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Plan for learning Bach's WTC (Read 58489 times)

Offline rustington

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Plan for learning Bach's WTC
« on: April 23, 2004, 07:47:18 PM »
Assuming one has mastered the 2- and 3-part inventions and has a grasp of the contrapuntal style, how does one go about learning the WTC?  I know the real answer is by working with an excellent teacher and years of practice, startingly slowly, yada yada.  I guess I was wondering if anyone has a suggested order of pregressive difficultly, or of a published companion edition.  Of course this would have to be modified in order to fit one's particular skill level (one pianists might find a certain prelude easier to begin with than someone else might), but it would be a starting point.

(Apologies if this question has already been posted, but newbie that I am, I couldn't find it in a search).

Sheet music to download and print: WTC 1 by Bach



Sheet music to download and print: WTC 2 by Bach



Offline comme_le_vent

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Re: Plan for learning Bach's WTC
«Reply #1 on: April 23, 2004, 07:50:36 PM »
i have to wonder why you want to learn the whole thing?

youd have to REALLY love it, and work REALLY hard...
http://www.chopinmusic.net/sdc/

Great artists aim for perfection, while knowing that perfection itself is impossible, it is the driving force for them to be the best they can be - MC Hammer

Offline Rach3

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Re: Plan for learning Bach's WTC
«Reply #2 on: April 25, 2004, 07:23:34 AM »
Why not? The way I would go about it is to spend my free time sight reading the WTC, for shreer pleasure, immerse yourself in it, every now and then start reading through a new prelude and fugue, revisit old ones, become nostaligic... by the time you're a concert artist and famous you will realize you know the whole WTC and then you polish it up to make a recording or a recital series at Carnegie.
"Never look at the trombones, it only encourages them."
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Offline Rach3

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Re: Plan for learning Bach's WTC
«Reply #3 on: April 25, 2004, 07:25:15 AM »
I've already started, I am polishing the Bb minor from bk. I and sight-reading the bk. II C major for fun. Almost there!
"Never look at the trombones, it only encourages them."
--Richard Wagner

Offline bernhard

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Re: Plan for learning Bach's WTC
«Reply #4 on: April 25, 2004, 02:27:28 PM »
This is a most worthwhile pursuit. Go for it. :D

I will think about the order of difficulty, but they are more or less all difficult. The preludes are of course much easier than the fugues. I would start with book I and just follow the numbers. I may come back here in a couple of weeks time.

This is highly intellectual music as well, so spend a lot of time away from the piano working on the score before actually practising it at the piano.

I suggest you go through these three excellent books:

Basic:

Eric Astschuller – Bachanalia – The essential listener’s guide to Bach’s Well tempered clavier (Little Brown)

Intermediate:

Ralph Kirkpatrick – Interpreting Bach’s Well-tempered clavier (Yale University Press).

Advanced:

Siglind Bruhn – JS Bach’s Well tempered clavier: In depth analysis and interpretation (4 volumes) (Mainer International Ltd)

Best wishes,
Bernhard.
The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side. (Hunter Thompson)

Offline rustington

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Re: Plan for learning Bach's WTC
«Reply #5 on: April 27, 2004, 07:40:01 AM »
Oh, goodness!  I don't want to learn the whole thing!  
... Just book one.  For me this will be a lifetime pursuit, and I might change my mind after a year or a decade.  As with all things, it's not the destination but the journey that matters.  I'd like to head in the direction of WTC and see where it takes me.  Just looking for advice about where to begin.  Some things look to me more difficult on the page than they actually are, as I've discovered sight-reading some of the fugues.  But I'm sure there are many MORE instances, where something looks easy on the page but is actually much more difficult.  I'm trying to avoid those potential pitfalls.  (Like, would someone tell piano teachers and beginning students that Für Elise is not an elementary piece!  How many times do we hear people playing that who shouldn't even be turning the thumb yet...)

Offline bernhard

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Re: Plan for learning Bach's WTC
«Reply #6 on: May 05, 2004, 11:47:03 PM »
Have a look here:

http://www.serve.com/marbeth/fugues.html

Now here is a progressive order for learning the WTC (from easiest to most difficult). As with all lists of this kind, variations do exist, and I would love to see some different lists. (Hmoll?)

1. no. 15 in  G (Book II)
2. no. 6 in Dm
3. no. 21 in Bb
4. no. 10 in Em
5. no. 20 in Am (Book II)
6. no. 11 in F
7. no. 2 in Cm
8. no. 9 in E
9. no. 13 in F#
10. no. 21 in Bb (Book II)
11. no. 6 in Dm (Book II)
12. no. 19 in A (Book II)
13. no. 11 in F (Book II)
14. no. 19 in A
15. no. 14 in F#m
16. no. 18 in G#m
17 no. 2 in Cm (Book II)
18. no. 5 in D
19. no. 7 in Eb
20. no. 14 in F#m (Book II)
21. no. 7 in Eb (Book II)
22. no. 1 in C
23. no. 17 in Ab
24. no. 13 in F# (Book II)
25. no. 15 in G
26. no. 12 in Fm (Book II)
27. no. 1 in C (Book II)
28. no. 24 in Bm (Book II)
29. no. 10 in Em (Book II)
30. no. 16 in Gm
31. no. 5 in D (Book II)
32. no. 18 in G#m (Book II)
33. no. 24 in Bm
34. no. 9 in E (Book II)
35. no. 4 in C#m (Book II)
36. no. 23 in B
37. no. 3 in C# (Book II)
38. no. 12 in Fm
39. no. 3 in C#
40. no. 8 in D#m (Book II)
41. no. 22 in Bbm
42. no. 17 in Ab (Book II)
43. no 4 in C#m
44. no. 8 in D#m
45. no. 20 in Am
46. no. 22 in Bbm (Book II)
47. no. 16 in Gm (Book II)
48. no. 23 in B (Book II)


Best wishes,
Bernhard.


