E major Preludio, last note

March 27, 2008 at 06:56 PM · Do you play the last note of Bach's E major Preludio as a harmonic, or not? Why? I usually do, it's just easy, ring-y and in-tune to scooch my fourth finger up there. But on the other hand, no vib that way.

Replies (33)

March 27, 2008 at 07:21 PM · I generally play that last arpeggio in 4th position so that I can get a good, strong, un-squeaky sound on that last note without a harmonic - I also take quite a bit of rubato there, tho, so it's not such an awkward run. My E string squeaks quite easily, no matter what kind of string I have on there. :(

March 27, 2008 at 07:42 PM · No harmonic. It should end with a living, human sound (decrescendo in the last bar, no fat vibrato), no color break. How do you make the quaver rest in the end clearly audible when playing a harmonic? To me this rest means: no open end sound.

March 27, 2008 at 07:42 PM · No harmonic for me, because I want the dancing feeling of the piece to be carried right to the end of the last note by the vibrato pulses which rhythmically subdivide that note.

March 27, 2008 at 09:30 PM · Yeah, I don't play a harmonic either.

March 27, 2008 at 10:11 PM · no way

March 27, 2008 at 11:09 PM · As always: it depends. When making a crescendo towards that note, no harmonic. When making a decrescendo, why not?

March 27, 2008 at 11:33 PM · no harmonic for me either.

March 27, 2008 at 11:48 PM · I like the harmonic, actually. If played well it makes the music sound like it's being passed up to the angels in heaven. I know that sounds cheesy, but that's how it makes me feel when I hear it that way.

March 28, 2008 at 12:18 AM · looks like the non-harmonics are winning!!! Which is what I was going to say. Something about the last note, I think, should be held longer, and the harmonic would make me feel like I should playing it like a show piece, rather than wonderful Bach.

But then again, if it works with your interpretation, hey....

March 28, 2008 at 12:23 AM · I am still too busy giving myself a hard time about where the pulse falls in the barriolage to wonder about the last note...

... probably fingered rather than harmonic to maintain tone colour.


March 28, 2008 at 12:57 AM · Keep going up the arpeggio and end it on a harmonic an octave higher. You know you want to.

March 28, 2008 at 01:58 AM · I've never played it as a harmonic, but Marty's irresistibly cheesy description makes me want to give it a try!!!

March 28, 2008 at 02:11 AM · I like the harmonic - it can be quiet and ring out for a fraction, whereas if you finger the note I feel when I do that it doesn't seem like a satisfactory ending somehow.

I love the vivid image of the harmonic floating up to the angels and I think Bach would have liked that too. Let's face it: there are so many ways to interpret Bach!

March 28, 2008 at 02:22 AM · Laurie: Are you really doing vib in your Bach!?

<----now a fully converted non-vib (except for particular expressive points) Bach player with baroque bow as well!

You get so much more resonance out of the violin when you cut the vibrato...

March 28, 2008 at 02:59 AM · no harmonic.

March 28, 2008 at 03:11 AM · Milstein did an interesting fingering for the last 5 notes: 0 (E)-II 3 (G#)-1 (B)-3 (D#)-4 (E). So he shifted on the open string to the A-string (4th position). That was one of his tricks to getting passage work to sound really clean with little to no shift noise. Also you don't have to rush the hand as much. He taught this little trick to my teacher.

Getting back to the subject definitely go with a solid E. The harmonic in passage work I think has the risk of whistling.

March 28, 2008 at 04:11 AM · Nate, that's very interesting because Mr. Gingold had me do a fingering in the Kreisler Praeludium and Allegro in an E minor rising arpeggio-like passage: e (open) F#, 4th position on A string with 2nd finger, G-3rd finger, then cross to E string on a B with 1st finger and then play the E with 4th finger- similar thinking it would seem.

As for using the harmonic at the end of the Bach Preludio, I don't, but it brings to mind another question about the 11th measure from the end of the piece and who among you plays an "A" on the eighth 16th note in that bar and who plays a "G #" and why?

March 28, 2008 at 04:20 AM · Fourth position, no harmonic.

March 28, 2008 at 04:35 AM · Rosalind, oh come on, now, not even a little wiggle? I mean, I'm not talking about some big waggy Romantic sustained Tchaikovsky ending, I mean, it's an eighth-note! ;) But I see the point about just keeping it completely pure throughout. It's such a ringy piece anyway, it doesn't need much else but perfect intonation. Or rather perfectly relative intonation, yes?

You know, after posting this question, I looked at my multitudinous editions of the Bach S and P's, and (!) I've always played that last note solid, shifting on the last B to fourth position (after a nice open E and first-position G#). No harmonic! But, this is why it came to mind, in my Joachim edition, he's suggested shifting to third position on the second-beat E, then yes, a harmonic. Galamian suggests shifting to fourth position on the aforementioned E, and so I'm assuming, following that with a solid high E.

