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2 WTC Preludes and Fugues: Bk 1 No. 1 and Bk 2 No. 5 (Read 8861 times)

Offline glk

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2 WTC Preludes and Fugues: Bk 1 No. 1 and Bk 2 No. 5
« on: October 19, 2006, 04:29:44 PM »
Hi:

I have just discovered Pianostreet and it is a wonderful resource.  Posting for comments is a bit intimidating but here goes. 

By way of background, I'm and older piano student (now 48).  I played, but not seriously, when 5 or 6 years when I was growing up and, in retrospect, did not have the best of instruction.  About 3 years ago, I began looking for a piano teacher/program for my 5 year old son, and became interested in starting lessons again myself.  (In addition to hoping to finally learn properly, I thought my son would have more motivation to practice if he saw me doing so as well.)    As it turned out, I discovered that the spouse of one of my colleagues at work is wonderful pianist who teaches at a university nearby, and she agreed to take me on as a student.  Of course, I've become totally addicted and generally practice a couple hours a day (usually after my family is asleep!).  (Note:  My son still takes lessons, but my theory of motivation didn't really work, since it is a still a struggle to get him to practice.  My younger son though has just started, and he seems a bit more inclined/enthusiastic).

Anyway, both my teacher and friends have encouraged me to play a recital, but I have a very hard time with memorization and a hectic work schedule, which would make it difficult to prepare for one.  (Besides, its too scary!!).  As an alternative, I've decided, with my teacher's encouragement, to make a quasi recital CD, which I hope to complete by years' end. (The nice things about a CD are that I can use my music and prepare 1 or 2 pieces at time for recording.)  (I also invested in some recording gear, so I could record at home as my schedule permits.)

 I'm planning on including 3 WTC Preludes and Fugues (Book 1 No. 1 and 2 in C major and c minor, and Book 2 in D major), Schubert Impromptu No. 4 in Ab minor, Op. 899, 2 Chopin Nocturnes (No. 1 in Bb minor, and No. 15 in F minor) and finally Chopin Waltz in C# minor.    The Bach pieces have been the most difficult for me, so I thought I would work on them first.  So here goes 2 of them!

Your thoughts will be appreciated (but be nice!).  In addition to comments on the music, any recording advice would be appreciated as well.  (I spoke with a recording engineer last night who suggested a different microphone configuration, slightly further away from the strings.)

Best,

Gary K

Offline davidz

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Re: 2 WTC Preludes and Fugues: Bk 1 No. 1 and Bk 2 No. 5
«Reply #1 on: October 20, 2006, 10:31:45 AM »
Very nice performances here.  With Bach it seems there is always more work to do and I would focus on evenness of the lines and perfect ensemble of the hands, for example in the 2nd half of the D major prelude. 

I also would ask what your conception of these pieces is with regard to ebb and flow, tension and resolution and so on.  For example in the D major fugue, what are the high points and low points, how do you capture and maintain the audience's attention?  How do you create a sense of drama?  I find this an exceptionally challenging piece from both a technical and interpretive point of view.

I also have questions about the phrasing in the C major pieces.  How did you decide on the phrasing of the arpeggios?  I personally prefer to focus on the slow arc of the harmonic changes in this piece and find that creative phrasings of the arpeggios just get in the way (Gould is a particularly bad offender here).  I prefer just a gentle ripple.  Likewise the fugue theme, serene and contemplative, doesn't seem to demand a distinctive phrasing, though if one is done quite consistently, it can be impressive.

Regards,
davidz


Offline glk

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Re: 2 WTC Preludes and Fugues: Bk 1 No. 1 and Bk 2 No. 5
«Reply #2 on: October 20, 2006, 02:57:08 PM »
David:

Thanks for taking the time to provide such thoughtful comments. 

You have identified some of my biggest challenges with Bach.  With respect to synchronization of the hands, for example, some of the more intricate passages are especially challenging for me.  (I continue to try to improve on this especially in  the Book I c minor prelude, in which any lack of synchronization sounds magnified to me!).  My approach for working on this includes slow practice, practice with varying rhythms, and metronome work.   I also work separate hands, if one hand appears to be the culprit by laging behind the other.   Suggestions and thoughts on efficient practice methods for this issue will be welcome.  (I will also post this question on the performance board) .

