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#1443824 - 05/26/10 04:58 AM How to Play Bach Correctly? (Plus off-topic question)
wilmer Offline
Full Member

Registered: 09/06/08
Posts: 21
It has been so long since I've last played Bach (8 years?). Recently I just switched teachers and just last week, I was assigned to play Prelude and Fugue No. 1 in C major of Book 1. The prelude was extremely easy to read, then when I flipped the page, oh my god... Anyway... now I'm managing pretty well, but I forgot how to play it properly.

Q1: If there's a phrase mark (forgot what it's called. It's the arc thingy above/below a group of notes) do you play it legato or do you detatch it?

Q2: If there's no phrase mark do you play it legato or do you detatch it?

Q3: If there's a staccato, what do you do?

Q4: Which melody do you bring out?

Off-topic question: In the first few bars of the Mozart Sonata No.10 in C major (K330 I think) there's a trill. Do you start the trill on the upper note or the note written. If it's the upper note, do you always start with the upper note? If the note written, do you always start with the note written? If irregular, how do you know which note to start with?

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#1443827 - 05/26/10 05:10 AM Re: How to Play Bach Correctly? (Plus off-topic question) [Re: wilmer]
keyboardklutz Offline
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Registered: 05/21/07
Posts: 10856
Loc: London, UK (though if it's Aug...
You'll find no phrase marks in an urtext edition. Mozart's trills usually start on the upper note.
_________________________
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http://keyboardclass.blogspot.com/


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#1443828 - 05/26/10 05:17 AM Re: How to Play Bach Correctly? (Plus off-topic question) [Re: keyboardklutz]
wilmer Offline
Full Member

Registered: 09/06/08
Posts: 21
So... how do you play Bach exactly? I believe there's a correct method and not purely interpretation?

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#1443841 - 05/26/10 06:33 AM Re: How to Play Bach Correctly? (Plus off-topic question) [Re: wilmer]
Phlebas Offline


Registered: 01/02/03
Posts: 4654
Loc: New York City
There isn't one way to play Bach correctly, just as there is isn't one way to play Mozart trills (they tend to start on the upper note, but it depends on the context - sometimes it might start on a lower note).

When you see staccato and phrase markings in Bach, you're looking at the work of an editor. You're not looking at what Bach indicated. He did not write in articulation, dynamics, etc.

Everything depends on the context of the piece.

Your question is basically too broad. If you posted a section of a Bach piece, I could tell you how I would play that section, and I would be correct. So might a hundred other different responses you might get here.

It's complicated.


Edited by Phlebas (05/26/10 06:34 AM)

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#1443843 - 05/26/10 06:41 AM Re: How to Play Bach Correctly? (Plus off-topic question) [Re: Phlebas]
keyboardklutz Offline
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/21/07
Posts: 10856
Loc: London, UK (though if it's Aug...
A very important aspect is using your interosseous muscles far more. To begin with it should feel very uncomfortable with fingers reaching over each other rather than hand moving. The ligaments will loosen though.
_________________________
snobbyish, yet maybe helpful.
http://keyboardclass.blogspot.com/


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#1443846 - 05/26/10 06:47 AM Re: How to Play Bach Correctly? (Plus off-topic question) [Re: keyboardklutz]
wilmer Offline
Full Member

Registered: 09/06/08
Posts: 21
Oooh, but then how can I generally make it sound like Bach, because some people make it sound like Chopin or Mozart. In other words, how can I play good Bach, like how Bach wanted his pieces to be played? Can someone give me some general tips that i can apply to all his works?

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#1443847 - 05/26/10 06:49 AM Re: How to Play Bach Correctly? (Plus off-topic question) [Re: keyboardklutz]
Phlebas Offline


Registered: 01/02/03
Posts: 4654
Loc: New York City
Originally Posted By: keyboardklutz
A very important aspect is using your interosseous muscles far more. To begin with it should feel very uncomfortable with fingers reaching over each other rather than hand moving. The ligaments will loosen though.


Not me. I stick a brick on the damper pedal, and let fly. laugh

Seriously, that is one of the challenges of Bach.