The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side. (Hunter Thompson)

Offline Mayla

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Re: Plan for learning Bach's WTC
«Reply #7 on: December 27, 2004, 06:49:47 PM »
.
"The greatest thing in this world is not so much where we are, but in what direction we are moving"  ~Oliver Wendell Holmes

Offline anda

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Re: Plan for learning Bach's WTC
«Reply #8 on: December 27, 2004, 07:51:04 PM »
Oh, goodness!  I don't want to learn the whole thing!  
... Just book one.  

 :D good!
bartok's edition orders them by difficulty. however, use an urtext together with bartok's edition if you plan on using it (mr. bartok added quite a few things, so the works aren't exactly as bach planned them)

Offline bernhard

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Re: Plan for learning Bach's WTC
«Reply #9 on: December 27, 2004, 10:44:13 PM »
1.   There is no evidence that Bach considered the WTC as a cycle to be performed in its entirety. Quite the opposite, all the evidence is that in his time (and his pupils according to his teaching) would not even pair the preludes and fugues.

2.   The WTC – again according to all evidence available at present – was never intended for public performance (Bach composed plenty of other works for that purpose). Rather these were teaching/studying pieces.

3.   However – and here there is a very wrong assumption – what they were intended to teach was most emphatically not keyboard technique, that is finger dexterity, hand independence and so on. But rather music in its most comprehensive meaning.

4.   A student of Bach’s time would derive the following understandings from working on the WTC:

a.   Theory and harmony: how to create motifs; how to develop them; relationship between keys; musical patterns (arpeggios, scales, broken chords, etc.); how to structure fugues, etc.

b.   Composition: based on the above, how to compose one’s own prelude and fugue, with Bach’s own serving as models and inspiration.

c.   Tuning. Musicians had to tune their own instruments at the time. In order to play the WTC one needed to be versed in Bach’s own well-temperament system (which by the way is lost: we do not know how he tuned his instruments). You cannot play the WTC in the usual temperaments of the time, and that was a turning point in muscal history that eventually lead to the supremacy of equal temperament (although Bach and his contemporaries did not use equal temperament as we know it today). This is particularly important for the WTC I, but possibly less so for WTC II – composed 20 years later – by which time equal temperament (well temperament) was pretty much established.

d.   Keyboard technique. Which of course was catered for as well.

e.   These understandings were taken for granted at the time: the division between performing and composing is a very recent phenomenon. In fact other keyboard works like the Little preludes, the Inventions and the Sinfonias shared the same aims.

From all that, it necessarily follows that if you truly want to squeeze from these pieces all that you can, the analysis and study of preludes and fugues, composing similar pieces, and improvising in their style, and even may be trying your hand at tuning a clavichord (the most common house instrument, Bach’s favourite keyboard instrument after the organ, and arguably the instrument the WTC was intended for) should make part of your study. (Several modern manufacturers of historical instruments make clavichords at a surprisingly reasonable price. If you have never played one, it is quite a shock how fragile they are, and how soft their sound is).

5.   The most likely scenario for the performance for the WTC in Bach’s time would be with the keyboardist playing a selected prelude or fugue (not necessarily paired) and discerning the several voices by associating them with the hand and finger movement/distribution. The actual sound was used to delight in the blending[i/] and bringing up one voice above the others, or pointing out through accenting the entries of the theme would have been considered in bad taste and patronising. Meanwhile the students listening would have a copy of the piece in their laps in order to visually follow the separate voices, while their ears would get the blending of it all. Most likely the piece would be repeated several times to let the students “hear” the several motif manipulations. The modern way of performing the WTC by playing it once and with the audience without a clue about what is going on – which forces the perform into systematically destroying the subtlety and complexity of these pieces by forcibly hammering down separate voices and showing by soundthe different entries of a theme must make Bach turn several times in his grave. These pieces are not about a “nice tune” (although they do have superb tunes). These are intricate tapestries of sound, and they are for the cognoscenti. One must study and study hard before one starts to glimpse what they are all about, let alone appreciate them properly.

This is not very different from wine appreciation. You would be unlikely to share a bottle of Chateaux Margaux with some ignoramus whose idea of a satisfying meal is a Big Mac with double chips and coke.

6.   Personally, I think that the preludes are the real technical exercises (many of them are not that different in structure form Czerny), while the fugues are the musical tour –de-force, since there is no more difficult form in which to compose. There is some evidence for that in the fact that 11 of the preludes of the WTC1 first appear in the Little notebook of W.F Bach, which Bach wrote for his son’s keyboard instruction.

7.   The order in which they appear (chromatically) most likely is simply because it makes it easier to find a particular prelude in the book. Bach himself almost certainly taught them in a different order. See this thread for more details:

http://pianoforum.net/smf/index.php/topic,5143.msg49995.html#msg49995

8.   Summing it all up:

a.   No, I would not start with the most difficult prelude and fugue. I would start with the easiest and proceed in an ascending order of difficulty, since in this way one P&F prepares for the next. The list I provided is the one I use, but it is by no means a definitive or in any way an authoritative list. In fact I would be most interested in seeing alternative listings.

b.   Personally, I always learn/teach the prelude paired with its fugue. But again, this is a purely personal bias. As I said there is no evidence (even of a musical nature) that says they should be played together.

c.   In learning these pieces, the best way is to do a motif analysis (since this was Bach’s preferred mode of composition) and learn first the motifs, then the separate voices and finally the whole piece. At each of these steps (motif-voices-full piece) it is usually not necessary to work HS, it is perfectly possible to do HT straightaway. But this depends on the student.

d.   Technically, fingering is the most important consideration, and it will all hinge on articulation. So before deciding on fingering one must decide on articulation. This is by no means an easy task, since Bach left precious little information about it and the experts more or less all disagree.

e.   Here are a few references that I found particularly useful (tip of the iceberg):

i.   Ralph Kirkpatrick – Interpreting Bach’s Well Tempered Clavier (Yale University Press).

ii.   Paul Badura-Skoda – Interpreting Bach at the Keyboard (Oxford University Press).

iii.   Frederick Iliffe: Analysis Of Bach's 48 Preludes & Fugues (2 vols. – Novello)

iv.   Joseph Groocock - Fugal Composition: A Guide to the Study of Bach's '48'. (Greenwood Press)

v.   David Ledbetter - Bach's Well-tempered Clavier: The 48 Preludes and Fugues. (Yale University Press)

vi.   Also have a look here:
http://jan.ucc.nau.edu/~tas3/wtc.html

9. And last but not least, keep in mind Bach’s own words:

“Composed for music-lovers, to refresh their spirits” :D

I hope this helps.

