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Italian Concerto BWV 971
General Discussions

Angela Hewitt's Italian Concerto

Santu de Silva wrote (October 8, 2001):
I recently acquired Angela Hewitt's CD of JSBach's Italian Concerto (BWV 971] and am thoroughly enjoying it. There are, though, some complaints I have with it. The chief of these is that she tends to bring out the "most important" line at any time.Of course, on a piano, this is possible to a degree to which Bach could never have dreamed of doing it on harpsichord. But one wonders: did Bach want to point up the themes so much? Imagine your favorite piece, with only the voice carrying an "important" tune playing at the usual volume, and all the other voices playing ppp [very soft].

What do other members think of this phenomenon? I have a vague dissatisfaction with it, but I can't quite put into words what I don't like about it.

Or maybe I can. Here I go.

It seems to spoil the texture. I find that the voices I miss the most are those that are just filling-in with a pink here and a bonk there, but to me they're good friends who're being short-changed. Of course Ms Hewitt playes every note meticulously; there can be no complaint about that. But, honestly, when an 'unimportant' voice is but in the background, it's much harder to hear than when an 'important' voice is put in the background. Ms Hewitt isn't doing me any favors by thrusting the themes under my nose, as it were. Perhaps this approach will help a novice, who's unable to hear the inner voices, or even (poor souls) the incredible bassline :-)

On the plus side, her articulation is incredible; she gives life to phrases, making them breathe and dance.

Zachary Uram wrote (October 8, 2001):
Santu de Silva wrote:
< I have with it. The chief of these is that she tends to bring out the "most important" line at any time. Of course, on a piano, this is possible to a degree to which Bach could never have dreamed of doing it on harpsichord. >
HUH? What do you mean by that?

< But one wonders: did Bach want to point up the themes so much? >
Point up? HUH?

In general I find Bach's keyboard works more satisfying on the harpsichord than on the piano. I do enjoy Glenn Gould on piano.

Santu de Silva wrote (October 8, 2001):
Arch wrote:
<< I have with it. The chief of these is that she tends to bring out the "most important" line at any time. Of course, on a piano, this is possible to a degree to which Bach could never have dreamed of doing it on harpsichord. >>
Zach asks:
< HUH? What do you mean by that? >
The mechanism of a piano is different from that of a harpsichord in some not-so-obvious ways; a skilful player can make one note louder than the remaining notes in a chord. (In a harpsichord, the only way to make one note louder in a chord is to play it on a different manual with different rgistration. On a two-manual harpsichord, for instance, you could set one manual to sound louder. Otherwise, all notes sound at the same volume.)

Therefore, a fugue can be played in such a way that the theme sounds loud, and all the remaining parts sound soft.

<< But one wonders: did Bach want to point up the themes so much? >>
< Point up? HUH? >

Point-up = emphasize!

< In general I find Bach's keyboard works more satisfying on the harpsichord than on the piano. I do enjoy Glenn Gould on piano. >

Roger Brown wrote (October 8, 2001):
Santu de Silva wrote:
< I recently acquired Angela Hewitt's CD of JSBach's Italian Concerto (BWV 971] and am thoroughly enjoying it. There are, though, some complaints I have with it. The chief of these is that she tends to bring out the "most important" line at any time. Of course, on a piano, this is possible to a degree to which Bach could never have dreamed of doing it on harpsichord. But one wonders: did Bach want to point up the themes so much? >
I think you have to go with what works on the instrument you are playing. Obviously the harpsichord is a quite transparent texture with part play clearly heard. There is no need for additional emphasis - even if that were possible (as in theory it could be by use of two manuals).

Similarly the organ, if of the appropriate period or style and with the correct stops chosen, requires no additional emphasis. Quite rightly, modern thinking rejects the frequent changing of stop combinations and manuals which used to be the norm in former times (partly influenced by the style of instrument then in favour).

But the MODERN piano (as opposed the the more transparent forte-piano) does tend to need some help in conveying the counterpoint and judicious part pointing, if done artistically can provide extremely musical results - even if the style is not entirely Bachian. The key factor is the judicious use of such emphasis - if overdone then certainly the result is unwanted.

Not having heard Ms Hewitt I cannot judge that aspect.

But I would say (as an organist primarily) that in general I am in favour of playing Bach on the piano fairly much in the style dictated by the INSTRUMENT not by any theory of how I think Bach may have played a different style of instrument.

The aim after all is to make music - not to comply with dry theory.

Santu de Silva wrote (October 9, 2001):
The following message was sent in to the list by a nonmember who shares my opinion about exaggerated underlining of voices in Bach. (He seems to be even more incensed by it than I am. I have to admit that I'm still able to enjoy A H's playing.)