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#1443849 - 05/26/10 06:56 AM Re: How to Play Bach Correctly? (Plus off-topic question) [Re: Phlebas]
keyboardklutz Offline
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/21/07
Posts: 10856
Loc: London, UK (though if it's Aug...
Mozart sounds more like Bach than you think (certainly not the other way round). He was brought up on CPE Bach's Versuch - maybe get a copy.
_________________________
snobbyish, yet maybe helpful.
http://keyboardclass.blogspot.com/


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#1443860 - 05/26/10 07:33 AM Re: How to Play Bach Correctly? (Plus off-topic question) [Re: keyboardklutz]
Varcon Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/15/04
Posts: 1931
Loc: Mount Vernon, Georgia 30445
Phlebas is right--Bach wrote few if any indications for interpretation so you will find that the suggestions of an editor like Bischoff will not be the same as Fischer or Czerny or Busoni or any number of other 'authorities.' Perhaps if you get a copy of an URTEXT edition and one or two copies of edited editions to compare, you can draw your own conclusions. Purists would say no pedal (remember the piano was in its infancy during Bach's lifetime) and he wrote for the organ, clavichord, and harpsichord. Some advocate limited pedal while others say Bach would have used it had it been available and thus don't see a problem.

Authorities like Kirkpatrick, Landowska, and Tureck vary in tempos, phrasing, dynamics, etc., so to answer your query about the 'proper way' is extremely difficult if not impossible to answer. While learning Bach with my teacher in Vienna she kept repeating," It must always be beautiful!"
So, study the music and follow suggestions if they qualify or be original and do your own. One teacher added ornaments in some of the things I studied while another reversed the ornaments in an edition I had by a most respected Bach performer. Find a good edited version, follow it, and you'll be as correct as me or anyone else.

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#1443861 - 05/26/10 07:36 AM Re: How to Play Bach Correctly? (Plus off-topic question) [Re: Varcon]
ChopinAddict Offline
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Registered: 08/29/09
Posts: 6114
Loc: Land of the never-ending music
I don't think Bach wrote metronome indications either?
_________________________



Music is my best friend.


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#1443862 - 05/26/10 07:44 AM Re: How to Play Bach Correctly? (Plus off-topic question) [Re: ChopinAddict]
Varcon Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/15/04
Posts: 1931
Loc: Mount Vernon, Georgia 30445
No--wasn't invented yet!

"In 1812, Dietrik Nikolaus Winkel (b.1780 Amsterdam d. 1826) found that a double weighted pendulum (a weight on each side of the pivot) would beat low tempos, even when made of short length. Johann Nepenuk Maelzel, through some questionable practice, appropriated Winkel's idea and in 1816 started manufacturing "Maelzel's" Metronome. It has been in highly successful use to this day. It is manufactured by Swiss, German, French and American manufacturers who vie with each other for the limited business available."

Bach died in 1750.


Edited by Varcon (05/26/10 08:01 AM)

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#1443885 - 05/26/10 08:55 AM Re: How to Play Bach Correctly? (Plus off-topic question) [Re: ChopinAddict]
wilmer Offline
Full Member

Registered: 09/06/08
Posts: 21
So is there any way to get a "Bach effect" to avoid making it sound too classical or too romantic?

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#1443891 - 05/26/10 09:19 AM Re: How to Play Bach Correctly? (Plus off-topic question) [Re: wilmer]
Varcon Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/15/04
Posts: 1931
Loc: Mount Vernon, Georgia 30445
Yes--there is a way. Baroque style should be studied so that you know the way things were done then--Bach is the epitome of the Baroque. Listen to the orchestral recordings, performances of Landowska, Kirkpatrick, Tureck and others and you will get a concept of what others do for Bach interpretation/performance.

Study the structure of the dances for the suites as their definitions will give you a clue to tempo. Most of the inventions will be self-suggestive as to tempo to make them sound good. For the most part, the tempo is steady from beginning to end so once the tempo is set, it remains. As in everything there are some exceptions. Forgot to mention Glen Gould as a Bach exponent highly respected for Bach and not much else--terrible Brahms and other composers--but wonderful for Bach. This might be an instance when you need some auditory help by established artists. Some admire Angela Hewitt's Bach interpretations and she is current.

