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#2050201 - 03/18/13 11:54 AM Phrasing C-minor WTC Book I
Brad Hoehne Offline
Full Member

Registered: 04/22/11
Posts: 365
Loc: Ohio
Hi gang,

I just started practicing the Bach's WTC book one Prelude and Fugue in C-minor.

I've listened to a number of performances in preparation for this, but I still can't get a handle on how to approach the phrasing in the very homogeneous texture of the prelude in order to give it some movement and structure.

I, of course, bring out the first note on the first and third beats of each measure, and I've attempted an analysis of the harmony (pretty shifty and complex, actually), but I can't come up with a convincing way of interpreting the first two thirds before the arpeggiated and presto sections.

Any thoughts?


Edited by Brad Hoehne (03/18/13 11:55 AM)
_________________________
1999 Petrof 125-111 (upright)
Casio Privia PX-330

Currently working on:
Rach. Prelude Op 32 #12
Mozart Piano Sonata #17, K570
Villa-Lobos, Bachianas Brasileiras #4
Playing by ear and "filling out" pop tunes

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#2050308 - 03/18/13 03:38 PM Re: Phrasing C-minor WTC Book I [Re: Brad Hoehne]
FSO Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/03/12
Posts: 853
Loc: UK, Brighton
Maybe shift from legato to staccato (or vice versa) to emphasise dramatic harmonic developments...personally, um, I find alternating between sustaining the first semiquaver in each measure of the right hand as a minim to semibreve, then staccato for a couple of measures before sustaining again quite effective...of course, emphasising the third beat's first semiquaver is also important, but I imagine it as tied to the first; they should sing like a satisfied and demented clock laugh Um...just my thoughts; there are better ways to play ^>^ I hope you find your way soon!
Xxx
Edit: What I mean to say is that's how it's come out for me...just play with your heart and listen beyond the...um...homogeneity; there's beauty, happiness and conquest all wrapped in a bow of strife and anxiety, let it free! laugh


Edited by FSO (03/18/13 03:43 PM)
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Sometimes, we all just need to be shown a little kindness <3

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#2050319 - 03/18/13 04:02 PM Re: Phrasing C-minor WTC Book I [Re: FSO]
Brad Hoehne Offline
Full Member

Registered: 04/22/11
Posts: 365
Loc: Ohio
Originally Posted By: FSO
; they should sing like a satisfied and demented clock laugh


I love this advice. Thanks.
_________________________
1999 Petrof 125-111 (upright)
Casio Privia PX-330

Currently working on:
Rach. Prelude Op 32 #12
Mozart Piano Sonata #17, K570
Villa-Lobos, Bachianas Brasileiras #4
Playing by ear and "filling out" pop tunes

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#2050342 - 03/18/13 05:02 PM Re: Phrasing C-minor WTC Book I [Re: Brad Hoehne]
Tim Adrianson Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/07/10
Posts: 1024
Brad, since you indicated that you've listened to a number of recordings, I suspect you've seen that there are significant differences in approach. For this Prelude, I like Gould's speed -- i.e., pretty slow -- but not quite so much staccato. I attempt to accent the 1st and 3rd beats at pretty high relief to the "accompanying" notes, and I also change dynamics as the theme progresses, moving from mf-f in the minor section to mp-p in the middle section, gradually crescendoing back to f and maintaining that through the spare diminished lines leading into the Presto section. If you can use no pedal at all, I would do so -- as FSO indicates, there are some very subtle harmonic changes in the middle that for my ear must be heard with clarity to be satisfying.

Since Bach wrote for the harpsichord, I suspect my directives are in a way "cheating" -- but, frankly, this Prelude gets very "notey" and monotonous for me without resorting to something of this nature. Perhaps other contributors will have alternative suggestions.