I also think that your questions of interpretation will be quite helpful in improving the overall performances (and my progress overall). In this regard, I think the D major prelude and fugue are the most challenging  piece I have ever worked on.  (As a result, sometimes when I play them, I'm so thrilled to get through it that I may not adequately focus on the music). I've gotten quite discipline about practicing, and I think it is time for me to also have more discipline about analyzing the pieces I'm working on.

I found the D major fugue especially difficult, because it is completely unrelenting in its use and development of its theme and juxtaposition of elements of the theme.  It took months for me to be able to play it with a semblance of phrasing, rather than ploding from chord change to chord change. 

With respect the C major prelude, I attempted phrase the arpegios with two concepts in mind.  First, the repetition of each arpegio can be seen as a mini echo of the first.  Second, the arpegios can emphasize significant harmonic changes.  I will, however, give thought to your suggestion and reconsider this approach.  Likewise in the fugue.  Alternatively, I'll work on doing a better job of maintaining a consistent phrasing.   :)

Thanks again for your comments.  I suspect that I will be working on improving performances of Bach for a long, long time.  I am constantly amazed by both the complexity and subtlety of even such relatively short works.

Best,

Gary K

Offline asyncopated

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Re: 2 WTC Preludes and Fugues: Bk 1 No. 1 and Bk 2 No. 5
«Reply #3 on: October 20, 2006, 09:27:42 PM »
Hi,

Was listening to the WTC 2, 5.  I agree largely with what david says and think I might have a couple of suggestions that you might like to try out.  I haven't really attempted anything from the WTC because they are still to difficult for me, but hope to do so later.

The main subject is in the prelude is a scale, followed by appeggio triplets.   I find that with Bach, one way to think about phrasing is to think of the physical shape of the phrase, and how your hand needs to move to outline this shape.  Even if you do articulate, i find that for me, it is still possible to think of it as one fluid motion.  Also I find that drawing phrase lines on your score always helps, especially with bach.   

One thing that does strike me as well is the texture of the triplets.   These are always an odd thing.  Somehow when one plays triplets in baroque period music straight, it sounds slightly santised.   You may want to experiment with a slightly more circular sound, so that one set of triples leads/leans into the next.  I don't really know how to describe this :X .  If you imagine a spiral as you play the triples going round, it might help -- for me it does.

To give you a better idea of what i am refering to have a listen to Angela Hewitt's recording of Jesu you of man's desiring. 

http://www.angelahewitt.com/record.php?record_id=1

Another place that you hear an obvious triplet motif in bach's work is in the H moll mass  (the sanctus) it think.


The last think i have to say is with regards to the endings in the c major prelude and fugue.  At the moment it seems to be like as you reach the end you go "phew i got to the end!!!" and after that "Pham!!" play the last chord.  I think in both cases, you need to leads the listener to the conclusion instead.

Hope that this helps. 

All the best.





Offline davidz

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Re: 2 WTC Preludes and Fugues: Bk 1 No. 1 and Bk 2 No. 5
«Reply #4 on: October 21, 2006, 01:59:27 AM »
Gary,

With respect to synchronization of the hands, for example, some of the more intricate passages are especially challenging for me.  (I continue to try to improve on this especially in  the Book I c minor prelude, in which any lack of synchronization sounds magnified to me!).  My approach for working on this includes slow practice, practice with varying rhythms, and metronome work.   I also work separate hands, if one hand appears to be the culprit by laging behind the other.   Suggestions and thoughts on efficient practice methods for this issue will be welcome.  (I will also post this question on the performance board) .

Basically, you just go back to the recording and find any beat where the hands are not completely together, but are supposed to be.  You then just play that beat over and over, with the appropriate fingers on the right keys, (and using varying dynamics) and work on exact simultaneity of attack.  It sounds terrible to anyone listening, but do it for a few minutes, then go back and play the passage and it will sound better.  Obviously it's a lot of work to go through the whole piece this way, but it really polishes the sound.

I found the D major fugue especially difficult, because it is completely unrelenting in its use and development of its theme and juxtaposition of elements of the theme.  It took months for me to be able to play it with a semblance of phrasing, rather than ploding from chord change to chord change. 