[This is what happens if a non-member writes to the list. If our list was an "open" one, it would have appeared as a post, just like one from a regular member. I'm editing it because It's a response to a post of mine. - Arch]

My comments are interspersed.

Elias Tsegas writes:
VVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVV
Santu de Silva wrote:
< There are, though, some complaints I have with it. The chief of these is that she tends to bring out the "most important" line at any time. >
I have the WTC I played by A.Hewitt and I have noticed the same thing in several passages. The unsurpassed master of Bach on the piano, especially in fugues (sometimes only in fugues!) is IMHO Glenn Gould. Murray Perahia also. I find this particular 'defect' (namely the bringing out of the most important line) to be the most common 'error' (IMO) of Bach piano playing. The joke is that in Hewitt's notes of the WTC that I have (and also the notes of the Sinfonias and Inventions by Hewitt) she says that her prime attention was in giving each voice a value and a character of its own. One wonders what would be the result if she didn't pay so much attention on each voice! Maybe something more close to Bach? Maybe that's exactly what is happening! Too much 'interpretation' of Bach destroys musical structure!

I have an experience that relates with what I'm trying to say: I remember an 8 year old (or so) girl on a Greek morning time TV show, playing what seemed to be a little Bach prelude on the piano. She could barely play the notes and yet I was very much moved by the music! Of course it wasn't a multi voiced 'big' movement but who cares? The music 'was all there' as 'it is there' in a MIDI file.

[Arch: While I'm perfectly happy with MIDI files - - my assessment is that MIDI files are incredibly effective with Bach, but there are some limitations, especially with tempo - - I think piano interpretation of Bach have their own charm. And I don't insist that Piano interpretations of Bach should be MIDI-like in their mechanical perfection. I merely think that what a pianist perceives to be "subsidiary" voices should be de-emphasized_less. I have no problem with bringing out the "tune". Pianists seem to absolutely need to do this. But there are more than just two tunes, you see? You simply cannot bring it down to two lines +accompanying tinkling. Some pianists seem to believe that the human mind cannot hear more than two lines plus tinkling. This is a fallacy.]

< But one wonders: did Bach want to point up the themes so much? >
IMHO Bach would NOT want his themes pointed up so much! I'm sorry but I find the 'almost equality principle' of the various voices not only an basic aesthetic principle of Bach's music, but also one of the philosophical cornerstones ofhis musical universe.

< What do other members think of this phenomenon? >
I feel the same way you do. However my dissatisfaction is not vague. It is a well defined disgust for this kind of playing.

[Snip]

I couldn't agree with you more! In my opinion a performer has every right to play or to interpret a piece in any way she finds it pleasing. However there are times, in which some lines are so unjustifiably and brutally ignored, that someone can say that structurally vital musical information is withheld from the listener. That is totally unacceptable! If the listener wants to ignore a voice that is only his choice, and not the
performer's!

[This is arguable.]

All this become particularly important with Bach's music, where every voice (and note) is a structural element and not a part of orchestration or harmonic filling.

That is exactly why we can listen to our master's music in MIDI format, played on our computer and be equally (or more!!!) pleased as we would be with a live human performance.

< On the plus side, her articulation is incredible; she gives life to phrases, making them breathe and dance. >
I'm happy you find something in her performances you like because unfortunately I generally don't. Ok, maybe it's the pointing up of the lines that makes me so negative about her playing, I just can't bypass that.

Peter Nicholas wrote (October 16, 2001):
< I recently acquired Angela Hewitt's CD of JSBach's Italian Concerto (BWV 971] and am thoroughly enjoying it. There are, though, some complaints I have with it. The chief of these is that she tends to bring out the "most important" line at any time. >
I can't do better than quote from Donald Tovey's brilliant Preface to his edition of the 48, as follows.

----
The nature of polyphony has been obscured rather than illuminated by Ouseley's famous definition of counterpoint as "the art of combining melodies". Much "pianistic" fugue-playing has passed as "scholarly" when it even fails to realise that definition, inasmuch as it "brings out the subject" as if all the rest of the fugue were unfit for publication. This notion is peculiar to pianists. Organists, who perhaps play fugues more often than most people, do not find it necessary, whenever the subject enters in the inner parts, to pick it out with the thumb on another manual. They and their listeners enjoy the polyphony because the inner parts can neither "stick out" nor fail to balance well in the harmony, so long as the notes are played at all. [...] [Bach's counterpoint] is never a mere combination of melodies, but always a mass of harmony stated in terms of a combination of melodies.
----

These comments relate to fugal writing specifically, but I think their application can be extended to Bach's contrapuntal writing in general.

OTOH, I have at least a little sympathy with the Hewitt approach as it's reported (I haven't heard her recordings myself). Most of Bach's keyboard works were meant for the connoisseur, playing for him/herself. That fortunate creature can not only hear what's going on in the music, but can also see it in the score, while the average listener, not willing or equipped to follow a score, can't. One can therefore argue that a degree of "artificial" assistance from the performer is justifiable.

