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Lack of markings in Bach's keyboard music
#2984135 05/26/20 11:24 AM
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The usual explanation for the lack of tempo, articulation, and dynamic indications is something like "the performers in Bach's day were expected to know what to do or what is appropriate".

But what does that mean?
1. There was only one reasonable choice(within a very small range)about tempo, articulation, and phrasing and the performers would know what it was. It would follow that Bach had pretty specific ideas about he wanted and what the performers would do.
2. There were many possible choices within a large range that a trained musician could make and any of them would have been acceptable to Bach.
3. Something else

Re: Lack of markings in Bach's keyboard music
pianoloverus #2984148 05/26/20 11:58 AM
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Interesting question; I'm purely speculating, here and not sure I'm not making a fool of myself - but it wouldn't be a first for me!

I would think it would be more of your #2 than #1. Given how insular society was in the 17th-18th centuries with lack of wide-spread, immediate communication, I would think that communication of musical styles/expectations would be somewhat limited as well. Musicians might tend to adapt certain performance practices within a given local area based on what they hear others doing, or based on a dominating performer or on a conductor's dictates. Might it be possible that other regions might develop slightly different performance practices based on what was common performance practice in their region?

Given the fact that even today performances of Bach vary widely in articulation and - particularly - in tempo, it wouldn't surprise me to learn that a wide variety of "many possible choices" might have been performed with varying degrees of acceptance among other performers.

From what I have read - not extensively, I'll admit - there doesn't seem to have been much consideration given to the possibility of the existence of a variety of performance practices in the Baroque period. Most musicologists seem to suggest that there were certain universal performance practices applied generally. I've not read any speculative writings that suggest otherwise.

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Re: Lack of markings in Bach's keyboard music
pianoloverus #2984162 05/26/20 12:32 PM
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The keyboard instruments (clavichord, harpsichord & organ) of the day were not capable of playing dynamics as much as a modern piano so we rarely see dynamic markings. A lot of the markings like p & f you see on paper are added later to accommodate piano playing.

A lot of the articulations we use on a piano is to make the notes short like it's played on a harpsichord. And when it comes to tempo, we have Italian descriptions with no metronome number attached to it since a metronome was not invented yet. Some pieces have numbers added later. We don't know how fast a piece in "Allegro" should be. Some performances of the same pieces are slower while others faster.

Re: Lack of markings in Bach's keyboard music
pianoloverus #2984164 05/26/20 12:41 PM
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I think there are some scores where he marked with articulation (legato / staccato markings). We did not have dynamics but in some there are clear ornamentation. There are a few fingerings written. There are lots of scores that are almost entirely empty as you describe. I do not know why there are no tempo markings at all but maybe this is the same as other baroque composers. I am not very familiar with Bach or what was common for other composers in the baroque period. You check out the original scores for the inventions but would be interesting thread to follow.

https://imslp.org/wiki/15_Inventions%2C_BWV_772-786_(Bach%2C_Johann_Sebastian)

Re: Lack of markings in Bach's keyboard music
pianoloverus #2984166 05/26/20 12:43 PM
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I'm not sure if the link is his original or if someone copied later. I watch a video about one invention which explained it was well marked and for bach this was not common. It was one few example what he intended with ornamentation and articulation so maybe quite important. I cannot remember which one but he may have done this for a teaching piece. Maybe someone can clarify.

Re: Lack of markings in Bach's keyboard music
Moo :) #2984183 05/26/20 01:22 PM
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Originally Posted by Moo :)
I'm not sure if the link is his original or if someone copied later. I watch a video about one invention which explained it was well marked and for bach this was not common. It was one few example what he intended with ornamentation and articulation so maybe quite important. I cannot remember which one but he may have done this for a teaching piece. Maybe someone can clarify.

https://imslp.org/wiki/15_Inventions%2C_BWV_772-786_(Bach%2C_Johann_Sebastian)

The link you provided was to an IMSLP page with several scores (32, according to IMSLP), so I can't tell which one you are referring to. Any Urtext edition will show that Bach very rarely gave fingerings, tempo indications, or dynamics. What you were looking at was no doubt an edited version and the editors name may very well appear on the score or the title page if one is shown.