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#2050590 - 03/19/13 01:37 AM Re: Phrasing C-minor WTC Book I [Re: Brad Hoehne]
jeffreyjones Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/31/10
Posts: 2290
Loc: San Jose, CA
Don't even accent, much less on 1 and 3 - Bach's keyboard instruments couldn't do that, and it gives the prelude a mechanical feel that it doesn't deserve. Instead, bring out the harmonic changes with subtle changes in articulation and timing. A firm tenuto can help to guide the ear towards what is about to come, and that's in keeping with the way you do the same with organ technique. The broader the terms you think in, the more you get out of the details of the notes and present the structure in all its beauty. Just don't play it too fast!

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#2051237 - 03/20/13 08:58 AM Re: Phrasing C-minor WTC Book I [Re: Brad Hoehne]
HNB Offline
Full Member

Registered: 11/03/09
Posts: 73
Loc: Australia
I found this analysis quite helpful when I was studying the Prelude: http://www-personal.umich.edu/~siglind/wtc-i-02.htm

It has a nice overview of the harmonic tension which might help you structure your performance a little.


Edited by HNB (03/20/13 09:47 AM)

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#2051694 - 03/21/13 01:13 AM Re: Phrasing C-minor WTC Book I [Re: Brad Hoehne]
Amy B Offline
Full Member

Registered: 06/23/12
Posts: 78
Loc: San Francisco Bay Area
I am working on this piece and have really enjoyed it. Others have given you many technical suggestions, so I won't add to those. I thought I would share how I imagine the piece in my mind. I like to think of the piece (at least the first section) as a beehive. The higher notes (on beats 1 and 3), are the bees, flying in and out of the hive, and the middle notes are the bees humming and buzzing around inside the hive. If I play the piece for others, I mention this, as it helps them listen as well!
_________________________
Shigeru Kawai SK6 (as of 10/22/12!!)
Ivers and Pond upright
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#2051896 - 03/21/13 12:02 PM Re: Phrasing C-minor WTC Book I [Re: Amy B]
Tim Adrianson Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/07/10
Posts: 1024
Amy, I consider this "Beehive" imagery to be really quite good, and accurate; and I'll tell you why: this morning, in honor of Bach's 328th birthday, a local radio station provided a special 3 hour segment of local musicians of various stripes performing Bach pieces. One of those was Trevor Stephenson, who specializes in presenting Baroque and Classical repertoire played on period instruments. In the interview, coincidentally enough, he played the C Minor Prelude and Fugue on a harpsichord type that he indicated Bach himself would have used, and for which he would have composed. And for me the effect is as you described -- the top notes, the occasional bee outside the hive, and the rest of the notes, a swirl of ordered activity by the rest of the bees. A good analogy!

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#2051957 - 03/21/13 01:29 PM Re: Phrasing C-minor WTC Book I [Re: Brad Hoehne]
BruceD Online   content
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/26/01
Posts: 17843
Loc: Victoria, BC
I don't think that it is necessary to intentionally "bring out" any notes in this Prelude, as doing so often results in certain notes being brought out too much and making the attempt sound somewhat forced or artificial.

I think the very nature of the writing will naturally bring out the higher notes by virtue of their pitch, if one is careful to play evenly, cleanly and crisply. Dynamics, according to one's individual taste, can help to give an overall sense of line to the work, but I shy away from making any particular emphasis on individual notes.

I find, too often, that some (younger?) pianists play this Prelude with too much weight. Given the closely-knit texture of this piece, I think it benefits more from a light, clean and crisp sound than it does from a heavy, "Romantic," thick and virtuosic sound.

Regards,
_________________________
BruceD
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Estonia 190

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#2052418 - 03/22/13 11:50 AM Re: Phrasing C-minor WTC Book I [Re: Brad Hoehne]
Brad Hoehne Offline
Full Member

Registered: 04/22/11
Posts: 365
Loc: Ohio
Thanks everyone for their suggestions. I'm surprised at how many different ideas there are. It seems that Bach is a kind of blank canvas on which to hang our own ideas of how music should be.
_________________________
1999 Petrof 125-111 (upright)
Casio Privia PX-330

Currently working on:
Rach. Prelude Op 32 #12
Mozart Piano Sonata #17, K570
Villa-Lobos, Bachianas Brasileiras #4
Playing by ear and "filling out" pop tunes

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#2052547 - 03/22/13 03:26 PM Re: Phrasing C-minor WTC Book I [Re: Brad Hoehne]
BruceD Online   content
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/26/01
Posts: 17843
Loc: Victoria, BC
Originally Posted By: Brad Hoehne
[...] It seems that Bach is a kind of blank canvas on which to hang our own ideas of how music should be.