Also, Tovey's comments about the organist are not perhaps entirely correct, in that the organist will certainly articulate the subject distinctively on each appearance, which will indeed cause it to "stick out", in a certain sense.

Santu de Silva wrote (October 16, 2001):
[I just made the most incredible discovery; the Listserv has an amazing archive! It's at: http://listserv.uh.edu/archives/bach-list.html
and the interface is simply amazing. I'm sorely tempted to put myself on "nomail" and read the discussion there! (You can reply, join, leave, everything interactively.) I guess I'm pretty ignorant for a list-owner, huh? I'd been there before, but I thought all the stuff at the top was just a neat design.]

Peter Nikolas writes:

< I can't do better than quote from Donald Tovey's brilliant Preface to his edition of the 48, as follows. >
"The nature of polyphony has been obscured rather than illuminated by Ouseley's famous definition of counterpoint as 'the art of combining melodies'."

Well, it's a good definition . . .

"Much "pianistic" fugue-playing has passed as 'scholarly' when it even fails to realise that definition, inasmuch as it "brings out the subject" as if all the rest of the fugue were unfit for publication. This notion is peculiar to pianists. Organists, who perhaps play fugues more often than most people, do not find it necessary, whenever the subject enters in the inner parts, to pick it out with the thumb on another manual. They and their listeners enjoy the polyphony because the inner parts can neither "stick out" nor fail to balance well in the harmony, so long as the notes are played at all. [...] [Bach's counterpoint] is never a mere combination of melodies, but always a mass of harmony stated in terms of a combination of melodies."

(What can I say? Old Donald Francis wrote a mean preface.)

I have to agree. (BTW, Donald Francis Tovey's completion of the incomplete contrapunctus from the Art of Fugue is said to be one of the most monumental efforts in the history of counterpoint. Actually, I made that up. But he did write a good completion to the last contrapunctus. I've heard it once.)

On this note, someone said, of Wagner's overture to Die Meistersinger, that the genius of the famous last section in which he combines two main themes of the overture (derived from the Mastersingers theme and the Love theme, respectively) was not that the two themes themselves, but the half-dozen other voices that blended with them, creating a wonderful texture that just bubbles with happiness.

Anyway, I digress.

Peter continues:

"OTOH, I have at least a little sympathy with the Hewitt approach as it's reported (I haven't heard her recordings myself). Most of Bach's keyboard works were meant for the connoisseur, playing for him/herself. That fortunate creature can not only hear what's going on in the music, but can also see it in the score, while the average listener, not willing or equipped to follow a score, can't. One can therefore argue that a degree of 'artificial' assistance from the performer is justifiable."

I have to respectfully disagree. <smiley goes here> DFT directly contradicts you here. Inner voices can be heard by anybody, and heard very clearly with training. But, he says, if I read him right, that hearing the theme in the inner voices is only a small part of what one wants, and we mustn't assume that it's the ultimate goal of the experience.

I can only say that I'm more in agreement with Tovey than Peter is; in fact I couldn't have stated my position any better than Tovey has.

(In defense of at least one pianist, I must say that Gould emphasizes contrapuntal subjects to a far lesser degree than many others performers.)

To my horror, I found myself doing exactly what I'm complaining about when I played something the other day. I guess pianos just make us do it. But I have an excuse; I'm a bad pianist! (I've said that before.)

Roger Brown wrote (October 17, 2001):
Santu de Silva wrote:
< Most of Bach's keyboard works were meant for the connoisseur, playing for him/herself. >
A rather sweeping generalisation is it not - and on what evidence? The organ works were most certainly not so intended and I doubt that this could truly be said of the harpsichord works either.

< That fortunate creature can not only hear what's going on in the music, but can also see it in the score, while the average listener, not willing or equipped to follow a score, can't. One can therefore argue that a degree of "artificial" assistance from the performer is justifiable. >
Disagree. Bach would have expected his counterpoint to be played with clarity and the appropriate sense of part progression - that goes without saying in a musical performance. But I agree with Tovey - one needs to proceed cabeyond that point to avoid doing violence to the musical texture.

Even on the modern piano, a good performer should be able to provide that clarity without excessive "soloing out" of any particular voice. If the clarity is achieved, there is certainly no need to overly labour the contrapuntal point simply to drive the point home to inexperiences listeners. That would be Bachian vandalism indeed.

< Also, Tovey's comments about the organist are not perhaps entirely correct, in that the organist will certainly articulate the subject distinctively on each appearance, which will indeed cause it to "stick out", in a certain sense. >
Any performer must do that for musical results - Tovey was not implying otherwise. Organists have of course a little more clarity at their disposal although the instruments of Tovey's era were perhaps somewhat less likely to display that quality than instruments of earlier or (with the coming of the baroque revival) later periods.