Best wishes,
Bernhard.

The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side. (Hunter Thompson)

Offline galonia

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Re: Plan for learning Bach's WTC
«Reply #10 on: December 28, 2004, 01:14:15 AM »
OK, I wouldn't even dream of trying to rate the 48 by difficulty, but I do have a question for you, Bernhard.

I know the preludes are, in general, easier than the fugues, and that your list orders the fugues by difficulty, right?  However, I would point out one exception, which is Bk 1 No 7 (in E flat) where I would say that prelude is harder than a lot of the other fugues, since this prelude itself is a double fugue.  So where does that fit in with your ranking system?

Offline Mayla

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Re: Plan for learning Bach's WTC
«Reply #11 on: December 28, 2004, 05:34:21 AM »
.
"The greatest thing in this world is not so much where we are, but in what direction we are moving"  ~Oliver Wendell Holmes

Offline Mayla

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Re: Plan for learning Bach's WTC
«Reply #12 on: December 28, 2004, 06:24:00 PM »
.
"The greatest thing in this world is not so much where we are, but in what direction we are moving"  ~Oliver Wendell Holmes

Offline bernhard

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Re: Plan for learning Bach's WTC
«Reply #13 on: December 28, 2004, 07:46:59 PM »
OK, I wouldn't even dream of trying to rate the 48 by difficulty, but I do have a question for you, Bernhard.

I know the preludes are, in general, easier than the fugues, and that your list orders the fugues by difficulty, right?  However, I would point out one exception, which is Bk 1 No 7 (in E flat) where I would say that prelude is harder than a lot of the other fugues, since this prelude itself is a double fugue.  So where does that fit in with your ranking system?

Er…

This (very true) fact is reflected in that it is ranked as 19 in the overall scheme (rather the than 3 or 4). Anyone, having learned the previous 18 P & F should be able to tackle 7 (I) without problems. But as I said, this is a subjective list, so feel free to drop 7(I) more towards the end of the list. ;)

Best wishes,
Bernhard.
The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side. (Hunter Thompson)

Offline galonia

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Re: Plan for learning Bach's WTC
«Reply #14 on: December 28, 2004, 09:08:11 PM »
Thanks Bernhard - sorry, I should express my thoughts more clearly.  I guess I just wanted to say I feel, especially since you said you do teach the preludes and fugues in their pairs, that the double fugue there would have forced this pair further down the list.  Number 19 on the list seems awfully high... especially since A flat in book 2 is much further down the list.  I find that pair heaps easier than the E flat in book 1.

But as you have also said, it's a subjective list, so it's flexible!   :)

Offline Maui

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Re: Plan for learning Bach's WTC
«Reply #15 on: December 28, 2004, 09:46:30 PM »
Every Bernhard post = A lot of knowledge coming... :D

Offline faulty_damper

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Re: Plan for learning Bach's WTC
«Reply #16 on: January 01, 2005, 09:15:06 AM »
I have a question for you, Bernhard:

What criterion did you use to arrange these preludes and fugues?  The number of voices, speed, articulation...?  And since the preludes are easier than the fugues, did you arrange them by the fugues?

fDsF

Offline galonia

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Re: Plan for learning Bach's WTC
«Reply #17 on: February 10, 2005, 10:47:51 AM »
Now here is a progressive order for learning the WTC (from easiest to most difficult). As with all lists of this kind, variations do exist, and I would love to see some different lists. (Hmoll?)

1. no. 15 in G (Book II)
2. no. 6 in Dm
3. no. 21 in Bb
4. no. 10 in Em
5. no. 20 in Am (Book II)
6. no. 11 in F
7. no. 2 in Cm
8. no. 9 in E
9. no. 13 in F#
10. no. 21 in Bb (Book II)
11. no. 6 in Dm (Book II)
12. no. 19 in A (Book II)
13. no. 11 in F (Book II)
14. no. 19 in A
15. no. 14 in F#m
16. no. 18 in G#m
17 no. 2 in Cm (Book II)
18. no. 5 in D
19. no. 7 in Eb
20. no. 14 in F#m (Book II)
21. no. 7 in Eb (Book II)
22. no. 1 in C
23. no. 17 in Ab
24. no. 13 in F# (Book II)
25. no. 15 in G
26. no. 12 in Fm (Book II)
27. no. 1 in C (Book II)
28. no. 24 in Bm (Book II)
29. no. 10 in Em (Book II)
30. no. 16 in Gm
31. no. 5 in D (Book II)
32. no. 18 in G#m (Book II)
33. no. 24 in Bm
34. no. 9 in E (Book II)
35. no. 4 in C#m (Book II)
36. no. 23 in B
37. no. 3 in C# (Book II)
38. no. 12 in Fm
39. no. 3 in C#
40. no. 8 in D#m (Book II)
41. no. 22 in Bbm
42. no. 17 in Ab (Book II)
43. no 4 in C#m
44. no. 8 in D#m
45. no. 20 in Am
46. no. 22 in Bbm (Book II)
47. no. 16 in Gm (Book II)
48. no. 23 in B (Book II)

Bernhard, did you devise this list yourself, or get this from somewhere?

