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Bach's preludes and fugues (Read 8569 times)

Offline thison3

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Bach's preludes and fugues
« on: October 14, 2009, 08:40:57 PM »
I'm starting to play bach's well tempered clavier (first book). Does anyone know a good easy piece to start on?

Sheet music to download and print: WTC 1 by Bach



Offline perfect_pitch

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Re: Bach's preludes and fugues
«Reply #1 on: October 15, 2009, 01:42:38 AM »
The beginning???





(Just kidding - but I had to say it)

Offline arumih

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Re: Bach's preludes and fugues
«Reply #2 on: October 15, 2009, 03:30:05 AM »
Well no better place to begin than the beginning lol, it doesn't get easier than the prelude in C. I've also started working on the WTC. I can't give you any help on the fugues as I'm not sure if I'm quite at that level yet (they scare me! I think I need to get one three part invention under my belt before I approach one), but I did prelude in C back in my beginning stages and now I'm working on the prelude in D minor. It's not difficult at slow speeds, the left hand isn't very complex but the right hand might take some work. The biggest problem (for me anyway) might be the speed of it.

There's a thread hanging around this forum with discussions ranking the preludes and fugues in terms of difficulty, and the prelude and fugue in D minor is ranked as one of the easier ones. Of course, someone with more experience would be able to shed more light on it.

Offline nanabush

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Re: Bach's preludes and fugues
«Reply #3 on: October 15, 2009, 05:27:37 AM »
C minor book 1, G major book 2 I think are the easiest.
Interested in discussing:

-Prokofiev Toccata
-Scriabin Sonata 2

Offline gerryjay

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Re: Bach's preludes and fugues
«Reply #4 on: October 15, 2009, 04:55:26 PM »
dear thison:
you must pay attention to the fact that most lists take in account only the fugue, not the prelude. 
if you're into the first book, i'd tell you to think about the e minor pair, with its rare two-voice fugue.
best!

Offline bachapprentice

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Re: Bach's preludes and fugues
«Reply #5 on: October 16, 2009, 12:46:33 PM »
Master Bach and you will be able to play anything.

Offline xixing

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Re: Bach's preludes and fugues
«Reply #6 on: October 21, 2009, 06:40:02 AM »
I'm currently working on the WTC I also. I found E minor and F major are managable.

Question:
I found it difficult to make each voices stands out clearly, especially when the voices cross over each other (e.g. fugue 12 F minor). For pieces with 3 voices, usually I'll play louder for the soprano and the bass part, so the not-so-prominent middle voice will take care of itself. But when it comes to 4 voices... I've no idea. I just don't know what to do.
Is there any advice on how to do it?

Offline gerryjay

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Re: Bach's preludes and fugues
«Reply #7 on: October 21, 2009, 05:17:28 PM »
dear xixing:
first and foremost, welcome!

you already answer yourself. the method of playing soprano and bass, and "let the middle voice take care of itself", is not a proper one. when playing a fugue, you must control every single line, which includes phrasing, articulation, sound, touch, and so on. btw, it's exponential: to have this sort of control over one line, it's OK; two voices, average; three voices, difficult; four voices, well... (five voices and more, one need an extra brain to manage... ;D).

so, that said, let me propose a very helpful way of practice: choose a voice and play it, alone, until you manage it perfectly (with the same fingering you'd use when playing all voices together). this kind of practice in the inner voices is particularly important, because you will need to switch from one hand to the other all the time, but play it without a noticeable break notwithstanding.

step two, and that's the one i love the most, is to play all possible combinations. in a four voiced fugue, it means: 1-2, 1-3, 1-4, 2-3, 2-4, 3-4, 1-2-3, and so on, until playing 1-2-3-4 with perfect control. of course, it takes a looooong time to achieve, but the effort is fully rewarded.

best!

Offline scottmcc

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Re: Bach's preludes and fugues
«Reply #8 on: October 22, 2009, 01:59:03 AM »
gerry, that's quite a labor intensive effort!  if you were to undertake such an endeavor, do you write out a modified score for yourself, or are you able to pick out the voices separately just looking at the full score?

I've seen where people color-coded the separate voices, and certainly I've practiced each hand separately, but playing different permutations of the voice combinations, that's a new one, and very intriguing.

btw, I'm working on Fugue #1 C Maj from book one...it's deceptively tricky!

Offline xixing

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Re: Bach's preludes and fugues
«Reply #9 on: October 22, 2009, 07:38:50 AM »
...and "let the middle voice take care of itself", is not a proper one. when playing a fugue, you must control every single line, which includes phrasing, articulation, sound, touch, and so on. ...
Oh, I see...
 :o It means I've to work on those I've done before, again...

so, that said, let me propose a very helpful way of practice: choose a voice and play it, alone, until you manage it perfectly (with the same fingering you'd use when playing all voices together). this kind of practice in the inner voices is particularly important, because you will need to switch from one hand to the other all the time, but play it without a noticeable break notwithstanding.

step two, and that's the one i love the most, is to play all possible combinations. in a four voiced fugue, it means: 1-2, 1-3, 1-4, 2-3, 2-4, 3-4, 1-2-3, and so on, until playing 1-2-3-4 with perfect control. of course, it takes a looooong time to achieve, but the effort is fully rewarded.
Wow! It really takes a lot of time and effort. But,  ::) I'll try.