This is an unusual fugue in that there is no counter-subject-- instead, the last four notes of the theme separate and take on a life of their own, like some strange animal where a piece can break off from the body and survive independently.  So you have to figure out a phrasing which works for both the whole and the last part of the theme.  The piece is also ambiguous tonally-- up until the last chord one might be forgiven for thinking it was in G major.  The best thing is to strive for flawless technique, make the dynamics ebb and flow at natural points, and let the audience make of it what they will.

With respect the C major prelude, I attempted phrase the arpegios with two concepts in mind.  First, the repetition of each arpegio can be seen as a mini echo of the first.  Second, the arpegios can emphasize significant harmonic changes.

If you mean, just taking the first six notes in the right hand, that the latter three echo the first three, I don't agree because the emphasis (downbeat) is different.  If you mean that the second half of the measure echoes the first half, yes, but you wouldn't want to make that too dramatic as it would get old after about three measures.

Regards,
davidz

Offline glk

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Re: 2 WTC Preludes and Fugues: Bk 1 No. 1 and Bk 2 No. 5
«Reply #5 on: October 21, 2006, 03:58:55 AM »
David and  Asyncopated:

Again, all helpful thoughts.  I've several hours today working on the synchronization especially.    One interesting discovery is that I've clearly been a bit lazy with my pinky (especially in the right hand) in that that I have been playing it with an overly flat finger and more with rotation of the hand than from the joint.  Improving my hand position enables far more solid, and more coordinated playing between the hands.

I also see your point about the C major prelude.  (I've also discussed with an old friend from college, who concurs with your suggestion).  I was, in fact, referring to to a deemphasis of the final three note of the six -- (echo was probably the wrong term).
And I quite agree with you about echoing the first half of the measure with the second.
I've listened to probably half a dozen recordings of the WTC.  Among the interestings recordings is Rosyln Tureck's recording from the 50s.  Much (if not most) of the recording is wonderful, but she played the C major prelude quite slowly and with an echoing of the first half of each measure in the second half.  As you suspected, it becomes tedious.

As for the triplets and phrasing, I like the idea of considering the hand motion for the entire phrase as whole as a means for providing directing to the phrase.   I

n the D major prelude, I see the opening triplets as a clarion of sorts, which repeated only once--at the beginning of the final section.  (The prelude strikes me as a bit of a precursor of sonata form, although each passage that could be considered a theme is derived from the opening theme.  The second half begins with a development of the opening passages followed by a recapitalution announced by a return of the opening clarion).  Thereafter, the triplets (and the scales) are reiterated in a host different configurations;  often as a counter to the scale passages.  All of which suggests an important tie into David's initial question about the  "ebb and flow, tension and resolution" of  the piece overall.  (I don't yet have a good answer, and need to devote more time the score apart from technical practice).

Anyway, this discussion has given me quite a good roadmap for attempting to bring
my Bach performances to a higher level.   It also throws off my schedule a bit,since
I'm going to do some reworking and rerecording before moving on .

Thanks again for taking time to share your thoughts.

Best,

Gary K.



Offline asyncopated

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Re: 2 WTC Preludes and Fugues: Bk 1 No. 1 and Bk 2 No. 5
«Reply #6 on: October 21, 2006, 09:11:37 AM »
David and  Asyncopated:

As for the triplets and phrasing, I like the idea of considering the hand motion for the entire phrase as whole as a means for providing directing to the phrase.   


Gary,

I like the idea of clarions.  Certainly, the analogy fits the writing.

Just as a practical suggestion instead of the airy fairy stuff I was on about.  Perhap, just taking away the accent on the first note of each of the triplets will help with phrasing. Instead find the direction to the phrase, which leads all the way to the high A in the first instance, just before you start the contrasting legato thirds. Pull your phrase all the way towards this point and arrive at the A. Hope this helps with the phrasing.

Here are excerpts form Angela Hewitts playing.  I didn't find them yesterday.  They are divine.

http://www.angelahewitt.com/record.php?record_id=5

Offline glk

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Re: 2 WTC Preludes and Fugues: Bk 1 No. 1 and Bk 2 No. 5
«Reply #7 on: October 21, 2006, 03:07:02 PM »
Hi:

I like your phrasing suggestion.  I think one of the keys to successful bach is finding and maintain the direction of the phrases.  (I'm not quite consistent about this yet).

