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#1455418 - 06/12/10 08:55 PM BACH DYNAMICS  
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I have always had this question in my mind. I was told when I was a student that you do not play BACH keyboard pieces like Preludes and Fugues etc with dynamics like crescendo and diminuendo unless written. Recently a colleague of mine stated that if the melody line goes up you go louder and when it comes down you get softer even if the dynamics are not written. (I always understood that you do this for the Romantic era pieces like CHOPIN) Whereas I have always followed a specific dynamic soft or loud and only cresc. and dim. when written for BACH pieces. Which is correct ? Is there a correct way or is it all up to individual intrepretation? I did appreciate my colleague`s input on this because it was a different approach to BACH. We were actually discussing the Minuet in G BWV Anh 114. Could anyone shed some light on this?


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#1455425 - 06/12/10 09:18 PM Re: BACH DYNAMICS [Re: Feminicricket]  
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In addition to choral and orchestral music, Bach wrote for organ, which can change dynamics by changing the number of ranks. I don't recall that he had access to any instruments with a swell organ, but he may have known about them. He also had at home instruments which did change dynamics, including two many harpsichords, which at least have mf and f available for the player.

To assume that Bach would not use dynamics is, I believe, the height of arrogance and condescension, if not outright stupidity. Everything we know about Bach's writing, especially for the big works, were expressive in the extreme. His music, especially the sacred, was full of emotion and emotive music is most certainly not monotone in nature.

I suspect that the idea of not using dynamics stems from a period when performers were thinking of imitating the harpsichord on the piano. An idea which has hopefully died out completely.

Then the question becomes, when to use dynamics. It is certainly not marked, just as ornamentation isn't marked. Musicians were expected to know when to use both and how to use both. Following a formula such as your friend suggested is better than nothing, but I think it's best to carefully analyze the music and perform accordingly.


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#1455431 - 06/12/10 09:30 PM Re: BACH DYNAMICS [Re: John v.d.Brook]  
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Thank you John. That is exactly what I was told when I was student "Imitate the Harpsichord" . What confuses me is that I scored really high marks for the Prelude and Fugue that I played for the exam where I did 'blocks of dynamics' as opposed to swelling dynamics. Maybe the examiner was going for that way of intrepretation. I definitely feel that it sounds better and much more musical following the melody line and going up and down with it, with the loud and soft. Well at least I can have some peace of mind with the knowledge that you have imparted that there are more people who go with that than "imitate a Harpsichord". Thank you again.

Last edited by Feminicricket; 06/12/10 09:45 PM.

LEARNING AND IMPROVING NEVER STOPS. It would be boring if it did.
#1455440 - 06/12/10 09:47 PM Re: BACH DYNAMICS [Re: John v.d.Brook]  
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Originally Posted by John v.d.Brook
In addition to choral and orchestral music, Bach wrote for organ, which can change dynamics by changing the number of ranks. I don't recall that he had access to any instruments with a swell organ, but he may have known about them. He also had at home instruments which did change dynamics, including two many harpsichords, which at least have mf and f available for the player.

To assume that Bach would not use dynamics is, I believe, the height of arrogance and condescension, if not outright stupidity. Everything we know about Bach's writing, especially for the big works, were expressive in the extreme. His music, especially the sacred, was full of emotion and emotive music is most certainly not monotone in nature.

I suspect that the idea of not using dynamics stems from a period when performers were thinking of imitating the harpsichord on the piano. An idea which has hopefully died out completely.

Then the question becomes, when to use dynamics. It is certainly not marked, just as ornamentation isn't marked. Musicians were expected to know when to use both and how to use both. Following a formula such as your friend suggested is better than nothing, but I think it's best to carefully analyze the music and perform accordingly.


Huh? Ornamentation isn't marked? It certainly is. Bach, owned instruments which DID change dynamics? His estate lists several harpsichords (which could have included virginals, or spinets, though it's not known WHICH keyboards he owned, nor their makers), though the only change in dynamics one would hear from a harpsichord would be that of a dual keyboard instrument. "MF" and "F" would not be the only dynamics available to some larger harpsichords as some of them employ lute stops as well. There are some works, though few, in which Bach DID indicate dynamics, however. The Italian Concerto, is just one example.

Last edited by stores; 06/12/10 09:48 PM.


"And if we look at the works of J.S. Bach — a benevolent god to which all musicians should offer a prayer to defend themselves against mediocrity... -Debussy

"It's ok if you disagree with me. I can't force you to be right."