I ask because my teacher thinks the edition I'm using is suspect, and she used her editions to check some of my notes.  She seems to think Bela Bartok's edition is God's word on the 48.  Then she revealed that Bartok had numbered them in order of difficulty (his opinion).

I don't have photographic memory, so I can't remember the order, but I know that the one I'm playing is ranked no. 42 by Bartok, which I just noticed is where you've placed it too (II:17 in A flat)

I can't verify if the rest of your list corresponds to Bartok's - which is why I ask my question.

Offline betricia

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Re: Plan for learning Bach's WTC
«Reply #18 on: February 10, 2005, 04:37:46 PM »
S'cuse me for butting in on this without enough knowledge but I have really enjoyed reading all these posts on Bach.  I am a beginner as I have mentioned before and no need to keep doing so I suppose.  I have been given a book by my teacher (on maternity leave since December) and it is The Classic Piano Repertoire Johann Sebastian Bach.  I have been playing (teacher recommended)  Prelude BWV 939, Minuet Anghang 114 and Prelude Book 1 BWV 846.  Good choices for one such as I?  What would you recommend next?  Is there somewhere I can listen to these on the internet so I know what they are supposed to sound like?  I enquired at my local music shop and they all seem to be on separate CD's costing around £30.  Hope its Ok to join in at my level.
Thanks
Patricia
 :)

Offline xvimbi

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Re: Plan for learning Bach's WTC
«Reply #19 on: February 10, 2005, 05:21:27 PM »
S'cuse me for butting in on this without enough knowledge but I have really enjoyed reading all these posts on Bach.  I am a beginner as I have mentioned before and no need to keep doing so I suppose.  I have been given a book by my teacher (on maternity leave since December) and it is The Classic Piano Repertoire Johann Sebastian Bach.  I have been playing (teacher recommended)  Prelude BWV 939, Minuet Anghang 114 and Prelude Book 1 BWV 846.  Good choices for one such as I?  What would you recommend next?  Is there somewhere I can listen to these on the internet so I know what they are supposed to sound like?  I enquired at my local music shop and they all seem to be on separate CD's costing around £30.  Hope its Ok to join in at my level.
Thanks
Patricia

It's rare for world-class performers to record the minor works of practically any composer. However, there is a number of CDs with JSB's easier pieces. Janos Sebestyen, for example, has recorded a bunch of pieces from The Anna Magdalena Notebook (plus all the inventions). Even Glenn Gould has recorded a few. All those pieces are very rewarding. Also, go the Apple iTunes Music Store and search for those pieces. You can listen to them for 30 sec for free, and if you like them you can download them for $0.99 (or equivalent in other countries) or buy the entire album. A lot is available, and it's getting better by the day.

Since you have already learned the Menuet in G major, Anh. 114, I would suggest you learn the accompanying Menuet in G minor, Anh. 115, then perform them together, i.e. play through the G major including the repetitions, immediately followed by the G minor with repetitions, immediately followed by the G major again, but this time without the repetitions. It's a nice contrast. Keep in mind that these pieces are NOT EASY to play in a musical way. Young beginners usually play it in a honky-tonky way (so I have been told).

If you have the chance, look at the book "Bach: An introduction into his works for keyboard" (or similar) by Willard Palmer (Faber). It's a great book with a gradual introduction into JSB, very thoughtfully put together. However, I must say, it is really best to go through those pieces with a knowledgeable teacher, as there is so much stuff in them. In any case, you are on the right track  :D

Offline jazzyprof

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Re: Plan for learning Bach's WTC
«Reply #20 on: February 10, 2005, 05:21:42 PM »
  Is there somewhere I can listen to these on the internet so I know what they are supposed to sound like? 

You can listen to them for free here:
http://www.classicalarchives.com/
"Playing the piano is my greatest joy, next to my wife; it is my most absorbing interest, next to my work." ...Charles Cooke

Offline betricia

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Re: Plan for learning Bach's WTC
«Reply #21 on: February 10, 2005, 06:04:56 PM »
Jazzyprof and Xvimbi
Thanks for your help.
Patricia

Offline Brian Healey

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Re: Plan for learning Bach's WTC
«Reply #22 on: February 10, 2005, 08:44:34 PM »
In response to Bernhard's post with his ranking in order of difficulty:

I'm certainly no expert on Bach's 48, but do you really think No. 6 in Dm (book 1) is the second easiest? Why is No. 1 in C (book 1) ranked so high?

No. 1 and No. 2 are among the selections from WTC that I've learned, and I would go out on a limb and say that not only should No. 1 be ranked much lower, but that it is easier than No. 6. I personally had a much easier time learning No. 1 than No. 6. Granted, the fugue of No. 1 is harder, but in terms of the overall experience (prelude + fugue together), I had a much easier time with No. 1.

I realize it's all subjective, but those two seem to me to be particularly out of order. Did you devise that list yourself, or was it borrowed from another source?

Peace,
Bri

Offline bernhard

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Re: Plan for learning Bach's WTC
«Reply #23 on: February 12, 2005, 11:23:17 PM »


Bernhard, did you devise this list yourself, or get this from somewhere?

I ask because my teacher thinks the edition I'm using is suspect, and she used her editions to check some of my notes.  She seems to think Bela Bartok's edition is God's word on the 48.  Then she revealed that Bartok had numbered them in order of difficulty (his opinion).

I don't have photographic memory, so I can't remember the order, but I know that the one I'm playing is ranked no. 42 by Bartok, which I just noticed is where you've placed it too (II:17 in A flat)

I can't verify if the rest of your list corresponds to Bartok's - which is why I ask my question.

The list has been handed down to me through tradition (my teacher received it from her teacher and passed it on to me and so on – I see no reason to disagree so far).

