Author Topic: Bach Goldberg Variations  (Read 44076 times)

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Offline Archaic Torso of Apollo

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Re: Bach Goldberg Variations
« Reply #260 on: March 13, 2018, 07:09:55 AM »

Third recording (DHM). Not dissimilar to the second in conception but a bit more independent and expressive voicing and on a more beautiful  harpsichord, better recorded and I think more inspired playing, with more interesting articulation and "textures" This is the best one.

I've been doing some back-&-forth comparative YouTube-ing of Leonhardt III vs. Pinnock. I chose Pinnock as a comparison because his seems to be a well-regarded standard version. While Pinnock is good and solid, I have to say I find Leonhardt III a lot more interesting - there just seems to be "more going on" in the individual variations.

I've seen this Leonhardt described as eccentric by some, or even "perverse." I guess that's what I like about it!
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Offline Mandryka

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Re: Bach Goldberg Variations
« Reply #261 on: March 13, 2018, 08:24:26 AM »

I've seen this Leonhardt described as eccentric by some, or even "perverse." I guess that's what I like about it!

I'd be interested to know what the perverse elements are - perverse means persistent in error. Maybe his attitude to repeats was perverse.

Eccentric is also a bit puzzling, If you look at the recordings prior to it, there just is no stylistic centre to deviate from. We had recordings by Landowska, Gould, Verlet, Martins, Kempff, Tureck, Landowska  . . .  this was a time of great freedom and experimentation, more so than today. I think if anything Leonhardt's final recording was instrumental in creating a mainstream of opinion about how to read the score.

I think that Leonhardt plays this music better than Pinnock.
« Last Edit: March 13, 2018, 08:26:39 AM by Mandryka »
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Offline Archaic Torso of Apollo

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Re: Bach Goldberg Variations
« Reply #262 on: March 13, 2018, 08:29:47 AM »
I think that Leonhardt plays this music better than Pinnock.

I (might) agree. Pinnock seems a bit blunt, Leonhardt more free and subtle in phrasing. I also prefer the sound of Leonhardt's harpsichord, tho' it's difficult to judge off YouTube.

As for "perverse," that's just one guy's opinion, out there on the Internet. I wouldn't read too much into it.
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Offline milk

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Re: Bach Goldberg Variations
« Reply #263 on: June 09, 2018, 03:36:30 PM »
How do people feel about Steven Devine and Pieter Dirksen here?

Offline (: premont :)

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Re: Bach Goldberg Variations
« Reply #264 on: June 10, 2018, 03:25:16 AM »
I'd be interested to know what the perverse elements are - perverse means persistent in error. Maybe his attitude to repeats was perverse.


Many keyboard players leave out some of the repeats in the GV to make the work fit into one CD. Leonhardt is at least consequent - ooh wait -  as far as I recall, he does one of the repeats in one of the short variations, maybe thinking it would be too short otherwise.

I am convinced, that Leonhardt left out the repeats in the GV and in the EMI English suites and partitas, because he felt a pressure to do variations in the repeats and didn't want to do variations, which might risk to achieve authoritary status, given his central role in the HIP movement.


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Offline Mr. Minnow

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Re: Bach Goldberg Variations
« Reply #265 on: June 17, 2018, 04:07:57 PM »
Any thoughts on this?



There's a very negative review here:

http://culturecatch.com/music/june-2012-classical-review-roundup

On the other hand, a couple of customer reviews on Amazon France are much more positive. I haven't found much else about this one; it seems to have largely flown under the radar.


Offline Mandryka

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Re: Bach Goldberg Variations
« Reply #266 on: June 20, 2018, 01:00:30 PM »
Diego Ares is a student of Richard Egarr. He seems to be a bit of a Solar specialist, . Here he plays Bach on a harpsichord by Joel Katzman (2002)  “after” Pascal Taskin, 1769.




Imaginative repeats, lyrical, a well balanced instrument with a good bass, and great sound.