As my friend Helen Brunner says, "If there are more than three fingerings suggested, that means there IS NO GOOD SOLUTION."

March 28, 2008 at 06:50 AM · What if you're using a baroque instrument? They don't tend to ring very well...

March 28, 2008 at 09:21 AM · <----will confess to the occasional little wiggle in her Bach (love that description too!)

Mind you my little wiggles come mainly in the slow movements.

I do agree about the confusion of looking at different editions and that slightly guilty feeling of consigning most of Flesch's (to take one name) suggestions to the garbage... but times and attitudes change, I guess?

After sleeping on it, I'm still in the final E harmonic camp though!

March 28, 2008 at 02:45 PM · I don't play the harmonic. In fact, I finger the last passage: 1,3,1,3,1(fourth position on the "a" string, no shift should be heard),3,1,3,3 (using solid third finger with a good vibrato to end the preludio strongly)

March 28, 2008 at 03:37 PM · Do you really think that not doing any vibrato is what makes one a baroque player?

March 28, 2008 at 05:17 PM · One of the problems with playing harmonics, especially at a point such as this is that with prevailing attitudes about style, is that it can be seen as wimping out--that the player maybe can't find the note without the harmonic, and can't vibrate well on a high climactic note.

Vibrato has little to do with baroque "style," whatever that means. There's an interesting publication called "Vibrato on the Violin" by Werner Hauck (London: Bosworth, 1975). There are so many quotes from early treatises that I wouldn't know where to begin. The bottom line is that, yes, vibrato was used, and that it came and went as a fashion.

It's unfortunate that our views of baroque style have been rigidly codified by a small group of "experts." No wonder Zukerman et al can't stand it.

March 28, 2008 at 06:35 PM · I used more vibrato as a baroque violinist than I did playing Elgar and Bruckner with a modern orchestra under Norrington...

March 28, 2008 at 06:44 PM · Scott - I think the A-415 crowd is beginning to take off the blinders a bit, but it is a slow process. Zukerman's position seems equally out there - essentially that they have no insight that he can use. Even such 20th century stalwarts as Oistrakh and Grumiaux had harpsichord accompanists when they recorded Bach's sonatas for violin and keyboard for good reason. So, I think there is a certain amount of dogmatism on both sides, but I have a feeling that gradually, the A-415 folks are letting down their hair.

March 29, 2008 at 12:05 PM · I had to check because I couldn't remember, but I play the harmonic. When I was first learning the piece, in high school, I was pretty much ignorant of Baroque style concerns, I just liked the way it sounded, ending with a ring.

April 2, 2008 at 07:21 PM · You should worry about being totally relaxed while playing that piece. If you can play totally relaxed then worry about using harmonics etc...

April 3, 2008 at 11:34 AM · my vote is for no harmonic, no vib!

April 5, 2008 at 08:04 AM · I played the harmonic because it was a safe bet. Plus, my fourth finger vibrato wasn't all that. Now, a few years later, I took another look at it and I still like the harmonic. It's like a twist of lemon to finish the dish.

April 5, 2008 at 11:43 PM · What does harmonic actually mean here?*me stupid*

April 5, 2008 at 11:58 PM · No, you're not stupid (at least not simply because you haven't learned about harmonics yet). You can find all kinds of harmonics by taking your third or fourth finger and barely touching a string while you bow on it. Slide your finger up and down each string and you'll notice that at certain points, true pitches will pop out. There are harmonics exactly one octave up from the open string. The one in question is one octave higher than open E. The Bach piece ends on this note, so you can choose to put your finger all the way down or just touch the string lightly to produce the same pitch as a harmonic.

April 6, 2008 at 02:04 AM · A couple of thoughts:

As Scott said, the present line of thought is that the baroque players did use vibrato. They thought the violin was the closest to the human voice, and voice treatises of the time suggested that a pure tone was found by allowing the natural resonance to ring - that is, not adding vibrato, but not dampening it either. There's a natural vibrato that happens in the voice, so the violinists would aim to replicate that.

Secondly, the piece in question is the Preludio of the E Major partita. Knowing the piece, it's all semi's, apart from the beginning and the last note. Really, vibrato shouldn't be used on the faster notes, so it now comes down to your interpretation. If you're using vibrato on the opening quavers/eighth notes, then it would make sense to do vibrato on the last. However, if you're not doing vibrato, then you really need to have a good reason for doing vibrato on the last. If you've slowed down on the way up to the top note, then that might be suitable, because the quaver will be a bit longer. However, if you've kept going all the way through, then I'd suggest leave the vibrato for one of the slower movements.

As for what I do, I believe I played it non-harmonic, for no other reason than that's what my teacher did. Silly reason I know, and when I eventually come back to it, I'll give it more thought.

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