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#1455449 - 06/12/10 09:56 PM Re: BACH DYNAMICS [Re: stores]  
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Originally Posted by stores




Huh? Ornamentation isn't marked? It certainly is. Bach, owned instruments which DID change dynamics? His estate lists several harpsichords (which could have included virginals, or spinets, though it's not known WHICH keyboards he owned, nor their makers), though the only change in dynamics one would hear from a harpsichord would be that of a dual keyboard instrument. "MF" and "F" would not be the only dynamics available to some larger harpsichords as some of them employ lute stops as well. There are some works, though few, in which Bach DID indicate dynamics, however. The Italian Concerto, is just one example.


Out of curiosity, on the piano what would you do if there are no dynamic marking on a certain part of a Bach keyboard work. Would do get louder as the melody goes up and get softer as it goes down etc?


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#1455451 - 06/12/10 09:59 PM Re: BACH DYNAMICS [Re: Feminicricket]  
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At the end of the day it is all up to individual intrepretation of the performer I guess. What nags my mind is the correct way to teach a little one learning Bach. Maybe I am over-thinking this.


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#1455453 - 06/12/10 10:01 PM Re: BACH DYNAMICS [Re: Feminicricket]  
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Actually, Bach's favorite keyboard instrument was the clavichord. This instrument IS capable of dynamic variation, albeit subtle.

My approach to Bach (generally) is to drive to the cadences. Build it gradually to each cadential point, then drop off and start again. A generalization, I realize, but one which often works.

It is of utmost important to think about voicing as well.


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#1455455 - 06/12/10 10:04 PM Re: BACH DYNAMICS [Re: Feminicricket]  
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Originally Posted by Feminicricket
Originally Posted by stores




Huh? Ornamentation isn't marked? It certainly is. Bach, owned instruments which DID change dynamics? His estate lists several harpsichords (which could have included virginals, or spinets, though it's not known WHICH keyboards he owned, nor their makers), though the only change in dynamics one would hear from a harpsichord would be that of a dual keyboard instrument. "MF" and "F" would not be the only dynamics available to some larger harpsichords as some of them employ lute stops as well. There are some works, though few, in which Bach DID indicate dynamics, however. The Italian Concerto, is just one example.


Out of curiosity, on the piano what would you do if there are no dynamic marking on a certain part of a Bach keyboard work. Would do get louder as the melody goes up and get softer as it goes down etc?


Well, outside of a very few works, there AREN'T any dynamic indications that we have from Bach. That said, finding the character of the work certainly helps establish what you may want to do dynamically speaking, as well as following the rise and fall of the line. The shape of a phrase and the way you start and taper it are also helpers in defining dynamics. The bottom line with dynamics in Bach, is sound, musical, common sense. It shouldn't, of course, end up sounding like Chopin, but employing dynamics that make musical sense certainly can enhance a performance.



"And if we look at the works of J.S. Bach — a benevolent god to which all musicians should offer a prayer to defend themselves against mediocrity... -Debussy

"It's ok if you disagree with me. I can't force you to be right."

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#1455460 - 06/12/10 10:07 PM Re: BACH DYNAMICS [Re: Minniemay]  
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Originally Posted by Minniemay
Actually, Bach's favorite keyboard instrument was the clavichord. This instrument IS capable of dynamic variation, albeit subtle.

My approach to Bach (generally) is to drive to the cadences. Build it gradually to each cadential point, then drop off and start again. A generalization, I realize, but one which often works.

It is of utmost important to think about voicing as well.


It is known that he had a preference for the clavichord, though what's interesting is that, at least, with the instruments found in his estate at the time of his death, he didn't own one.



"And if we look at the works of J.S. Bach — a benevolent god to which all musicians should offer a prayer to defend themselves against mediocrity... -Debussy

"It's ok if you disagree with me. I can't force you to be right."

♪ ≠ $

#1455462 - 06/12/10 10:11 PM Re: BACH DYNAMICS [Re: Minniemay]  
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Originally Posted by Minniemay
Actually, Bach's favorite keyboard instrument was the clavichord. This instrument IS capable of dynamic variation, albeit subtle.

My approach to Bach (generally) is to drive to the cadences. Build it gradually to each cadential point, then drop off and start again. A generalization, I realize, but one which often works.

It is of utmost important to think about voicing as well.


Makes sense. Thanks.


