Author Topic: Bach: Well-Tempered Clavier  (Read 319400 times)

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Offline Mandryka

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Re: Bach: Well-Tempered Clavier
« Reply #1780 on: October 06, 2020, 01:35:55 AM »
here’s something. This recording is a bit strange and I don’t quite know what to make of it. Very fast tempos and  - just - out-of-the-ordinary choices. It might just be flying too fast, over my head.

Here's what Butt has to say about tempo

Quote
The second – and more substantial – aspect of approach relates to tempo and tempo relationships,
and draws on and develops the work of Robert Marshall and Don Franklin, as well as some of my own
earlier research. There is very little that is absolutely certain about Bach’s attitude to tempo and tempo
relations, and, if a system seems to emerge at some points, it is not consistently applied or necessarily
applicable to a broader range of cases. Therefore, my approach to this issue in performance can only
claim to use historical evidence as a starting point for some new ways of cultivating relationships and
continuity in performance today.


When we think about issues of tempo in music before 1800 we might sometimes be led to aim for a
specific metronome mark, one that could not have been easily established in Bach’s age, but one towards
which we might assume the original performers were aiming. But perhaps the various shards of historical
evidence and thought that we can find suggest rather that this is substituting an end result for a much more
productive process; in other words, the actual speed seems to have been a by-product of several other
considerations. Here then, history might inspire us to think of several dimensions simultaneously – say,
pulse, notation, genre, mood, harmonic rhythm, range of note values – rather than aiming for a specific,
ideal tempo. While we can never recreate the thought processes of another age, we may at least be
able to share in some of the ways in which performers might have combined ideas and parameters.

 In the absence of any metronomic absolute, the most common historical reference to any standard
– a tempo ordinario, as it is sometimes called – relates to the human pulse. The connection of the tactus to the
human pulse already had a history of several centuries, so it is tempting to abstract from this some sort
of consistency with Renaissance practice. For J.J. Quantz, writing in the middle of the eighteenth century,
the association between music and pulse is more one of convenience than of spiritual connection; but
it is from multiples and divisions of the human pulse that he derives four basic levels of speed. What
other writers, most importantly J.G. Walther, also suggest is that the pulse itself is very prone to variation
according to age, gender, temperament, mood and illness. So, we might imagine, the relation of the
pulse to something between 60 and 85 beats a minute is only a sort of standard measurement and not
to be applied in every possible case. The background pulse seems to relate to the broadest range
of the human experience, but not, say, to the animal world, or to the type of pulse possible with the
machinery of the industrial age. What Quantz’s system suggests is that all tempi can relate to the human
pulse at some level, but that there is quite a variety within this. Moreover, there is clearly the possibility
of a proportional relationship between different metres.


J.P. Kirnberger, writing a little later, claimed to codify all he had learned from Bach. He relates tempo
to manifold aspects of mood and representation and recommends that each metre is best learned
through associated dances. He suggests that we imagine tempo like different forms of water-flow,
from the gentlest stream to the wildest sea. Not only this, but each metre brings with it a ‘natural tempo’
– its tempo giusto, which is itself modified by dance style. Having this as a starting point, one next looks
at the shortest prevailing note value, which will normally moderate the tempo, the shorter the value.
Only then does Kirnberger mention Italian terms, suggesting that they can make the estimate of both
tempo and expression more precise: they might point to something that one would not otherwise
have guessed from the metre, genre and shortest note value. In all, what is attractive about Kirnberger’s
system is its multiplicity of factors, all mutually inflecting, which together generate a tempo. Like Quantz,
he suggests that each metre implies a sort of tempo giusto, or tempo ordinario, which is the starting point for
gauging speed, although he does not specifically relate this to the human pulse.


Among several rules of thumb, Marshall usefully adapts Quantz’s practice to suggest that Bach’s
‘normal’ relation of duple simple time to compound is to preserve the beat in simple time as the
hemiola of the compound (i.e. one beat of a simple time, like 2/4, becomes two-thirds of a beat in
6/8, so that each compound beat gains a half value – an extra quaver); to put it simply, the quaver in simple time would be the same length as a quaver in compound. For faster tempi, on the other hand, the compound unit would equal the beat of the simple (i.e. the three quaver subdivisions in compound time
would fill the space of two in simple time). Franklin’s hypotheses, based largely on Kirnberger, are more
elaborate and suggest that pieces belonging together can actually relate to one another and that Bach
will often employ a fermata at the end of a piece or subsection to indicate that the prevailing tempo giusto
is to be cancelled and reset.


