Glenn Gould's Goldberg Variations re-performance

Discussion in 'Classical Music' started by Sir Galahad, Sep 6, 2007.

  1. Sir Galahad

    sideshowbob Trisha

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    No, it isn't. It's a completely standard turn of phrase, into which nothing can be read apart from a liking of Gould's performances of the Goldberg Variations, any other reading is semantic game-playing.

    I realise some people don't like Gould's playing, but bat's summary that the only people who do like it are mostly interested in superstar gimmickry is, simply, wrong-headed.

    -- Ian
     
    sideshowbob, Nov 1, 2007
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  2. Sir Galahad

    Joe

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    I much prefer Chandler's Goldbergs.
     
    Joe, Nov 1, 2007
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  3. Sir Galahad

    titian

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    you mean maybe 75/25 for what you believe Bach should be (maybe based on some books and a lot of your feelings)...

    Hi Ian!

    You shouldn't take any such comments seriously as long as they aren't justified with facts. Distructing other peoples work is the easiest thing in this world.
     
    titian, Nov 1, 2007
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  4. Sir Galahad

    bat Connoisseur Par Excelence

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    Raymond Chandler? I didn't know he was a musician too.:)

    OK, let us all agree that Gould's Gouldberg variations, inspired by Bach, are very good.... for the mother-in-law.

    Btw, there are some nice Scott Ross videos on yotube, especially the last one, on which he plays Rameau's "Le Vezinet".
     
    bat, Nov 3, 2007
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  5. Sir Galahad

    Rodrigo de Sá This club's crushing bore

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    A rock and roll typewriter.

    Yes.
     
    Rodrigo de Sá, Nov 4, 2007
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  6. Sir Galahad

    Rodrigo de Sá This club's crushing bore

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    Totally agree. In fact I wrote something akin to this some years ago at the Naim forum. It is rather long, but if you want I can post it again.
     
    Rodrigo de Sá, Nov 4, 2007
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  7. Sir Galahad

    pe-zulu

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    This is what I wrote about Gould in the Naim forum a few months ago, and I haven't changed my mind:

    Some years ago I used to own quite a lot of Gould's Bach (and Beethoven) recordings, acquiring them to widen my horizon, but they were within a year or so disposed of, as I couldn't stand his egomanic style. But seeing Goulds 1981 Goldbergs on a sale some months ago, I decided to acquire it, intending -if possible- to revise my view upon him. But I found his playing excactly as eccentric, as I remembered. His choice of tempo and articulation f.ex.is not just casual (I might maybe forgive him if this was the case), but they are meticulously calculated to be like no one else's, and this is straight-out irritating, as his choice for that reason seems to depend upon other factors than pure musical arguments. This is why I find him irrelevant.
     
    pe-zulu, Nov 4, 2007
    #27
  8. Sir Galahad

    Rodrigo de Sá This club's crushing bore

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    This is all that I wrote in the Naim forum.

    Rather long, but I really tried to show that Gould was 'wrong'.

    THE NAIM POSTS

    Glenn Gould’s Bach

    Glenn Gould is always a very hot topic. I saw it appear and did not want to contribute to a fight. But my name has been mentioned a couple of times (I think Tom Alves said he would like, ‘this once’ (!) to know about my opinions…)

    As a matter of fact, for personal reasons, I was very deeply involved with his music making and I had to actually study the records - something I wouldn’t have done on my own.

    But before I say what I really think of Gould let me introduce the subject.

    1-What is musical interpretation?
    A score is usually meant for a public (although not quite always). As Mike Hanson has said, performed music is an act of communication. I don’t necessarily agree with his categories, but yes, there is a meaning that must be made clear to the receiver.

    In the case of old music, the public is so very different from us that it is almost incredible that we can understand the music at all - we expect so vastly different things. Sometimes one just can’t understand it. For instance, I am presently very engrossed with Sweelinck’s organ works, but I can’t get people to like or understand it. Perhaps I do because I’m very familiar with counterpoint, modality and organ sound and, what is more, my Worldview (‘Weltanschauung’ is a pedantic way to say precisely the same) is compatible with the one of 17th Century Netherlands.

