Partita 2 Gigue Speed

November 17, 2019, 2:12 PM · My daughter is playing this, and always wants to go faster.
She has grown up listening to HH version on CD, which goes at a pretty fast pace, but I have heard her critiqued for this. Where would you set the metronome?

Replies (35)

November 17, 2019, 2:17 PM · It is learned, really asking about performance speed.
November 17, 2019, 6:13 PM · You can watch some videos of people performing the gigue (the dance, not the piece by Bach) to find a historic tempo for the piece.
November 17, 2019, 8:00 PM · I say let her play it fast as long as it's clean and musical. Listen to Gidon Kremer, Victoria Mullova, Anne-Sophie Mutter, Gil Shaham, Maxim Vengerov. All on YouTube. Mutter and Shaham seem to be going a little faster, Vengerov a little slower, but it might just seem that way (i.e., I might not have been listening intently enough). Mutter puts in a few tasty vibrato notes, I really like that. But my favorite overall is Kremer.
November 18, 2019, 5:43 AM · Gigue is by definition a fast piece. It has it's roots in Irish Jig (hence the name), so speed is ok...
However - what Christopher said: musicality first, speed later.

I find myself blindly sawing away at this piece as well... If I slow down just by a couple percent - it becomes sublime.

Edited: November 18, 2019, 7:09 AM · Do you mean HH is criticized for playing it fast, or your daughter is criticized for playing it fast? If the latter, then she needs to slow down. If the former, then I am impressed that your daughter is at the level she can worry that the nit-picky critiques made of the superstars might be relevant to her own playing. I just started working on this and I find it very difficult to play slowly--and I need to, at this stage--so I sympathize with your daughter! However, if she is playing it cleanly, why not play it fast?
November 18, 2019, 8:38 AM · What I've read is that the Bach partita movements were inspired by dances or that the dance titles reflect their general character, but they were not written to be practical dance music.
November 18, 2019, 10:20 AM · The parent here has heard the criticism of HH, but not a player and no point of
View. My only reason for mentioning is that is the primary version she has listened to. She has learned it very slowly and still plays it slowly every day with metronome. She is playing it well but bobbled a couple notes in performance recently, so just trying to get her to slow down a bit.
November 18, 2019, 10:25 AM · There's a youtube video of HH playing the gigue when she was 15 years old as an encore after her German debut (where she played the Beethoven concerto). She definitely plays it fast.

However, if you listen to her recording of it, or see her play it live (as had the pleasure of doing in May), she plays it at a slightly slower pace nowadays. For me, the slight easing in the tempo is an improvement - it adds a clarity missing when it's played very fast

Edited: November 18, 2019, 12:58 PM · Imagine a skipping motion-- LEFT, left; RIGHT, right, etc. A good tempo will be slow enough allow a player to make the correct sense of movement on the third 1/8-note, but not so slow that your imaginary dancer has to defy gravity. That may not come down to exactly one tempo, but should set limits on the range.

Cleanliness and ability to articulate harmonic movement are two other considerations-- ideally, she will have practiced enough that those aren't limitations.

November 18, 2019, 3:33 PM · "She has grown up listening to HH version on CD, which goes at a pretty fast pace, but I have heard her critiqued for this"

I'd strongly suggest listening to other versions of it, e.g. Julia Fischer's, for the music, not the speed. It can go at a pretty fast clip, especially when played by a professional, who would have to deliberately hold it back to do otherwise, but that doesn't mean that it needs to be played so by a student, especially at any loss of musical expression.

November 18, 2019, 8:23 PM · I agree with J Ray. Since this piece has been recorded by nearly everyone, it's a good thing for a student to listen to one a couple of times and pick out a couple of musical things you like, and a couple maybe you don't like. Then, next day, do the same with another player.
November 19, 2019, 10:23 AM · My daughter too performed this piece last year and i believe her playing was on the faster side also. Not as fast as Hahn's said performance though.

At the time she was really inspired by Kristof Barati's performance for the piece so was closer to him.

Generally; when she is assigned a new piece she does not immediately start practicing. Instead; she explores different interpretations for a couple of days to first have a grasp of what it really is. While doing so she also develops a basic sense of what she wants to do about it.

After that she starts practicing with the aim of getting as close as possible to the concept she is after. Her teacher corrects her as necessary on the way so at the end they find a balance.

I'd leave that to your daughter as long as her teacher is fine with it. Greatly helps in developing a character of their own while being much more commited and engaged to practicing.

November 19, 2019, 10:47 AM · "I say let her play it fast as long as it's clean and musical."

What Paul said. There are no right answers to tempi. Even when the composers are alive, they are not consistent. There are famous stories about composers like Copland conducting their own music at different tempi than they marked themselves in the music.

The danger for playing something too fast is that it can start to sound frantic. I wouldn't criticize someone for speed, but for the rushing that is almost inevitable with speed.

With specific regard to the D minor Gigue, it may depend on the bowing. Many people use a hooked bowing, which I feel forces the tempo to be slower. Actually kind of lethargic. Vengerov uses a hook (at least on his live version on Youtube) and I find it rather dull and plodding. I listened to Milstein's 1953 version and then Hahn's--I found hers to be, by comparison, rather tedious and uninspired. Mutter's encore rendition (after a concerto) went at a nice clip, but I doubt the average violinist can pull off that tempo using her hooked bowing.

