In choosing music for Sunday, I decided on two Bach Preludes and excerpts from a Fugue (keeping the postlude short). The service had been scheduled to be outdoors, which meant I would be playing a digital piano.
All three works are pieces I have not played before. So note-learning commenced immediately.
After reading through everything, I went back to look for clues about the construction and articulation of each piece.
In one Prelude, especially, a seemingly insignificant detail turned out to be crucial to most interpretive decisions throughout the piece.
There are two compositional elements that must be clearly differentiated:
- quarter-note chords; and
- thematic material.
At first, I honored the length of the quarter notes. That plan worked for 7 measures! Time to find another plan.
Now look at bar 8. How can the quarter note “G” be held while continuing with the thematic upper part (B-flat and A-flat, etc.)? Even if I were able to stretch from G to B-flat, the tone quality would suffer on the 16th notes. (My left hand is unable to play E-flat and G at the same time, too.)
Using pedal to sustain the “G” is out of the question. The next two 16th notes would be blurred.
So I tried playing an 8th-note “G”! And it worked. But consistency in articulation is so important when voicing Bach’s music. Establishing longer quarter notes over 7 bars and then playing a single 8th note instead just wouldn’t make it. So I jumped from one quarter-note section to the next, checking them all out in the shorter version against the opposite hand.
Bach’s intentions are best expressed in the clarity between his compositional ideas. I hear the piece as if orchestrated, with a group of instruments playing the quarters and strings (in their appropriate range) playing the thematic portions.
Seeing quarter notes notated in opposition to the eighths and sixteenths of the thematic portions makes the difference in parts visually clear. I don’t see the notation as an error. Imagine all the ink on the page if 8th notes and 8th-note rests were used instead.
This afternoon (Thursday), the plans for the outdoor service were changed. We will be having an indoor service, and I will be playing an acoustic piano.
Friday update: I tried something new today with the quarter note in question. If the moving part is played with an appropriate break to accommodate the ascending interval from D-flat to B-flat, it is possible to make the “G” sound a little longer. I like the way that sounds, so now I’ve added a breath in the moving part.
Immediately after the breath, the piece continues in tempo.
This piece is still evolving for me. I have decided to postpone playing it until I feel comfortable.
What do you think? Please share your thoughts in the Comment Section below!
* When I was a staff accompanist at Smith College, one of the voice teachers often referred to Bach as "Johnny Rivers."