I am not familiar with the Bartok edition, but I read somewhere in the forum that it is somehow idiossincratic and definitely not urtext (that is, it is packed with editorial performance directions – which to me says it is a very good edition to find out how Bartok played them, not necessarily a good edition on how Bach should be played, and as with any heavily edited edition certainly not authoritative in any sense). I would be very curious to see if his order of difficulty does indeed tally with the one I posted.


Best wishes,
Bernhard.
The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side. (Hunter Thompson)

Offline bernhard

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Re: Plan for learning Bach's WTC
«Reply #24 on: February 12, 2005, 11:26:33 PM »
S'cuse me for butting in on this without enough knowledge but I have really enjoyed reading all these posts on Bach.  I am a beginner as I have mentioned before and no need to keep doing so I suppose.  I have been given a book by my teacher (on maternity leave since December) and it is The Classic Piano Repertoire Johann Sebastian Bach.  I have been playing (teacher recommended)  Prelude BWV 939, Minuet Anghang 114 and Prelude Book 1 BWV 846.  Good choices for one such as I?  What would you recommend next?  Is there somewhere I can listen to these on the internet so I know what they are supposed to sound like?  I enquired at my local music shop and they all seem to be on separate CD's costing around £30.  Hope its Ok to join in at my level.
Thanks
Patricia

Betricia:

I agree with xvimbi. The minuet in G major should be played together with the minuet in G minor (a hauntingly beautiful piece). Actually, the proper way is to repeat the G major minuet after the G minor one.

Incidentally, both menuets are by Christian Petzold, not J. S. Bach (although they are frequently – and wrongly attributed to him). Likewise the BWV 939 little prelude is not by J. S. Bach, but most likely by one of his sons (either C.P.E or W. F.) and was probably written as an exercise of composition assigned to one of them by Papa Bach. This of course in no way detracts from their musical value. The BWV 939 is particularly interesting in that it can sound very different played at different tempos. I often use it with my students as an example of “music as conversation”. Play it slow and solemnly and it may be a declaration of love. Play it fast and furious and it becomes a domestic quarrel (you can hear the husband rushing downstairs and slamming the door!)

To add to xvimbi’s recommendation, have also a look at

Rosalyn Tureck – “An introduction to the performance of Bach” (Oxford University Press).

The beauty of this book (it is actually 3 books with less than 30 pages each) is that most of its examples are from the easy – intermediate repertory. Tureck starts with the simpler pieces from the Anna Magdalena’s Little book and proceeds through the two voice inventions and sinfonias to the WTC.  She works only on a few examples, still the scholarship and wealth of information is tantalising. Even better, she has recorded all of the pieces she analyses so you can hear exactly what she means. (CD: “Bach : The Keyboard album” – Sony. There are 2 CDs, the second one being Charles Rosen playing the art of fugue and it has no relation to the books above).

Best wishes,
Bernhard.
 
The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side. (Hunter Thompson)

Offline bernhard

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Re: Plan for learning Bach's WTC
«Reply #25 on: February 12, 2005, 11:29:31 PM »
In response to Bernhard's post with his ranking in order of difficulty:

I'm certainly no expert on Bach's 48, but do you really think No. 6 in Dm (book 1) is the second easiest? Why is No. 1 in C (book 1) ranked so high?

No. 1 and No. 2 are among the selections from WTC that I've learned, and I would go out on a limb and say that not only should No. 1 be ranked much lower, but that it is easier than No. 6. I personally had a much easier time learning No. 1 than No. 6. Granted, the fugue of No. 1 is harder, but in terms of the overall experience (prelude + fugue together), I had a much easier time with No. 1.

I realize it's all subjective, but those two seem to me to be particularly out of order. Did you devise that list yourself, or was it borrowed from another source?

Peace,
Bri


Brian:

As I said, feel free to alter the order of difficulty of the preludes. None of this is set in stone. Also, keep in mind that many of the P&F may be equally difficult – say – the first six or seven preludes in the list can conceivably be considered of a comparable level of difficulty, that is neither is more nor less difficult than the others.

Finally, this list is pedagogical, that is, if done in that particular order, one P&F prepares for the next. It is in this sense that they are ordered by “difficulty”. Many piano students are obsessed with technique and disregard completely all other musical aspects in a piano piece. Take prelude 1 (book 1). Sure, it can be considered the easiest of the lot as far as playing the right notes at the right time. But it is certainly not the easiest to analyse. Nor is it the easiest to play well. Bach provides precious little performance directions, so it is certainly not the easiest to come to a number of interpretative decisions. If you have to decide which tempo to use, which articulation, which (and if any at all) ornamentation to use, this prelude is a minefield. So it makes much more sense to leave it for a while and tackle the preludes (and fugues) that come before it where the freedom of interpretation is much more restricted (the music structure pretty much defines many of these questions), so that you get used to Bach’s “idiom”. By then you will be able to make a much more informed decision in regards to these matters (And to see the range of possibilities, just listen to Glenn Gould, Rosalyn Tureck, Richter, and Jacques Loussier’s very diverse rendition of it). And the fugue is a pretty hairy one. In short, my definition of difficulty includes all the aspects I mentioned in reply #  9 above.

Best wishes,
Bernhard.

The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side. (Hunter Thompson)

Offline galonia

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Re: Plan for learning Bach's WTC
«Reply #26 on: February 13, 2005, 05:08:15 AM »
Thanks, Bernhard.  I will try to get my teacher's Bartok editions and reveal the order in which he lists the P&F's.

