! That strong improvising tradition meant that musicians were inserting appoggiature everywhere they could. Who could resist? You can see how well the approach works in my little version. Music has always been a product of improvisation and inspiration. Most composers—at least of tonal music, and maybe atonal as well—improvise. Who knows? I just can’t vouch for them. Tonal music lends itself to it. But wait!! As I think of it, you can improvise atonally. I remember now that we did it in college as a joke and it was lots of fun! In his book (The Art of Playing Keyboard Instruments), C.P.E. gives a lot of examples of possible free improvisations as well as examples of how to embellish aspects of a musical line. Those guys were amazing!!!

“P.S. As to your question about which instrument they used to play the Prelude in CM: Any instrument that was around!! It could be a harpsichord (which could come in various shapes, size, styles and number of manuals); a clavichord (supposedly CPE’s favorite); or an organ (if you could get someone to work the bellows.) People weren’t picky about which instrument in those days. This “free thought” extended to melody instruments as well. If you composed a trio sonata (a bass line and two trebles), you might expect the trebles to be two flutes or two violins, or a flute and a violin or a flute and an oboe. And your bass could be played by a keyboardist improvising chords from the bass line—because they didn’t write out the accompaniment–providing only figures to indicate chords. And that bass line might be doubled by a cello or viola da gamba or bassoon or another instrument to be identified.

“Pedal-harpsichord: pedals were like an organ’s pedal-board, not a piano’s damper pedal. Organists used pedal harpsichords to practice when it was too cold to play in church. (You’d have to heat the church and hire a bellows boy–so it was an economical substitute) Bach left “a set of pedals and two keyboards” in his will to Wilhelm Friedemann (eldest son.) I don’t think they work well as performing instruments.”

LINKS:

http://www.harpsichord.org

Hubbard Harpsichords:

http://www.hubharp.com/

https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2012/01/20/the-harpsichord-has-a-new-lease-on-life-elaine-comparone-is-its-biggest-advocate/


https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2011/10/17/aglow-with-creative-fire-my-nyc-visit-with-harpsichordist-elaine-comparone/

Angela Hewitt, Bach's tempos in clavier music, Baroque music tempo, classissima, classissima.com, dance-like tempo in Baroque keyboard music, Elaine Comparone, Glenn Gould, Halida Dinova, Harpsichord Unlimited, Harpsichord.org, J.S. Bach's tempos, Johann Sebastian Bach, piano, Quantz, Shirley Kirsten, Shirley Smith Kirsten, word press, word press.com, wordpress, wordpress.com, you tube.com, yout tube, youtube.com

J.S. Bach and tempo in his Little Preludes

A few days ago, I posted a You Tube of Bach’s Little Prelude in F, BWV 927, which is popular among pupils in the Intermediate range of study, though to be candid, these “Level” classifications should be taken with a grain of salt. Why? because all Bach’s compositions require an understanding of voicing and counterpoint that deepens with seasoned exposures. In essence, as eternal students, we commit to layered learning and study spanning a lifetime.

That said, the whole universe of Bach’s tempos can be a challenge to those of us wanting to play his music with a degree of authenticity. (Recommend: “On Bach’s Rhythm and Tempo” by Ido Abravaya: http://www.music.qub.ac.uk/tomita/bachbib/review/bb-review_Abravaya.html)

My first inclination was to draw on the vast body of Bach’s choral works for tempo reference: Oratorios, cantatas, etc. as well as the solo concerti for violin, flute along with the composer’s collections of chamber music. (The Brandenburgs, for instance, contain dance-like movements)

Elaine Comparone, world-renowned harpsichordist and scholar suggested that I consult Quantz in my research endeavor, so I raced off to Google where I found the following:

http://www.janvanbiezen.nl/18century.html

Although the header pertained to ORGAN works, I benefited from tempo choices linked to DANCE movements and metronome markings.

Comparone, likewise characterized some of Bach’s music in a dance frame even when the composer didn’t specifically attach a French or Italian adjective to his manuscript.

For BWV 930 in G minor, she referenced the “Courante” as well as “harmonic rhythm” as cues for tempo decisions.

