One of my worst memories of Music College was the compulsory attendance at x number of graduation recitals. There was a very good chance that in one day you would be subjected to 8 renditions of the Bach G minor Adagio and Fugue and that as one`s ears became more jaded the intensity of the butchery of the Fugue appeared to escalate exponentially. Since this piece seems to crop up on this list a lot I thought I would pen a few thoughts in the hope that other will follow through with some meaty stuff..
I suppose it makes sense to start with the edition. Basically there are two that one should have: Galamian and Szeryng. The Galamian is the simpler of the two and I like to feel it is a kind of mini representation of the way he taught. That is, he presents the basic tools and it is up to the individual player to make the most of what she is offered. This is rather different from taking his editing as the last word and refusing to deviate. If one sticks rigidly to Galamian the result will be excellent, workmanlike and efficient. What I find missing are basically just a few small places where an artist like Szeryng who played these publicly so many times really knows how to create a truly powerful musical effect. There are also a couple of places where his interpretation is much more in character with the overall piece. To study the Szeryng text is to study with a master but, the Galamian remains the fall back position for passages where Szeryng demands too much?E
Beginning the Fugue one should perhaps keep in mind the idea that as the entries get more complex the dynamic increases by step. However, the range of dynamics need never be excessive. I think the great romantic violinists were a contributory factor in the way less able violinist often mis-play the chords. The latter have paid attention to the sound more than they have understood what is being done and the result is usually too heavy and not remotely musical. The Galamian bowing, as Bach wrote it is, in my opinion, just too workmanlike, so my preference is for the two 16th notes to almost always be played on two up bows. This can be done in so many ways in so many different parts of the bow it becomes a tool for giving the whole work enormous elan.
Thus, in the Fugue it is important to discard the common mental image of triple stops as chords to finish or start show pieces with an elaborate flourish. Indeed, one perhaps needs to forget `vertical` thinking completely and view -every- segment of this piece as intertwined melodies rather than homophonic accompaniament to statements.
This rather simple idea is actually quite radical for many players who start off looking at this rather intimidating page and , sighing to themselves, sit down and begin laboriously tuning each chord, perhaps uttering the mantra `Get it in tune and then repeat 500 times so it is safe.` The alternative is to tease out each individual musical line, sing it then play it. Absorb it deeply. Then tease out the middle line and sing it play it. Then combine the lines or play one and sing another. Working this way, with a little imagination the real sound of the music is revealed to the inner ear and it really has very little to do with chords. Of course chord work is necessary but the sound needs to be constructed in the inner ear rather differenly. This thinking also helps one to recognize that many of the chords are not finger training exercises where the fingers have to all sink or swim together. By taking the long view one can become conscious that keeping fingers down, or thoughtful preparation often means that only one finger has to make a small adjustment. Much less difficult. On the question of chord playing it might be helpful to begin working with the fingers placed in sequence from first to fourth irrespective of what stirngs they are on. As the time gap between this placing is reduced one can get pretty close to simultaneously placing, I repeat that this is actually rarely necessary in this movement, but the hand retains the sense of organization. To move directly to simultaneous placing can sometimes leave the mind- to- hand connection unconsolidated and we remain groping in the dark.
A practice trick I have used is to have one of those electronic tuners play a sustained note (the ds at the end of bar 21 for example) and play around that pitch.
Getting into the bowing aspect a little, because we tend to have a conception of chords as `hit the middle string and hope the outer two sound, by golly on a good day they do,` we choke the instrument completely. The whole arm comes down -smack- and that`s it.- musical/aural death. It may help to consider the chord as a pizzicato with the bow (somewhat like spiccato) in which the most important part is the bow leaving the string. In essence a colle stroke with a little arm hovering in the background. To get a sense of what one is after it might be worth playing the passage in question pizzicato-! If nothing else we are extending our sound concept.!
Again, as an offshoot of the 19th C practices, we assume that all chords can only be played two ways. Split two and two or hit simultaneously The former was rarely used in the baroque period (according to Stowell) and the latter does not sit well on the ear all the time. In fact, interpretation of this work hinges a great deal on the recognition that the chords can be played in all manner of ways from the colle type mentioned above through various arpeggiations , being more or less lyrical or abrupt and heading towards the g string rather than the more normal way. The challenge for the player is to decide the character of the voices in the passages in question (is this section more cheerful.? Excited? Lyrical or what?) then selecting a type of bowing for the (not) chords that matches the feeling of the moment. An example of this where I feel Szeryng was correct and Galamian unusually off target is from bar 35 where Galamian advocates a chord at the beginning of the bar ad then (presumably) fairly strong eighth notes whereas Szeryng anticipates the broadly lyrical passage four bars later and begins the legato string crossings at this point. Incidentally, this passage is a really test of whether a player knows her string levels, so it is worth practicing the kind of play a note- freeze for ten seconds-play a note type of exercise that has recently been discussed in the -most boring exercise- thread.
When one follows the notion that there are not really any chords or double stops, but rather voices then the question of how much bow weight is given to each string becomes a great deal clearer and, a little more complex! Take for example, the sequence of entries in fifths starting at bar 14. By resisting the temptation to begin working on the double stops but rather trying to absorb the musical line as it changes voice (and string) the other notes can be viewed in their accompanying role rather than conceptualized as `a double stop existing in the present moment.` This reveals clearly which string needs to be given priority and this priority shifts around very rapidly.
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