All the more so, since Bach doesn't give dynamics and very rarely has tempo indications in his keyboard scores. If you have them in yours, they are undoubtedly provided by an editor.

Regards,
_________________________
BruceD
- - - - -
Estonia 190

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#2052640 - 03/22/13 05:53 PM Re: Phrasing C-minor WTC Book I [Re: Brad Hoehne]
ChopinAddict Offline
6000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/29/09
Posts: 6096
Loc: Land of the never-ending music
Yes, Bruce is right. I just bought the Jones/Tovey edition and it is very clean. An old edition I had had indications, but they were obviously provided by the editor. (The old edition was not a good one, so I will not even mention which one it was.)
_________________________



Music is my best friend.


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#2052740 - 03/22/13 10:14 PM Re: Phrasing C-minor WTC Book I [Re: Brad Hoehne]
mermilylumpkin Offline
Full Member

Registered: 02/08/13
Posts: 121
Hmm. I am playing this right now and there are some very interesting possibilities for interpretation I think.

In most versions I've heard (Gould's, Richter's, Gulda's), the first and third beat drive the forward momentum of the piece, which is important I think because it's one that sort of builds and builds and builds with little resolution. I found it interesting to listen to the recordings and try to hum along with those downbeats. All of the actual musical changes are occurring in the chord voicings, yet those are all unaccented and the beats get the emphasis, and those gradations and (subtle) changes between one downbeat and the next seem to be what creates variety and momentum in the piece. In the Gould version he plays around with articulating the downbeats more and less staccato/legato, and some of them seem to hold down the downbeats for longer, or voice them in a more pronounced way so the sound lingers as the next notes are being played. It's interesting to note where he does this and how it reflects what's happening structurally in the music in terms of modulation, chord progressions, etc.

In measure, umm 14 (the measure with the G and E downbeats) it seems that this bit is structurally different from all the proceeding measures because the first, second, third and fourth downbeats all do the HIGH-low-low-low pattern (sorry I'm not better at describing this). So this is the one measure where all four downbeats get that subtle emphasis. In measures seventeen and eighteen there's also some cool structural stuff happening that I like to bring out.

But as far as the overall character of the piece, my general emotional tenor is "Go! Go go! More forward! Forward!" That's not very eloquent and perhaps it's not very scholarly either. It's exciting to play though. It's both mechanical and expressive which is a weird contrast, and part of the reason that I like it.

I try to practice the piece with various degrees of staccato-legato and right hand versus left hand emphasis to get a feel for the possibilities of the piece. For instance, I'll play the whole thing through staccato, or 1st/3rd downbeats legato-er and rest staccato. Or I'll play the left hand more quietly or more legato than the right for the whole piece or for a particular section. There's really a lot of possibilities for exploration I think, and you get a feel for what sounds good as you try stuff out.


Edited by mermilylumpkin (03/22/13 10:19 PM)

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#2052745 - 03/22/13 10:35 PM Re: Phrasing C-minor WTC Book I [Re: Brad Hoehne]
mermilylumpkin Offline
Full Member

Registered: 02/08/13
Posts: 121
Sorry if this is TMI in the musical sense, or if I'm breaking it down too painstakingly, but here are the spots in the first section that seem to call for some sort of emphasis, in my mind.

- measure five: in several versions it gets a little quiet and whispery. I'm sure there's a good musical reason for this but I don't know what it is.
- measures 6 through thirteen: Downbeat 1 and 3 is the same note for two measures at a time. In Gould's version he articulates the downbeats (across two measures) like staccato(1), staccato(3), legato(1), a-little-less-legato(3) with various little changes. I hope that made sense.
- measures with that low F and the A in the top line: I like to get a bit heavy handed at that part because it's like the intensity is building. Also with the three measures before the arpeggios where the downbeats are changing chromatically. I tend to slow down a bit there to draw it out.

