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Topic: Ways to Learn a Bach Fugue  (Read 2332 times)

Offline doowlehc

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Ways to Learn a Bach Fugue
on: March 23, 2005, 05:05:10 PM
What is the most effective way to learn a new Bach Fugue?

Offline presto agitato

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Re: Ways to Learn a Bach Fugue
Reply #1 on: March 23, 2005, 07:49:29 PM
It depends. what fugue are you going to learn?
The masterpiece tell the performer what to do, and not the performer telling the piece what it should be like, or the cocomposer what he ought to have composed.

--Alfred Brendel--

Offline doowlehc

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Re: Ways to Learn a Bach Fugue
Reply #2 on: March 23, 2005, 08:14:09 PM
I am learning the fugue in Toccata in C - by JS Bach... what are the differences in ways to learn a fugues that is dependent on the fugue?

Offline faulty_damper

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Re: Ways to Learn a Bach Fugue
Reply #3 on: March 23, 2005, 08:36:42 PM
There are two main difficulties
1. Contrapuntal
2. Playing

Because of the voices, which should each deserve equal attention in playing, it makes it much more difficult to understand contrapuntally.
Because of the voices it makes it much more difficult to play because it requires a separation of what is the normal mode of playing which is harmonically.

One way to address the contrapuntal difficulty is to understand on the page which line belongs to which voice.  It can be very difficult just looking at the page especiall if there are 4 or more voices.  One solution is the write out each voice on separate staff paper.  Then play the separate voices with each hand regardless of whether it is a soprano or bass voice.  This will help develop your sense of voice.  This also gives you practice of the scales within the fugue which will modulate throughout - it may be a fugue in Fmin but it could modulate to Abmaj, Bbmaj, etc.

Knowing the subject and any countersubjects within the fugue and identifying them thourghout the piece is also valuable.  If you play the subject one way, you must stick with it throughout - do not change the phrasing because if you do, the familiarity of it will dissappear and due to the complex nature of a fugue it will be difficult to re-establish a sense of comprehension.

Episodes within the fugue, parts of the fugue where there are no subjects should still follow familiarity.  Usually in a Bach fugue, there are episodes that repeat.  These episodes should be played in a similar manner because it establishes familiarity.

The last difficulty to overcome is how to play it.  If you sorted out the voices it will be much easier when you look at the page because you are familiar with what each voice is doing in each measure.  Fingering is of utmost importance.  Being able to voice the lines is also of utmost importance otherwise, it will become a blur and a mess, at least horizontally.

Offline haarmonika

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Re: Ways to Learn a Bach Fugue
Reply #4 on: March 23, 2005, 09:05:11 PM
Knowing the subject and any countersubjects within the fugue and identifying them thourghout the piece is also valuable.  If you play the subject one way, you must stick with it throughout - do not change the phrasing because if you do, the familiarity of it will dissappear and due to the complex nature of a fugue it will be difficult to re-establish a sense of comprehension.
Episodes within the fugue, parts of the fugue where there are no subjects should still follow familiarity.  Usually in a Bach fugue, there are episodes that repeat.  These episodes should be played in a similar manner because it establishes familiarity.

You have a good understanding of Bach Fugues.  I play the Bach Prelude & Fugue #6 in D minor WTCI
I believe that there is an infinite way of performing Bach for each person.  Bach didn't write any tempo or dynamic markings when composing his pieces...if it is written on your book, it is surely done by an Editor.  Therefore, you don't need to always play it in a certain way.  Have fun!  People who truly understand Bach never perform a piece the same way twice.  You should play as you feel at the time.  So at times, I perform it slow, fast, lightly, heavily, with ornaments, w/o, etc.....

I also believe that there are two ways of performing fugues.  To consistently perform the subjects, and counterpoints in the same manner throughout the piece, OR like Glenn Gould - you can bring them out in a different manner every single time it is played.  Even if the subjects and counterpoints are played in a different manner each time it is played, I dont think that the familiarity is lost... No matter how Bach is played, voices are clearly identifiable.

Yes, it can get really confusing when identifying and playing many voices at once in a Bach Fugue.  All you need to do is to 'recognize them' -  It will show in your playing if you do so.  I usually add a small breath mark before a voice comes in.

Recently, I have been listening to a few recordings of harpsichord performances, to get a better feel of the instrument that Bach originally composed for.

...just my opinion...  :)
- Monika

Offline lostinidlewonder

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Re: Ways to Learn a Bach Fugue
Reply #5 on: March 24, 2005, 12:49:12 AM
Get out a pen. Section up the music with letters or whatever. Find out which letters and numbers sound similar to one another (or if you are familiar with fugal forms break it all up and mark all the parts out, that will also show you what is a new idea in the sound and what is a development/alteration of a previous idea).

