Bach Sonata No. I

May 12, 2018, 8:52 PM · Hey guys,

I'm playing Bach's Sonata No. 1 (Adagio and Fugue) for my AMEB LMUSA exam in a few months. Do you have any tips for building up enough stamina to play both movements consecutively? I feel completely exhausted after playing both (or even just the Fugue) and I still have to play 3 other pieces for the exam...
thanks :)

Replies (8)

May 12, 2018, 9:09 PM · You should not feel exhausted after the playing the Adagio. If you do something is wrong, at least in my opinion.

The fugue admittedly can be a bit of a physical challenge but it should't be insurmountable. I feel more exhausted after playing the E major prelude than after playing the g minor fugue.

What kind of a musical statement are you trying to make? Are you playing every single chord with a heavy stroke?

There are lots of places you can relax in that piece. The 16th note passages shouldn't be handled in a heavy manner. Give your right arm a break. If you make it to the top of the third page in one piece you can ease up for several lines and empty the tank at the end.

May 13, 2018, 10:45 AM · Is it mental or physical exhaustion? Have you asked your teacher for advice?
May 14, 2018, 1:57 PM · Hi Ella,
Physical exhaustion - my teacher said to play through the adagio and fugue (consecutively) every day until the exam... It's mainly my right hand/arm that hurts by the end of it, so maybe there is too much tension?
Thanks for your help :)
May 14, 2018, 2:10 PM · It's not necessarily tension, it may simply be a case of building endurance. At the level you're playing at your teacher would probably spot any potential tension problems.

And yes - performing straight through every day for a month or so will help with that. Then as you get closer to exam day you can schedule run-throughs of your whole programme... when you can perform it twice or more back to back then you'll not have endurance problems on the day

Edited: May 15, 2018, 12:10 PM · Definitely sounds like a tension issue more than a strength/endurance issue.

Try thinking light instead of heavy. Try the adagio at pianissimo, minimal bow pressure, playing the chords as delicately as possible.

Listen Rachel Podger and Isabel Faust's Bach -- lots of good ideas. For the fugue, think dance, think ballet on your toes, or barefoot on the grass -- not marching in heavy boots.

Figure out how to bow the chords in a variety of ways, and then feel free to use different techniques for different moments to build variety.

Contrary to what a lot of violin teachers would have you believe, you won't get arrested if you arpeggiate some of the chords instead of trying to play them with one heavy stroke (not that the occasional thunderous passage isn't wonderful). Experiment. What feels better for you might also be a better performance.

Use the 16th note stretches as a break, an opportunity to re-compose yourself, play lightly, allow tempo flexibility. Make it sound relaxed, comfortable.

Try to make it sound spontaneous, as if you're improvising, like you don't know where the next measure will take you. Obviously you don't want to overdo this or you can get bogged down, but a little space here and there adds interest.

The way people recorded Bach 20-40 years ago, that ponderous/intense/lush Milstein/Szeryng/Perlman sound -- played metronomically -- it's magnificent, virtuosic for sure -- but probably nothing like Bach had in mind.

Try a baroque bow just to try to feel it with a softer, more bouncy touch (no need to perform with a baroque bow, but it will give you ideas that can carry over to a modern bow)

Maybe it will help, maybe not (you may need to retool your bow technique starting with the grip, but that's a long term thing). In the short run, it would give you some thing to think about as you decide what you're aiming for artistically.

Bach was German and was painted in black garb and a wig, so people think big and ponderous, but really Bach was drawing very heavily from the Italian Baroque tradition which was all about light and nimble.

May 14, 2018, 2:43 PM · I've played the whole fugue off the string from time to time. Not in concerts, just for myself. I think it sounds pretty cool that way.

I actually think it can be a great exercise for lightening up.

May 14, 2018, 4:01 PM · Maybe your motions are just too big. When playing rapid fast notes, try to keep your motions as small as possible. Has your teacher given you any advice? Have you asked?
May 15, 2018, 11:21 AM · How's your cardio? I know it may sound farfetched, but a consistent exercise regimen can help with focus and physical relaxation in other situations. If you aren't running or biking or doing yoga or something, consider taking something up in a moderate way. Sleep is also really important.

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