Peter Nicholas wrote (October 21, 2001):
Santu de Silva wrote:
<< Most of Bach's keyboard works were meant for the connoisseur, playing for him/herself. >>
Roger Brown wrote:
< A rather sweeping generalisation is it not - and on what evidence? The organ works were most certainly not so intended and I doubt that this could truly be said of the harpsichord works either. >
You're absolutely right to exclude the organ works from my generalisation; not doing so myself was careless, especially since I made reference to them later on in my post. Even here, though, there are nuances.

The organ preludes/toccatas/... and fugues are surely unambiguously public works, and while it seems that remarkably little is known concretely about how Bach actually used them himself, it is unimaginable that he didn't employ them at the famous recitals that he gave in, for example, Dresden, and at his various organ inaugurations. There are suggestions specifically of his use of BWV 542 in Hamburg and BWV 538 in Kassel, though this doesn't seem to be definitively authenticated.

The chorale preludes were presumably intended for liturgical use, though domestic use on pedal instruments is not excluded. Interestingly, though, the composer took pains in some cases to point specifically to their use away from the public sphere:

-- the Clavierübung III was "prepared for music-lovers and particularly for connoisseurs of such work, for the recreation of the spirit";

-- the Orgelbu"chlein gives its purpose as being specifically to instruct the inquiring organist in how to set a chorale and in how use the pedals, and generally to glorify God and to teach [Bach's] neighbour.

It would be absurd to suggest that any of this is incompatible with the use of these pieces for liturgical purposes, but is striking that Bach takes the trouble to explicitly highlight their possible use for private purposes.

In the case of the Schübler chorales on the other hand (which I would characterise as much more immediately accessible to a listener, though in no sense easier for the performer), Bach contents himself on the title-page with the general comment that the pieces are chorales of various kinds to be played on an organ with two manuals and pedals.

The trio sonatas are perhaps a special case, initially intended for the instruction of the young WFB, and no doubt used similarly by other brave souls who got their hands on a copy. I would be tempted, to the extent that my generalisation holds, to group them more with the bulk of the harpsichord works as basically private -- though of course, like the latter, they can be dazzling in performance.

As for the harpsichord works, I probably based my generalisation more than anything else on, first, my own subjective reactions to the works, and second, some half-remembered comments of Charles Rosen in "Keyboard Music" (Penguin, ed. Denis Matthews). Here are few of his comments; I think it's fair to say that they support my contentions, but that I have pushed them a little further than Rosen might have wished.

----
There were, of course, no recitals [of keyboard music] in any recognizable sense of the word; keyboard music was private. [...] This fundamental privacy is one source of the greatness of Bach's keyboard style; he was a essentially a private composer as Handel was a public one.
[...]
[The] integral relation between composition and 'keyboard practice' (style and technique) makes Bach's keyboard music so personal and yet so objective. It is, indeed, written to act on the emotions, to move, even to dazzle; but it is not directed at an audience. It is the performer that the music is written for, and to him that the composer is speaking...
[...]
Once the intimate setting of this art is accepted, many of the problems of playing it either disappear, or are seen in a new light. Most of Bach's keyboard work was written to be played for oneself or for a few other musicians; some of it was written almost as much for meditation as for listening. Many of the more complex details can be appreciated fully only be the performer -- they can be heard, but their significance can never be entirely grasped until one has felt them under one's fingers.
----

<< That fortunate creature can not only hear what's going on in the music, but can also see it in the score, while the average listener, not willing or equipped to follow a score, can't. One can therefore argue that a degree of "artificial" assistance from the performer is justifiable. >>
< Disagree. Bach would have expected his counterpoint to be played with clarity and the appropriate sense of part progression - that goes without saying in a musical performance. But I agree with Tovey - one needs to proceed carefully beyond that point to avoid doing violence to the musical texture.
Even on the modern piano, a good performer should be able to provide that clarity without excessive "soloing out" of any particular voice. If the clarity is achieved, there is certainly no need to overly labour the contrapuntal point simply to drive the point home to inexperiences listeners. That would be Bachian vandalism indeed. >
<< Also, Tovey's comments about the organist are not perhaps entirely correct, in that the organist will certainly articulate the subject distinctively on each appearance, which will indeed cause it to "stick out", in a certain sense. >>
< Any performer must do that for musical results - Tovey was not implying otherwise. Organists have of course a little more clarity at their disposal although the instruments of Tovey's era were perhaps somewhat less likely to display that quality than instruments of earlier or (with the coming of the baroque revival) later periods. >
This brings us full circle to the original question about the Hewitt manner of "bringing out the inner voices". I will take Hewitt's style here as emblematic, though, as I said earlier, I haven't heard her performances. There is a very wide possible range of interpretation of what my quoted phrase might mean, which makes an abstract discussion of it problematic; perhaps it can only sensibly be discussed performer by performer -- and of course the discussion started specifically as one about Hewitt.

