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Bach title page

Bach page 1

Have you worked from scores containing editors’ markings that could be interpreted as being misleading? How did you proceed?

Last week I had the privilege of collaborating with a talented violinist, a high school senior.  One piece on her recital program was the Trio Sonata for Flute, Violin and Continuo in G Major, BWV 1038, by J.S. Bach.  The flutist was also a high school senior.

Both played very well.  Baroque style, however, seemed to be unfamiliar to them. So they relied on the score much more than on listening to each others’ phrasing.

The edition we were using contained editors’ markings which were misleading if taken literally.

First rehearsal

This was to be our only rehearsal together, with the exception of a short time in the hall prior to the performance.

I liked many aspects of what I heard:

  • In-tune playing.
  • Good balance of sound (one player not louder or softer than the other).
  • Legato playing, appropriate for this largo movement.
  • Nice tempo.

In the “needs work” department:

•  Give and take so the moving part could carry the music.

Each player needed to diminuendo on the long notes, as they had alternating parts. Both players were more familiar with other musical styles, where a crescendo would be called for instead.

Notice in this clip that the top part (flute) plays tied notes while the 2nd part (violin) has more melodic and rhythmic interest.  The give and take in the sound when the players honor that approach changes the sound completely. Now it sounds baroque rather than romantic.

bach-page-1 clip 2

•  The music needed forward motion.

This could be heard primarily in the flute part.  The flutist, looking at the editor’s markings, playing the slurs as indicated.  In addition, because she needed to breathe, she would breathe after a short note.  That took just enough extra time to interrupt the flow of the music, whereas taking time away from a long note in order to breathe would not have had the same effect.

bach-page-1 clip



Take a look at the top two parts (flute and violin, respectively).  Notice how the markings seem to ask for the longer note to be slurred to the shorter one?

The music flows when exactly the opposite phrasing is used, as in the notation at the right of this example:

Bach rhythm

So we changed it!  The sound improved immediately.

Second rehearsal 

This rehearsal was with violin and piano only.  However, we had an opportunity to discuss the Bach.

At the end of the first rehearsal, my impression was that the violinist understood the changes we had made.  The flutist had improved, but was still relying on the printed score more than listening to the flow of the music.

My suggestion was for the violinist and the flutist to get together by themselves.  They attend the same school and have free time, so this was not a problem.  I asked the violinist to coach the rehearsal, finding musical lines they could play together, such as this one:

bach-page-1 clip 3

My goal was to make any differences in phrasing between the two players as clear as possible. Rehearsing alternating lines might not have had the same effect.

Pre-recital and performance

I am delighted to say that the sound was transformed!  During our brief time in the recital hall prior to the performance, we had just a few minutes to rehearse this piece. After marking in accidentals that crept up on both players, likely because of nerves, I felt encouraged.  If everyone could remain calm, count, listen, and enjoy it, we had an excellent chance of performing well.

And… it happened!  The audience loved what they heard, and I felt gratified.

Here are two YouTube videos of this beautiful piece.  Enjoy!

One version, performed with piano:

And another version, this time with harpsichord:

Have you worked from scores containing editors’ markings that could be interpreted as being misleading?  How did you proceed?


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