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Re: Lack of markings in Bach's keyboard music
pianoloverus #2984191 05/26/20 01:47 PM
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Have a look at the first one Bruce. They were written in 1720's when Bach is alive and are handwritten prints. You can see many of the inventions are bare whereas some have detail articulation markings and ornamentation markings. I think many people debate about whether to play legato or detached but you can see from some of the original scores these are marked. I'm not sure why this was only done of a few pieces.

Publisher Info. Holograph manuscript, n.d.(ca.1720-23)
Copyright
Public Domain

https://imslp.org/wiki/15_Inventions%2C_BWV_772-786_(Bach%2C_Johann_Sebastian)

Re: Lack of markings in Bach's keyboard music
pianoloverus #2984239 05/26/20 03:24 PM
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It is not not quite as simple as that and it is not easy to cover that topic with a short answer. BTW the question would apply to all composers contemporary of Bach or before (and even after) and in all countries. All in all for me it is closer to #1 than #2 . There are a couple of things to know about the context:

1-Music at the time was rarely printed as it was very expensive. So it was written and played locally. So Bach would either perform himself (at the organ) or he would supervise musicians or students and give them directions. Music was mostly copied by hand and circulated in a close range. Most music would be played at church or at the court of aristocrats. Bach was known to be very specific about what he wanted and how it was to be played.

2-Most music was supervised or played by highly trained professionals from their early age. There was little amateurs and those were also quite knowledgeable about music. The musical community in any city or region was quite small.

3-Most of the music we talk about was a living thing, it was played sometimes daily. For example the various suites written based on dance mouvements; the dances themselves were actually in practice. So any musician would immediately know what a courante or a sarabande tempo would be based on the practice of dances he was involved in.

4-There was quite a lot of exchanges between countries, Italian masters were frequently asked to come and work in Germany. French dance masters were employed by German aristocrats who wanted to imitate the trendy French court. So even though there are cultural differences and some variations from country to country there is also a lot of things that were shared. Most music of Bach demonstrate that he was largely influenced by both the Italian style and the French style.

For any given piece, with the time signature, the structure of the piece and the title (like menuet, …) it would be quite obvious to a musician how the piece should be played. For the rest like articulation and ornamentation there was obviously a practice. It is not to say that everybody would have necessarily played exactly like Bach wanted it but he/she would have applied whatever was the usual practice of the time.

As I said most of the time the music written by Bach was anyway performed by himself or under his direction. And if another musician had decided to play his music, in the baroque period it was expected that he would exercice his craftmanship to deliver a personalized version of it (within reasonable limits and good taste).

Bach provided more indications in his non keyboard pieces (vocal and instrumental) or when the piece had to be played differently than what the usual practice would indicate. For example the sinfonia of the partita 2 has an indication of Grave Adagio as it is not obvious that it has to be played slowly based on the 4/4 time signature.

Essentially musicians started to add dynamic and articulation indications when music started to be largely printed for the usage of an increased number of amateurs, who would have little musical knowledge and/or played by other musicians who would not necessarily be aware of their particular style.

Re: Lack of markings in Bach's keyboard music
pianoloverus #2984252 05/26/20 03:59 PM
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If anyone is interested, tempo and dynamics are discussed in excruciating detail in Paul Badura-Skoda's scholarly book "Interpreting Bach at the Keyboard."

One comment about P and F markings, while it is true that a keyboardist playing a single manual harpsichord cannot create dynamic changes, instruments with multiple manuals and multiple sets of strings can change the volume and tonal quality of the sound. Also, let's not forget the different tones that can be created with organ stops.

This from Wikipedia: While many harpsichords have one string per note, more elaborate harpsichords can have two or more strings for each note. When there are multiple strings for each note, these additional strings are called "choirs" of strings. This provides two advantages: the ability to vary volume and ability to vary tonal quality. Volume is increased when the mechanism of the instrument is set up by the player (see below) so that the press of a single key plucks more than one string. Tonal quality can be varied in two ways. First, different choirs of strings can be designed to have distinct tonal qualities, usually by having one set of strings plucked closer to the nut, which emphasizes the higher harmonics, and produces a "nasal" sound quality. The mechanism of the instrument, called "stops" (following the use of the term in pipe organs) permits the player to select one choir or the other. Second, having one key pluck two strings at once changes not just volume but also tonal quality; for instance, when two strings tuned to the same pitch are plucked simultaneously, the note is not just louder but also richer and more complex.

