Re: The Bach Choral Dilemma (Eliot Handelman )

Subject: Re: The Bach Choral Dilemma
From:    Eliot Handelman  <eliot(at)GENERATION.NET>
Date:    Wed, 29 Jan 2003 17:03:04 -0500

Tóth László wrote: > > Excuse my ignorance, but if performance can cause such a huge difference, > then shouldn't it be denoted somehow in the music sheet? > The problem is that there was in the baroque a kind of unwritten performance practice which got lost when everyone become interested in the newer styles that followed. We don't know, for example, the tempo of any of the Bach pieces because he never gave any indication -- the metronome hadn't yet been invented. Nor are there many indications about dynamic, and never any about expressivity (getting louder or softer). We don't know if you're supposed to hold a steady tempo or vary it (rubato). Also there are no indications about phrasing. The result is that in some pieces where it's really inobvious how to play them -- the d minor toccata being one, which others have mentioned -- we have very very many different variants in performance. Add to that the whole question of "ornamentation" where the player freely shapes lines by adding all sorts of figurations -- trills, slides, turns, arpeggiation -- which is the meaning of "baroque," ie, bizarre, that is, highly ornamented. We know about this but we don't exactly know what the approved manner might have been. The result is that a good Bach interpeter is one who in essence is required to take greater liberties than in almost anything else that was written for the next 200 years. -- eliot

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