... I've seen where people color-coded the separate voices...
I guess this is what I'll do:
I'll photostate the score and highlight different voices with different colour first, then use the method suggested by gerry to practice.

 :) Thank you thank you very much!

Offline gerryjay

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Re: Bach's preludes and fugues
«Reply #10 on: October 24, 2009, 06:00:35 AM »
gerry, that's quite a labor intensive effort!  if you were to undertake such an endeavor, do you write out a modified score for yourself, or are you able to pick out the voices separately just looking at the full score?

I've seen where people color-coded the separate voices, and certainly I've practiced each hand separately, but playing different permutations of the voice combinations, that's a new one, and very intriguing.

btw, I'm working on Fugue #1 C Maj from book one...it's deceptively tricky!
dear scott:
i prefer to use always the full score. some years ago, i did like to write each voice separate, but that creates a problem of visual configuration. so, i work only with the actual score.

colors are useful if treated like hot pepper: just a bit. lots of marks, different colors, happy faces...the score could end beautifully engraved, but it is easily saturation. i don't use colors anymore, by the way: just a pencil.

give a try to this approach and you will listen the difference.

best!


Offline gerryjay

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Re: Bach's preludes and fugues
«Reply #11 on: October 24, 2009, 06:06:23 AM »
dear xixing:
best luck with those attempts. as i wrote above, you'll listen the difference practicing like that for some time.

by the way, "listen" is really the word. it's very easy to play fugues in a very mechanical way. you can even fake it, if you play the subject louder than the rest. but that's not music after all and bach's fugues have so much to give, that the effort really pay itself.

best!


Offline xixing

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Re: Bach's preludes and fugues
«Reply #12 on: October 25, 2009, 02:56:03 PM »
dear gerry:

I know that "listen" is really the word, although only recently.

 :( It is sad and shameful to say that I used to play mechanically, didn't realize what music is. After years of practicing in that way, it is difficult to change. To play "musically" becomes even tougher as my listening skill is really poor.
Though, I'm trying.

... you can even fake it, if you play the subject louder than the rest. but that's not music after all...
!! I see something. It means "for each voices to be themselves" doesn't mean "relative loudness of each voices has to be the same throughout". The soprano and bass do not need to be ALWAYS louder than the rest. That is to say each voices has its own loud time and soft time. If so happen that the soft soprano occurs with the loud alto, then alto will of course be heard louder than the soprano. The key is that there should be a "continuation" of melody for each voice, and the listener can distinguish and follow each voices as each voices.

Am I right?

... If yes, then the dynamics really adds a lot more difficulty on the fugue.

Regards.

Offline gerryjay

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Re: Bach's preludes and fugues
«Reply #13 on: October 25, 2009, 08:40:23 PM »
dear xixing:
:( It is sad and shameful to say that I used to play mechanically, didn't realize what music is. After years of practicing in that way, it is difficult to change. To play "musically" becomes even tougher as my listening skill is really poor.
Though, I'm trying.
i think that almost everyone has this challenge in some point. it should be a commmitment of every teacher, but that's far from what actually happens. thus, there is one day that you realize: what is music if not...er...music?
do you know plato's allegory of the cave? well, without pushing it too far, that's what happens. so, you really need some time to get acquainted with this way of playing.

Am I right?

... If yes, then the dynamics really adds a lot more difficulty on the fugue.

Regards.
yes, you are. at least, that's the way i understand the whole stuff. notice that there a lot more than dynamics: try to play all voices at the same volume, and distinguish one of them only by a strong articulation (let's say, play staccato only the tenor). it makes the voice stand in the front, does it not? then, you have dynamics, agogics, articulation, touch and every possible combination. of course, it can easily led to disaster, but experimenting is fundamental, even if sometimes you end up with a complete mess...

it makes me remember a master class with a brilliant pianist, mrs. tali morgulis. she was talking about a work by liszt, with a passage where the right hand played chords, all of them three notes. so, she played the passage in several versions: with the top voice proeminent, then with the middle voice, then the lower one and, finally, with three equal voices. it's astonishing to listen and notice the difference. a single phrase can mean different things. if you telescope this notion to a whole fugue, well, you really have a long, long term of study and sound research, until you reach your own voice, so to speak.

to myself, that's what really makes me play everyday, hours a day. to play more complex stuff or to play fast are two little pieces of the puzzle: to play a single fugue with real personality...that's a challenge!

best!