When it's done well those first and third beats can be made to sound like something strange rising up from the ash as you follow the trajectory of the piece. Or maybe that's just my weird imagination!

I may have gotten a bit carried away with this response! I really do like this piece.


Edited by mermilylumpkin (03/22/13 10:51 PM)

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#2052840 - 03/23/13 08:09 AM Re: Phrasing C-minor WTC Book I [Re: Brad Hoehne]
wouter79 Online   content
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 02/14/10
Posts: 3462
Bach and phrasing? My feel is that Bach does not do phrasing, he has an organ I guess :-D
_________________________

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#2053493 - 03/24/13 01:43 PM Re: Phrasing C-minor WTC Book I [Re: Brad Hoehne]
Brad Hoehne Offline
Full Member

Registered: 04/22/11
Posts: 365
Loc: Ohio
@Mermilylumpkin, don't worry about giving TMI. That's just the sort of thing I was looking for.
_________________________
1999 Petrof 125-111 (upright)
Casio Privia PX-330

Currently working on:
Rach. Prelude Op 32 #12
Mozart Piano Sonata #17, K570
Villa-Lobos, Bachianas Brasileiras #4
Playing by ear and "filling out" pop tunes

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#2053626 - 03/24/13 06:29 PM Re: Phrasing C-minor WTC Book I [Re: Brad Hoehne]
mermilylumpkin Offline
Full Member

Registered: 02/08/13
Posts: 121
You might find this article interesting. It's an analysis of what exactly Glenn Gould is doing in his interpretation that makes it radically different from his predecessors. It's pretty fascinating. I just discovered it. (I am playing this too and it seems at my lesson today my piano teacher disliked my interpretation so I was trying to learn more about how to play it.)

http://mtosmt.org/issues/mto.12.18.1/mto.12.18.1.barolsky_martens.php#ledbetter_2002

Incidentally, the clip from Triplets of Belleville is great! That's where I first heard this piece.


Edited by mermilylumpkin (03/24/13 06:39 PM)

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#2053907 - 03/25/13 10:11 AM Re: Phrasing C-minor WTC Book I [Re: Brad Hoehne]
drumour Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/08/05
Posts: 848
Loc: Scotland
I would recommend a look at the Busoni edition on IMPSL. Highly edited with editorial notes that venture much further than the performance of the piece. What I particularly like about the Busoni is that he approaches Bach's music as MUSIC and not as something generically different. Having said that, the edition is bizarre in the extreme - do not trust it but be prepared to learn a lot.
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Vasa inania multum strepunt.

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#2053939 - 03/25/13 11:08 AM Re: Phrasing C-minor WTC Book I [Re: Brad Hoehne]
Brad Hoehne Offline
Full Member

Registered: 04/22/11
Posts: 365
Loc: Ohio
@drumour, I don't think I've ever seen an edition of a musical work so heavily edited before (and that includes Schirmer editions.) The Busoni seems no less than a complete interpretive recommendation. I think this will be useful but, wow.


Edited by Brad Hoehne (03/25/13 11:26 AM)
_________________________
1999 Petrof 125-111 (upright)
Casio Privia PX-330

Currently working on:
Rach. Prelude Op 32 #12
Mozart Piano Sonata #17, K570
Villa-Lobos, Bachianas Brasileiras #4
Playing by ear and "filling out" pop tunes

Top
#2053954 - 03/25/13 11:33 AM Re: Phrasing C-minor WTC Book I [Re: Brad Hoehne]
BruceD Online   content
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/26/01
Posts: 17843
Loc: Victoria, BC
Originally Posted By: Brad Hoehne
@drumour, I don't think I've ever seen an edition of a musical work so heavily edited before (and that includes Schirmer editions.) The Busoni seems no less than a complete interpretive recommendation. I think this will be useful but, wow.


That is the main reason that the RCM Piano syllabus used to specify "NOT Busoni Edition" for Bach pieces being prepared for RCM piano examinations.

Regards,
_________________________
BruceD
- - - - -
Estonia 190

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