    In normal cases, what was lively, moving, music for people of about 300 years ago is meaningless to us. For instance, a diminished seventh meant absolute horror and tragedy in the early 18th Century. But our ears are used to Wagner - where it is almost just a discord. And when one is familiar with the emotional frenzy of Bartok and Alban Berg how can we be moved to tears by an undexpecteldy far reaching modulation?

    Now it is claimed that Bach, Mozart, Beethoven and so forth (I would include Buxtehude here) are ‘universal’, that is, their message cannot be reduced to the expectation of his contemporaries (whereas, for instance, Teleman’s can); it isd claimed that they address fundamental aspects of meaning. This may be true. As a matter of fact, I believe it is true because we (I mean, the classically trained musicians) were brought up with these great lighthouses. The prototypical desperation is perhaps the 3rd movement of the Hammerklavier sonata; the prototypical horror may be the dialogue between the Statue and Don Giovani; the prototypical structure may be the Art of Fugue. And so forth. So Bach, Mozart and Beethoven may actually have more than what their contemporaries asked them to provide. And that ‘more’ is universal meaning. I agree with this to the extent that one is trained to learn the language - in these three cases, tonality, in Bach’s case counterpoint, and on Beethovem and Mozart’s, the classical musical forms.

    If one believes in that, what is a good interpretation? Something that makes that evident to the listener? Perhaps. A real marvelous interpretation would be one that gives that and a little more. One that makes the music self-evident and richly meaningful.

    2-The interpretation of Bach
    What is Bach’s greatness? Counterpoint? That can’t be the whole story. Renaissance counterpoint is more complex and Ockeghem beats Bach’s hands down in that respect. Emotion? It depends on what you are listening to: if it is the St Mathew or the Saint John, I would agree. If you are listening to, say, the b minor fugue for organ, I would say no. Structure? Yes - that is most important. But what I really think is most important is Bach’s keyboard music is the balance between tension and distension (or release) and the hinting of very pure (primitive in the mathematical sense: reduced from the derivative) ways of expression emotion: harmony, melody and rhythm in very pure formulations.

    How does one convey that in a meaningful way to people? My answer would be rather straightforward: you must learn it and then you may understand it or not. You must become cognizant with Bach’s highly coded and pure musical means. Which I thought meant: to be a trained musician. But that is not true. The most musical person I ever met was a girl who did not know what measure meant and could not distinguish a crotchet from a minim. However, she understood inversion (the theme is upside down), stretti (two or more voices bring the theme in short succession, thus overlapping and giving a sense of urgency) and, what is more, she fully understood the problem of tension and release. She understood most Bach completely - at least if understanding Bach is what I do.

    So what is a good Bach interpretation? To me, it is one that recreates the interplay between counterpoint, tension and release and the archetypal emotions Bach could so well master.

    Now is this a personal and idiosyncratic view of Bach? I don’t think so. Most Bachian musicians I know agree with this. Bach’s music (I mean, his clavier polyphonic works) is full of emotion but it is a rarified world: a purely musical one.

    Walcha and Leonhardt have been mentioned here by Fredrik. I fully agree: they really grasped all these aspects. Mind you, in completely different ways: Walcha detested Leonhardt’s rhythmical freedom and Leonhardt said (and still believes, as far as I know) that Walcha played only the structure and not the meaning.

    Murray Perhaya’s playing (and theorizing) is completely consonant with what I stated.

    So let us assume that what I said is more or less correct.

    3-Glenn Gould’s Bach
    Strange as this may seem, I listened to Gould’s WTC long before the rest of his records - as a matter of fact, I only listened to his Goldbergs when I was 35 or something.