Why bother? Just do it as it comes.

November 20, 2019, 8:04 AM · Thanks for the responses. She is playing excellently in practice, but bobbled a couple notes in performance. Speed on top of speed because of nerves I think. So just trying to encourage her to let up on the gas pedal. Yes, really up to her and her teacher, just looking for thoughts here.
Other than the Suzuki CDs, the HH CD was one she listened to fairly obsessively, so it’s really in there.
We did get to see HH this summer, which was a thrill for her.
Edited: November 20, 2019, 12:32 PM · I won't give a metronome number - "I don't need a metronome to tell me how fast I want to do it" -anon. The audience needs to hear all the notes. The opening two measures need to sound like it is in 4/4 (or 2/4) with a triplet inside each beat. I'll vote for the Milstein clip, and I also like the little pauses done by early music specialist Podger. Be careful about dancing tempos, the typical Irish jig tempo would be too fast, dancers have just as many opinions as musicians, and an abstract piece of music with a dance title would not be used at a dance. I am thinking also of the Mozart and Haydn Minuets in the symphonies and quartets.
November 20, 2019, 8:06 PM · Make it dance! If it has the feel of a dance, the actual metronome marking is less important. If it sounds like a stressful race, it’s probably too fast.
November 23, 2019, 12:48 AM · Hi,
Firstly remember that a gigue is fast( it is also a dance)
Secondly it shall be played energically and with a "light" sound
Thirdly , a violonist called Nigel Kennedy who get renamed for his four seasons recording is "accused" to play too fast .He then answered that he plays the music like he wants and how he feels it.Of course it is played perfectly (technically) but people finds it a bit fast.
So your daughter has to play it like she feels it but she shouldn't make it sound "virtuosic" by playing faster( a dance can't be played virtuosicly)
If your daughter play it like a beautifull dance, then if she wants,accelerate the tempo.
Hope I'm helping
November 23, 2019, 1:56 PM · As everyone said, make sure to bring out the dance aspect. I think it’s more helpful when playing the Gigue to feel it in 2 rather than 6. A good way to choose a tempo is to go to the middle of the movement or to a hard spot and see what kind of tempo you’d play it at, then go back to the beginning of the movement and use that tempo.
November 23, 2019, 4:19 PM · Thanks, she performed today, a tad slower, and nailed it.
November 24, 2019, 10:28 AM · Sometimes a piece can sound more energetic with clarity instead of sheer speed. So backing down a notch can be the answer.
November 24, 2019, 11:37 AM · Scott's and Laurie's points are good. The metronome was not invented until Beethoven's time, so you cannot rely on any metronome markings, and even tempo words like Allegro or Andante had only relative meanings until the advent of the metronome. However, as my teacher kept telling me, the movements in the Bach Partitas are from dance, so you need to keep that in mind. Dance movements from the Baroque period had different speeds depending on the kind of dance, so we again can only treat the titles, e.g., Gigue, Sarabande, Chaconne, as having relative rather than absolute speeds. However, the ones that are faster should probably have a certain bounciness to them. Ultimately, however, you simply have to find a speed and technique for the dance movement at issue that makes it work for you. Good luck!
November 24, 2019, 11:49 AM · @Scott, Perlman once (allegedly) said, when asked how he plays so fast, that he doesn't actually play faster than anyone else. He just plays it more cleanly and people think it's faster.

I think the idea of the hooked bowing is that hooking may give a different sound (small differences in articulation and organic accents). (It's not like Vivaldi editions that have Viotti bowings for their own sake.)

November 24, 2019, 3:39 PM · People also hook because they don't like doing 3+1 or 2+1 slurs, which require you to be comfortable at the frog. And we know how many students are comfortable at the frog...
November 24, 2019, 5:06 PM · I agree, Scott. Sometimes 2+1 slurs at the frog can give an exaggerated sense of local rhythm (especially if you're lifting on the upstroke) and make it harder for the player to express the longer line. Of course, one should be able to overcome that too. Lots of things should be possible with more control.
November 24, 2019, 6:27 PM · A lot of editing reflects someone's discomfort with something. Just look at all the 19th century editions that avoid the even positions, or that use a harmonic for a long high note that should be vibrated. Sometimes a hooked bowing is just the ticket, but sometimes it can suck the life out of an articulation.
Edited: November 24, 2019, 9:33 PM · It's interesting to see the diversity of perspectives on this piece and that many seem to characterize it as a dance. It's difficult to entirely lose such a great piece of music, though we seem to try, so it's not surprising that there are such differences and love or appreciation of it in various forms. (There are even electric guitar solos playing it, which I find appropriate.)

Here's Perlman's 1978 live performance. It's fast, far from entirely clean, and loud - presumably in order to project to the audience, but conveys, I think, an interpretation which is somewhat successful though not a dance.