At the level of affects, he does cheerful and he does tender and he does severe. He likes telling stories, in a way which makes me think of Hans Davidsson’s Buxtehude, or better, Richard Egarr on the English Suites:

Quote
The Variations can suggest diverse situations and scenes to us: from the fluttering of butterflies (Variation 14) to the crossing of the river Lethe (Var.15); from the most fervent choir (Var.4) to a peal of bells (Var.28); from Arion’s disconsolate song (Var.25) to his flight on the back of a dolphin (Var.26). And what to say of Variation 23? Its opening is reminiscent of Rameau’s La Joyeuse, its ingeniously achieved thirds suggest a resonant viola da gamba, and its insinuating repeated notes . . . Well, to be honest, they remind us of the Road runner mocking while E. Coyote!

Most of all for me, I get the impression of real virtuosity in the service of entertainment: the colours of the harpsichord, the clarity of the music, the infectious rhythms and tunes. And a general feelgood factor - there ain’t much darkness in these Goldbergs

Quote
I have dared to present the Variations to you without any other pretension than to entertain you with this inexhaustible ‘source of originality’.

He’s succeeded IMO, this sounds fresh and original. I think it’s is a valuable contribution for both the conception and the execution.
« Last Edit: June 20, 2018, 01:07:25 PM by Mandryka »
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Offline (: premont :)

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Re: Bach Goldberg Variations
« Reply #267 on: June 20, 2018, 01:15:50 PM »
Remember that Naxos will release Rübsam's Goldbergs in August.
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Offline Gordo

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Re: Bach Goldberg Variations
« Reply #268 on: June 20, 2018, 02:16:20 PM »
Diego Ares is a student of Richard Egarr. He seems to be a bit of a Solar specialist, . Here he plays Bach on a harpsichord by Joel Katzman (2002)  “after” Pascal Taskin, 1769.




Imaginative repeats, lyrical, a well balanced instrument with a good bass, and great sound.

At the level of affects, he does cheerful and he does tender and he does severe. He likes telling stories, in a way which makes me think of Hans Davidsson’s Buxtehude, or better, Richard Egarr on the English Suites:

Most of all for me, I get the impression of real virtuosity in the service of entertainment: the colours of the harpsichord, the clarity of the music, the infectious rhythms and tunes. And a general feelgood factor - there ain’t much darkness in these Goldbergs

He’s succeeded IMO, this sounds fresh and original. I think it’s is a valuable contribution for both the conception and the execution.

I thought very much the same. He’s young, but this version seems to reveal a great familiarity with the music. Perfect articulation, imaginative repetitions. Stupendous instrument, built by a friend of him. Intelligent and charming brief notes; written as following the Gracián's advice: "Good things, when short, are twice as good." I loved the Adagio in G Major BWN 968, used a sort of prelude.

BTW, his Soler (Sol de mi fortuna) is that good as his Goldbergs; with a handful of recently discovered (in 2011 or 2012, I think) sonatas from the Morgan Library.  :) 
Musica lætitiæ comes medicina dolorum
(Music is a companion to joy and a medicine for pains)

Offline San Antone

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Re: Bach Goldberg Variations
« Reply #269 on: June 20, 2018, 02:17:47 PM »
Remember that Naxos will release Rübsam's Goldbergs in August.

Are they going to be played on the lute harpsichord, like the WTC?

Offline Mandryka

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Re: Bach Goldberg Variations
« Reply #270 on: June 20, 2018, 09:06:30 PM »
Are they going to be played on the lute harpsichord, like the WTC?

Yes.
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Offline milk

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Re: Bach Goldberg Variations
« Reply #271 on: August 09, 2018, 02:39:01 PM »
Yes.
I’ve preordered this. I’m counting down the minutes here. Can’t wait.

Offline Mandryka

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Re: Bach Goldberg Variations
« Reply #272 on: August 09, 2018, 09:36:39 PM »
I’ve preordered this. I’m counting down the minutes here. Can’t wait.

It is meditative. No repeats. Well recorded.
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Offline milk

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Re: Bach Goldberg Variations
« Reply #273 on: August 09, 2018, 09:39:15 PM »
It is meditative. No repeats. Well recorded.
I had a hard time with the first listen. I will try again. There isn't any momentum, is there?