    When I listened to his WTC (I did it with an old friend) we were struck by the fact that he always played it ‘the opposite way’. Take the first prelude. It is written as two legato notes and three free ones, composing an arpeggio. Whoever tried to play it knows there are technical reasons for it: it is more difficult to play the whole chord ‘overlegatto’ - that is, you maintain the notes after they are struck until the end of the phrase; in some cases it means you make intervals of an eleventh with your right hand (if I remember right). But there are cases when it is almost evident that you must do it; in other cases, you mustn’t. Anyway, being an arpeggio means you have to play it legato. What does Gould do? The three upper notes of the chord are played staccato. Now what does that mean? Can you understand? I can’t. Does it go against the spirit of the music? I think it actually goes against the printed notes.

    When we reached the c#minor fugue I was charmed because the theme was properly funereal and deep. Then, as the soprano goes up in a doleful motion he just ‘staccatoes’ the notes. Now what on earth can that mean? Is he playing tricks with us? Playing the first notes (the theme ones) forte and staccato is a possibility (indeed, that is how I would do it; and see also Friedrich Goulda); but the upper movement must be legato or, at the very least, only slightly détaché. Otherwise the two elements don’t make sense. It is rather like beginning to tell a woman that you love her in a very sensuous and meaningful way and, when your lips are about to make contact, grab a packet of crisps and tell her you are going to eat them and be very happy.

    I was puzzled and irritated. So we listened to the first four PFs in succession. And we tried to predict how he would play the rest of book one. We did it partition in hand: our predictions were that he would play the opposite way from what we believed would be the ‘natural’ way. We were right about of 80% of the cases (way above chance levels; my friend is a professional statistician).

    My conclusion was: ‘Oh, well, he is just being childish and slightly perverse’. We left it at that.

    Later, I listened to book 2. It was much better. This is because book two is almost impossible to spoil. If you play the right notes the music plays itself. There is very little room for creativeness or even great interpretation shifts.

    Later still I listened to his Partitas. I found them horrible. The toccatas were rather better (all is relative).

    I came across his Goldbergs (the last recording) rather late. It struck me that he mostly preferred to bring out middle voices, but that is all right. But the whole was sacrificed for the details. Later I listened to a live performance - it was thrilling: fast as hell, but irresistibly ‘rockish’ (from ‘rock and roll’) as far as the second half went. Of course, that had precious little to do with the Goldbergs themselves. It was just a show. But rather good at that.

    Is he playing Bach? Most of the time, not in the least, in my opinion. Is it a good interpretation? If you actually like Bach, I don’t think so.

    Is it a valid interpretation? I should say not. He uses Bach as a pretext to express himself, not to interpret the music. I mean, you cannot make a funereal piece a playful one unless you are joking. Is he joking? I think he is just saying: look at me.

    Am I being too rash? Again, I don’t think so. There is a series of Beethoven sonatas that Gould recorded. The playing is, almost universally, considered ‘wrong’. In fact, he himself said so: he played certain sonatas that he detested only to show that they were ugly. Is this an interpretation? No. I think it is just a childish pun.

    4-Why so many people love Gould?
    Gould presented Bach in a very ‘pop’ way. Popsters clung to it. It meant that they could like the more remote areas of ‘pure music’. Of course they didn’t. They just went for a Jacques Loussier kind of Bach. But in some cases people listened to Gould, got really to love Bach, and it enabled them to get to unexpected musical rewards. The same may be said, today, about Keith Jarrett (I’m not saying his Paris or, chiefly, his Köln records are not good - they are. Just that his Bach is not top notch). You can use either Gould or Jarrett to go higher; or you may just like Gould or Jarrett, in which case you might as well leave Bach alone.

    So when someone tells me (which is quite often) ‘I love Bach, but it must be played by Gould’ I always think - ‘you don’t like Bach at all, just Gould histrionics’.

    For those who love Gould and nothing else, there is a record with his music. There is a very funny fugue ‘So you want to write a fugue?’ that every Gouldian should love.

    This could go on, about the limits of interpretation. But I am short on time. Incidentally, this is why this post is so huge: I didn’t have the time to make it shorter.

    7-A small list
    Good Goldbergs - or rather, Goldbergs I like:
    My favorite is Walcha (hp). Relentless, his Goldbergs are a unified arch of growing tension that resolves itself in the Quodlibet and the final presentation of the Sarabande.