In studying Bach’s Mass in B minor, I have summarized several approaches to the relation between
successive sections. In short, if certain continuities or proportions of pulse are observed, there can be a 1:1
or 1:2 relation between the durational lengths of certain successive sections (most of these are explored
in my recording of the Mass, which also observes tempo connections where Bach omitted fermatas
between movements or indicated some form of ‘sequitur’). So far as tempo indications and the placing
of fermatas are concerned in the WTC, it is unlikely that Bach’s practice was completely consistent across
the quarter century involved, and no one source provides unequivocal evidence of his final, refined
thoughts. Furthermore, it is absolutely clear that individual components of the WTC were composed at
different times and that any relationship between successive pairs (and sometimes even within the pair)
was not necessarily determined at the point of composition. Moreover, the loose double-sheet structure
of the London autograph of Book II suggests that the individual pairs could be taken out and played
separately (each is designed so that the prelude was on one side and the fugue on the other, although
recomposition and extensions often meant that one of the movements had to spill over on to the other
side of the sheet). While the collection could clearly be used for many purposes, ranging between
pedagogy, performance and private pleasure, the approach here is to consider how tempo relations
might be established between certain pieces in the collection. I shall briefly describe these relations in
five categories.


Category 1. Where does a tempo relation seem to be excluded by Bach’s use of fermatas? Here, we
might presume, a new tempo giusto is set for the fugue, without reference to the prelude. One example of
this might be the D minor Prelude of Book I, for there is a fermata on both the last chord and over the final
barline (coupled with the direction ‘verte sequitur Fuga’). Here, then, a huge gap does not seem to be
implied, but the tempo is basically reset.


Category 2. Where does a consistent tempo between prelude and fugue seem implied? In Book I
the F major Prelude contains 18 bars of 12/8 and the fugue 72 bars of 3/8: so if the pulse is indeed identical,
the two pieces are of the same duration.

Category 3. Where might there be a direct 1:2 or 2:1 proportion between prelude and fugue?
An obvious example here is the B major Prelude and Fugue of Book II, where the prelude is in 4/4 time,
the fugue proceeding with the same beat transferred to the minim (Bach’s very careful notating of rests
at the end of the prelude, without fermata, seems to imply a precise connection).


Category 4. Where might there be a more complex relationship between prelude and fugue?
One example could be the C sharp minor Prelude and Fugue of Book I, where (given the evidence
that triple metres are often faster than duple) the 6/4 bar of the prelude might equal a 4/4 bar of
tempo giusto. Then, assuming the stroke in the C time signature of the fugue carries its traditional
implication of halving the pulse (and thus doubling the speed), one bar of the latter piece would
be equal to half a bar of the old (thus three crotchets of the prelude would relate to two minims of
the fugue).


Category 5. If already much of this suggests a degree of speculation that is justified only to the
extent that it generates relatively integrated connections between prelude and fugue, what about
potential relations between pairs? These would obviously only pertain if one decided to perform the
pieces in succession. In Book I, the C minor Fugue sets up a pulse that can be modified by the addition
of a quaver in the C sharp major Prelude (thus the fugue’s pulse is essentially the hemiola of the
succeeding prelude), or for a faster performance, following Quantz, this could also be done with the
3/8 metre squashed into one beat of the fugue. In Book II, the C sharp major Fugue could set up
the crotchet pulse of the C sharp minor Prelude (which, with the addition of a quaver, is thus slower).
From here the quick pulse of the C sharp minor Fugue can be abstracted directly from three
semiquavers of the prelude and, finally, the D major Prelude returns to the pulse of the C sharp minor
Prelude, but with the prominent falling gestures, beginning in bar 2 with a duple division of the beat,
the pulse of the C sharp minor Fugue, just past, is also integrated. In all then, the D major Prelude would
function to sum up the two types of pulse from the two previous pieces.


I have to stress that all the decisions based on tempo relations are starting points rather than
precise goals; the actual relationships may be quite imprecise at times. The intention is to reveal some
sort of connection between different pieces, even if it is a connection that leads to a marked contrast
of mood or embodied movement. It is well known that Gottfried Leibniz frequently used music as a
metaphor – but also an analogue – for the coherence of the world and our part in it. Its beauty and
emotional power are, to him, precisely calculated in the pre-established harmony and all sounds we hear relate to mathematical ratios. Leibniz further asserts that our souls somehow intuit the calculations involved, relating to the beats and vibrations behind harmony, and that we experience this as pleasure.
He extends this idea towards the progression of beats in time: the rhythms that make up the pulses
of individual notes are part of a plenum of pulses that includes the rhythm, metre and overall order of
music. The general enlightenment imperatives towards empathy and harmony according to universal
principles represent what one might call a ‘one-world worldview’. The enlightenment was most
concerned with the world in which we live and one in which the human is the central point of interest.