Offline Mandryka

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Re: Bach Goldberg Variations
« Reply #274 on: August 09, 2018, 09:52:33 PM »
I had a hard time with the first listen. I will try again. There isn't any momentum, is there?

It's about making the details of the complex music become more evident. It's not an exciting non stop ride through the whole thing. Maybe it's best to dip in and listen to the odd one or two of the variations at a time.

Has Rubsam written anything in the booklet? I was hoping he'd write an anti-Gould essay, since he is very anti-Gould! And indeed the performance is the polar opposite of anything Gould ever did.
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Offline milk

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Re: Bach Goldberg Variations
« Reply #275 on: August 09, 2018, 10:10:31 PM »
It's about making the details of the complex music become more evident. It's not an exciting non stop ride through the whole thing. Maybe it's best to dip in and listen to the odd one or two of the variations at a time.

Has Rubsam written anything in the booklet? I was hoping he'd write an anti-Gould essay, since he is very anti-Gould! And indeed the performance is the polar opposite of anything Gould ever did.
I will take a look at the booklet soon. If there is something by him I can find a way to get you the Pdf.

Offline milk

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Re: Bach Goldberg Variations
« Reply #276 on: August 09, 2018, 10:13:51 PM »
Did Watchorn ever record s Goldberg??

Offline Marc

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Re: Bach Goldberg Variations
« Reply #277 on: August 09, 2018, 10:27:12 PM »
Did Watchorn ever record s Goldberg??

Apparently not (though the site is not a 100% garantee...).

http://www.bach-cantatas.com/NVP/Watchorn.htm
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Offline Mandryka

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Re: Bach Goldberg Variations
« Reply #278 on: August 09, 2018, 10:42:22 PM »
This essay by Colin Booth may have some ideas which help understand Rubsam's interpretation.

Quote from: Colin Booth
This work is one of the best-known masterpieces of pre-Classical keyboard music. One reason for its attractiveness may be that even when the differences between performances are substantially due to personality, all performances will indeed be very different. The nature of the work, and its distance from us in time, allow some radically varied treatments to emerge. Nevertheless, this CD will confront the listener with things which do not happen in most other recordings. These go beyond the personal element, and demand an explanation.

Central to the quest of the Early Music movement to re-discover a sound world lost for several centuries, has been a growing understanding of how the relatively spare notation used in the 18th century depended heavily upon performance conventions. Without an understanding of these conventions it is easy for today's players, almost all of whom have, at some stage, been trained to "read the notes" and approach a score with a literal regard for accuracy, to either partially or incorrectly grasp the musical message. Bach was more thorough in his use of notation than most others, but a literal approach to his scores can sometimes be ill-judged. He too made use of numerous conventions. In addition, certain subtle and advanced forms of musical expression have always been hard, sometimes impossible, for composers satisfactorily to convey on the page. In the Goldberg Variations Bach was forced to stretch the 18th century language of musical notation to its limits — and beyond.

For my part, one result of two decades of study of these matters was a handbook of some 350 pages entitled Did Bach Really Mean That? Deceptive Notation in Baroque Keyboard Music. The Goldberg Variations feature heavily. Some of the suggestions therein for what may have been in Bach's mind might seem disturbing, since almost standardised, but questionable interpretations of many of the most memorable passages had become established as normal for many decades. To challenge these, albeit supported by scholarly argument and with the underlying aim of increased musicality, would sound heretical. Nevertheless, the aim of the book was to liberate players from the straitjacket which would sometimes be caused by a literal reading of the notes, and offer a greater understanding of what the composer might have expected those notes to sound like.


The power of tradition


A book like Did Bach Really Mean That? might be stimulating for players, but what about listeners? It began to seem important to offer a recording of the Goldberg Variations, to demonstrate the book's suggestions (and others which found no space in its pages), so as to allow listeners to judge the results with their ears, and to do so on more than one hearing. For those who had come to love the work performed in what had become a traditional manner, it was only by repeated exposure to fresh approaches to some of the variations, that it would be possible to assess the validity (or otherwise) of different ways of playing the same passage.