    Second is perhaps Kempff (pn). If you listen to the Golbergs because of the Aria, forget about it: all the ornaments are taken out, and you get the bare structure of the harmonic course (which, of course, is the key to understand the work). The rest is a wonderful luminous stream of light. Wonderful if you like Italian colours (Positanno does spring to mind).

    Leonhardt (third version). Austere and manly. A must have. Perhaps a little too austere for the light music the Goldbergs usually are, but nevertheless, an extremely good interpretation. Leonhardt is, in many ways, the harpsichord Arrau.

    Perahia (pn). Perfectly musical. I understand if people consider it the reference.

    Maggie Cole (hp) presents a very simple version. It plays itself. Rather interesting: you actually listen to the music and not to the interpretation.

    Gilbert (hp). A very intimate and warm version, but the minore variations stand out too clearly for my taste. This is a matter of taste. I understand that one might want the minore variations to stand out.

    Koopman (hp). A musical treat. A merry party with very deep moments.

    Finally, if you really want to know the work and can’t read music, there is a very curious version of it for violin, viola and cello. Counterpoint is paramount and you will understand what it is all about.

    6-Last words
    I am not being an elitist. But one has to face it: you don’t have to be musically educated, but you must be able to understand Bach’s musical clavier language to love it. And it really is not a very easy language to understand intuitively.

    There is no problem if you don’t. There is plenty of music to love. But, by all means, please don’t say Gould was a genius because you don’t understand other interpretations.

    Piano and harpsichord. No, I don’t really care if it is played in the piano or the harpsichord. I have even listened to it played on the organ (the bass goes to the pedals !!!! - of course that was by Jean Guillou). Of course, other things being equal, I prefer the harpsichord versions, but that is because I know the harpsichord well and not the piano (and, of course, prefer harpsichord sound to piano sound).

    I’m not being blunt - that is, I know I’m being blunt, but please do not take it I am speaking from above. I’m being blunt just because I’m short on time, and want to make myself understood.

    I must say that even if I rank with Frederik here, the ‘opposition’ has been unusually polite in this context. Often when Gould is mentioned, people insult others. This has (almost) not happened here. So this means this forum is a civilized one. (Now let’s keep it this way and don’t take out your machine guns against me!!)


    Thanks for all the input.

    As I said previously, I am very short on time. So forgive me if I don't deal with your questions now. Suffice it to say they quite cogently addressed the bit I left out. Namely, the limits of interpretation. I'll try to write something when I have the leisure to do it. I will maintain that Gould is 'way outside those limits.

    Let me just say this for now. The limits of interpretation are about the inner spirit of the music. Some people maintain there is no such thing. They maintain that Bach, played by Jacques Loussier or by Walcha, is still the same Bach. Of course they are not. What most people don't realize is that a printed score cannot just be read literally. It must be played, which means interpreted. And if something is to be interpreted, one has to have a code and a set of reference points to do it. Otherwise it will be incredibly boring - like music played from a bad computer program. So the right interpretation is the one that finds about what lies behind the printed notes. This is not a straightforward business, but in the case of Bach we can form an idea by analyzing his scores and even what was said about him and what he said about how to play his works.

    More on this later, I hope.
    Now I suppose I won't have the time to post anything structured before next Saturday. So do not take offence if I refrain from replying during the week: I am just too busy.
    And Central: I do not think it is a good idea to post what, when, with whom, and so forth, I studied. You can make out my level of expertise by my posts, I think. Otherwise you would just be relying on authority, and it is perhaps tantamount to claiming that 'my daddy is bigger than yours'. But be assured: I know my Bach.
    As for an arpeggio, it is a chord in which the notes are added sequentially, and not played all at once. Needless to say, this can't be played staccato.


    Hi all.

    So much has been said that these comments are bound to be irrelevant. Anyway, let me first address some points made by Ross, which I think deserve attention.

    1.Was Bach composing to illiterate folks?

    That is a pertinent question, because an organist is supposed to play chorales in such a way that the audience - composed of all sorts of people - will identify the tune and get into the proper mood.