Also, thanks for the link.  I'm surprised that I was not aware that she recorded the WTC, and will add her to my collection.  Thus far, I've listened to Schiff, Tureck, Gould, Richter, and Edwin Fischer.  (I'm hoping that Perahia will record them one day, as I enjoy his other Bach recordings, especially his Goldberg Variations.)  I don't believe that there is one right way to play Bach, and the there a much to appreciate in the wide range of diverse approaches.  I do think though, getting back to Davidz's point, that each work needs to fully considered and planned to allow for a successful performance.  Of course, at my level  technical difficulties can make implementing
a particular conception especially challenging (and regrettably not always completely or consistently successful).  But  this thread has pursuaded me to become more disciplined in
developing a coherent outline for each work and strivng to fulfill it.

Best,

Gary 

Offline asyncopated

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Re: 2 WTC Preludes and Fugues: Bk 1 No. 1 and Bk 2 No. 5
«Reply #8 on: October 22, 2006, 01:24:11 AM »
I don't believe that there is one right way to play Bach, and the there a much to appreciate in the wide range of diverse approaches.  I do think though, getting back to Davidz's point, that each work needs to fully considered and planned to allow for a successful performance. 

I agree completely with what you have said.  Here are a few more thoughs I have on playing bach.  I really love this work, so you'll have to bear with me going on about it. :P

Despite the many different style of playing bach, there is certainly bach that is well played and bach that is badly played.  I think the foundations must be fully intact, after that no mattter what the interpretation is, it will almost certainly sound good. 

There are a number of historical elements to consider when performing bach.  The main problem being that instruments and the way music was treated was very differnent in the baroque period, compared to how it is done now.  In short there are two school, one that strives towards authenticity -- one would get a harpsichord (perhaps beyond the means of many) just to be truly authentic.  The other school, the one I subscribe to is that "how would bach do it if he had the luxary of mordern instruments".

In this case, we would like the piano to mimic the harpsichord, in this most basic form by making sure that there is a core/point to each note played -- this gives more of a  plucking sound, as with the harpsichord.  Nevertheless the piano is not a harpsichord, and we have to luxury of more sustained/resonant notes, rounded overtones and being about to produce a wider range of dynamics and colours, which one should take full advantage of.

One principle that i go by when playing any piece is that it should alway be obvious what you, the performer are trying to do.  Basically, you need to show your intentions -- these need to be presented clearly on a platter.  In bach, this is extremely difficult.  This is because there are 3 or 4 interwoven voices and it's easy to get lost in the fray.  However, as a rule of thumb, the subject is what one should stick with, lacking this choose what you think is the most interesting voice.  I find that for bach, it is important to know which voice you are bringing out all the time.  This makes it easier both for you (as you have something more substantial to handle, one voice as oppose to four concurrent voices) and the listener, because it makes what you are trying to show your audience clearer.   Bach's phrasing is usually pretty obvious but complicated because each voice should be phrased independently.  In general, I favor longer pharses (probably bacause of training) if possible, rather than choping up pieces into short phrases.  I think that this gives more of a flow to the music -- it sounds more effortless.  If done correctly, each voice will have it's say at different points in the piece.

Was wondering if you or david have any other basic priciples to share when you play or perform bach, or opinions about what i'm trying to say.


Offline piano121

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Re: 2 WTC Preludes and Fugues: Bk 1 No. 1 and Bk 2 No. 5
«Reply #9 on: October 22, 2006, 02:15:04 AM »
I like your playing a lot. Its already very nice. As other pople pointed out, you may need to work a little more on clarity, making it more and more even. But imo you understand these Bach pieces very well, Good Luck.

Iīm glad that you restarted studing piano after a long resignation. Thatīs the same thing that happened to me ;D Send us more of your recordings for yours CD!

Offline glk

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Re: 2 WTC Preludes and Fugues: Bk 1 No. 1 and Bk 2 No. 5
«Reply #10 on: October 22, 2006, 05:36:15 PM »
Async and Piano:

Thanks!  I too prefer the modern approach to Bach.  (As I suggested above, if Bach had modern pianos, I have no doubt he would have exploited them--probably in far better than we imagine).
 