 
Why does this matter? Since we live 250 years after Bach's death, and in an entirely new context, there is no "right" or "wrong" way to play his music. There is no claim here (as the great harpsichordist Wanda Landowska was prone to make) of the discovery of some "hotline" to Bach. But this CD presents a sincere attempt to offer some fresh suggestions for what Bach — or at least, a player within his circle - might have expected the music to sound like — for those who think this a matter of interest or importance. Apart from this, the musical merits of the performance are, of course, up to the listener.


Returning to the work's notation — to the way in which Bach actually wrote it down — this is not the first time highly contrasted approaches to its realisation have been considered. Take, for example, the opening Aria.

"The Aria is written in a style exceptional with Bach — that of an air a la mode, with a profusion of galant ornaments, which must be treated after the manner of contemporary French chansons and German Lieder, or like the embellishments in the slow movements of Quantz..."

This assessment is from Dannreuther's survey of ornamentation, written towards the end of the 19th century. At that time there was no widespread tradition of playing Bach at all, so the author could approach this movement and the work as a whole, without any preconceptions.

However, performances today are far more likely to be influenced — directly or indirectly — by the recommendations of the eminent scholar-performer and pioneer of the revival of "historical" harpsichord performance Ralph Kirkpatrick, given in his edition of 1935. This is how Kirkpatrick describes the same piece:

"The Aria seems to foreshadow the spirit of the whole work through the tenderness and calm with which the solemnity of the fundamental bass is clothed at its initial appearance."

Here, then, is a paradox: a 19th century scholar, writing at the peak of the Romantic period in music, could view the opening of the Goldberg Variations (upon which so much of the character of the following performance might rest) as an elegant but slight piece, deliberately modern (galant) and without any undue gavity.

The 20th century mind, on the other hand, had a new-found reverence for Bach — and for every note written by him. For Kirkpatrick, the monumental nature of the work had to reflect, from the very first bar, the unassailable stature of the composer himself. His approach was, if not romantic, a spiritual and increasingly serious one.

As you may have guessed, this performance is more in tune with Dannreuther's analysis than Kirkpatrick's. Many modern performers have side-stepped the solemnity which the latter's view might encourage, by treating the work as a virtuosic tour de force, and playing much of it just extremely fast. This player's reverence and affection for Bach are as strong as anybody's. But, alongside some passages of grandeur and others of emotional intensity, I find the Goldberg Variations to suggest a mood of intelligent playfulness and wit, which extreme speed can actually disguise.

The Legend — and the music

The story contributed by Bach's biographer Forkel in 1802 concerning the origin of the Goldberg Variations, is well-known, albeit now generally distrusted. The name itself is a modern tradition, not Bach's own title. Forkel relates that the work was presented to one of Bach's aristocratic friends in Dresden, Count von Kayserlinck, to be played for him by an extremely talented young pupil of Bach's — named Goldberg — as some sort of cure for, or distraction from insomnia. Let us, for simplicity accept the story. The nature of the work is indeed one which will bear almost endlessly repeated hearings or performances without exhausting its possibilities. But it is more likely to stimulate the mind, than to lull it into sleep. As Bach's subtitle puts it, this is music "composed for music-lovers, to refresh their spirits".

These are Variations in the German Baroque manner. Rather than varied treatments of a melodic line, they concentrate on the harmonic pattern supplied by the bass, which allows a greater degree of excursion. Bach had not written variations since his early years at Weimar, so we can view this return to a long-neglected form as another instance of his desire to offer the world something exceptional in all the forms available to him, while his powers were still intact.

The Aria, already discussed above, might not be by Bach at all. But its appearance in his second wife's compendium of pieces (many of which are by her husband) as early as 1725, in an almost identical form, right down to details of ornamentation, suggests that it probably is by him. It would be uncharacteristic of Bach to "borrow" a theme for a work which he clearly regarded as extremely important. Bach had earlier called it a Sarabande: the change of title might suggest that the composer now had a lighter treatment in mind. In any case, it is the bass from this little Aria which provides the skeleton upon which the variations are constructed: the melody falls away into formulaic banality towards its end. Perhaps the rather trivial conclusion was a deliberate ploy by Bach, to tease the performer — or listener — as to what was to come.