In short, the sorts of tempo relation I have been suggesting, together with the central analogy with
the human pulse, relate to what I would describe as the ‘one-world’ view, a world with its own immense
variety and regularities, and one in which the human seems meant to feel ‘at home’, since both the
variety and the regularity have analogies with our own bodies and their functioning. Thus I would
distinguish my ‘one-world’ performance from the ‘multi-world’ style of many WTC performances.
The latter are absolutely authentic to a world in which human capabilities, indeed the human
imagination itself, are extended beyond any possible experience on the part of a single person.
In the ‘multi-world’ view there is both wonderment at super-human possibilities and horror and
alienation at our tiny place in such a daunting scheme. So are my one-world tendencies here simply
naïve, just like Leibniz’s view of our inhabiting the most perfect of possible worlds? Certainly, there is the
danger of this, but perhaps there are great advantages in being reminded of the one-world view in our
own multi-world state. After all, the basic workings of our bodies have not changed that much since the
eighteenth century, and our being grounded in the possibilities and variations of our own pulse, and
the type of embodiment that this may imply, is hardly just wishful thinking.
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Offline milk

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Re: Bach: Well-Tempered Clavier
« Reply #1781 on: October 06, 2020, 02:13:35 AM »
Here's what Butt has to say about tempo
What do you think of this? I didn’t give Butt much of a chance, I have to admit. BTW, which piano set are you liking these days? Butt seems radical to me. Aside from Rubsam, who else do you think has the adventure? I quite like Lepauw these days - although he has his hits and misses. I’ve been listening to Xao-mei recently. She’s not radical, although she has heart. It’s just that, as with pianists, she turns to dynamics too much. Just a little less would improve it a lot. I feel sort of lost these days. I think Leonhardt, Egarr, Frisch and Van Asperen are great. Demus and Feldman are great on piano...

Offline Mandryka

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Re: Bach: Well-Tempered Clavier
« Reply #1782 on: October 06, 2020, 02:21:53 AM »
What do you think of this? I didn’t give Butt much of a chance, I have to admit. BTW, which piano set are you liking these days? Butt seems radical to me. Aside from Rubsam, who else do you think has the adventure? I quite like Lepauw these days - although he has his hits and misses. I’ve been listening to Xao-mei recently. She’s not radical, although she has heart. It’s just that, as with pianists, she turns to dynamics too much. Just a little less would improve it a lot. I feel sort of lost these days. I think Leonhardt, Egarr, Frisch and Van Asperen are great. Demus and Feldman are great on piano...

He tends to chose faster tempos than I'm used to and that makes it all sound brusque. You'd have to dig deeper than that article to see the nitty gritty of the justification for this -- that article is only a summary of his work. In the booklet he says

Quote
An extended version of this note, with references, is available free at
www.linnrecords.com/recording-bach-das-wohltemperierte-klavier.aspx


but I can't find the extended article anywhere -- maybe write to him and ask him for it.

For what it's worth Butt's keyboard recordings are always fast and brusque. Go figure.
« Last Edit: October 06, 2020, 02:24:17 AM by Mandryka »
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Offline Old San Antone

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Re: Bach: Well-Tempered Clavier
« Reply #1783 on: October 06, 2020, 02:39:49 AM »
Here's what Butt has to say about tempo

I haven't listened to it yet, but it would appear that Butt's tempi are a product of a significant thought process.  But of course the proof of the pudding is in the eating.

Offline Mandryka

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Re: Bach: Well-Tempered Clavier
« Reply #1784 on: October 06, 2020, 02:51:46 AM »
I haven't listened to it yet, but it would appear that Butt's tempi are a product of a significant thought process.  But of course the proof of the pudding is in the eating.

I just note in passing that Colin Booth's WTC was also the result of a significant thought process -- he published a book about it -- and it is not fast and brusque, quite the opposite.

« Last Edit: October 06, 2020, 02:55:51 AM by Mandryka »
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Offline Old San Antone

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Re: Bach: Well-Tempered Clavier
« Reply #1785 on: October 06, 2020, 03:14:40 AM »
I just note in passing that Colin Booth's WTC was also the result of a significant thought process -- he published a book about it -- and it is not fast and brusque, quite the opposite.

Colin Booth's WTC does not seem to be on Spotify so I can't comment.  But after listening to the first few preludes and fugues John Butt's does appear to be brusque.  I compared him to several others: Celine Frisch, Suzuki, Gilbert, Rousset and Pinnock.  Whie some had around the same tempo, Butt's phrasing was a combination of herky-jerky and dismissive.  Not a recording I will spend much time with.  Of the ones I used as comparisons, Frisch and Pinnock appealed to me the most - but again, it was a quick listen and small sample size.