Oh, and I'm glad you recommend Richter, because I was just about to get his recording of the set.   :D

Offline betricia

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Re: Plan for learning Bach's WTC
«Reply #27 on: February 13, 2005, 08:39:55 AM »
Bernhard
thanks for your advice and interesting information on who wrote the pieces.  You have been very helpful and I appreciate it.  It really does spur me on and I feel a sense of excitement when I think about playing these pieces and trying the new ones.  Even if I never play for anyone else, I know it gives me great pleasure and satisfaction to play for myself.  (I'll forget about the frustrating times when nothing goes right).  the times when it sounds good to me and I know I have improved make it all worthwhile. 
Patricia
 :)

Offline bernhard

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Re: Plan for learning Bach's WTC
«Reply #28 on: February 13, 2005, 11:32:38 AM »
Thanks, Bernhard.  I will try to get my teacher's Bartok editions and reveal the order in which he lists the P&F's.

Oh, and I'm glad you recommend Richter, because I was just about to get his recording of the set.   :D

You are welcome. :)

My favourite interpretations of the WTC are by Rosalyn Tureck. (DG) :D

Richter (and Glenn Gould) is always interesting to hear – even if you do not agree with what he is doing.

Here is a review of Richter’s WTC that might ruffel some feathers and generate some heated debate (he he ;D):

Bertram Cruikshank said:
(http://www.jsbach.org/richterwelltemperedclavierbook1.html)

These abominations of Bach's WTC are a genuine travesty. Avoid these recordings as you would the plague! Richter relies TOO MUCH upon the use of the damper pedal throughout the entire recording. This effectively turns the polyphony of Bach into a cacaphony of noise and echos, which is undecipherable even to the most sophisticated Bach conoisseur. It is highly reminiscent of when young children who, in their first year of piano lessons, first discover the effect of the damper pedal, and begin playing entire pieces with it held down, laughing and giggling all the while. As a pianist myself, I am a firm believer that the damper pedal has no place whatsoever in the music of Bach, and the sostenuto pedal is only to be used on those rare occasions which require the sustainment of notes while others are played, which could not otherwise be reached by sustaining the notes with your fingers. Say what you like about Glenn Gould's interpretations. Though he hums incessantly,(and who in their right mind wouldn't over music this good!!) absolutely no other recording artist has more clearly distinguished between all of the individual melodic lines of these contrapuntal gems, while maintaining a unified harmonic structure throughout. In the final analysis of these Richter interpretations, if Bach were alive today, I guarantee these nightmares would kill him!!
The echoing sound of this recording is further exacerbated by the fact that it was not well-engineered and it was most likely recorded in a room with poor acoustics. Also, the piano which he plays has an irritating "twanging" sound to it.



Baremboin has recently released a CD of the WTC but I have not heard it yet. Any comments on it?

Best wishes,
Bernhard.
The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side. (Hunter Thompson)

Offline bernhard

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Re: Plan for learning Bach's WTC
«Reply #29 on: February 13, 2005, 11:36:15 AM »
Bernhard
thanks for your advice and interesting information on who wrote the pieces.  You have been very helpful and I appreciate it.  It really does spur me on and I feel a sense of excitement when I think about playing these pieces and trying the new ones.  Even if I never play for anyone else, I know it gives me great pleasure and satisfaction to play for myself.  (I'll forget about the frustrating times when nothing goes right).  the times when it sounds good to me and I know I have improved make it all worthwhile. 
Patricia
 :)

You are welcome. :)


If you liked the two menuets by Christian Petzold, and is wondering if there is more music by him, then you must try his Suite de Clavecin , a collection of Baroque dances which – besides being very beautiful -  are the perfect preparation for Handel’s and Bach’s suites, while being worthwhile repertory pieces on their own. The scores are published by Wiener Urtext as an appendix to their volume of the Little book of Anna Magdalen Bach.

Best wishes,
Bernhard.

The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side. (Hunter Thompson)

Offline SteinwayTony

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Re: Plan for learning Bach's WTC
«Reply #30 on: February 14, 2005, 06:47:51 PM »
Number 6 (D minor) is second easiest?

Probably true, but the prelude drove me nuts.  When you're doing the same sixteenth-note triplet motion for the entire piece, the odds are stacked against you to botch it up somewhere; if you don't completely fall apart, then your rhythm is bound to be off in one spot or another.  That's definitely one piece where I would suggest endless hours of delightful metronome accompaniment.

No doubts about the fugue; three voices, nothing big.

Bernhard (or anyone else), do you have a preferred recording of the first book?

Offline Brian Healey

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Re: Plan for learning Bach's WTC
«Reply #31 on: February 14, 2005, 08:23:57 PM »
Number 6 (D minor) is second easiest?


That's what I said!!! I had a hell of a time with Prelude no. 6 when I learned it as a lad! It's not terribly, terribly difficult, but definitly not easy. Prelude 21 (B-flat major), now there's an easy one.


Peace,
Bri

Offline ychang

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Re: Plan for learning Bach's WTC
«Reply #32 on: February 14, 2005, 08:47:07 PM »
Dear Bernard, thank you for the grading of WTC.

In regard to Richter's WTC, gosh!, I'll hold my tongue,  but I do suggest readers to listen to Richter's different WTC recordings, not just the Salzburg studio recording. 

Best wishes!
 --Yihung).

Offline betricia

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Re: Plan for learning Bach's WTC
«Reply #33 on: February 15, 2005, 03:36:27 PM »
Jazzyprof
the classical archive site you gave me is great and I have been listening to the different ways the pieces are played.  Brilliant for me although I can hear I have a way to go with my playing.
Thanks again
Patricia
 :)

Offline bernhard

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Re: Plan for learning Bach's WTC
«Reply #34 on: February 15, 2005, 11:35:55 PM »

Bernhard (or anyone else), do you have a preferred recording of the first book?

Yes, as I said above, Rosalyn’s Tureck 1953 recording is my favourite (it has been recently reissued by DG after many years out of print).

I also like Angela Hewitt’s, Andras Schiff,  Evgeni Koroliov, Edwin Fischer and João Carlos Martins (how about that for an underrated, obscure pianist?) in no particular order.