Of course your instructor should guide you as well. If you're currently taking lessons then advice should come from your teacher and you might present information from here to your teacher for comment and approval.

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#1443900 - 05/26/10 09:32 AM Re: How to Play Bach Correctly? (Plus off-topic question) [Re: Varcon]
keyboardklutz Offline
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/21/07
Posts: 10856
Loc: London, UK (though if it's Aug...
I'd stay away from Hewitt and Gould. The former has no imagination, the latter too much!
_________________________
snobbyish, yet maybe helpful.
http://keyboardclass.blogspot.com/


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#1443902 - 05/26/10 09:34 AM Re: How to Play Bach Correctly? (Plus off-topic question) [Re: wilmer]
Cinnamonbear Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/09/10
Posts: 3936
Loc: Rockford, IL
_________________________
I may not be fast,
but at least I'm slow.

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#1443911 - 05/26/10 09:47 AM Re: How to Play Bach Correctly? (Plus off-topic question) [Re: Cinnamonbear]
Steve Chandler Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 02/18/05
Posts: 2764
Loc: Urbandale, Iowa
So we're back to the question of whether to use the sustain pedal in Bach. And the prelude and fugue in C major of Book 1 no less.

Here are my suggestions.

Prelude, use the pedal. The harmonic shifts are on the bar so you take advantage of what the piano offers, a beautiful sound with the sustain pedal engaged.

Fugue, don't use the pedal, the counterpoint is too dense to allow it until perhaps the end. Also, for me the best articulation of the theme is to play legato until the the leaps in the eighth notes, I like those detached. Then the sixteenth notes get played legato. That's what works for me. YMMV.

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#1443913 - 05/26/10 09:55 AM Re: How to Play Bach Correctly? (Plus off-topic question) [Re: Cinnamonbear]
gooddog Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/08/08
Posts: 4806
Loc: Seattle area, WA
Personally, I like Andras Schiff's WTC. I find Gould a little to dry (and sometimes weird) and I find Hewitt too romantic for my taste.

In general, there is an overall clarity of touch to playing Bach. It's definitely not staccato but notes are played distinctly and almost never legato. Carefully watch note durations and ties. Use terraced dynamics. Many of the preludes are dances, so keep that in mind. Bringing out the motif in the fugues is always a challenge. Keep the tempo very stable.There was a pretty good discussion about tempo here:
http://www.pianoworld.com/forum/ubbthrea...tml#Post1442254
_________________________
Best regards,

Deborah

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#1443921 - 05/26/10 10:03 AM Re: How to Play Bach Correctly? (Plus off-topic question) [Re: gooddog]
wilmer Offline
Full Member

Registered: 09/06/08
Posts: 21
Thanks for your replies. Now I'll try narrowing my question... Legato or not legato? and when to play legato and when not to play legato?


Edited by wilmer (05/26/10 10:04 AM)

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#1443925 - 05/26/10 10:12 AM Re: How to Play Bach Correctly? (Plus off-topic question) [Re: gooddog]
John_B Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/17/10
Posts: 621
Loc: Bristol, UK
I very much agree with the suggestion to listen to respected Bach pianists. Nobody can really explain the style suitable for Bach in words - you need to hear it.

Having said that I would stay well clear of Gould if you are looking for an interpretive guide - his playing is interesting but frequently extremely idiosyncratic, not to say bizarre.

I enjoy listening to Schiff and Hewitt, but the other suggestions are also valid (though bear in mind that performing practice has developed over time).

It's also worth bearing in mind that what was thought to be appropriate for Bach playing in the mid C20 would be rather frowned upon by many these days. Things have evolved with greater scholarship and understanding - whether for better or worse is a personal opinion.