Having said that, I feel, rightly or wrongly, that I am not in fact seriously disagreeing with anyone here: the sainted Donald Francis, or Santu, or Roger!

I quoted Tovey because I approved of his sentiments and couldn't hope to better his form of expression, and it seems to me that the differences between supplying my 'degree of "artificial" assistance' and avoiding Roger's 'excessive "soloing out" of any particular voice' or 'overly labour[ing] the contrapuntal point' are of nuance rather than real substance.

I also take the opportunity of quoting Rosen further, as follows.

----
When Mozart rediscovered the music of Bach and began enthusiastically to compose fugues himself, he said that fugues must always be played at a slow tempo, as otherwise the successive entrances of the theme would not be clearly heard. Nevertheless, it is remarkable how often Bach tries to hide the entrance by tying the opening to the last note of the previous phrase, how much ingenuity he has in avoiding articulation, in keeping all aspects of the flowing music constant. Yet though many of the entrances in Bach's fugues are, in Mozart's terms, inaudible, there is one person -- the performer -- who is always aware of them.
[...]
The very reproach often levelled at the keyboard -- its blending, even confusion, of separate contrapuntal lines -- made it the ideal medium for Bach's art.
[...]
[P]erformances of a Bach fugue in which the theme is constantly emphasized to the detriment of the other voices can only be a travesty of a work whose chief glory lies in the relation of the voices to each other and in their interaction; it must be granted, however, that it is exactly this sort of relation that is much easier for the performer to hear (since he knows it is there) than for the listener.
----

So, finally, I think there remains, on balance, a case for a 'degree of "artificial" assistance', as I originally mentioned. That this can be overdone is only too clear: "Bachian vandalism" is all too possible; one relies, sometimes no doubt in vain, on the intelligence, artistry and musical education of good performers to avoid it.

My own preferences in Bach performance, if anyone wants to know, are almost always for historically informed performances on original instruments (and specifically for the harpsichord rather than the piano) but I have no reason to believe that I am the average Bach-lover.

 

ITALIAN CONCERTO

Mazzestar wrote (September 2, 2002):
Hey, I'm learning the Italian Concerto, I'm in RCM grade 9 piano, but my piano teacher thought I should take a challenge. Does anyone have any helpful tips on it? I've heard never to use a thumb on a black key. Is this true?

Thanks

Michael Wright wrote (September 6, 2002):
[To Mazzestar] Using the thumb on black keys can be very helpful... it can also be hazardous (as the thumb is very different in form and function than the rest of the fingers). I suggest you do some research on fingering techniques and theory at your local public library or on the web if you can find anything. A good places to start (as a pianist) would be Alfred Corteau (or is it Cortot?)'s book on fingering with the modern piano (I don't remember the title right now... I'm very absent-minded today, sorry!) and for a more Baroque/Roccoco perspective on fingering, I suggest you investigate C.P.E. Bach's "Essay on the True Art of Playing Keyboard Instruments". C.P.E. provides insight into both his father's and his own methods of fingering and ornamentation, and is an invaluable resource for perspective on the mechanics of playing pieces designed for early keyboard instruments.

In the Baroque period, there were many concepts used in fingering that would seem downright bizarre to modern pianists. The use of the thumb was traditionally avoided in many schools of playing, and often scalar passages were played by continually crossing a pair of fingers (2&3 or 3&4 were very commonly used). It might be beneficial for you to do a little research and consider these things when you play; how these practices would affect your articulation, hand positioning and everything. I am not suggesting that you actually use them, though. There is a reason why the modern systems of fingering theory were developed: to make playing keyboard instruments as easy and ergonomically correct as possible.

Good luck with your venture.

Paul John wrote (September 26, 2002):
Not using your thumbs would make playing difficult in F-major or d-minor, for instance...When climbing up the scale (G, A, B-flat), you would have to perhaps substitute 4 (the left ring finger) for 1 (the left thumb)? My personal view is go with what's close.

I wonder if this where "all thumbs" came from? :)

 

Italian Concerto

Erin wrote (July 28, 2003):
I can not get enough of this piece. I love it! Lately, there are two versions I enjoy listening to: the Trevor Pinnock, on his "Harmonious Blacksmith" CD and, conversely, the Andras Schiff. A case could be made for these two different versions as the Dionysian (The Pinnock) and the Apollonian (the Schiff). Unfortunately I like them both.

