Repeats

September 6, 2006 at 06:25 AM · I'm preparing the final two movements of the Bach G minor sonata, and me and my teacher are at odds over whether to do the repeats. I think that they should be done, because Bach wrote them in, and he wouldn't write in anything that wasn't meant to be played. My teacher says that I shouldn't repeat because I can't do enough variation in the repeats. I say that the repeats are neccessary because it shows the modulation to the dominant, and the return to the tonic.

My question is: Do you consciously make a decision to repeat, or not to repeat, and if you do repeat what do you do for variation (if anything).

Any ideas from people who have played the G minor with repeats would be greatly appreciated, but anyone who's played a piece that has repeats written is welcome.

Replies (22)

September 6, 2006 at 11:25 AM · Hi Ben,

I played the first and fourth movements of the g minor sonata in an audition recently. When learning the Presto, I always imagined I'd do the repeats, for the reason you gave - Bach wrote them. Also, I find it makes the music more comprehensible to the listener. Especially in this movement, if you play right through it can sound just like lots of fast notes without much meaning. Doing the repeats gives it more structure.

What is more, if you repeat, you have more opportunity to play around with the music the second time through. You can use rubato and dynamics to give the music a completely different feel. That's why the Presto is so amazing - it allows for so much creativity.

When performing the piece prior to my audition, I always did the repeats. But when I actually got round to playing through my entire audition program, it was so long already my teacher advised me not to do the repeats.

So, in conclusion, I'd say this: If you're playing the sonata in a concert/recital, enjoy the repeats as much as possible, varying the music at almost every opportunity. If it's for an audition, maybe miss them out.

Mike

September 6, 2006 at 08:52 PM · I always wondered if it was sacrilege to play it the same way twice. Sometimes, just saying it twice creates the needed emphasis. And really, could it be identical the second time?

September 6, 2006 at 09:19 PM · I don't think it's SACRILEGE to repeat without modification, but it's probably a good idea most of the time.

With the Bach solo works, I think of the first run through the section as an introduction to the audience. They can't really be expected to follow it well enough to enjoy its intricacies. The second time says, okay, now you know the notes, here's my impression of what they mean.

On the other hand, sometimes the fact of having heard the notes is enough to modify the listener's perception of the music during the repeated section, even when there is no variation.

It depends on which piece, and on the audience. I have never had the opportunity to play actual solo concerts, but if I were preparing a concert for a live audience, and I knew that a major percentage of the listeners were very familiar with the works, then I would certainly tend to vary the repeated sections. With naive listeners, the difference between never having heard the piece and having heard the notes once through might be enough.

September 6, 2006 at 09:23 PM · There isn't any reason not to play it the "same way" twice is there? I wouldn't take the repeat until I played it truly interestingly, and if it's truly interesting then why not do it the "same way" twice? One alternative among many.

September 6, 2006 at 11:57 PM · I do the repeats in the Presto for this reason:

When I do the 2nd half repeat, I end on a G MAJOR chord as opposed to the written G minor one. This is called a "Piccardy 3rd", according to my theory classes.

September 7, 2006 at 12:44 AM · I believe that most musical choices are best made with the part of the brain that listens and responds to music, rather than the part of the brain that talks about it. So when it comes to deciding whether or not to take a repeat, the *basis* of my approach is to simply try it both ways and see which I prefer. I am indeed interested in searching for reasons to do it one way or the other, but the final choice will be made by my visceral response to hearing it, rather than my intellectual appreciation of the verbal idea that defends the choice. I want to give lots of thought to the choice. I want to find reasons for one choice or another, but I consider it a matter of musical integrity to use these reasons only for the purpose of calling my attention to various aspects of the music, rather than for ultimately deciding the choice. I believe a musical choice should be informed by the intellect, but must ultimately be made with the heart.

In the Unaccompaied Bach Movements which are divided in two, your choices need not be limited to taking both repeats or taking none. You might possibly like to take one of them.

September 7, 2006 at 12:36 AM · Well, Jim, no, there is no reason not to do it the same way twice. Doing it the same way would provide consistency. It is a matter of style and choice.

My tendency is to play the sections differently, as a stylistic judgement. In doing so, I must be careful not to make such a great distinction between them that it imperils the integrity of the piece.

The Tierce de Picardy is an alteration of only the last chord, so it is more of a coloration than a variation. It is hard to imagine, also, that one would play the last two bars at the same speed on both passes, since the first time is the end of a section, whereas the second is the end of the piece. Again, that doesn't quite rise to the level of variation that we're discussing, in my opinion.