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#1455495 - 06/12/10 11:37 PM Re: BACH DYNAMICS [Re: stores]  
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Originally Posted by stores

Huh? Ornamentation isn't marked? It certainly is.


With very few exceptions, ornamentation isn't marked. If your edition has ornamentation markings, it's been added by the editor. Get your hands on a good Urtext.

The major exception, such as it is, are pieces noted by his students with ornamentation added. Even those are not comprehensive. Much more can be tastefully added.


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#1455498 - 06/12/10 11:40 PM Re: BACH DYNAMICS [Re: stores]  
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Originally Posted by stores
There are some works, though few, in which Bach DID indicate dynamics, however. The Italian Concerto, is just one example.

Actually, Urtext editions of the Italian have very few dynamic markings, just forte and piano as I recall.


"Those who dare to teach must never cease to learn." -- Richard Henry Dann
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#1455502 - 06/12/10 11:47 PM Re: BACH DYNAMICS [Re: John v.d.Brook]  
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Bach also used forte and piano in some parts of French Overture. I think the last movement (Echo) had dynamic markings; however, they are very "terraced."

When I play Bach, I use all that's available on a modern piano--una corda, sostenuto pedal, damper pedal, crescendo, diminuendo, and all kinds of dynamic shadings.

My students still run into judges who write nonsense comments to them. Seriously, one judge wrote something to the effect of "you need to make the piano sound more like a harpsichord for Bach." Huh??? I guess there are still some folks leftover from the "no pedal in Bach" school of piano playing.


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#1455541 - 06/13/10 02:01 AM Re: BACH DYNAMICS [Re: AZNpiano]  
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You play as you would sing. All Bach's kids (and himself) were singers, violinists and keyboard players.


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#1455550 - 06/13/10 02:23 AM Re: BACH DYNAMICS [Re: keyboardklutz]  
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Originally Posted by keyboardklutz
You play as you would sing. All Bach's kids (and himself) were singers, violinists and keyboard players.


I agree with you that vocal feeling is important in Bach's keyboard music. Some of the fugues would sound awesome in SATB arrangement. However, what do you do when you encounter passages that are not "singable"? Or too fast to sing? Or intervals too large to be conceived vocally (I'm thinking of passages that jump beyond an octave).


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#1455559 - 06/13/10 03:24 AM Re: BACH DYNAMICS [Re: AZNpiano]  
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Play them coloratura?


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#1455585 - 06/13/10 07:41 AM Re: BACH DYNAMICS [Re: John v.d.Brook]  
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Originally Posted by John v.d.Brook
Originally Posted by stores

Huh? Ornamentation isn't marked? It certainly is.


With very few exceptions, ornamentation isn't marked. If your edition has ornamentation markings, it's been added by the editor. Get your hands on a good Urtext.

The major exception, such as it is, are pieces noted by his students with ornamentation added. Even those are not comprehensive. Much more can be tastefully added.


Oh thanks for the advice. LOL. Actually, I own practically every keyboard work by Bach and all are either Henle, or Barenreiter (and the Kirkpatrick Goldbergs which is Schirmer) as well as various other editions for research/comparison. Bach, is my passion and I've spent the better part of 40 years studying/researching/reading/playing his music. While the ornamentation that Bach left us doesn't often fill the page quite so much as various editions would have us believe, he DID indicate ornaments (look at Bach's autographs and/or copies made by those close to him)quite often. If an edition has ornaments they're not all added by the editor, however, determining what HAS been added by the editor versus those actually left by Bach, can be quite a time consuming bit of research. To say that an edition containing ornamentation is all the work of an editor, because Bach didn't leave any, is, quite frankly, wrong.



"And if we look at the works of J.S. Bach — a benevolent god to which all musicians should offer a prayer to defend themselves against mediocrity... -Debussy

"It's ok if you disagree with me. I can't force you to be right."

♪ ≠ $

#1455590 - 06/13/10 07:59 AM Re: BACH DYNAMICS [Re: John v.d.Brook]  
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Originally Posted by John v.d.Brook
Originally Posted by stores
There are some works, though few, in which Bach DID indicate dynamics, however. The Italian Concerto, is just one example.

Actually, Urtext editions of the Italian have very few dynamic markings, just forte and piano as I recall.


Yes, that's right. The only indications are "forte" and "piano". I didn't say there were more, or less, only that the Italian is a work in which Bach indicated dynamics.



"And if we look at the works of J.S. Bach — a benevolent god to which all musicians should offer a prayer to defend themselves against mediocrity... -Debussy

"It's ok if you disagree with me. I can't force you to be right."