Pinnock doesn't plumb the depths of the 2nd movement, but then Schiff does not abandon himself to the third movement as Pinnock does.

Pinnock reveals Bach as an early Rock'n'Roller. Schiff has him as more sensitive, more reticent; Pinnock as more ryhtmically astute and just geberally lively.

I love listening to both

Peter Bright wrote (July 28, 2003):
[To Erin] Have you tried Evgeni Koroliov playing the Italian Concerto (on Hanssler)? - of recent piano versions it's the best I know (much more exciting than Angela Hewitt's Hyperion recording). It also includes a no-nonsense straight ahead (but very exciting) reading of the Overture in the French Style plus the four duets. The Hewitt disc, although not so good in the Italian Concerto also includes a very different and rhythmically more interesting French Overture, but the real gem here is the Capriccio on the Departure of His Beloved Brother (BWV 992) - a beautiful early work.

Nessie Russell wrote (July 299, 2003):
[To Peter Bright] I agree with Peter about Angela Hewitt's recording. I have several recordings of the Italian Concerto. One is interesting - a pianist named Yoon Ju Lee. The Allegro and the Presto are excellent. The Andante sounds clunky.

I also love this piece.

Bradley Lehman wrote (July 29, 2003):
Erin wrote:
< I can not get enough of this piece. I love it! Lately, there are two versions I enjoy listening to: the Trevor Pinnock, on his "Harmonious Blacksmith" CD and, conversely, the Andras Schiff. A case could be made for these two different versions as the Dionysian (The Pinnock) and the Apollonian (the Schiff). Unfortunately I like them both. >
I think there's nothing wrong or "unfortunate" about liking more than a few dozen different versions. :)

But listening to the Pinnock disc here there's no way I'd call him "Dionysian". His interpretation is very straight-laced, and (IMO) he's one of the most Apollonian harpsichordists I can think of. Almost nothing is left to the inspiration of the moment, and there isn't even a whiff of irrationality in his treatment of rhythm. (I'd characterize his playing as pretty much the opposite of "rhythmically astute"...it's merely metrically accurate to the notes as seen on the page.)

For something more Dionysian, check out Albert Fuller or Wanda Landowska or Bob van Asperen, players who will keep you guessing (in a good way) on the life and times of every note. Or for a blistering "rock 'n' roll" approach on harpsichord, George Malcolm.

Brad Lehman

p.s. Here's a fun little quote I heard recently in a video set about 20th century conductors. This is a pretty good description of "Dionysian", a flexibility combined with a willingness to let the passion of the performance moment inform the results.
"He wasn't a machine. In his flexibility he was very precise and it takes greater precision to be precise about a fluid shape than about a solid shape. A solid shape you can specify. You can give it the angles you want and the planes and the area. You can be very specific. It can also be very complex. But to be precise about a living, moving fluid - that requires great skill." - Yehudi Menuhin (speaking about Furtwangler)

Gene Hanson wrote (July 29, 2003):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
< p.s. Here's a fun little quote I heard recently in a video set about 20th century conductors. This is a pretty good description of "Dionysian", a flexibility combined with a willingness to let the passion of the performance moment inform the results. "He wasn't a machine. In his flexibility he was very precise and it takes greater precision to be precise about a fluid shape than about a solid shape. A solid shape you can specify. You can give it the angles you want and the planes and the area. You can be very specific. It can also be very complex. But to be precise about a living, moving fluid - that requires great skill." - Yehudi Menuhin (speaking about Furtwangler) >
That's the best description I've ever read about Furtwä's conducting. IMO, he's the best Beethoven conductor of modern times.

 

Gould's Italian Concerto recordings

Pete Blue wrote (December 23, 2003):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
<<< Incidentally, the film "Glenn Gould On the Record" documents some of the recording sessions of the former...the trip to New York and the studio environment, and young Gould's interaction with the production staff. >>>
Kirk McElhearn wrote:
<< Very interesting documentary. Personally, I think that recording of the IC is brilliant. >>
Bradley Lehman wrote:
< I like that 1959 performance too...except for his inability to play with Italianate rhythmic freedom in the right hand, second movement. (He was already on his road to distrusting and suppressing any Italianate and French elements that could be found in Bach's music, punishing Bach for a synthesis of styles....)
But the outer movements really rock, with plenty of spirit.
Can't say the same for the remake, in 1981. Eww. Just an over-rationalized piece of structure, with the joie de vivre scrubbed out of it; his last recording of any piece of Bach (so, of debatable value as that curiosity). Not released until 1998, and maybe shouldn't have been released at all.... Can anybody point to anything positive this recording has accomplished for his posthumous reputation? >
Not directly on point: but no matter who I hear playing the Italian Concerto I always get a little frustrated: I know I have no factual basis for feeling so, but the work aounds to me like it was transcribed down to keyboard from an orchestral original. Someday I'd love to hear it in an arrangement for harpsichord and strings. Has anyone ever done this? I think whatever resulted might be as effective as the Cafe Zimmermann works.

