What sorcery is this?

November 14, 2022, 11:43 AM · I've finally made up my mind to ask this question, even though it's been on my mind since forever.

How exactly does one go about playing the andante from Bach's A minor sonata?

There's the pulsing lower notes and then the higher uninterrupted melody. How does one bow (and one arm) do both?

This is my (limited) understanding of the process:

Play C/E double stop. Tilt bow slightly to the right, so that bow is only touching D string. Rinse and repeat.

But honestly, I don't get it.

Whenever I listen to recordings of this piece, it doesn't sound like the process described above.

Instead, it sounds like one violinist is playing the lower notes, while a different violinist is playing the melody.

To be more specific, the main melody doesn't seem disturbed at all by the complex manoeuvring which (I think) is necessary. The higher notes sound perfectly smooth in spite of the ruckus going on in the right arm.


I thought the trick might be something supernatural, so I looked through all the grimoires in my library. There were spells for all sorts of things – levitation, shape shifting, necromancy, mind control, and even waterbending.

Oddly enough, there wasn't any spell to help with solo Bach.

So, how exactly is it done?!

Replies (19)

November 14, 2022, 12:07 PM · First I establish a steady open D while making a gentle wave motion towards the G and A. Then I "tip" the whole wave sightly so it brushes the G intermittently
At the heel, the wave can be done with the fingers and thumb, like turning a knob back and forth. This motion can be maintained even towards middle and tip while the forearm increases its participation.
Edited: November 14, 2022, 12:44 PM · It's one of those things that is both not that crazy when you get it, and also full of near infinite minute variations.

If you can play legato on a single string, and you can play legato on two strings at once, and there is a continuous movement that will get you from one of those conditions to the other, then you can also play notes of various lengths, depths of sound and articulations on an adjacent string while playing a continuous legato on the home string.

Maybe someone out there has written down how this would look on open strings, and that would clarify it, as that would be a good starting point for practicing this without getting caught up with the left hand.

November 14, 2022, 1:27 PM · The right arm isn't truly going through any "ruckus." The movements are calm and straightforward, though they take some practice. Avoiding any effect on the melody when playing the pulses is simple, though sometimes challenging to attain due to gravity. The solution is only to change the angle of the bow when adding in the lower string. Avoid adding any extra weight with the arm or hand on each pulse, and the melody should go unaffected in the double stops. Adding bow weight/right-hand pressure on each eighth note is tempting but will only create an impression that the melodic line pulses the same way the accompaniment figures do.
November 14, 2022, 1:55 PM · It might help to watch some videos, rather than just recordings.

Strangely enough, I find this technique fairly straightforward. There is so much you can do to distinguish the lower and upper voices while retaining smoothness. I'd have to see a video of you trying it to tell where you're going wrong. That would probably make the diagnosis rather simple.

The other thing worth noting, though, is your description:
-----------------
"Play C/E double stop. Tilt bow slightly to the right, so that bow is only touching D string. Rinse and repeat."
----------------

To me, the process is more along the lines of "play constant E, and then "dip" into the C...." (obviously, though, we do start on a double stop)

I think perhaps you could benefit from trying the beginning without the initial double stop, and add it later. Start on the E, instead of E/C.


I also think choosing the right bowings is important. Maybe you are doing something silly, like following the urtext literally, and not slurring at all?

Once again, a video would immediately clarify all speculation.


November 14, 2022, 2:18 PM · It indeed sounds like magic when done right. Obviously you alternate between double stops and single notes. First get rid of the bumps, the unintended accents when changing string levels. What I prefer is to have the bow arm at the level of the upper string, then let gravity pull the bow over to the double-stop level as needed. The right hand needs to be in control, loose, relaxed, and flexible. It's a workout for the right fourth finger.
Edited: November 14, 2022, 3:09 PM · Thank you all for the responses.

Having read everyone's explanations, I
think I understand how it works now. The description of the 'gentle wave motion' makes it very clear. And as Gabriel says, the secret is NOT to add any pressure on the quavers.

I would like to clarify – I don't intend to master this technique or tackle this piece – at least, not yet. Given my current skill level, it's not an option, anyway.

I was only interested in understanding the trick behind the 'special effect'. Now that I do, I'm honestly a bit...underwhelmed? Maybe I thought it'd be more complicated.

:P

Edited: November 14, 2022, 3:31 PM · I think there is some excellent advice above.

One thing I would add: to prepare for playing this sort of passage, I suggest a major problem might be separating mental signals to left and right hand by practicing something very familiar (i.e., uncoupling limb-controlling mental patterns developed for playing more familiar linear music patterns).