Edited by John_B (05/26/10 10:13 AM)

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#1443932 - 05/26/10 10:28 AM Re: How to Play Bach Correctly? (Plus off-topic question) [Re: John_B]
Varcon Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/15/04
Posts: 1931
Loc: Mount Vernon, Georgia 30445
As you can see, you're not going to get one, definitive explanation of how to play Bach. Clarity, as mentioned, is one sought after characteristic, so light pedal if any and none or very careful application on fugues/contrapuntal pieces. And you can see from the above responses that some like Gould and others do not. That will be true of virtually every artist suggested as examples. I'm not personally impressed with Hewitt but give her a listen. As one of my teachers said to me, "Go to many performances. Some will be good and others bad. Take what is good and leave the bad." He wanted me to learn to discriminate and so I have done that.

What I like and find pleasing and useful might be objectionable to someone trained differently. So, you, too, must learn to listen and evaluate what you hear.


Edited by Varcon (05/26/10 10:29 AM)

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#1443945 - 05/26/10 10:58 AM Re: How to Play Bach Correctly? (Plus off-topic question) [Re: Varcon]
Schubertian Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 09/11/06
Posts: 937
Loc: Dallas, TX, US
Quote:
Oooh, but then how can I generally make it sound like Bach, because some people make it sound like Chopin or Mozart. In other words, how can I play good Bach, like how Bach wanted his pieces to be played? Can someone give me some general tips that i can apply to all his works?


To make it sound like Bach you would have to play it on a harpsichord or clavichord - anything you do on a piano is going to be, in some sense, a transcription. I think the main problems are tempo and touch. Nobody really knows what is a correct tempo for the pieces in WTC - just use your 'good taste'. On the piano you have a range of touch from the driest staccato and the smoothest legato - and there is not real guidance where in that range a real 'Bach sound' would lie. I was just playing some of the Partitas - I like to use a lot of legato because so much of what I heard makes me think of strings. But a drier touch also works.

Play clearly and with perfectly even tempo. Play with articulation and expression - Bach is always expressive even when he is being pedagogic.

I got a copy of Badura-Skoda's book on interpreting Bach at the keyboard and it is about as helpful as any book can be.

Bach sounds good no matter how bad you mangle him - I heard some of his chorales played on 4 harmonicas once and it sounded grand.
_________________________
'Always remember: the higher we fly the smaller we appear to those who cannot fly.""
- Nietzsche

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#1443948 - 05/26/10 11:05 AM Re: How to Play Bach Correctly? (Plus off-topic question) [Re: Schubertian]
John_B Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/17/10
Posts: 621
Loc: Bristol, UK
Originally Posted By: Schubertian
Play clearly and with perfectly even tempo.


This is obviously good advice but, even here, if you listen to harpsichordists perform Bach they will often use subtle rubato as an aid expression (the harpsichordist cannot use dynamics to mould a phrase, etc).


Edited by John_B (05/26/10 11:06 AM)

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#1444015 - 05/26/10 12:53 PM Re: How to Play Bach Correctly? (Plus off-topic question) [Re: wilmer]
Brooklyn Pianist Offline
Full Member

Registered: 08/11/07
Posts: 84
Loc: Brooklyn
Originally Posted By: wilmer
Thanks for your replies. Now I'll try narrowing my question... Legato or not legato? and when to play legato and when not to play legato?


I'll echo what Steve wrote.

I was always taught that 16th notes should be played legato and the eighth notes should be played disconnected (not quite staccato). I like the effect this produces and it's very helpful in bringing out/distinguishing voices in the fugues.
_________________________
Currently Studying:
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#1444022 - 05/26/10 01:04 PM Re: How to Play Bach Correctly? (Plus off-topic question) [Re: John_B]
jeffreyjones Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/31/10
Posts: 2361
Loc: San Jose, CA
Bach fugues are all about finger legato. Without it they can just sound like a bunch of notes, unless of course your name is Glenn Gould and you use multitracking..

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#1444068 - 05/26/10 02:11 PM Re: How to Play Bach Correctly? (Plus off-topic question) [Re: wilmer]
Phlebas Offline


Registered: 01/02/03
Posts: 4654
Loc: New York City
Originally Posted By: wilmer
Thanks for your replies. Now I'll try narrowing my question... Legato or not legato? and when to play legato and when not to play legato?