Offline milk

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Re: Bach: Well-Tempered Clavier
« Reply #1786 on: October 06, 2020, 03:16:11 AM »
I just note in passing that Colin Booth's WTC was also the result of a significant thought process -- he published a book about it -- and it is not fast and brusque, quite the opposite.
much of Booth is streaming but not that. As for Butt, I’m liking it more and more. It’s fresh. And intense. It makes my head spin a little though. Listening on headphones convinces me.

Offline milk

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Re: Bach: Well-Tempered Clavier
« Reply #1787 on: October 06, 2020, 03:20:30 AM »
Colin Booth's WTC does not seem to be on Spotify so I can't comment.  But after listening to the first few preludes and fugues John Butt's does appear to be brusque.  I compared him to several others: Celine Frisch, Suzuki, Gilbert, Rousset and Pinnock.  Whie some had around the same tempo, Butt's phrasing was a combination of herky-jerky and dismissive.  Not a recording I will spend much time with.  Of the ones I used as comparisons, Frisch and Pinnock appealed to me the most - but again, it was a quick listen and small sample size.
I’ve only been listening to Bk2 but I gave it a chance and I’ve warmed to it. There are shining moments here.
ETA: BTW: some of Booth’s WTC are on YouTube a long with this trippy visualization of the scores. It’s really great because the animation shows how the fugues work. The playing is great too.

https://youtu.be/Kkz7lK6muZY
« Last Edit: October 06, 2020, 06:33:15 AM by milk »

Offline milk

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Re: Bach: Well-Tempered Clavier
« Reply #1788 on: October 06, 2020, 03:00:01 PM »

Colin Tilley uses a clavichord on Bk1 and a harpsichord on Bk2.

Offline milk

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Re: Bach: Well-Tempered Clavier
« Reply #1789 on: October 12, 2020, 06:23:05 AM »

Listening to this today and I’m very impressed. Weiss is very alive, agile and intense. His performances are fresh without sounding unnatural. All in all, they’re very convincing.
I really feel lately that it’s much harder to find interesting performances of WTC on piano. I think almost all the major names associated with period instruments have something worthwhile to offer on WTC; whereas many of the big-named pianists come out lacking. Whether it’s Egarr or Belder, Weiss, Wilson, Verlet, Leonhardt, Suzuki, Frisch, Paramentier, Dantone, Levin, etc., there’s something worth hearing. Lately, my ears tell me it’s not so with the piano. Maybe I’ll come back around.

Offline Old San Antone

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Re: Bach: Well-Tempered Clavier
« Reply #1790 on: October 12, 2020, 07:04:57 AM »

Listening to this today and I’m very impressed. Weiss is very alive, agile and intense. His performances are fresh without sounding unnatural. All in all, they’re very convincing.
I really feel lately that it’s much harder to find interesting performances of WTC on piano. I think almost all the major names associated with period instruments have something worthwhile to offer on WTC; whereas many of the big-named pianists come out lacking. Whether it’s Egarr or Belder, Weiss, Wilson, Verlet, Leonhardt, Suzuki, Frisch, Paramentier, Dantone, Levin, etc., there’s something worth hearing. Lately, my ears tell me it’s not so with the piano. Maybe I’ll come back around.

I don't think you're making an important point.  After all your personal taste in this matter is just that, your subjective response.  I on the other hand always prefer piano recordings to ones on harpsichord.

 8)

Offline Dry Brett Kavanaugh

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Re: Bach: Well-Tempered Clavier
« Reply #1791 on: October 12, 2020, 08:08:11 AM »
The Weiss album is a fine album though personally I like thicker sound.
I enjoyed the Gilbert, Walcha and Jaccottet recordings in the last weekend.

Offline Dry Brett Kavanaugh

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Re: Bach: Well-Tempered Clavier
« Reply #1792 on: October 12, 2020, 08:09:09 AM »
Jaccottet.

Offline milk

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Re: Bach: Well-Tempered Clavier
« Reply #1793 on: October 12, 2020, 02:39:11 PM »
I don't think you're making an important point.  After all your personal taste in this matter is just that, your subjective response.  I on the other hand always prefer piano recordings to ones on harpsichord.