The moods within the work are hugely varied. After the Aria, the best-known is Var.25 (track 26), which Landowska called her "Black Pearl" — an adagio of great emotional intensity. Most of the variations, however, are much more light-hearted. All the major dance-forms are either featured or hinted at. In addition we have a mock-grand overture (Var.16) (track 17); a feast of virtuosic writing involving crossed hands, some of which requires the two keyboards of a large harpsichord (Var.1, 5, 8, 11, 14, 17, 20, 23, 26, and 29), and the downbeat climax (Quodlibet, Var.30, track 31)) is a jokey contrapuntal amalgam of earthy song-tunes. Every third variation, however, is a Canon. Bach's love of canons (a strict and taxing form of two-part counterpoint, mostly here provided with a "built-in" accompaniment) is rather like a love of cryptic crosswords or sudoku. So it is not surprising to find that the canons, far from being coolly academic, are varied in mood, and sometimes decidedly witty. In this performance, the subject of the canon is sometimes brought into relief when repeated, by the addition of a few ornaments.

Structure, and performance

Many scholars have investigated the structure of the work, and it is astonishing (to us) for its mathematical precision and variety. But it was probably less so to cultivated 18th century minds, and particularly to those who were familiar with Bach. It "simply" takes the idea of a formal and intricate arrangement of pieces to a new level, and probably gave the composer satisfaction for this aspect alone. In our own time, numerological and even cosmological interpretations of the work have been attempted.

If the arrangement of the pieces was a very self-conscious one, what does this tell us about the way in which they were originally performed or listened to? The sequence, with its calculated contrasts from piece to piece, is undoubtedly satisfying in itself. Many recorded performances aim to convey the nature of a "through" performance, with little pause for breath between pieces.

Today, for the non-player, recordings offer the possibility of "dipping-in", in a way that until our own time only performers or those in command of them could do. A continuous performance of this work as a concert-piece is unlikely to have been how Bach and his contemporaries would usually have approached it, even though their understanding of, and ear for the counterpoint upon which so much of the music is based, was infinitely greater than our own. This is very complicated music, and if one variation follows quickly upon another, it is hard for the brain to fully take in what has just been heard. The result may be dramatic and impressive, but also bewildering. So this is one recording where the listener is positively encouraged to dwell on particular variations on their own, and even make use of the "repeat play" button.
 
Of course, some performances also make a virtue of extreme tempi. This can be thrilling, but will not allow for much appreciation of form or detail. We don't know how fast Bach would have played, but his time-signatures — and the note-values used within them - offer a partial guide, as was normal practice in an age before metronomes had been invented. It would generally be perverse, for example, to play a piece written in 2/4 or 3/4 very slowly. But for Var.15 (track 16), written in 2/4, Bach added the direction andante, and for Var.25 (track 26) in 3/4, adagio — in both cases to slow the player down from the tempo which an 18th century performer might instinctively have tried, and which might well be used for other variations in those time-signatures, for example nos. 2 and 13 (tracks 3 and 14).

Ornaments

Kirkpatrick's treatment of the ornamentation (for which he provided a specific and detailed realisation), has had a profound influence upon several generations of players. Mathematically precise, and based wherever possible on proportionate division, it contributed to a tone of spiritual purity. It also suited perfectly the scientific age in which Kirkpatrick was working, and the re-discovery of Baroque Music (and Bach's in particular) as offering a kind of music poles apart from the "heart-on-sleeve" nature of much Romantic music: something profound and cerebral, but cleanly metrical in rhythm, even to the smallest detail.

18th century ornamentation was essentially a spontaneous decoration of a line — or it ought to sound so. The 20th century tradition, exemplified by the authoritative Kirkpatrick's work as editor, but followed by many other editors of baroque music, is opposed to this.