Bradley Lehman wrote (December 23, 2003):
Italian Concerto arranged for orchestra

Pete Blue wrote:
< Not directly on point: but no matter who I hear playing the Italian Concerto I always get a little frustrated: I know I have no factual basis for feeling so, but the work aounds to me like it was transcribed down to keyboard from an orchestral original. Someday I'd love to hear it in an arrangement for harpsichord and strings. Has anyone ever done this? I think whatever resulted might be as effective as the Cafe Zimmermann works. >
Rinaldo Alessandrini's band has recorded part of it. I heard that excerpt from a friend's copy and rushed out to buy it...to learn that they didn't do all the movements.

Andrew Lawrence-King's band has recorded all of it. Theirs is arranged for oboe, bassoon, harpsichord, and orchestra. Nicely done album that also includes some Vivaldi, Handel, and Turlough O'Carolan.

 

New Italian Concerto

Sw Anandgyan wrote (June 18, 2004):
Has the latest Bach recording from Rinaldo Alessandrini's Concerto Italiano been released yet ? It is the Italian Concerto BWV 971 expected out in early summer or so I read in the latest issue of Classica-Répertoire.

Bradley Lehman wrote (June 18, 2004):
[To Sw Anandgyan] Is this a reissue of the first movement from their earlier sampler, plus a new recording of the other two movements; or a new recording of all three movements?

Sw Anandgyan wrote (June 20, 2004):
[To Bradley Lehman] All I could find so far was this French commercial site, ( you get to hear samples and see the cover !? ) http://tinyurl.com/3bs2r

You'll notice the two others composers featured on this compact disc; A. Vivaldi and B. Marcello.

I assume these are new and complete recordings.

Anandgyan
(who picked the Musical Offering from Leonhardt '74 today and is currently listening to the SMP from Spering and not taking notes but has some noble intentions ... )

 

Alexandre Tharaud joue Bach

Jan Hanford wrote (July 1, 2005):
Wow, I am in love with this cd: http://www.harmoniamundi.com/benelux/album_fiche.php?album_id=823

I've never heard most of these pieces played on piano, it's lovely. Most importantly, Alexandre Tharaud does not pound on the piano. His technique is very subtle and fluid; really beautiful.

I also found the blurb on the Harmonia Mundi website about copyright to be hilarious given the recent Hyperion fiasco and the current general unyielding attitude about copyright.

"There was a time when notions of copyright did not exist. To reuse other people's music without owing them anything was more than just the norm: it was a form of homage."

Well, those were certainly simpler times...

Kirk McElhearn wrote (July 1, 2005):
Jan Hanford wrote:
< "There was a time when notions of copyright did not exist. To reuse other people's music without owing them anything was more than just the norm: it was a form of homage."
Well, those were certainly simpler times... >
Some would say it was a form of theft... Read up on how authors felt back in the 19th century, when their works were regularly pirated...

Jan Hanford wrote (July 1, 2005):
[To Kirk McElhearn] Just like now, I'm sure there were widely varying attitudes and, like now, everyone felt they were right and the other person was wrong.

I'm really not interested in sparking another tedious debate about copyright. I just found the blurb on the Harmonia Mundi site amusing.

Besides, my post was to let people know about this wonderful new recording, if anyone's interested.
http://www.harmoniamundi.com/uk/album_fiche.php?album_id=823

Bradley Lehman wrote (July 1, 2005):
< http://www.harmoniamundi.com/uk/album_fiche.php?album_id=823 >
How is his Rameau album, as referenced there?

Jan Hanford wrote (July 1, 2005):
[To Bradley Lehman] It's one of my favorites. It took some getting used to, hearing those pieces on piano. His performance is very poetic without being precious.

Hearing familiar harpsichord music played on piano is always very interesting to me; it often sounds completely different and I find it very enjoyable.

However, I found the inclusion of the Debussy on the Rameau cd to be annoying. It just didn't work as part of the program, for me. As always, I converted the cd to mp3 and then unchecked that track so I can listen without the Debussy. It's a lovely performance, I just don't like chocolate mixed up with my peanut butter.

Ori Ben Dor wrote (July 1, 2005):
[To Bradley Lehman] IMHO, much better than his Bach album! I think he has almost completely missed Italian baroque spirit.

I have compared his performance of the variations (BWV 989) to that of Gilels (BBC 4015-2) and of the Concerto after Marcello (BWV 974) to that of Gould (Sony 52620). In both cases, I liked much better the competitors. The Concerto after Marcello still waits for an state of the art performance, by the way; there are some pretty good performances of the original piece, but that isn't the case with Bach's interpretation, as far as I know.

