Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Could Bach play his stuff?

I had found the sheet music for Bach's Goldberg variations on the Internet, and was really excited to get some free music. The sudden access to all sorts of classical sheet music on this and other sites was opening up a new world of music that I normally wouldn't have gone out and purchased. I knew the Golberg Variations from the Glenn Gould recording, and from the movie 32 Short Films About Glenn Gould. I've since lost my CD (lent it and remember getting it back, but never made it back on to the shelf), but I kept hearing a few of the variations in the Baby Bach video. So as part of my teaching of classical music the kids , I took it upon myself to learn all the pieces in that and the Baby Mozart video. The Mozart sonatas were a breeze to learn, but the Bach was REALLY HARD. Bach music is more "pure" in that he created music by strictly following the rules of counterpoint. He certainly didn't consider whether your fingers would get tangled up while playing it. Mozart, on the other hand, definitely composed at the piano and his music is almost intuitive to the hands. So that begs the question, could Bach play his stuff? It takes years to master some Bach pieces, maybe he had his many children and students do all the playing. But during composition process, how did he "play" through it and hear the music? Was it all in his head? Of course, I am only looking at it from the keyboard perspective. Maybe he had 4 students sing all the parts as he composed. Regardless, he is truly a genius, one that some overlook with all the other composers, Mozart, Beethoven, etc. that followed.

So in using these newly printed out Goldberg Variations, I had to overcome some technical barriers, such as how to put the music into a "book". I put them all into plastic sheet holders so that the single printed sides could be doubled up. Then I had to figure out how to mark up fingerings and such onto the plastic. I ended up using fine point Dry Erase markers (they are erasable with some alcohol sanitizer). Now, at my new job, our printer has 2 sided printing, so anything new gets printed out in duplex mode and simply hole punched and put in the binder. Much easier!

Now as I started learning these variations, I noticed that some pieces were especially finger tangling because my hands kept running into each other. Then I noticed that these variations were marked "a 2 Clav." and it finally dawned on me that it meant 2 keyboards, like on a 2 tier harpsichord. So that begs the question, how do people perform and record these particular variations on a one keyboard piano?

Then I hopped onto the internet and started looking at harpsichords and found this fascinating site where you can build your own Hubbard Harpsichord French Double-manual. So this will be my project when I retire!! Then I can finally learn those pesky variations.

(This draft was exactly one year and one day old!! Original time 11:33pm Mar 7 2005)


Anonymous said...

I admit to NOT possessing much knowledge of classical music....but the layout and visuals of this Blog entry are stunning. (really) Nice enough to look at that it compelled me to read it...and I'm happy to say, I did learn something. (but then, my very limited knowledge of Bach and Mozart make that very easily done) year and a day to write an entry....I'm impressed with your patience.

Anonymous said...

Bach certainly was able to play all of his own music (and did) -- by all accounts, he was an extraordinary performer as well as composer, and also an extraordinary improviser. In his time, the composer/performer barrier was much blurrier than it is today.

Many of the fingering weirdnesses of his music, I think, are not so weird if you're used to baroque counterpoint. There is a *lot* of changing fingers on held notes and slipping in fingers from the opposite hands that makes his music playable. Yes, it's very very difficult, but it's difficult in an idiomatic way that one can get used to. (But I'm with you: I really struggle with it!)

I think the "2 clav." may mean not two separate instruments, but a single instrument with two keyboards tiers (like some harpsichords and organs have). Not sure about that, though.

Angela said...

Now I feel silly for not doing my homework since even Father Roderick in Daily Breakfast #94 mentioned that Bach was foremost a virtuosic organist in his time and only later rediscovered as a composer by Mendelssohn.

Anonymous said...

Hmmm....I thought you might have been the one who emailed Fr. Roderick and given him the inspiration (and information) to use in his Podcast.

I know Fr. Roderick was looking for Classical Music for Podplay...and that you posted a link for him. This seemed like it might have been a natural progression from that.

I was going to say something to you about this particular Podcast...but given my limited knowledge of Classical music, it was best to just stay quiet. (but this somehow doesn't seem to be stopping me with this post, huh....)