A particularly vivid effect is obtained when the strings plucked simultaneously are an octave apart. This is normally heard by the ear not as two pitches but as one: the sound of the higher string is blended with that of the lower one, and the ear hears the lower pitch, enriched in tonal quality by the additional strength in the upper harmonics of the note sounded by the higher string.

When describing a harpsichord it is customary to specify its choirs of strings, often called its disposition. To describe the pitch of the choirs of strings, pipe organ terminology is used. Strings at eight foot pitch (8') sound at the normal expected pitch, strings at four foot pitch (4') sound an octave higher. Harpsichords occasionally include a sixteen-foot (16') choir (one octave lower than eight-foot) or a two-foot (2') choir (two octaves higher; quite rare). When there are multiple choirs of strings, the player is often able to control which choirs sound. This is usually done by having a set of jacks for each choir, and a mechanism for "turning off" each set, often by moving the upper register (through which the jacks slide) sideways a short distance, so that their plectra miss the strings. In simpler instruments this is done by manually moving the registers, but as the harpsichord evolved, builders invented levers, knee levers and pedal mechanisms to make it easier to change registration.

Harpsichords with more than one keyboard (this usually means two keyboards, stacked one on top of the other in a step-wise fashion, as with pipe organs)[2] provide flexibility in selecting which strings play, since each manual can be set to control the plucking of a different set of strings. This means that a player can have, say, an 8' manual and a 4' manual ready for use, enabling him to switch between them to obtain higher (or lower) pitches or different tone. In addition, such harpsichords often have a mechanism (the "coupler") that couples manuals together, so that a single manual plays both sets of strings.


Best regards,

Deborah
Re: Lack of markings in Bach's keyboard music
pianoloverus #2984392 05/27/20 01:00 AM
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The 1 piece that had dynamic markings supposedly was the "Italian Concerto" in F (BWV971) in 3 movements. The assumption is that Bach wrote the piece for a specific harpsichord with 2 keyboards 1 stacked on top of the other for p & f. Back then don't think many composers wrote in any crescendo & decrescendo into the music. For keyboard music it is rare to find p & f but they were written into some scores.

Re: Lack of markings in Bach's keyboard music
gooddog #2984464 05/27/20 07:04 AM
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Originally Posted by Sidokar
It is not not quite as simple as that and it is not easy to cover that topic with a short answer. BTW the question would apply to all composers contemporary of Bach or before (and even after) and in all countries. All in all for me it is closer to #1 than #2 . There are a couple of things to know about the context:

1-Music at the time was rarely printed as it was very expensive. So it was written and played locally. So Bach would either perform himself (at the organ) or he would supervise musicians or students and give them directions. Music was mostly copied by hand and circulated in a close range. Most music would be played at church or at the court of aristocrats. Bach was known to be very specific about what he wanted and how it was to be played.

2-Most music was supervised or played by highly trained professionals from their early age. There was little amateurs and those were also quite knowledgeable about music. The musical community in any city or region was quite small.

3-Most of the music we talk about was a living thing, it was played sometimes daily. For example the various suites written based on dance mouvements; the dances themselves were actually in practice. So any musician would immediately know what a courante or a sarabande tempo would be based on the practice of dances he was involved in.

4-There was quite a lot of exchanges between countries, Italian masters were frequently asked to come and work in Germany. French dance masters were employed by German aristocrats who wanted to imitate the trendy French court. So even though there are cultural differences and some variations from country to country there is also a lot of things that were shared. Most music of Bach demonstrate that he was largely influenced by both the Italian style and the French style.

For any given piece, with the time signature, the structure of the piece and the title (like menuet, …) it would be quite obvious to a musician how the piece should be played. For the rest like articulation and ornamentation there was obviously a practice. It is not to say that everybody would have necessarily played exactly like Bach wanted it but he/she would have applied whatever was the usual practice of the time.

As I said most of the time the music written by Bach was anyway performed by himself or under his direction. And if another musician had decided to play his music, in the baroque period it was expected that he would exercice his craftmanship to deliver a personalized version of it (within reasonable limits and good taste).