♪ ≠ $

#1455591 - 06/13/10 08:15 AM Re: BACH DYNAMICS [Re: stores]  
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I believe that there are basically two valid ways to approach Bach on the piano. First, imagine that Bach had a modern instrument available and think about how he might have played his works on it - dynamics, pedal, etc, and probably fairly sparse ornamentation.

Second, try for "historic accuracy" and strive to imitate the harpsichord. Lots of ornamentation, very minor dynamic change and pedaling.

I find myself vascillating between the two. Neither, to me, is "right". In fact, playing a piece with both approaches seems to me to be bring some insight to the piece.


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#1455592 - 06/13/10 08:16 AM Re: BACH DYNAMICS [Re: AZNpiano]  
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Originally Posted by AZNpiano
Bach also used forte and piano in some parts of French Overture. I think the last movement (Echo) had dynamic markings; however, they are very "terraced."

When I play Bach, I use all that's available on a modern piano--una corda, sostenuto pedal, damper pedal, crescendo, diminuendo, and all kinds of dynamic shadings.

My students still run into judges who write nonsense comments to them. Seriously, one judge wrote something to the effect of "you need to make the piano sound more like a harpsichord for Bach." Huh??? I guess there are still some folks leftover from the "no pedal in Bach" school of piano playing.


Yes, the French Overture does contain dynamic markings and they're not all found in the "Echo" only. I don't know what you mean by "terraced" (?)
While I agree that jurists often make inane comments such as that which you provided, it may be that while lacking the ability to say so, they're real intention is that Bach, and Chopin, are two different composers. Pedal, in Bach, should be used sparingly and judiciously and only in those places where employing legato is impossible after attempting such with various fingerings, etc. It is fine to use all the means possible found with the modern piano, but whatever is used should be kept within character and should, by all means, always be musical. One problem with using all that is available to us with modern instruments is that it's quite easy to develop a crutch and we often tend to use said crutch to gloss over what boils down to inept technique which should not ever be the case.



"And if we look at the works of J.S. Bach — a benevolent god to which all musicians should offer a prayer to defend themselves against mediocrity... -Debussy

"It's ok if you disagree with me. I can't force you to be right."

♪ ≠ $

#1455593 - 06/13/10 08:16 AM Re: BACH DYNAMICS [Re: stores]  
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When I play Bach, I tend to keep to relatively narrow dynamic range compared to later composers - so more like p > f.

Personally, I don't take anybody seriously who says you try to play with it like a harpsichord, but I do find it worthwhile to at least consider how it might sound on one, in order to gain a different perspective. I am currently teaching a student the Andante in F major from the ABRSM grade 5 syllabus, and I find it invites much in the way of subtle gradation, especially in the cadenzas.

As is the case with a lot of repertoire, there has to be an acceptance of different approaches, so long as they are considered and musical. How dull would it be if every performer of Bach's keyboard works were to adhere to a 'no dynamics, no pedal' approach?

#1455595 - 06/13/10 08:20 AM Re: BACH DYNAMICS [Re: Bart Kinlein]  
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Originally Posted by Bart Kinlein
I believe that there are basically two valid ways to approach Bach on the piano. First, imagine that Bach had a modern instrument available and think about how he might have played his works on it - dynamics, pedal, etc, and probably fairly sparse ornamentation.

Second, try for "historic accuracy" and strive to imitate the harpsichord. Lots of ornamentation, very minor dynamic change and pedaling.

I find myself vascillating between the two. Neither, to me, is "right". In fact, playing a piece with both approaches seems to me to be bring some insight to the piece.


If one imagines how Bach thought about a certain thing, then unfortunately, said point cannot be considered a valid one unless, of course, one has some special insight regarding Bach's thoughts/intentions. I'm not saying it's a bad idea, but it's your OWN idea and wouldn't, as a result, stem from Bach, himself.



"And if we look at the works of J.S. Bach — a benevolent god to which all musicians should offer a prayer to defend themselves against mediocrity... -Debussy

"It's ok if you disagree with me. I can't force you to be right."

♪ ≠ $

#1455615 - 06/13/10 09:21 AM Re: BACH DYNAMICS [Re: stores]  
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Quote
it's your OWN idea and wouldn't, as a result, stem from Bach, himself.