One element which may strike the listener from the start, is the single-note ornament (sometimes called grace note, or appoggiatura, or passing appoggiatura or nachschlag —depending on its exact nature and purpose). The manner of performance of this ornament (possibly the most frequently used of all ornaments in Bach's time) deeply affects the character of the very first line of the Aria. Since Kirkpatrick's provision of a complete realisation printed above Bach's score, the tradition has been that almost all such ornaments should be appoggiaturas, and must be played on the beat. They should also, where possible, be based on a mathematically proportionate division of note-values. This view was countered by Dannreuther and Dolmetsch decades before Kirkpatrick's edition appeared, and by Walter Emery in his book "Bach's Ornaments" of 1953. It is at last being accepted by most Early Music specialists as often inappropriate, but still holds sway among most pianists and even some harpsichordists — such being the power of an established tradition.

Moreover, although Bach was more prescriptive in his indication of ornaments than most of his contemporaries (and was taken to task for this habit even in his own day!) even he followed the practice of expecting players to add ornaments themselves. The Goldberg Variations are in fact an unusually rich source of specified single-note ornaments, which were normally left by German composers — and even usually by Bach — to be added at the whim of the performer. But, like his contemporaries, Bach left no clear indication of how those which do appear in the score were to be played. An unbiased examination of Bach's indications forces us to accept for such ornaments a subtle variety of purpose based on musical criteria, even when they look identical on the page — and even within a single piece. The composer annotated his own copy of the first edition, adding more of these ornaments than he had earlier specified — but by no means in every place where they were appropriate, and still omitting them in some instances where they were clearly required. So, the listener will hear more ornaments (and single-note ornaments in particular) in this performance, than in most others. Also, it would have seemed odd to the 18th century ear, to hear repeated sections presented with exactly the same ornamentation as when heard the first time. This is a practice which this performance tries to avoid.


Rhythm


Another area where Bach strum ed to present his complicated ideas intelligibly, was that of rhythm. In Variation 26, for example (track 27), he wrote the right hand part in a time signature which conflicted with that of the left hand. As in several movements of his final keyboard Partita, this was not intended to convey a subtle rhythmic clash, but was simply a conveniently simple way of notating the music, which was meant to be played in a naturally synchronised manner. The 18th century player had received a musical education which made this easier to take on board than many modern performers find. Variations 16 (Overture) (track 17), and 20, 23, and 28 (tracks 21,24, and 29), may also contain examples of simplified notation disguising a non-literal rhythmic message.

In more general terms, for decades it was accepted that the 18th century practice of playing music written in equal note values, in a lilted or swung rhythm, applied in France but not elsewhere. We now know that this was a much more universal performance practice, and that the rather restrictive advice for its subtle and tasteful application given in some
French treatises may sometimes be inappropriate when playing, say, English or German music. I heard Kenneth Gilbert remark long ago that it would have been rare for a performer of Bach's time to perform a succession of notes of apparently equal value so that they actually sounded equal. A telling passage from Bach's friend and contemporary Joachim Quantz, supports a rhythmically different, but stylishly baroque treatment of some of Bach's own music:

"Here I must make a necessary observation concerning the length of time to which each note must be held. You must know how to distinguish, in performance, between the principal notes (normally called the accented - or in Italian terminology, good notes), and passing notes, which some foreigners call bad notes. Where possible, the principal notes should always be stressed more than the passing notes. As a result of this rule, the quickest notes in every piece of moderate tempo, or even in an adagio, although they seem to have the same value (on the page), must be played a little unequally, so that the stressed notes of each group, that is the first, third, fifth, and seventh, are held slightly longer than the passing notes - namely the second, fourth, sixth, and eighth, although this lengthening must not be as much as if the notes were dotted."


Quantz here makes no reference to any national tradition. The effect of such rhythmic treatment is to add elegance, vitality, and interest to a succession of apparently equal notes — one could say, to make them dance. Bach, we must remember, did actually dance, and in the course of his life numbered several dancing-masters among his close friends. We should never dismiss the feeling of dance from our minds when playing Bach's music.

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Offline Mandryka

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Re: Bach Goldberg Variations
« Reply #279 on: August 09, 2018, 10:48:35 PM »
I will take a look at the booklet soon. If there is something by him I can find a way to get you the Pdf.

I'm sure they'll put anything he's written online eventually.
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