On the harpsichord my favourite is Gary Cooper, but I also like Gustav Leonhardt, Kenneth Gilbert, and Tom Koopman.

I love Ralph Kirkpatrick’s Clavichord version.

I used to like Glenn Gould (it was my first hearing of the complete set), but it sort of lost the flavour for me (and the humming does not help). It has become too idiossincratic to my ears, but still I would recommend it just as an interesting alternative reading.

I don’t care much for, Richter, Nikolayeva, Gavrilov, Demidenko, Joanna Macgregor, except as sources of alternative interpretations. As such they are always interesting.

Best wishes,
Bernhard.
The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side. (Hunter Thompson)

Offline lucasdopandeiro

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Re: Plan for learning Bach's WTC
«Reply #35 on: February 16, 2005, 12:42:33 AM »
Hi Bernhard and all,

You mentioned Joao Carlos Martins. Did you know he had some problems with his hands? First he lost almost all right hand motions, and toured the world giving left-hand repertory concerts. He then had another problem and lost his left hand also.

He started studying conducting and already recorded some bach concertos as a conductor (with the london philarmonic)! I saw yesterday an interview with him, and it is a nice lesson for life. He is a very happy man, and is always learning ways to go ahead, in spite of the problems.

And, at the end of the program, it was a real strong scene to see him playing the Prelude in C from book 1 of the WTC. With his hands wounded he tried to play it and stopped in the middle because of the pain.

Sorry for my english,
Lucas Reis
Rio de Janeiro, Brasil

Offline bernhard

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Re: Plan for learning Bach's WTC
«Reply #36 on: February 16, 2005, 11:13:54 PM »
Hi Bernhard and all,

You mentioned Joao Carlos Martins. Did you know he had some problems with his hands? First he lost almost all right hand motions, and toured the world giving left-hand repertory concerts. He then had another problem and lost his left hand also.

He started studying conducting and already recorded some bach concertos as a conductor (with the london philarmonic)! I saw yesterday an interview with him, and it is a nice lesson for life. He is a very happy man, and is always learning ways to go ahead, in spite of the problems.

And, at the end of the program, it was a real strong scene to see him playing the Prelude in C from book 1 of the WTC. With his hands wounded he tried to play it and stopped in the middle because of the pain.

Sorry for my english,
Lucas Reis
Rio de Janeiro, Brasil

A few years ago, I read a book by David Dubal, which was basically an extended interview with JCM. It was a most interesting book, and from what I remember of it, he had a very strange medical condition that resulted from him being hit by the ball in a friendly football game. Eventually he had to stop playing altogether. He then tried his hand at business, but that landed him into a lot of trouble (both political and legal) since his business partner was a somewhat dodgy character and he was taken for a ride. But I had the impression from the book that he had recovered from his condition and had gone back to playing, and was fully recovered. I would love to hear more about him. Is the interview you mentioned available on the net? I find his recordings very provocative (in a good sense), and I find his Bach playing superb.

Best wishes,
Bernhard.
The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side. (Hunter Thompson)

Offline ychang

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Re: Plan for learning Bach's WTC
«Reply #37 on: February 17, 2005, 05:29:04 PM »
Dear Bernhard, first I have to apologize for misspelling your name.  (:-<) in my last post.

As for Richter, here is a link discussing his WTC, if anyone is interested.
http://launch.groups.yahoo.com/group/sviatoslavrichter/message/1198

--Yihung).

P.S.  I'd declare that I am a Richter fan, the link above and I are both a bit biased. 

Offline galonia

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Re: Plan for learning Bach's WTC
«Reply #38 on: May 04, 2005, 11:13:08 AM »
Finally, I have gotten a recording of Richter playing the 48, and I have to say that I LOVE IT - there is so much energy in the playing.  And the Book II G Major, which is the first pair I learnt - I used to be told that I played the prelude too fast, but now I hear that Richter plays it at that speed too - if only I had heard his recording then, and realised that I needn't feel bad about what I was choosing to do!

I disagree with Cruikshank.  But thanks for the quotation, Bernhard.  It's always interesting to see what other people think.

Offline CJ Quinn

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Re: Plan for learning Bach's WTC
«Reply #39 on: May 05, 2005, 02:21:02 PM »
THis is an incredible thread.  Berhard, the universe owes you a great deal, I hope you cash it in some day :D
Christopher James Quinn
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Offline chopinisque

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Re: Plan for learning Bach's WTC
«Reply #40 on: May 06, 2005, 07:13:17 AM »
When is it a good time to start WTC?  Is it advisable to reach a certain grade first or something like that?  Is it advisable to go for WTC straight after a few inventions without sinfonias?

Thanks to whoever it is bothers to answer another set of inane questions.
Mad about Chopin.

Offline robert

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Re: Plan for learning Bach's WTC
«Reply #41 on: May 06, 2005, 11:05:13 AM »
Previous posts cover most about everything but I cannot help reflect of this topic.

I wonder what Bach would think if he was to know the value of the WTK I/II about 300 years later. For me, Bach's WTK:s are the fundament of modern music when they introduced "examples" of music in all 24 keys. Before this time, keys like C#-major and Eb-minor were only appliable in theory but not in reality as the tuning of the instruments made these keys sound very awkward. With the "well tempered tuning" all keys represented musical value.

Actually, Bach did only name WTK I as Well-Tempered Klavier. The second volume is simply named (translated) "24 preludes and fugues" but was later on by modern interpretators and sheet makers named WTK II. Not very strange but few people seem to know this. On the other hand, it does not matter much does it? ;-)

About learning these. To play through all books successfully takes a dedication to these works beyond most pianists abilities. You must love them, adore them, live and breath them. You would have to be a person who listens to them on daily basis and dedicate maybe 3-6 years to them. Many of them are difficult, some very difficult and the difficulty list given by Bernard is one way to approach them if you aim to play them along with other works while becoming a better pianists. If you are going to learn just these, I suggest you do it from 1-48.