    So, yes, Bach was supposed, at least when he was intoning a chorale, to play for illiterate folks. Did he do it? The answer is a resounding no. When he was a young organist he visited Buxtehude - famed for his extremely expressive writing and flamboyant ornamentation. Bach came back flabbergasted and tried to emulate him as best he could (his best was really not very good).

    From then on the church goers failed to identify the chorale underneath all the ornamentation and claimed that he modulated far too abruptly. Did he comply? Yes; he ceased preluding altogether: he just played the notes of the hymn. That is: he tacitly said that if he was required to play for ignoramuses he wouldn’t play at all.

    More. All his music is extremely complex. Even a simple cantata that may seem at first listen straightforward is a complex work of counterpoint. Sometimes, when he was pressed for time, not very artful or beautiful counterpoint but counterpoint nonetheless.

    His keyboard suites - the so called ‘French’, ‘English’ (no one knows why: they are rather French and not English at all, if one is to go by Purcell’s ones) and his keyboard Partitas are different. Counterpoint is perhaps less rigorous (or altogether not important), but the music can be very hard to grasp indeed. For instance, the Gigue of the 6th English Suite was considered, even by Bach students (who had to actually play it - which is quite a treat), ‘difficult’, in the sense that one must really get into the work in order to like it. The Partitas were always considered ‘difficult’ music (except for the first one, regularly played by pianists but not really representative of Bach’s style). The only case where his suites are immediately accessible is the French ones. For instance, the 5th (G major) is marvelous from the first note (but there is a very strange ‘louré’, which most people don’t get off hand).

    His organ music is usually rather difficult. The more crying exception is the famous d minor toccata and fugue which some think was not by him at all (I always thought so myself: to begin with the writing and playing technique has nothing to do with Bach). His last Prelude and Fugue (C Major - I mean only the Fugue, the Prelude is straighforward) is such a complex piece of counterpoint you cannot grasp it unless you read it - the theme comes, in the middle of the harmony, in stretti, augmentation and so forth, all in keeping with the crescendo in harmonic stress and almost inaudible given that it is meant to be played with the plenum.

    So I think I made my point - ‘abundantly’, you would coldly reply, no doubt. ;)

    Shakespeare and contemporary productions. When it is well done, the modern ones can be marvelous, in the sense that they bring a lot of meaning into the play. As far as it doesn’t go against what Shakespeare broadly meant I can like it. The same with Greek Tragedy. Some of the best performances I’ve seen were modernistic. But once, in Greece, I watched a production where the actors got naked and began copulating on the stage (there were women and as you know, they did not perform in ancient Greece). Well… I’m not against copulation, but it did strike me that the Tragedy in question did not require, or even hinted, at such a scene.

    Or take a German production of D. Giovanni, where the singers wore Walt Disney masks. D. Giovani himself was Mickey Mouse, and I think the Statue was Goofy - I really don’t know, because I lost patience and got out earlier.

    So, being brief and lapidary (I hope) : all is allowed as long as the work itself suggests it.

    But there lies the rub: how can we say what the work suggests? Remember the Sixtine Chapel. Before restoration Michelangelo was though as a dark, gloomy, Beethoven-like genius. And after cleaning all had to be rethought - Gesualdo, Monteverdi and others spring to mind, but definitely not Beethoven (or, at least, the 19th Century view of his music - but he himself cultivated that view).

    3.What do we know about how Bach wanted his works to be played?

    This is really two different questions. What did he want, and what does his music really mean?

    We know something about his playing. He, himself, asked explicitly for a ‘cantabile’ style on the harpsichord. This is not easy to achieve, and it suggests some form of legato. But if you look a little deeper, and study the rare cases where he noted down the fingering of his pieces, what emerges is a series of phrases (probably taken at one breath - legato or almost legato) interrupted by places where you just must lift the entire hand. These places are where one would expect them - they occur at the beginning and ending of phrases we identify as such.

