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Bach the pedantic performer?

 

 

Bach the pedantic performer?

Bradley Lehman wrote (December 16, 2003):
Jack Botelho wrote: < Yikes!

(Below) the word "boring" should read "tiresome". With regard to Bach's keyboard works (Goldberg variations, French suites, and other popular works) I became familiar with recordings of these by Trevor Pinnock: Pinnock IMO is one of those HIP virtuosi who has stripped down Bach on harpsichord to the very basics (from an amateur point of view, he plays Bach "straight" or what some would characterize as "equipollent" performances). From what I can tell this is probably the way Bach played these works himself, much to the dismay of some apologists. Historical realities of the time point to a burgeoning middle class German population who were more concerned with making profit than investing in music (with the exception of Dresden). There is no evidence that Bach himself played his works with the modern sophistication and polish of a Rosalyn Tureck. The value of this music derives from the fact that it can be reduced to the smallest units and still maintain an organic unity. In short, in my opinion, Bach is one of those composers who do not especially benefit from performance in accordance with the crude historical realities of his time. This explains why his music has adapted so well today to an infinite range of adaptation and arrangement. >
The posting below says, in a nutshell (check it out to be sure I've summarized it accurately):

--> Bach's music is not harmed (as much as some) by bad/dull/tiresome/crude/etc performances; therefore the ideal performance of his music is necessarily such a bad
/dull/tiresome/crude one, as a goal to strive for. <--

That's just plain faulty logic, a false syllogism that makes no sense! Sorry! A worthy goal in performing music is to play it well, bringing out a delight in its inexhaustibly rich features, not merely to avoid harming it.

Nor have you--or anyone else--really proven that Bach himself played in an amateurish or dull or "straight" fashion, at all. He was more renowned during his lifetime as a virtuosic performer than as a composer; how could that be so, if his own performances were merely pedantic run-throughs of the notes? Did all the listeners of his day have wooden ears?

There is no evidence that Bach himself did not play his works with the sophistication and polish of a Rosalyn Tureck! So, how can anything be claimed from a similar lack of the opposite evidence?

How can anything be claimed or proven from any lack of evidence, in any topic?

Really, to boil it down, the only thing you've said of substance in the posting below is that you personally would rather listen to Rosalyn Tureck than Trevor Pinnock, because the musicianship is more engaging. And I agree with that as a listener; so would I. You prefer Tureck (as do I); but everything else in the realm of 'should and ought' is your extrapolation above that.

To claim that Bach himself played like Pinnock (or, merely as well as Pinnock's "stripped down" manner, as you put it) crosses over into illogic, and is unprovable one way or the other. [Pinnock himself--in sound and technique--plays more like a pianist than a harpsichordist, anyway! He plays to suit the expectations of people who would really rather be listening to a piano; making very little use of the timing and articulative nuances that are "bread and butter" technique among harpsichord specialists today. But that's neither here nor there. Just because Pinnock doesn't use all the expressive resources of his instrument, doesn't mean that Bach didn't, or that anyone else shouldn't!]

Also, watch out for any ancillary claim [not that you've made one, but just in case...] that any musical limitations should be blamed on the harpsichord as an instrument, as supposedly inferior to the piano in putting across Bach's music well. If Bach had had a modern piano, he might well have written an entirely different type of music for it (although, again, that can not be proven one way or another)...so, it makes no sense to assume that to play his harpsichord music on the piano (automatically a transcription) is superior to playing it on a good harpsichord. Bach worked with the tools available to him; and those of us who likewise are not misguided fools who have chosen the wrong instruments.

Sorry, Jack, but you really hit a nerve with your posting. I've been playing keyboards for 33 years and specialized in harpsichord for the last 21 of them, along with other work on organ, clavichord, fortepiano, and modern piano. I chose harpsichord as my primary instrument in large part because of the wonderful music Bach wrote for it. So, I don't appreciate being told how to do my job, in playing the keyboard works of Bach that I love.... And to play any music (by anyone) in a "tiresome" manner is right out.

Yikes indeed.

Brad Lehman
(Professional harpsichordist who--arguably of course--plays more engagingly than Pinnock does; his approach is not the only way to play. And I think Tureck's recording of the Goldbergs on harpsichord is awful, while I like some of her piano-playing much better than that. My detailed review of that recording is at: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/NonVocal/Klavier-Goldberg-Tureck-Brad.htm
. In Tureck's pianistic hands, the harpsichord was indeed a limited instrument and not well suited to her imagination; but not so in the hands of specialists in harpsichord, whose imagination is shaped by the broad expressive possibilities of the instrument.)

Donald Satz wrote (December 16, 2003):
[To Bradley Lehman] The JB who wrote the posting below (after Brad's) doesn't sound like the 'Jack' I've been reading for the past few weeks. JB is loaded with opinions and assumptions, just about all of them wrong. The way he tells it, Pinnock must have a supernatural link to Bach that results in the same type of performance choices.

The discussion does make me yearn to be able to hear Bach play his own music. If that could be done, we would know once and for all the historical accuracies of performing Bach. Of course, many would take issue with Bach's interpretations and remind us that composers aren't always the best advocates of their own music - OR - they would argue that Bach likely played his music differently depending on his mood.

I do like that German middle class premise that since this group valued making profit over investing in music, Bach wrote sterile music that the modern-day piano has miraculously brought to life.

Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote (December 16, 2003):
Donald Satz wrote: < The discussion does make me yearn to be able to hear Bach play his own music. If that could be done, we would know once and for all the historical accuracies of performing Bach. Of course, many would take issue with Bach's interpretations and remind us that composers aren't always the best advocates of their own music - OR - they would argue that Bach likely played his music differently depending on his mood. >
Would Welte-Mignon "Harpsichord Rolls" help?

Donald Satz wrote (December 16, 2003):
[To Yoël L. Arbeitman] Those rolls sure would help - got any hanging around?

Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote (December 16, 2003):
[To Donald Satz] They seem to settle nobody's debates for the composers for whom we do indeed have them (ok, piano, not harpsichord).

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Last update: ęDecember 20, 2003 ę10:03:35