Courante: a) “Italian variety, in a rapid tempo and in simple triple time. b) French variety, similar to the above, but with a mixture of simple triple and compound duple rhythms, the latter pertaining especially to the end of each of the 2 sections. Occasionally, in Bach’s keyboard examples the conflicting rhythms are found together, one in each hand.”

Attribution: The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Music, Third Edition, Editor, Michael Kennedy

Here’s Angela Hewitt’s dance-like reading:

Gould, by contrast, was thinking more of the vocal model in his chosen tempo.

I must confess that my original perception matched Gould’s even before I hastened to You Tube to check out his performance.

My latest recording, however, turned out livelier:

In BWV 926 (d minor) Gould fleshes out a definitive rhythmic dualism. He plays this Little Prelude rather briskly, suggesting, for me, at least, a sprightly dance movement. (His detachee–detached note approach is emphasized)

The artist, known for his many original, and sometimes unorthodox performances, perceives a stream of triplet 8ths at the beginning of this work, though the notes are seemingly comprehended as parcels of two to the quarter note (in 3/4 time)

He then reverts to duple division of the beat, fleshing out a perception that is uncommon to most performances of this Little Prelude. (two against three in the larger sense) If we agree with Gould’s interpretation as authentic to Bach, then the composer had something whimsically sophisticated up his sleeve. (Comparone favored Gould’s rhythmic disposition)

Here’s Angela Hewitt’s reading which I prefer in it’s more singable frame:

(I love the way she “relaxes” alternate measures in the opener, and responds so beautifully to the harmonic rhythm dimension of this work)

I adopted this same spirit in my rendition, before locating Angela’s You Tube offering.

Having matched up in tempo and character with an artist I revere as one of my favorite Baroque period interpreters, I was a bit puzzled by the tempo she chose in BWV 927 that I mentioned at the beginning of this writing.

Hewitt is so intrinsically musical that she seems to pull off any reading at whatever tempo frame she chooses.

Yet I can’t fully grasp the counterpoint in this rapid speed.

My own humble choice seemed to be one where two voices could be more easily followed, though a You Tube poster to my website asserted that I played the composition “too fast.”

Gould’s reading seems to corroborate my more conservative underlying beat, though taken a tad faster: go to 3:30 in the track.

***

Another Little Prelude:

BWV 999 (The broken chord pattern permeated C minor) is played in a very brisk tempo by pianist, Halida Dinova: Go to 1:46 in the track

Compare to Hewitt’s tempo (which I prefer)

The question remains what tempo would Bach have envisioned, and what character reference would he have chosen for any number of his compositions?

A partisan of separating the vocal model from that of the dance especially in these shorter works, I would favor such a point of departure.

Finally, does the character of the composition upend the metronome marking assigned to the piece? (or should they have equal weight in conjunction with Key/Major/minor tonality?)

I leave readers with food for thought.

LINKS:
https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2012/11/06/angela-hewitt-pianist-plays-j-s-bach-beautifully-on-a-fazioli/

http://www.harpsichord.org

"Aglow with Creative Fire", Appel Farm, Appel Farm Art and Music Center, Appel Farm in Elmer New Jersey, arioso7, classissima, classissima.com, Elaine Comparone, Elaine Comparone Harpsichordist, First Moravian Church NYC, Harpsichord Unlimited, Harpsichord.org, Hubbard Harpsichord, J.S. Bach Cantata no. 78, Lyrichord, Lyrichord Early Music Series, Peter Seidenberg, Robert Zubrycki, Shirley Kirsten, Shirley Smith Kirsten, The Queen's Chamber Band plays Mozart, Veronica Salas, word press, wordpress.com, you tube, you tube video

The Harpsichord has a new lease on life! Elaine Comparone is its biggest advocate!

Elaine Comparone is a champion of the harpsichord like no other. Not only does she play with “red-blooded” passion sweeping it off its mantle of obscurity, but her nonprofit organization Harpsichord Unlimited is dedicated to stimulating interest in the instrument as a living, breathing, contemporary musical communicator. Its museum portrait is a thing of the past.

A few mouse clicks over at You Tube lead to a treasure trove of Comparone’s riveting solo and chamber ensemble performances. They reflect the harpsichord’s new-found status as a prominent player amidst the rough and tumble cosmos of bravura, show-stopping pianoforte offerings.