Bach provided more indications in his non keyboard pieces (vocal and instrumental) or when the piece had to be played differently than what the usual practice would indicate. For example the sinfonia of the partita 2 has an indication of Grave Adagio as it is not obvious that it has to be played slowly based on the 4/4 time signature.

Essentially musicians started to add dynamic and articulation indications when music started to be largely printed for the usage of an increased number of amateurs, who would have little musical knowledge and/or played by other musicians who would not necessarily be aware of their particular style.

Thank you for this great answer. I agree with all of the points above. "Most of the music written by Bach was anyway performed by himself or under his direction"- this is key. The fact that music was very "living" and immediate means that so much was communicated directly by the composer or was simply obvious from context. Pieces in the Well-Tempered Clavier immediately suggested certain dances because of their rhythms, so a tempo would have been clear- the WTC is essentially a catalogue of all the styles and dances of the era. One can learn much about articulation from reading treatises written for wind and string instruments (e.g. the violin and the flute), which also applied to keyboard instruments. A harpsichord professor once said, "every early music player must also be a scholar". One simply can't avoid it- there are so many informed decisions that need to be made, and so much wasn't written in, so knowledge of genres, styles, instruments, and performance practices is essential to interpreting a score.

Originally Posted by gooddog
One comment about P and F markings, while it is true that a keyboardist playing a single manual harpsichord cannot create dynamic changes, instruments with multiple manuals and multiple sets of strings can change the volume and tonal quality of the sound. Also, let's not forget the different tones that can be created with organ stops.
This is true, but it's also interesting that these instruments were much less common in Germany. So in German music, repetitions were almost always expected to be varied with ornamentation, whereas in French music, the idea of variation using "tone color" was stronger because of the different registers one had at the harpsichord.

Re: Lack of markings in Bach's keyboard music
pianoloverus #2984557 05/27/20 10:52 AM
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Also improvisation was a key component of music. Players would add embellishments at their whim. Probably the same for articulations and expressions.

Re: Lack of markings in Bach's keyboard music
pianoloverus #2984766 05/27/20 07:43 PM
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We know a lot about Baroque keyboard “clavier” practice, but there’s no agreement on how Bach should be played on the modern piano! At one end, Schiff, who recommends against almost any use of the pedal. At the other end, Barenboim, who has no objection it, and whose WTC employs it ubiquitously. It’s hard to dispute that the sustaining pedal can obliterate distinctions between voices. But most pianists make frequent use of it. So much for the application of authentic Baroque practice at the keyboard where the keyboard happens to be the piano. Still, obviously critical to know the framework within which Bach was writing, because much is still pertinent to modern non-Baroque performance. How authentic at the piano? That’s always been my difficulty.


J. S. Bach Well-tempered Clavier, complete preludes and fugues (with significant MIDI analysis):

https://soundcloud.com/johnlgrant

https://www.youtube.com/user/dohgrant/playlists (slightly better sound quality)



Re: Lack of markings in Bach's keyboard music
johnlewisgrant #2984878 05/28/20 05:21 AM
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Originally Posted by johnlewisgrant
So much for the application of authentic Baroque practice at the keyboard where the keyboard happens to be the piano. Still, obviously critical to know the framework within which Bach was writing, because much is still pertinent to modern non-Baroque performance. How authentic at the piano? That’s always been my difficulty.

It is clearly an open question and there are different positions, but it is not one that is specific to Bach. In fact any music that has been written in the past raises the question of how authentic should the performance be. There is a wide range of opinions between extreme traditionalists and extreme modernists. But as you say, it is important to know what the framework was and then make some aesthetic choices that are consistent and argumented. For example if you play at the piano pieces that were written for the organ (which is a large share of keyboard music in the 17th century), the question is even more acute.

I think also that the question is different for someone that is professionally performing for a given audience and for people who play for their pleasure or for small groups. I dont think there should necessarily be only one way to play, as long as it is based on argumented choices.

I dont have any rigid point of view on this. For those pro that perform for a modern audience, they have to deal with the modern taste or even with the specific taste of their particular audience. It is clear that the number of people who attend to harpsichord concerts is far less than those who listen to piano concerts. For example to take the famous example of the Bach Goldberg Aria. Many pianists, if not almost all, play it in a romantic way, way too slowly vs what is the likely tempo that is logically indicated by the structure of the piece. But the result works well in that case. Should we play more authentically or is it fine to adjust it to our modern sensibility ? There are certain pieces and performances that I absolutely love while recognizing that it is not in the style and not what the composer had in mind.