    Further, when Bach was compared to another outstanding organist of his time, it was explicitly remarked that the other organist played everything staccato and if one was used to Bach’s legato (it is stated as such) one would be disappointed.

    Now by legato, on the organ, one does not mean true legato in the romantic sense: rather that each note leads to the next, and to achieve this you have to take into account the reverberation of the church. Again, this brings us back to the ‘cantabile’ notion.

    Also, when you consider his solo violin works (there are slurring marks), there are clear intentions that suggest that a very vocal, flowing and phrase-based kind of play.

    And, of course, that would be self-evident when you consider his vocal works, where slurring is often noted down.

    All this tells us is that, clearly, Bach liked a flowing way of playing.

    Another characteristic of Bach is that he played quite fast; this is important because connected to the flow it means his music making must have sounded as a meandering sparkling brook. There are at least two sources supporting that, one of which by Carl-Phillip-Emmanuel himself.

    And, the last, very surprising bit of information, comes again from CPE Bach: he says something like: ‘X can’t play my works because he can’t get the necessary fluctuation of tempo; whereas he plays my father’s works, which are much more technically demanding, rather well, because *all you need to do is play the right notes*.

    Now I don’t believe this. Certain fugues play themselves, it is true. But take, for instance, the Toccata from the 6th partita. You can’t just play the notes (by the way, in some senses, that is how Gould does it). If you are in the least musical you’ll feel the movement and your playing will carry you into it. So what it means is that Bach can’t be played with huge shifts of tempo - but that, again is self evident from his compositional technique.

    5.What does all this mean?

    In my opinion, it means that the musical sense of Bach’s music stems from phrasing: flowing phrases that lead one into the other. That is perfectly evident when you try to play but also when you listen to a top notch interpretation. I will surprise some people here, but I will give as a perfect example of the perfect way to interpret Bach Murray Perahia’s English Suites. He does not play legato, but he does capture the flow that is of essence in Bach’s music, and which leads to tension and release.

    Are there other ways of capturing this? Yes. Walcha did it, and he played rather stiff; Leonhardt does it, and he is rhythmically very free (to the point of almost alterating what is written) ; Marie Claire Alain does it and she plays tenderly; Christophe Rousset does it, and he plays flowing but crisply; Gilbert does it and he plays in very elegant curves. Scott Ross did it; Kempff did it. And so on. Of course Friedrich Goulda did not do it; and Gould did just the opposite.

    Mind you: this is not ‘mere opinion’. If you are honest you will accept that it is informed opinion. I can’t show it more plainly here unless I begin mentioning particular bits of music, which means referring people to go and read the partitions.

    There are other aspects of great importance with Bach, which I stated in a previous post. Namely, tension and release and structure (which is another way of saying about the same in the case of Bach). But all this is achieved by carefully controlling the beat, the touch and the rhythmical freedom of each section (by the way, Gould is NOT rhythmically very free: he does play what is written, with a few exceptions; so, Tom, no, that is not why I don’t like Gould).

    But even is spite of all that it is possible to play being faithful to the spirit of the music and at the same time play in a totally non historic way. Take, for instance, the prelude and fugue in e minor (the smaller one - I don’t mean the little Preludes: they are not by Bach anyway). Bach almost certainly played it beginning in a toccata like manner and then freeing all the energy of the full organ in the double trilled chords over the thundering pedal notes. Now Walcha (second reading, stereo) plays it softly (no reeds, no mixtures, only soft open pipes) and rather detached. Does it work? Yes, all the terror and desperation are there. He just used different means to get there. Is this a valid interpretation. Undoubtedly.

    Or take Stokowsky’s rendering of the Passacaglia. I don’t like it. But is it faithful? I think it is. What he gives us is, magnified under a Technicolor glass, the spirit of the piece.