Try this one out for size–a sizzling Scarlatti sonata, “aglow with creative fire,” with over a half-million hits!

Not bad for an instrument formerly relegated to the background, muted by strings, woodwinds, and even choirs.

The mere fact that Comparone stands at her Hubbard, a custom designed harpsichord with shimmering resonance, allows her to project its life-size personality while also giving the artist increased freedom of physical and musical expression.

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Comparone’s latest gift to the CD universe is an impressionable release by Lyrichord, titled The Queen’s Chamber Band plays Mozart.

According to the artist’s own Program Notes, her chamber group has 1762 antecedents, dating to J.S. Bach’s youngest son, John having journeyed to London to be appointed Music Master to Queen Charlotte Sophia (wife of “Mad King” George III) and the Royal Family. “With a few close musical friends, the ‘London Bach’ formed an ensemble to entertain her Majesty in her private Chambers: The Queen’s Chamber Band.”

Fast forward to the present and Comparone’s personally founded ensemble is a re-creation of its earlier model having “nine distinguished soloists, whose mastery of both solo repertory and chamber music thrills audiences worldwide.” (Donald Henahan, New York Times)

***

The Queen’s Chamber Band plays Mozart contains an ear-catching musical menu of two selections:

“Sonata for Violin and Harpsichord in A Major, K. 526” and “Keyboard Quartet in G minor, K. 478.”

At the harpsichord helm is Elaine Comparone with her long-standing musical companions, Robert Zubrychi, violin, Veronica Salas, viola, and Peter Seidenberg, Cello.

In erudite notes to her album, her Majesty the Queen, Comparone justifies the enlistment of the harpsichord in these Mozart readings by historical documentation. She references Ernst Fritz Schmid’s preface to his 1960 edition for G. Henle Verlag which explores Mozart’s choice of instrument with some ambiguity tied to the composer’s dynamic markings.

Otherwise, Comparone remains assertive in this concluding paragraph, providing strong evidence to support her choice of keyboard medium.

“In the late 18th century the piano gradually displaced the harpsichord. But the original editions of almost all Beethoven’s sonatas up to Opus 27 bear the inscription: ‘Pour le Clavecin ou Pianoforte’ (For the Harpsichord or Piano)…so “harpsichords were still widely used around 1800 and music publishers were eager to accommodate the players and owners of the old instruments as well as those of the more modern ones…People of the era while ultimately accepting and adjusting to the intriguing new piano technology and sound seemed less in a hurry than their 21rst century counterparts to dispose of an instrument that had served them well for so long.”

On this scholarly note, Comparone amplifies how she realized dynamics within compositions that might have been a playing toss-up between Clavecin and Fortepiano.

With a disclaimer that some measures of Mozart’s Sonata manuscript might have referred to the fortepiano by their specifically notated crescendi, (getting louder) she shared her harpsichord-adapted approach:

“I followed the dynamics that my instrument allowed, even the quick changes between piano and forte (soft and loud) that required me to move from one keyboard to another.”

These nifty manual shifts compare to Comparone’s jaw-dropping page turns in J.S. Bach’s Cantata No. 78 posted on You Tube. Not even a rigged iPad would rival her fleet fingers and eye-hand feats of coordination!

***

The second CD track, Keyboard Quartet in G minor is particularly familiar since I’d played the piano part while enrolled at the Appel Farm Music Camp in Elmer New Jersey. Uncannily, our ensemble included the gifted violist, Toby Appel, who years later carved his own reputation as a leading soloist, lifting his instrument out of relative obscurity. It’s certainly a parallel tie-in to the harpsichord’s elevated public persona through the ardent efforts of Elaine Comparone.

To summarize, every precious nuance of performance is imbued in the Queen’s Chamber Band’s current Mozart CD release.

That’s why I strongly recommend its inclusion in any music lover’s living library of treasures.

RELATED LINKS:


https://arioso7.wordpress.com/2011/10/17/aglow-with-creative-fire-my-nyc-visit-with-harpsichordist-elaine-comparone/

http://www.harpsichord.org/about-us.html

Comparone’s You Tube Channel:

http://www.youtube.com/user/ecomparone