The one thing I am certain of is that we should avoid uniformity. Diversity and knowledge is what makes it interesting and opens our mind. It makes sense that we have groups that sing Monteverdi in the style of 17th century so we can appreciate the aesthetic approach, the technique, the chromatic sensuality of that music and not sing it in bel canto style of Verdi (though I love Verdi opera !).

Similarly, I think most music has an inner logic which works better when it is performed like it was designed to be played. But certain pieces accept more adjustments than others. at the end isnt it like baroque musicians write all the time, it has to be done with good taste.

Re: Lack of markings in Bach's keyboard music
pianoloverus #2984897 05/28/20 07:25 AM
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Organists and harpsichordists can't use dynamics in the way a pianist can. Clavichordists can, and they can play vibrato. The three instruments couldn't be more different. Play it as you like on whatever instrument suits you.

The pedal can make Bach sound like a mess, so is the solution not to use the pedal at all, or to use the pedal in a way that doesn't make Bach sound like a mess?

Re: Lack of markings in Bach's keyboard music
pianoloverus #2987239 06/03/20 01:15 AM
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Originally Posted by pianoloverus
The usual explanation for the lack of tempo, articulation, and dynamic indications is something like "the performers in Bach's day were expected to know what to do or what is appropriate".

But what does that mean?
1. There was only one reasonable choice(within a very small range)about tempo, articulation, and phrasing and the performers would know what it was. It would follow that Bach had pretty specific ideas about he wanted and what the performers would do.
2. There were many possible choices within a large range that a trained musician could make and any of them would have been acceptable to Bach.
3. Something else

I tend to believe that “2” is closest to the truth. Dynamic indications certainly would be omitted from most of the keyboard music because most of it was written for organ or harpsichord. Articulation and ornamentation would also vary with instrument used— more ornamentation and articulation devices usually would be used on harpsichord than on organ for example, so it makes sense to omit them from the score.

Lastly, most of these scores were first published about 100 years after Bach’s death.


My chronological list of the top 20 composers: Bach, Handel, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Mendelssohn, Chopin, Schumann, Wagner, Verdi, Brahms, Dvorak, Tchaikovsky, Mahler, Debussy, Bartok, Stravinsky, Prokofiev, Shostakovich.
Re: Lack of markings in Bach's keyboard music
johnstaf #2987420 06/03/20 01:13 PM
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Originally Posted by johnstaf
Organists and harpsichordists can't use dynamics in the way a pianist can. Clavichordists can, and they can play vibrato. The three instruments couldn't be more different. Play it as you like on whatever instrument suits you.

The pedal can make Bach sound like a mess, so is the solution not to use the pedal at all, or to use the pedal in a way that doesn't make Bach sound like a mess?

When baroque music is played on a harpsichord or organ, fingerings like thumb slides and heavier use of finger substitutions are more feasible than on piano because there is not concern for shaping a phrase dynamically. As a result, judicious use of pedal to play certain passages legato on the piano may at times be preferable to a fingering that is suboptimal on piano.


My chronological list of the top 20 composers: Bach, Handel, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Mendelssohn, Chopin, Schumann, Wagner, Verdi, Brahms, Dvorak, Tchaikovsky, Mahler, Debussy, Bartok, Stravinsky, Prokofiev, Shostakovich.
Re: Lack of markings in Bach's keyboard music
pianoloverus #2988162 06/05/20 12:43 PM
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Rosanyn Tureck wrote An Introduction to the Performance of Bach (3 volumes, Oxford, 1960) which may help.

These books can provide some hints as well:
- Erwin Bodky. The Interpretation of Bach's Keyboard Works (Harvard University, 1960)
- Joseph Kerman. The Art of Fugue - Bach Fugues for Keyboard, 1715 - 1750 (University of California, 2005)
- Frederick Neumann. Ornamentation in Baroque and Post-Baroque Music with Special Emphasis on J.S.Bach (Princeton, 1978)


Wise men speak because they have something to say; Fools because they have to say something. (falsely attributed to Plato)
Vlad,
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