    How do you get the spirit of the piece? By its harmonic structure, its rhythmical characters and the nature of the voice flow. For instance, a very irregular rhythm, several discords, and disjointed voice lines suggest unsettlement. This is the case, for instance, of the great Choral Jesus Christus unser Heiland from the Organ Mass (Clavier Ãœbung III). By the way, why do I claim this piece suggest unsettled emotions in spite of its name - Christ, our Saviour? Because it is *obvious*: music has that effect ion you: it can relax you when it is soft and predictable and progresses in conjoint notes, it can unsettle you if it goes the other way around; it may move you, stir you up, etc because of the movement, tension and excitement the patterns of sound suggest. So, in the case of this Choral, the explanation of the piece must be gathered: the manuals depict extreme disarray; but the pedals intones, in long notes, the melody ‘Christus unser Heiland’. The meaning is, therefore, obvious and in this case, believe me, you don’t need to know to tell apart a C from an A.

    Now is disarray *always* follow from disjointed rhythms and large and unpredictable intervals? The ethno-musicological research strongly suggests that it does in all cultures. That is, there are invariants of musical meaning across cultures. Which is only natural: try to move calmly when you are in a frenzy, or try to be extremely brisk when you are very calm: you’ll feel your emotions changing (it may also happen that you just can’t make these kinds of movements).

    So why is Gould wrong? Because, as many people have said, he plays almost in contradiction to what the musical patterns suggest and does not respect Bach’s importance of phrasing and flow. And his staccato is, therefore, completely wrong. Does it bring out the polyphony? I don’t think so, but let’s assume that it does: well, in that case we have better like Shakespeare being performed by screaming actors; the words come across in a more clear way.

    Why are his Golbergs so famous then? Because, for once, in the last variations, he does capture all the frenzy and enthusiasm (the first versions) that is actually suggested on the page. But listen to his partitas after listeningfor a time to, say, Leonhardt’s version, and you will know what I mean. Or his 1st book (and even most of the second) of the WTC.

    Or, to put it even more bluntly, listen to an aria from the Mass or one of the Passions and then listen carefully to what Gould does with similar melodies (the minore variations of the Gouldberg and the Aria itself).

    This will be, I hope, my last word on this subject. I think I cannot make myself any clearer.
     
    Rodrigo de Sá, Nov 4, 2007
    #28
  9. Sir Galahad

    bat Connoisseur Par Excelence

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    One comment.

    What I don't always like in Bach is that he starts with a theme and then is not able to stop early enough but continues to explore the theme until the listener wishes it was over. E.g partitas and solo violin works. He is a marvellous composer of course, but overrated.

    But his melodic (not necessarily complex) music attracts many listeners, it is melodic, in the same way as Vivaldi's Four Seasons, or Mendelssohn violin concerto, and therefore easy to digest, and this has made Bach the best selling classical composer. He is just perfect for the average taste.

    In contrast the composer's composer, D. Scarlatti starts with a equally good theme, explores it quickly (and with often more imagination and beauty than Bach), then quits naturally, just when he should quit.
     
    bat, Nov 4, 2007
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  10. Sir Galahad

    Joe

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    It was a reference to the now-defunct American televisual programme entitled 'Friends', one of whose leading characters is 'Ross' and another of which is 'Chandler'. M'Lud.
     
    Joe, Nov 4, 2007
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  11. Sir Galahad

    Rodrigo de Sá This club's crushing bore

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    Dear Bat:

    Perhaps that is the wrong way to listen to Bach. Agreed, in some cases (the French Suites, for instance), the melody is more important than counterpoint.

    But the richness of Bach stems from the combined effects of counterpoint, harmony and melody. Unless you listen to his music that way, it will appear as a sort of beefed up Vivaldi.

    Scarlatti is not at all in the same league - he composed music to amuse. Just think of the Dona Nobis Pacem; or the great organ prelude in c minor; or the chromatic fantasy; or several 'French' Sarabandes. The aim of Bach's and Scarlatti's music is different, and the way it is composed is also different.
     
    Rodrigo de Sá, Nov 4, 2007
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  12. Sir Galahad

    pe-zulu

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    What Rodrigo said. I think it can't be put better than this.
     
    pe-zulu, Nov 5, 2007
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  13. Sir Galahad

    bat Connoisseur Par Excelence

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    Well, for instance his fourth partita begins with a very beautiful fantasia, but it is followed by several boring allemandes, menuets, etc.