"the ones that are faster should probably have a certain bounciness to them"

I wouldn't disagree with that statement. However I'd prioritize the emotional content of the piece over its bounciness.

November 24, 2019, 10:55 PM · Unfortunately I'd have to say there's not much interpretation in his rendition. It's just fast, period. There's no phrasing, no emphasis on important notes. I like much of Perlman's playing, but frankly there are performers out there who are doing a much better job with period performance, and who are thinking about what they are doing rather than just pressing the button et Voila--out comes the way they learned it when they were 15.
Edited: November 25, 2019, 8:51 AM · @J Ray

I agree and also go a bit further by saying; i'd prioritize the emotional content of the piece over the other elements of "Historically Informed Playing" anyday, if an interpretation of that kind is able to move me.

Just an humble opinion from the perspective of a listener.

A good example for this also can be seen in the same performance of Perlman with the "Chaconne" starting at 13:48.

Five years ago, some random day after my daughter started her violin lessons; my mother called me to invite for a chat and told me she also had a present for my daughter to be picked up.

Turned out the present she mentioned was two fine French bows inherited from my father. She told me that she was getting older and might not be always here. So she wanted me to take good care of the bows and told me to pass them to my daughter when the time is right if she is to keep violin as a part of her life in the future.

After that she began to tell the story of how the two have met.

Sometime in the early 50's; she was hanging around in the neighborhood where she hears a beautiful piece of music coming from one of the houses across the street.

She gets to the house and sits on the stairs quitely and keeps listening. That is to be my father practicing Partita No 2 for an upcoming event, Chaconne at the time.

This keeps on going like that for about a week. She goes there same time everyday and quitely listens. After a while she feels somewhat confident and starts to comment about his playing through the window. You might guess the funny dialogs between them and the responses of my father...

Anyways; somewhat pleasant and curious when i got home, i thought let's see what this Chaconne is... From Hahn to Menuhin i have listened a good number of soloists, thinking cool but not as heavy as my mother told me.

Then, i came across the above performance of Perlman. After about 15 minutes when the piece finished. I could't get myself together for a good amount of time. Just sat there processing. Never in my life a piece has struct me that much.

Now; Perlman probably recieved some criticism for this interpretation. But my god that is something... Who cares if he was not playing within a specific format.

Fast forward 5 years; my mother is still with us at her 80's and my daughter just started using the bows for about a month so she was able to see her in action with them. Hopefully she will also witness her playing solo at a great concert hall with a great orchestra next year.

Sorry for the long post but that youtube video ticked some strong emotions which i had to let out.

I mean; here i am looking at the pictures of my father some 65-70 years ago while watching my daughter play Addagio with the same equipment. It is a strange feeling but in a very good way. Who would have thought...

November 25, 2019, 6:07 AM · "Unfortunately I'd have to say there's not much interpretation in his rendition. It's just fast, period. There's no phrasing, no emphasis on important notes."

Is that the absolute truth or your interpretation of his interpretation vs others'? I say it's more the latter, and that a statement like "there's not much interpretation" is indefensible.

I would also guess that what you describe as "phrasing, emphasis on important notes" refers to some additional romanticization of the music - which would be fine as interpretation, but not so fine if one misses the emotional content of the music in the process of presenting "phrasing, emphasis on important notes".

Ali K., thanks for your post. That's what the music should be doing - moving us.

Edited: November 25, 2019, 12:12 PM · I had the same impression as Scott when I first heard Perlman's album of "childhood" concertos. I thought, "Oh good, we're finally going to hear what's possible with these pieces." But they sound as if he just blew through them. They're very emotionless.
Edited: November 25, 2019, 8:54 AM · @Paul

You got me there...

Edited and corrected. Thank you.

By the way; Accolay was pretty good imo

November 25, 2019, 12:11 PM · And granted, some of those concertos don't give the player much to work with.
Edited: November 25, 2019, 1:34 PM · "Is that the absolute truth or your interpretation of his interpretation vs others'? I say it's more the latter, and that a statement like "there's not much interpretation" is indefensible."

J Ray,
Of course that's just my opinion. Just one musician with a particular background and at a certain age.
And it's also the result of a career spent listening to Perlman's Bach (which I have), and many of the other well-known recordings. When I was younger, some interpretations appealed to me, and as I matured and studied the works and thought about them and experimented myself, others started to appeal to me more.

Remember that teaching makes you think in very different ways about music.

It works on many levels: there was a lot of 80s music I grew up that I would never admit to liking now.
We grow up and get bored with stuff. And as we mature we start to listen in different ways. same with literature, movies, food, etc. I'm not afraid to say, for example, that Applebees sucks. If you like their cheeseburgers, fine. I try to avoid the place.

November 25, 2019, 7:49 PM · I don't know if I've every tried Applebees, but guessing what it probably is, I don't know if I'd lump Perlman's performance at that level. I'll grant that it wasn't his best, and neither is it my favourite. But a point I was trying to make was that it was substantially different from some others, and still conveyed to me some of what I find missing in other performances. Filet mignon can work without HP sauce.
November 25, 2019, 8:50 PM · I wasn't lumping Perlman with Applebees. Just saying that our tastes change.

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