Undoubtedly, but an interesting exercise, I believe. And if one studies his works, as you (and I) have, you must have some insight into his thinking. As you stated earlier, consider his compositions for other instruments, groups, etc. and consider what he has done when dynamaics and phrasing are available. I think one can arrive at a reasonable (OK, not vaild) conclusion about how he may have approached a performance on a modern piano.


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#1455618 - 06/13/10 09:40 AM Re: BACH DYNAMICS [Re: stores]  
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stores, just to respond to a couple of your comments earlier.

The urtext editions do contain some ornaments (as I previously stated), just not very many of them. The performer is expected to add more as appropriate. Turn to your copy of Invention #4, which most readers of this forum probably have at hand.

My Henle shows 4 ornaments in Bach's hand, 2 more added by one of his students. Is that all you use when playing this invention? Hopefully not. At a minimum, I teach my students to add another 6 ornaments, generally mordants, as they play this.

What about phrases and dynamics? There are none marked. How do you teach your students to perform this? Completely legato, completely detache, or some useful combination of the two? Do you begin mf? p? ff? Do you maintain a constant level throughout? What do you do about the interplay between the subjects and counterpoints?




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#1455662 - 06/13/10 11:21 AM Re: BACH DYNAMICS [Re: AZNpiano]  
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Originally Posted by AZNpiano
Some of the fugues would sound awesome in SATB arrangement. However, what do you do when you encounter passages that are not "singable"?


You just gotta practice!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rjGRifv-DrY


"If we continually try to force a child to do what he is afraid to do, he will become more timid, and will use his brains and energy, not to explore the unknown, but to find ways to avoid the pressures we put on him." (John Holt)

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#1455671 - 06/13/10 11:38 AM Re: BACH DYNAMICS [Re: Kreisler]  
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AZNpiano Offline
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That's a cool video, Kreisler! Did that group do the B-flat minor Fugue from WTC-I? That fugue always sounds like a chorus to me.


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#1455709 - 06/13/10 12:32 PM Re: BACH DYNAMICS [Re: AZNpiano]  
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Kreisler Offline
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Iowa City, IA
I'm not sure - they've done a ton of Bach, and some of their arrangements have been publisehd (we did one when I was in high school - the fugue from D Major WTC II)

It's a neat group, though!


"If we continually try to force a child to do what he is afraid to do, he will become more timid, and will use his brains and energy, not to explore the unknown, but to find ways to avoid the pressures we put on him." (John Holt)

www.pianoped.com
www.youtube.com/user/UIPianoPed
#1455790 - 06/13/10 02:17 PM Re: BACH DYNAMICS [Re: Bart Kinlein]  
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Bach again

Last edited by Feminicricket; 06/13/10 02:24 PM.

LEARNING AND IMPROVING NEVER STOPS. It would be boring if it did.
#1455802 - 06/13/10 02:31 PM Re: BACH DYNAMICS [Re: Feminicricket]  
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Feminicricket Offline
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Actually my whole 'confusion' started because when I was a student we had to prepare pieces from 3-4 eras for our exams... Baroque, Classical, Romantic and Modern for the ABRSM Grades 1-8 and Trinity College Diplomas. My teachers went out of the way to 'seperate' the way each piece defined its era. It was like going to a concert and listening to a pianist playing pieces from different eras showing distinctly the difference in character. Now when I am faced with students myself as a teacher , I question how much of this should I teach a beginner starting on Bach Minuets.

Last edited by Feminicricket; 06/13/10 02:36 PM.

LEARNING AND IMPROVING NEVER STOPS. It would be boring if it did.
#1455849 - 06/13/10 03:56 PM Re: BACH DYNAMICS [Re: Feminicricket]  
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John v.d.Brook Offline
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John v.d.Brook  Offline
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The pendulum swings back and forth. When I was a student, musicologists, avant garde teachers, performers were reacting to the over-editing of Baroque period music using the standards of the Romantic period. In the opinion of many, myself included, they went way overboard in austerity. As we're not privy to actual Baroque performances (no recordings available!) we can only follow best guest approximations using written material of the period and the classical period immediately following. And we have to remember that language changes as well, so we're really only guessing at best.

That said, the music lends itself to certain performance characteristics. Each period being different. Yet Bach was highly intelligent as well as emotional, and his performances would not have been dry and rectangular. There would be life, vitality, and the gamut of human emotion as best he could on the instrumentation he had available.

For the sake of your students, I would clearly mark your performance expectations into the score. No reputable judge is going to ding the performer for following his teacher's directions.


"Those who dare to teach must never cease to learn." -- Richard Henry Dann
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