    Obviously the fantasia form allowed his imagination to flow freely but then he tried his hand at the various dance forms and failed miserably.

    "Beefed up Vivaldi" - that is very well put. Bach's music has a lot of hooks that are effective, but it is often rather narrow and formal.
     
    bat, Nov 5, 2007
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  14. Sir Galahad

    titian

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    Very nice postings RdS.

    I have a question concerning the legatos in Bach's clavier music:
    what is the difference (soundwise) between a legato played on a clavier of Bach's period (cembalo, fortepiano, ...) and our modern pianos. Do they sound the same therefore have the same impact? What technique does a pianist have to play in oder to try aproach an authentic Bach's interpretation when playing on a modern piano?
     
    titian, Nov 5, 2007
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  15. Sir Galahad

    Rodrigo de Sá This club's crushing bore

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    Hi Titian!
    Thank you, and Pe-zulu, for your nice words.

    As to the first question: legato, at the harpsichord, is rather easy to achieve, because there is resonance after you lift your finger (the case keeps sounding for some tenths of a second); in fact, I find it easy to achieve legato using, say, only the thumb for a middle voiced melody. Overlegato is often possible: you keep your fingers in the keys after a passage (say C d e f g, keep C e and g). A very good example is Leonhardt's playing of the C minor prelude of the WTC 1. That said, a normal harpsichord's legato does not convey the sense of melodic song as well as the piano or even the organ (which is another matter). But to say that by playing detachedly on a piano one mimics the harpsichord is not even a simplification: it is a downright mistake. True detached playing is perhaps easier on the piano than on the harpsichord.

    Second question. As far as piano versions of Bach are concerned, I'd say one ought never to forget that a piano and a harpsichord function in a fundamentally different manner. I cannot very well explain what I mean, but when playing the piano I would, unknowingly, add dynamics - when I played the same piece on the organ it was lifeless, and a completely different approach was needed.

    Harpsichord is yet different: it's all about attacks and ringing tones, about transparency and lightness - all of them characteristics that the piano lacks.

    So I think that a piano cannot really imitate a harpsichord (this is a myth pianists created to serve their often inflated egos ;) ). Therefore, my opinion - but mind you, many people disagree - is that when one is playing Bach on the piano one must accept that one is really transcribing the piece of music and play it as it sounds right at the piano. I mean, pedals, dynamics, legato, several nuances of touch, and so on must be used.

    Of course one cannot stray too much from the original spirit. In this sense I can say that Kempff's transcriptions of organ chorales and even his playing of many preludes and fugues (perhaps not the Goldbergs) is exemplary: all the resources of the piano are used and yet what you are listening to is pure Bach. Lipati was equally convincing. Nowadays, Perahia is also rather good (is English Suites are marvelous even if the piano is very ill suited to the work).

    Not being a pianist myself I cannot do better than this, but thank you for asking me. Perhaps someone else can help?
     
    Rodrigo de Sá, Nov 7, 2007
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  16. Sir Galahad

    Rodrigo de Sá This club's crushing bore

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    Dear Bat. Boring allemande? I think we differ. For me there is a tenderness and light in the whole of the 4th partita that makes it a totally integrated work: the Fantasia works itself into the Allemande, then the flowing courante, the magic sarabande, then the gallanterien and finally the merry fugue. It is, for me, one of the best integrated of Bach's suites.
     
    Rodrigo de Sá, Nov 7, 2007
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  17. Sir Galahad

    titian

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    Another approach would be to play the piano trying to keep some characteristics of the "original" clavier. The fact of (for example) playing in some places seperate notes instead of legati may go in this direction.
    I don't know if someone mentioned to Gould about him playing differently than what is written in the score. It would be very interesting to know his answers because there is certainly a good reason behind that.
     
    titian, Nov 7, 2007
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  18. Sir Galahad

    Rodrigo de Sá This club's crushing bore

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    Dear Titian:

    But why separate? And in what places?
     
    Rodrigo de Sá, Nov 7, 2007
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