What might be considered excessive is my approach to the presto double in the b-minor partita. I like to take the first pass of the first half at a fast speed, then the second pass at a considerably higher speed. The first pass of the second half continues the same faster pace, and the repetition of the second half as fast as I humanly can. I don't hold that out as a formula for fast movements in binary form in general, but for this particular one, it seems to make sense. Maybe it only makes sense to me!

All that said, I would certainly not disparage a performance of a binary movement with simple repetition. It's a matter of taste.

September 7, 2006 at 01:07 AM · I don't know... seems to me just repeating something without any variation is sort of boring. Of course, there is the issue of "balance" which needs to be taken into account.

September 7, 2006 at 01:07 AM · I don't know... seems to me just repeating something without any variation is sort of boring. Of course, there is the issue of "balance" which needs to be taken into account.

September 7, 2006 at 01:11 AM · 'nuff said, right? So now I've done the experiment and I think my repeated post is boring... And I think you all got the message the first time around.

Howard

September 7, 2006 at 01:48 AM · Or you could argue that by repeating, you have built the anticipation, and the ear will gladly accept the new material when it arrives. Like breaking a holding pattern, or something.

Do people really get bored when they hear the same thing twice, if it's well played?

Maybe the problem is people get way too much variety these days. My dog gets the same food twice a day for all three years of his life, and he's still drooling every evening at 6:00 sharp. Since it's all he's ever known, it stays pretty exciting.

September 7, 2006 at 01:58 AM · Or you could argue that by repeating, you have built the anticipation, and the ear will gladly accept the new material when it arrives. Like breaking a holding pattern, or something.

Do people really get bored when they hear the same thing twice, if it's well played?

Maybe the problem is people get way too much variety these days. My dog gets the same food twice a day for all three years of his life, and he's still drooling every evening at 6:00 sharp. Since it's all he's ever known, it stays pretty exciting.

September 7, 2006 at 01:58 AM · What is it with the double posts on this thread?

September 7, 2006 at 02:10 AM · repeats?

September 7, 2006 at 02:16 AM · lol, Emily took the repeat!

Seriously, only take the repeats if you are an outstanding violinist that someone wouldn't mind listening to twice.

September 7, 2006 at 02:50 AM · Emily, you repeated my joke sooo... is that a "meta-repeat"?

September 7, 2006 at 04:06 AM · No, man, I just flinched when I hit the button, and two came out. It was more like a stutter.

We are all saying the same thing over and over again, but differently. Notice how it elongates the thread. But is it any more interesting?

September 7, 2006 at 04:22 PM · Well, what about a four measure phrase that repeats two measures that the composer writes? Why not leave out the second two measures?

Or all those perpetual motion pieces with the doubled notes? They are lots clearer if you only play one of the notes.

Ah, my favorite of the boring repeats, tremolo...

September 7, 2006 at 04:51 PM · I think there's a difference between very small scale repetition and repeat of an entire section of the piece. Repetition of one or two measures as a time saving device in writing doesn't really change the overall structure of the piece. Adding a repetition of an entire exposition does. Tremelo, of course, is heard as a texture, not as some sort of repetition as I'm sure you know...

Anyway, if you get rid of all the repeats, you can listen to more music!

Howard

September 7, 2006 at 10:42 PM · I can't help thinking of the hundreds of thousands of minor symphonies by composers of the Manheim School, (it seems like hundreds of thousands) in which it seems that every four bar phrase is repeated. The phrases are not particularly interesting the first time through, and they are not enhanced by the repetition.

The binary form was a major part of Baroque music, surely for a reason. I feel ignorant because I cannot cite examples of possible reasons for it. Perhaps someone with research skills could find information on what the Baroque musicians intended for the form. I don't tend to adhere to the ideals of 'historically informed' performances, but I think this is a case where some history could help, even if to know what historical principles we are rejecting!

September 7, 2006 at 11:04 PM · Aha! Here's a relevant passage, from http://www.baroqueartists.org/practices.asp.

embellishment: the variation of a melody, going beyond the addition of ornaments , amounting to an actual reworking, making the melodic line more ornate and more brilliant. Performers of the period often improvised embellishments when repeating a melody already heard, as in the da capo of the first section of an aria, or in a repeated section in binary form, and the practice has been revived by modern performers of baroque music.

I don't know how authoritative the source is, but it's the first one I found that addresses the question, so it's a start.

September 9, 2006 at 05:12 PM · I agree with what all of you have said. I also sometimes leave out repeats (except when I play for contra dances, then we put in thousands).

I also like to tease.

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