I agree, in general, that the pianists goals should be obvious, such as voicing the returns of the fugue themes.  (This is especially difficult in the D major fugue, because the the theme returns constantly, and often the second part of the theme  (the appegios) arrives independently or as a counter.  I try to keep the repeating arpeggios building upon each other.)

In trying to disclose your intentions, however, it becomes a great challenge not to become plodding or choppy in voicing the various elements.  (I struggle with this problem!  The solution, like so much in playing, is finding a motion that allows your hands and fingers to stay relaxed.  If you have a chance, listen to Davidz's postings on this board, which sound wonderful composed and comfortable throughout.)

This is why bach is so difficult, because it is hard enough to get the notes at all, and much more so to make them sound the way you would like them to sound.  This is further complicated by the fact that, for me at least, the piano does not always sound like I think its sounds.  (My eyes have been open to this fact in my recording project.)  The present version of the these pieces is far, far improved over my initial recording, simply because hearing it from the other side of the keys so to speak has help me determine what I should focus on. 

I suppose this would be my most important suggestion for practicing Bach.  The recording helps clarify not only phrasing, but also tempo and clarity.  I often unknowingly rush difficult passages, simply because I'm so focus on moving the next note rather than the phrase as a whole. Recording--especially Bach--can be quite frustrating, because as you begin to play the pieces better overall, the mistakes begin to sound worse!  (This provides great incentive for continuing to rework them).

By the way, I've been working on revised versions of these pieces, largely with your and Davidz comments in mind.  (Also, I think the new version may be helped by better position of the microphones I'm using, based on suggestions of the audio engineer who shared some tips.)
At this point, I'm not sure that, technically, I'm able to much improve on the triplets in the D major prelude, but I've applied your thoughts to the fugue.  Instead of redundant sounding triplets to open the theme, I've been trying to build to the final note of the 3.  I think it gives the phrase much better direction flow.

If you all will indulge me, I will post revised versions next week (if I think they show some progress!) 

And Piano121-- Thanks for the vote of confidence.  Maybe we should suggest a board for Adult "students" and returning Pianists.

Best,

Gary

Offline piano121

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Re: 2 WTC Preludes and Fugues: Bk 1 No. 1 and Bk 2 No. 5
«Reply #11 on: October 23, 2006, 12:51:35 AM »
If you all will indulge me, I will post revised versions next week (if I think they show some progress!) 

And Piano121-- Thanks for the vote of confidence.  Maybe we should suggest a board for Adult "students" and returning Pianists.


Please, do post. and if you have time, take a look at my BaCH  stuff, bellow in this page.

Offline asyncopated

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Re: 2 WTC Preludes and Fugues: Bk 1 No. 1 and Bk 2 No. 5
«Reply #12 on: October 23, 2006, 11:25:16 PM »
This is why bach is so difficult, because it is hard enough to get the notes at all, and much more so to make them sound the way you would like them to sound.  This is further complicated by the fact that, for me at least, the piano does not always sound like I think its sounds.  (My eyes have been open to this fact in my recording project.)  The present version of the these pieces is far, far improved over my initial recording, simply because hearing it from the other side of the keys so to speak has help me determine what I should focus on. 

 Ype... Bach is tough, but worth it though. :)

Quote
If you all will indulge me, I will post revised versions next week (if I think they show some progress!) 


It will be a pleasure.   

Offline viking

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Re: 2 WTC Preludes and Fugues: Bk 1 No. 1 and Bk 2 No. 5
«Reply #13 on: October 25, 2006, 12:26:29 AM »
Hmm, I didn't really take the time to read all the previous posts, but that being said, I really think the D major prelude needs to go much quicker.  Only then will you get a true sense of the piece musically.

Sam

Offline glk

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Re: 2 WTC Preludes and Fugues: Bk 1 No. 1 and Bk 2 No. 5
«Reply #14 on: October 25, 2006, 06:27:09 PM »
Sam,

Maybe, but much easier said than done!   ;) 

I can play most of it faster, but not all of it.  Will keep trying though.

Best,

Gary