The Rameau album, on the other hand, is almost outstanding!

Craig Schweickert wrote (July 1, 2005):
[To Bradley Lehman] My reaction to it is much the same as to his Bach disc. While the authenticist in me initially resisted, I've come to enjoy both performances. That said, I think "Concertos italiens: Alexandre Tharaud joue Bach" is the more noteworthy disc.

From a purely technical standpoint, Tharaud's ability to articulate without resorting to Gould-like pointillism is most impressive; he can sustain lines and colour voices with the best of them; and his sense of drive and rhythm is exquisite. Ornamentation is discrete -- the farthest thing from flashy -- and the overall approach is cool and clear-headed, never self-indulgent. Above all, there's an unforced quality to the playing and interpretations, a natural flow. One ends up being more aware of the music than the performer: the art that hides art. The model? Well, the Bach disk is dedicated to the memory of Dinu Lipatti, which should tell you something.

By the way, the last work on the Bach disc is Tharaud's trof the Andante from the Concerto in B minor, BWV 979. As Tharaud plays it, the beginning has an eerie resemblance to the first movement of the Moonlight Sonata. While I sometimes think of Bach while listening to Beethoven, this was the first time the opposite was true.

Ori Ben Dor wrote (July 1, 2005):
Oooops... I got completely confused... :-(
Instead of the variations and Gileles, it should be the Italian Concerto and Sviatoslav Richter (Live Classics LCL 421). Gilels' performance of the variations is an outstanding one anyway.

 

Italian Concerto BWV 971 - Discography

Aryeh Oron wrote (March 18, 2007):
Following previous discographies of Bach's solo keyboard works, I have added now a comprehensive discography of one of the most popular works in the canon of Bach's keyboard works - the Italian Concerto BWV 971 (IC). AFAIK, this is the first ever web-discography of this work

The recordings of the Italian Concerto are split into several pages, a page for a decade. Recordings of arrangements & transcriptions of this work were put in a separate page. You can find them all through the main page of BWV 971 at the BCW: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/NVD/BWV971.htm

All in all, 214 recordings of the Italian Concerto are listed. Each recording is listed only once. All the issues of each recording are presented together. If a performer has recorded the Italian Concerto more than once, the info includes also the recording number.

If you are aware of a recording of the Italian Concerto not listed in these pages, or if you find an error or missing information, please inform me, either through the BRML or to my personal e-mail address.

 

BCW: Italian Concerto BWV 971 - Revised & Updated Discographies

Aryeh Oron wrote (August 24, 2011):
The discography pages of the Italian Concerto BWV 971 on the BCW have been revised & updated:
http://www.bach-cantatas.com/NVD/BWV971.htm
The discography is arranged chronologically by recording date, a page per a decade + a page of arrangements & transcriptions, and includes 270 different recordings.
If you have any correction, addition, etc., please inform me.

 

BCW: Discographies of the Solo Keyboard Concertos BWV 971-987

Aryeh Oron wrote (July 25, 2013):
The discography pages of J.S. Bash's Italian Concerto and the 16 Concertos for Solo Keyboard (all of them arrangements of works by other composers) on the BCW have been updated. The discographies are arranged chronologically by recording date, a page per a decade. The discography pages are inter-linked. You can start, for example, at the last decade page (2010-2019) and go backward to pages of previous decades.
Italian Concerto BWV 971 (290 recordings of the complete work, including a page of arrangements/transcriptions):
http://www.bach-cantatas.com/NVD/BWV971-Rec8.htm
Concertos for Solo Keyboard BWV 982-987 (131 recordings of complete works):
http://www.bach-cantatas.com/NVD/BWV972-987-Rec8.htm
If you have any correction, addition or completion of missing details, please inform me.

 

Italian Concerto BWV 971: Details
Recordings:
1900-1949 | 1950-1959 | 1960-1969 | 1970-1979 | 1980-1989 | 1990-1999 | 2000-2009 | 2010-2019 | Arrangements & Transcriptions
Reviews:
Review: Italian Concerto and more | Goldberg Variations - Cole | Review: Harpsichord Works by Richard Egarr | Bach Keyboard Music from James Friskin | Angela Hewitt Bach’s Recital Disc on Hyperion | Bach Keyboard Works From Koroliov | Elena Kuschnerova’s Bach | Scott Ross performs Bach Keyboard Works | Five Hours of Bach | Bach Keyboard Recordings from Wolfgang Rübsam, Part 1 | Three Goldbergs | Bach Keyboard Works from Jean Louis Steuerman | Young Rosalyn Tureck’s Goldberg Variations
Discussions:
General Discussions | MD: Italian Concerto in F major, BWV 971

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Last update: ýNovember 3, 2013 ý10:02:02