Again, as I said before, the question is too general. If you post a specific section of a specific piece, I could tell you how I would play it, and a lot of others could tell you something different, and we could all have a "Bach effect" (or affect).

You can't tell someone how to play bach. I would get the book KbK suggested, do some reading, and listening.

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#1444087 - 05/26/10 02:57 PM Re: How to Play Bach Correctly? (Plus off-topic question) [Re: ChopinAddict]
moscheles001 Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 09/13/08
Posts: 753
Loc: Northeast Pennsylvania
Two books I'd recommend:

Richard Troeger: Playing Bach on the Keyboard: A Practical Guide

and

Ralph Kirkpatrick: Interpreting Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier: A Performer's Discourse.

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#1444134 - 05/26/10 04:08 PM Re: How to Play Bach Correctly? (Plus off-topic question) [Re: jeffreyjones]
gooddog Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/08/08
Posts: 4806
Loc: Seattle area, WA
Originally Posted By: jeffreyjones
Bach fugues are all about finger legato. Without it they can just sound like a bunch of notes, unless of course your name is Glenn Gould and you use multitracking..
A very good point and an answer to your legato question, wilmer. With Bach, you've really got to depend on your fingers. In general, refrain from using the pedal because muddy tones are not the goal with Bach. Try to restrict your pedal use to assisting stretches where you have to sustain notes while moving elsewhere.

I'm hard pressed to think of places to use a full legato.
_________________________
Best regards,

Deborah

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#1444427 - 05/27/10 12:12 AM Re: How to Play Bach Correctly? (Plus off-topic question) [Re: gooddog]
wilmer Offline
Full Member

Registered: 09/06/08
Posts: 21
Thanks for all your replies! Looks like there is no correct way to play Bach, and I'd have to wait two more weeks to find out how I should play it. Nevertheless, your replies were very much helpful. Thanks !:)

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#1445906 - 05/29/10 09:18 AM Re: How to Play Bach Correctly? (Plus off-topic question) [Re: wilmer]
Varcon Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/15/04
Posts: 1931
Loc: Mount Vernon, Georgia 30445
Suggestion: Find a good edited edition of whatever you've chosen to work on and follow that. Schott Editions are very good and reliable with fingering and generally accepted practices. That could be a good start!

Ralph

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#1445965 - 05/29/10 10:59 AM Re: How to Play Bach Correctly? (Plus off-topic question) [Re: Varcon]
Albany Offline
Full Member

Registered: 07/09/09
Posts: 99
Loc: France
Originally Posted By: Varcon


Study the structure of the dances for the suites as their definitions will give you a clue to tempo. Most of the inventions will be self-suggestive as to tempo to make them sound good. For the most part, the tempo is steady from beginning to end so once the tempo is set, it remains. As in everything there are some exceptions. Forgot to mention Glen Gould as a Bach exponent highly respected for Bach and not much else--terrible Brahms and other composers--but wonderful for Bach. This might be an instance when you need some auditory help by established artists. Some admire Angela Hewitt's Bach interpretations and she is current.


I am sorry but Gould is a terrible interpret for Bach music. Gould plays Gould, not Bach. Scott Ross and Leonhardt agreed that Gould was out of his league.

I read books about baroque interpretation, and yes, there IS a baroque interpretation (of course...). Saying "play as you like it will be good" is wrong (sorry I dont mean to be rude but its just the truth). Of course you can play Bach in a romantic way or whatever, but the music wont be authentic.

You have to play on a harpsichord in the baroque way, but I know its not your point. That's why, excuse me for being narrow minded, you can't play Bach correctly, as you play on a piano. So I suggest you to play as you like, because you're not on the right instrument anyway.

But if you want to play on a piano like it was a harpsichord, you can follow the rules of the time (which you can find in books, or you can listen to Leonhardt, Koopman, Hantai, Van Asperen, etc). But its wrong in my opinion, the piano has velocity, heavier keys, more notes, different timbre, different harmonics, has pedal, etc, so you have to use them. So, play like you want, you can make beautiful music, but you cant play authentic Bach.



Edited by Albany (05/29/10 11:00 AM)

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