 8)
I don’t know enough about music to make a strong objective case. I can guess at one or two. Pianists focus on dynamics more? There’s something in the way piano is taught? 19th century techniques? Some pianists may go from Chopin to Bach without being steeped in the latter? But I know that’s not the case with many pianists though. I’m really not saying any of these are right or half right but of course the harpsichord and the piano have different capabilities. Here’s a question: do you think it’s easier to go from 21st or 20th century music to baroque or from 19th century music?
I’ve been listening to a lot of piano versions lately and many of them seem conservative and staid to me.
But I’m fickle and I may swing back towards the piano at some point.
What are your favorite piano versions?

Offline Old San Antone

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Re: Bach: Well-Tempered Clavier
« Reply #1794 on: October 12, 2020, 04:18:20 PM »
I don’t know enough about music to make a strong objective case. I can guess at one or two. Pianists focus on dynamics more? There’s something in the way piano is taught? 19th century techniques? Some pianists may go from Chopin to Bach without being steeped in the latter? But I know that’s not the case with many pianists though. I’m really not saying any of these are right or half right but of course the harpsichord and the piano have different capabilities. Here’s a question: do you think it’s easier to go from 21st or 20th century music to baroque or from 19th century music?
I’ve been listening to a lot of piano versions lately and many of them seem conservative and staid to me.
But I’m fickle and I may swing back towards the piano at some point.
What are your favorite piano versions?

I like Andras Schiff on EMI.  I'm sure there are others but I'd have to go back and look.  To be honest, I don't think of the questions you bring up.  I am a simple listener, I just listen and don't analyze the music.  If it sounds good to me, I consider it a good performance.  As far as if "it’s easier to go from 21st or 20th century music to baroque or from 19th century music," my opinion is any good musician will play the music from these different periods in what they think of as an appropriate manner. 

Offline milk

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Re: Bach: Well-Tempered Clavier
« Reply #1795 on: October 12, 2020, 09:03:16 PM »
I like Andras Schiff on EMI.  I'm sure there are others but I'd have to go back and look.  To be honest, I don't think of the questions you bring up.  I am a simple listener, I just listen and don't analyze the music.  If it sounds good to me, I consider it a good performance.  As far as if "it’s easier to go from 21st or 20th century music to baroque or from 19th century music," my opinion is any good musician will play the music from these different periods in what they think of as an appropriate manner.
I can appreciate your opinion. I’m not saying this to make an argument but I haven’t been happy with Schiff lately. The live Demus recording someone here gifted me is reliably engaging and enjoyable. It’s a shame Demus didn’t release a recoding later in his life. When I saw Demus perform WTC they were selling some of his live recordings from concerts in Japan. I regret not getting it but they wanted like 200$ for it.
I don’t hear a lot of rubato in piano recordings generally.
 

Offline milk

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Re: Bach: Well-Tempered Clavier
« Reply #1796 on: October 16, 2020, 07:04:52 AM »

She really does shine in the fugues.

Offline GioCar

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Re: Bach: Well-Tempered Clavier
« Reply #1797 on: October 18, 2020, 12:49:27 AM »

She really does shine in the fugues.

Listening to it right now. A very big +1

Offline milk

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Re: Bach: Well-Tempered Clavier
« Reply #1798 on: October 19, 2020, 02:15:23 AM »
George Lepauw has the most interesting version of WTC on piano that I’ve heard - I mean of the last few years and excluding Demus’s live stuff. He does more with rubato than any other recent pianist I’m aware of. It’s true that he tests the listener. He’s not subtle. He can be exasperating at times with his eccentric leaps. But I don’t think he’s taking the easy way out. It’s not just flash, it seems a genuine and thoughtful exploration of the music.
I’m not going to say this is objectively true, but I find much more variety in the way harpsichordists play this. That’s going to seem counter-intuitive and just wrong to people. It’s ironic to me that I respond this way, seeing at how much more the piano can do, and maybe the piano is just really more subtle in ways I’m not finely tuned enough to appreciate. But, when I listen to Suzuki, Frisch, Wilson, Haas, Leonhardt, Paramentier, etc., The differences in the respective performances seem more evident to my ears. I’ve listened to a bunch of pianists recently and they seem much more same-y.
Maybe I just need to walk away from it for a while and come back with fresh ears.

Offline (: premont :)

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Re: Bach: Well-Tempered Clavier
« Reply #1799 on: October 19, 2020, 03:51:19 AM »
I’m not going to say this is objectively true, but I find much more variety in the way harpsichordists play this. That’s going to seem counter-intuitive and just wrong to people. It’s ironic to me that I respond this way, seeing at how much more the piano can do, and maybe the piano is just really more subtle in ways I’m not finely tuned enough to appreciate.

To me the point is, that all these things a piano can do, and a harpsichord can't, largely are irrelevant to the music.
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