Remember that Bach was a great virtuoso and many of his fugues are extremely difficult. Pay close attention to the fingering and never change them.
In my view, use dynamics most sparingly and go careful with pedals if ever use them at all. Also, I prefer piano performance before harpichord (I am not a purist in any way). Bach would not have played them today on a harpichord so why should I?

As said in previous posts, they are great for learning technique and even better than etudes written specifically for an issue. Everything comes so naturally in Bach's WTK:s and put your fingers just right. Chopin played them before performances and suggested his students to learn a couple of them by heart.
Another great thing is they do not require large hands so "everyone" can play them.
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Offline robertp

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Re: Plan for learning Bach's WTC
«Reply #42 on: May 06, 2005, 01:32:45 PM »
Second that on technique. A long time ago, a very fine teacher (for me) gave me WTC 1 Cminor prelude instead of the hated  ;D Hanon. Very effective, very inspirational -- and it didn't ruin the piece for me!
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Offline robert

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Re: Plan for learning Bach's WTC
«Reply #43 on: May 06, 2005, 08:59:02 PM »
Second that on technique. A long time ago, a very fine teacher (for me) gave me WTC 1 Cminor prelude instead of the hated  ;D Hanon. Very effective, very inspirational -- and it didn't ruin the piece for me!
A wonderful prelude and it does at the same time enchances your coordination, strengthen your weak fingers and is efficient for both hands plus fun to play. A very good warm-up-before-concert piece too.
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Offline shoshin

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Re: Plan for learning Bach's WTC
«Reply #44 on: July 09, 2005, 01:18:01 AM »
why is:
 no. 15 in  G (Book II)

listed as the easiest piece?  Is this version from a Bach "Fakebook" or something? Because clearly Prelude in C Book1 is far easier than this. Are you neglecting tempo? I just dont understand this.

I am highly suspicious of the rest of the list if this major blunder is there.  What is my expertise on this? Well I a beginner player and I can play Prelude in C upside down with my eyes closed, chewing gum,  while watching TV.  So I just printed out no. 15 and listened to a midi recording of it while looking at the notation and my head is spinning.

I'm very comfortable asking newbie questions and/or looking stupid so could please someone explain this to me?

Thanks.

Offline nanabush

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Re: Plan for learning Bach's WTC
«Reply #45 on: July 09, 2005, 04:24:48 AM »
Can you play the C major fugue upsidedown with ur eyes closed?
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Offline bernhard

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Re: Plan for learning Bach's WTC
«Reply #46 on: July 09, 2005, 08:11:07 AM »
why is:
 no. 15 in  G (Book II)

listed as the easiest piece?  Is this version from a Bach "Fakebook" or something? Because clearly Prelude in C Book1 is far easier than this. Are you neglecting tempo? I just dont understand this.

I am highly suspicious of the rest of the list if this major blunder is there.  What is my expertise on this? Well I a beginner player and I can play Prelude in C upside down with my eyes closed, chewing gum,  while watching TV.  So I just printed out no. 15 and listened to a midi recording of it while looking at the notation and my head is spinning.

I'm very comfortable asking newbie questions and/or looking stupid so could please someone explain this to me?

Thanks.

First have a look at reply #25.

Next, do you realise that the prelude in C has five different voices? Can you play it in such a way (possibly upside down and with eyes closed ;D) that a listener would know this? You see, difficulty does not necessarily mean pressing the keys, but rather producing music from pressing the keys. Compared to prelude 1 (WTCI), prelude 15 (WTC II) is a piece of cake. (And if you do not see this, ask yourself what is it that you are missing).

Now don’t get me started on the fugue. ;)

Best wishes,
Bernhard.

The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side. (Hunter Thompson)

Offline gkatele

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Re: Plan for learning Bach's WTC
«Reply #47 on: July 09, 2005, 01:16:29 PM »

Next, do you realise that the prelude in C has five different voices?


OK, I'm just a hack who's played 3-4 of the P&F's from book one of the WTC, so please pardon my ignorance here....

For the sake of theory, can you point out to us ignoramuses where those voices are?

Please?   :-*



Thanks,



George
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Inside of a dog, it's too dark to read."
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Offline xvimbi

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Re: Plan for learning Bach's WTC
«Reply #48 on: July 09, 2005, 01:54:49 PM »
OK, I'm just a hack who's played 3-4 of the P&F's from book one of the WTC, so please pardon my ignorance here....

For the sake of theory, can you point out to us ignoramuses where those voices are?

If one considers that a puny little triad can be looked at as having three voices, one can see that a lot is going on in this allegedly simple Prelude. So, if you look at the first few measures, you have one voice in the left hand (the sustained bass), one in the bass of the right hand (the tied notes) and three voices in the arpeggios. One voice changes hands throughout the piece.

For general information, check out http://www-personal.umich.edu/~siglind/wtc-i-01.htm There are chapters on all P&F's. Very helpful!

Cheers!

Offline gkatele

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Re: Plan for learning Bach's WTC
«Reply #49 on: July 09, 2005, 02:16:30 PM »
If one considers that a puny little triad can be looked at as having three voices, one can see that a lot is going on in this allegedly simple Prelude. So, if you look at the first few measures, you have one voice in the left hand (the sustained bass), one in the bass of the right hand (the tied notes) and three voices in the arpeggios.

That's so obvious!

And because it's so obvious is why I missed looking at it that way!
 ;D

Although lately when I've played it, I've concentrated on making that bass note sing. The whole piece assumes a different character when I do that. It no longer seems so "simple."

Now, you've given me 2 projects:

1) Make the other voices sing like the bass.
2) Look at the prelude #2 in c-minor and see if I can find the same thing!

Gotta love the intricacies and simplicity of Bach.


Thanks
George
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"Outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend.
Inside of a dog, it's too dark to read."
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Groucho Marx