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Bach: Prelude and Fugue in C-sharp minor BWV 849 (Cory Hall)

O musicólogo Cory Hall toca aquí un dos meus números preferidos do “Cravo ben temperado”, o preludio e a fuga en “dó díese menor” do primeiro libro (BWV 849). Atención: non é unha execución de concerto, so intenta mostrar cal é o millor tempo para esta música. Copio a continuación as anotacións do propio intérprete.

This prelude and fugue offers a good example the natural tempo for each resulting in a 1:2 duration ratio, in that the fugue is two times longer than the prelude. Bach achieved this by pairing a courante-style prelude in 6/4 with a slow alla-breve fugue in 2/2 that have equal 8th-note speeds, and gave the fugue virtually three times more measures, thus making its actual performance duration two times longer.

In other words, the 8th note functions as the “fastest common denominator” between the two pieces and if one plays the 8ths at the same speed one is guaranteed to create Bach’s 1:2 duration ratio. Listen carefully to my performance and you will discover that I play the exact same 8th-note speed for both. This creates an organic sense of unity that is otherwise lost.

I also present this prelude in a separate video in my series “pieces almost everyone plays too slow”. You are invited to view that video and read the analysis for more details on the style and tempo of this prelude, which will help illuminate the present analysis: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SEoNgOov6QA

Ever since the time of Beethoven and Czerny, around 1820, composers and performers began operating with a new esthetic entirely different than in Bach’s time 100 years previously. It was around then that Beethoven proclaimed to a publisher “we can hardly have tempi ordinari” any longer, meaning that the standard tempos and tempo conventions of the 1700’s had become obsolete for the new kind of romantic music in vogue. In general, Beethoven sped up the fast tempos like allegros and slowed down the slower tempos like andantes and adagios.

Thus, when playing Bach, Beethoven most likely chose much different tempos than Bach or most of his contemporaries would have for the same compositions. Czerny (Beethoven’s student) even took this a step further and sped up tempos to unprecedented heights, which can be seen in his popular Bach editions. Czerny then passed on the “Beethovenian” tempo traditions to his students, and they to their students, and so on. Most students, teachers, and professors today are probably not aware that many of the tempos we hear on recordings, in concert halls, in conservatories, and in competitions are actually 19th-century tempos.

Bach’s student Johann Philipp Kirnberger described Bach’s system in his own words “to the best of my abilities” in his very influential treatise, [Die Kunst des reinen Satzes in der Musik,] The Art of Strict Musical Composition (1774-79). In his section on tempo Kirnberger writes, “Every piece has its definite tempo, determined by the meter and note values that are employed in it”. Kirnberger called the definite or natural tempo of a piece its “tempo giusto”. Kirnberger does not say Bach’s pieces have liberal tempo ranges that may vary depending on the instrument or venue, but rather, he specifically says every piece has its “natural” and “definite” tempo. It would not be until about 1820 when this type of idealism changed.

The key to determining the duration ratios Bach desired is to first assign the “natural” tempo for each based on stylistic characteristics, then to discover what type of ratio results.

This prelude is usually played much too slow, a tradition that probably began in the 19th century when Bach’s music was being rediscovered and “romanticized”. Apparently, the minor key led the romantics into believing it was a funeral dirge or something to that effect. In reality, it is nothing more than a graceful and elegant courante with a typical French courante meter of 6/4 and Bach’s usual courante tempo of quarter = 108. This tempo results in a duration of 2:10.

This serious 5-voice fugue emulates a sacred chorus and has one of Bach’s most usual slower tempos of half = 54, which results in a duration of 4:16. This is virtually two times longer than the prelude’s 2:10, showing Bach was aiming for a 1:2 duration ratio. As pointed out above, this is easily attainable by playing the 8th notes at the same speed, or more practically, the quarter notes at the same speed.

To learn more about exactly how Bach achieved accurate duration ratios, please see my website, especially beginning with Elaboration 2:
http://www.bachscholar.com/Kirnberger.html

Please notice though, that it is not necessary to play like a robot with no feeling to achieve perfect tempos and Bach’s intended duration ratio. I believe the natural tempos –the tempos Bach truly intended– allow one to more easily achieve a musical performance.

Podemos escoitar a fuga do número anterior interpretada por Friedrich Gulda na miña anotación Bach: cis-Moll Fuge aus BWV 849 (Gulda).

Thank you all for sharing culture!

5 Marzo 2009 - Posted by | Johann Sebastian Bach, Keyboard music, Music, Well-tempered Clavier

3 Comentarios »

  1. A verdade é que os problemas de interpretación con Bach non rematan nunca. Estudando estas semanas a variación Goldberg 25, teño diante tres partituras distintas (unha copia do orixinal, outra de Czerny e outra de estudo moderna) e resulta chocante cómo cada quen a escribe ao seu gusto persoal; xa nin te digo o de tocala…

    Comentario por iesounonies | 29 Outubro 2011

  2. Unha cuestión que sempre acompañará á música é o impreciso da notación. Non se libra ningún dos manidos parámetros do sonido: duración, intensidade, altura e timbre. Son un exemplo clásico as discusións sobre os tempi de Beethoven, cando as súas medidas de metrónomo comezaron a “pasar de moda” arredor do 1840 (e antes, e despois, e aínda hoxe). Vaia, que a música sempre é moito máis que as notas da partitura; algo que para un músico maduro é evidente, pero que principiantes e público non sempre comprenden. A vida é unha pescuda constante da Verdade, e cando encontramos algo que nos parece verdadeiro soe ser a punta dun iceberg, e para ver o iceberg enteiro hai que expoñerse a unha hipotermia cognitiva… :-)

    Comentario por César Salgado | 30 Outubro 2011

  3. Xa, a modo de curiosidade, obsérvese o xeito insólito de tocar a aria das variacións que ten Kempff:

    Bach reproduce un aire popular (probablemente unha zarabanda que escoitou pola rúa) e o convirte nunha pequena xoia. Quen da máis?

    Comentario por iesounonies | 30 Outubro 2011


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