Offline slobone

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Re: Bach's preludes and fugues
«Reply #14 on: October 26, 2009, 03:57:51 AM »
so, that said, let me propose a very helpful way of practice: choose a voice and play it, alone, until you manage it perfectly (with the same fingering you'd use when playing all voices together). this kind of practice in the inner voices is particularly important, because you will need to switch from one hand to the other all the time, but play it without a noticeable break notwithstanding.

step two, and that's the one i love the most, is to play all possible combinations. in a four voiced fugue, it means: 1-2, 1-3, 1-4, 2-3, 2-4, 3-4, 1-2-3, and so on, until playing 1-2-3-4 with perfect control. of course, it takes a looooong time to achieve, but the effort is fully rewarded.

gerryjay, that's absolutely the best way to practice, and that's what I (try to) do. It helps to think of a voice in a fugue (or anywhere else really) as a "voice", that is a vocal line. When you play them separately you will just naturally find yourself phrasing them in the same way that you would if you were singing. Then hopefully when you put them back together you can retain some of that feeling.

But I'm sure you'd agree that when you actually play all the voices together, it's not always best to make them as independent from each other as possible. There are certainly places where one of the voices doesn't carry an actual melody, just some phrase fragments meant to support the other voices. It's important to pay attention to what's going on vertically as well as horizontally  :)

When students first start learning fugues, most teachers advise them to bring out each voice strongly on its entrances (repetitions of the original fugue theme), and then to kind of fade into the background. This is good advice most of the time, but if you always do it it starts to sound mechanical.

Offline gerryjay

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Re: Bach's preludes and fugues
«Reply #15 on: October 26, 2009, 06:33:58 AM »
dear slobone:
gerryjay, that's absolutely the best way to practice, and that's what I (try to) do. It helps to think of a voice in a fugue (or anywhere else really) as a "voice", that is a vocal line. When you play them separately you will just naturally find yourself phrasing them in the same way that you would if you were singing. Then hopefully when you put them back together you can retain some of that feeling.
yes, yes! very important to point that out, because singing is a wonderful way of understand any melody and give life to it.

But I'm sure you'd agree that when you actually play all the voices together, it's not always best to make them as independent from each other as possible. There are certainly places where one of the voices doesn't carry an actual melody, just some phrase fragments meant to support the other voices. It's important to pay attention to what's going on vertically as well as horizontally  :)
you're right. anyway, i didn't want to mean that voices should be independent, but that you must have individual control of each one. furthermore, what you say about the vertical dimension is fundamental, because in a fugue the coordination between voices is as important as each individual voice. in a fugue, the sum is greater than the parts. in a bach fugue, even more! this is the reason to my way of practice: each voice alone, then two by two, etc.

best!

Offline kelly_kelly

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Re: Bach's preludes and fugues
«Reply #16 on: October 26, 2009, 09:05:01 AM »
I started with no. 12 in F minor from Book 2 and it has worked out fairly well, but I was choosing from a syllabus, so I didn't have any other options, and there may be better starting pieces.
It all happens on Discworld, where greed and ignorance influence human behavior... and perfectly ordinary people occasionally act like raving idiots.

A world, in short, totally unlike our own.

Offline slobone

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Re: Bach's preludes and fugues
«Reply #17 on: October 29, 2009, 01:05:04 AM »
I started with no. 12 in F minor from Book 2 and it has worked out fairly well, but I was choosing from a syllabus, so I didn't have any other options, and there may be better starting pieces.
No, I think that's an excellent one to start with. The fugue is very manageable. In fact it's not very fugue-like at all, it's more like a 3-part invention.

And the prelude is one of Bach's most famous pieces. Take it at a relaxed pace with a lot of "bounce".

The Swingle Singers recorded it, one of my favorites of theirs, but alas I can't find it on youtube...

Offline xixing

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Re: Bach's preludes and fugues
«Reply #18 on: October 29, 2009, 03:50:58 AM »
dear gerry:
do you know plato's allegory of the cave? well, without pushing it too far, that's what happens. so, you really need some time to get acquainted with this way of playing.
Yes, I know the allegory.
...I think patience and commitment are among the qualities which are needed to achieve something.

Regards.

p/s: my playing does sound different after practicing in the suggested way. :)

------

Quote
* experimenting is fundamental
* It helps to think of a voice in a fugue (or anywhere else really) as a "voice", that is a vocal line. ...[as] ...if you were singing.
* bring out each voice strongly on its entrances (repetitions of the original fugue theme), and then to kind of fade into the background.
* coordination between voices is as important as each individual voice. in a fugue, the sum is greater than the parts.
Points taken.

Thanks a lot! :)

Offline gerryjay

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Re: Bach's preludes and fugues
«Reply #19 on: October 29, 2009, 04:50:48 AM »
p/s: my playing does sound different after practicing in the suggested way. :)
dear xixing:
i'm really glad to hear that!
best wishes,
gerry.

Offline slobone

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Re: Bach's preludes and fugues
«Reply #20 on: October 29, 2009, 08:38:32 PM »
The Swingle Singers recorded it, one of my favorites of theirs, but alas I can't find it on youtube...

Not on youtube, but I found it on last.fm.

http://www.last.fm/music/The+Swingle+Singers/_/Prelude+in+F+minor

(Don't play the video, which is something else. The mp3 can be played from the box in the upper right hand corner.)

Enjoy!