Practice parts which sound similar together and observe what is similar and what is slightly different. You might play something from bar 3-5 and then play something from 10-12 which have a connection. Not just from bar 1- the end, or just individual sections alone. You must practice a section together with the other similar sections. This strengthens the memory and affinity to the form of the fugue. Also it strengthens your listening ability since you play parts which don't normally follow one another to highlight the alterations they actally go through. So when you come up to a part which echoes what was played before, you can make it sound similar to what it did previously, but let the small change be evident and cause the subtle change in sound.
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Offline faulty_damper

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Re: Ways to Learn a Bach Fugue
Reply #6 on: March 24, 2005, 08:30:18 AM
Even if the subjects and counterpoints are played in a different manner each time it is played, I dont think that the familiarity is lost... No matter how Bach is played, voices are clearly identifiable.

- Monika

This may be true for the performer because he will usually be intimately familiar with the piece and can fill in what is missing, but to someone whom has not heard the piece before it will be difficult to follow along and especially more so because the audience generally will not have a solid understanding of contrapuntal music especially fugues because this type of music is outmoded.

And I will disagree that voices are clearly identifiable especially if it is not played well, and it is all too easy to play it poorly.  Voices should be given their respective "voices" relative to the other voices.  The last thing that should be done is to play a fugue harmonically.

Offline doowlehc

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Re: Ways to Learn a Bach Fugue
Reply #7 on: March 24, 2005, 01:52:02 PM
I heard Horowitz played Bach's Toccata in C - - he played the fugue subjects / countersubjects in different dynamics each time when they come up.  He may play a section all voices ppp with solft pedal ,  while in another he might play F with some sustaining pedal .

Honestly I enjoy it more than perhaps Glenn Gould's.  what do u think?

Offline musicsdarkangel

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Re: Ways to Learn a Bach Fugue
Reply #8 on: March 24, 2005, 07:01:04 PM
Listen to a good recording, and analyze the music, thinking in terms of voices.  That is all that I do, and it works quite well.

Offline maxy

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Re: Ways to Learn a Bach Fugue
Reply #9 on: March 24, 2005, 10:42:46 PM
-find fingerings
-identify the different voices, at this stage you should figure out the analysis of the fugue.
-sing each voice, figure out the articulation you want, how you want each voice to sound. 
-play each voice with the appropriate fingering with proper articulation etc.
-start combos let's say it's a 3 voice fugue soprano-tenor-bass:
      sing soprano play bass (with good fingering)
      sing tenor play bass
      continue with other 2 voice combinations

then, 3 voice combinations:

     sing soprano, play tenor and basse... so on and so on...

when that is done, playing the whole ting should be not too hard.

for fugues with 4-5 voices, the process is extremely painful.

That is the "core" work, then comes the work of interpretation.


With that even a monkey should be able to play a fugue... but the discipline required to actually  do all this is huge.

good luck

Offline m1469

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Re: Ways to Learn a Bach Fugue
Reply #10 on: March 25, 2005, 04:16:49 PM
Here is something that I thought of just now (or maybe I am uncousciously stealing it mwaa ha ha haaa), it is springing from stuff I already do, and suggestions from other people here.

**Treat/think of the fugue as though it is a puzzle with individual pieces, which fit together to create a whole. Think in terms of larger sections :  Exposition, Inverted Exposition, Developmental episode, ... uh, heh the last one **  After thorough analysis :


1.  Rewrite the score with whatever notation software you have, voices seperately (each on their own staff as Bernhard has suggested in learning counterpoint)

2.  Decide what the puzzle pieces are : subject, counter subject, inv subject, free material, etc. (even including measures of rest)

3.  Cut them out

4.  Mix them up (so you have to find the like-pieces)

5. Systematically put the puzzle together

6. Gather all the like-pieces together in their own piles

7. If you need more than your mental impression, use a recording to put it together as though you are looking at the picture on the front of the puzzle box and perhaps an outline of the fugue including key areas, number of subject entries, etc.  (if this is too hard to begin with, use the full score a little... but only secretly  ;))

8. Put it together enough times to put it together from memory (if you cannot on the first try)

9. Rewrite from memory the entire score or/and each individual voice part

Every step should aid in learning and knowing the piece, so even though this seems like BUNCHES of fun (he he), it is helpful also  :D


m1469
"The greatest thing in this world is not so much where we are, but in what direction we are moving"  ~Oliver Wendell Holmes

Offline BoliverAllmon

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Re: Ways to Learn a Bach Fugue
Reply #11 on: March 26, 2005, 05:37:05 AM
prayer helps also LOL
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