For example, play the first 5 notes of a D major scale on the D string while engaging the G string
1. as a constant drone
then
2. alternately between the scale notes
and then
3. while playing the scale notes with separations between them
then
3: while playing random order combinations of the scale notes with separations

Repeat this process, but while engaging the A string instead of the G string

Once you have this under control work on the actual passages in the music you are studying.

November 14, 2022, 5:12 PM · I was going to suggest that some Dukas might help, but maybe I'd be wrong.
Edited: November 14, 2022, 8:55 PM · There is a trickier application of this technique in Telemann's Fantasia no. 2, first movement Measure 6,7 and 19, 20: While playing triplets in the top (legato) voice you are supposed to play pulsating 8ths in the lower voice. I can do the Bach example reasonably well, but I fail on Telemann. Decoupling the right hand from the left hand rhythmically is really hard.
November 14, 2022, 9:58 PM · Is this it? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8WV15SoAq3I
This video clearly shows both hands, etc.
Edited: November 15, 2022, 10:17 PM · This "melody + pulsating under-accompaniment" technique also occurs in Fiorillo's Caprice No. 32 in E-flat major (Op. 3, No. 32). It's a beautiful work generally studied as an étude but immensely more interesting than most pieces regarded as such. This "study" was one of the two études required for Texas All-State competitions this year. I found it very satisfying to learn, and the style is quite different from that of Bach: serenely romantic, with some spontaneous, almost Chopinesque runs here and there. I highly recommend checking it out. It isn't as demanding as Bach's Andante in that there are no triple stops, and the under-accompaniment is not as markedly ubiquitous. All the double stops present are relatively convenient for the left hand.
November 15, 2022, 11:02 PM · Though it's an unconventional reading, I think the opening phrase of the Ciaconna uses a version of this trick, that you hold the F in a down-bow, pulsing the open A for the melody as part of the down-bow. It's what Johann wrote.
Edited: November 22, 2022, 11:49 PM · Yo Albrecht!

I didn't realize that the bottom line in the Telemann was supposed to be as you describe before I read your post, but I was able to figure it out pretty quick. I put together this little tutorial that I hope can explain how to build it up in steps, but I swear it's not as tricky as it initially seems on the page. If you find this helpful at all, please let me know:

Also, let me know if something is unclear, since I didn't do any editing, so my word choice may leave something to be desired. Also, please forgive the intonation; this isn't intended for performance.

Basically:
1. Start just practice dipping onto the D string while maintaining a steady bow on the A string on open strings - You are trying to just make sure you are keeping each note on the D string in time
2. Add in the separate bowings from your edition, but still doing the dipping (you can take some time getting the dipping on up bows and on down bows)
3. Play on open strings as bowed (the double stops in the first measure and then the Bach dipping in the next)
4. Repeat 1-3 as needed but now with fingers but without trills
5. Add trills

(this whole thing somewhat elides the left hand part of this, but I would just remember that the third finger is stationary, so as long as you get the triplet correct in the left hand and keep the bowing going in the right hand, then it works out)

Edited: November 24, 2022, 8:57 PM · I remember when a young student that I know was working on this piece. Her father described to me the stress and frustration that she endured. The same student had previously given a convincing performance of Sarasate's "Zigeunerweisen".

Pretend it's a Kreutzer and you'll be fine.

November 24, 2022, 10:51 PM · That's pretty good, Christian! However your written points evade the real difficulty rather elegantly: To finger a triplet while bowing a duplet (doublet?). The only issue that makes this thing harder than the Bach is this rhythmic thing.

I want to play the movement a bit faster by the way, to create a more flowing melody, which makes this even harder.

If you play the piece for somebody who does not know it (i.e. practically everybody) there are ways to cheat around this...

Edited: November 25, 2022, 12:34 AM · continued,-- "rhythmically decoupling the right and left hand"-- sorry guys, but pianists do that all the time. There is another 2:3 spot in the Kreisler cadenza for the Beethoven concerto. I remember playing that Bach selection by the campfire on a cold night after doing a session of fiddle tunes. It does sound like two violins.
Intermediate practice steps: Play the melody line alone, any fingering, as if it were a vocal line, connect the dots! Then play the same single line with the fingering you have worked out for the double-stop version. And, do the double stop bowing on open strings, no left hand at all.
For that Telemann spot, I think I would also cheat.
Edited: November 25, 2022, 1:24 AM · Hmmm, yeah, I don't know if there is another step to bridge the gap of coordinating the two hands, or if that just comes down to practicing and eventually the brain just snaps it into focus when it's ready. I think that it probably comes down to drilling the hands separately very thoroughly, and eventually the coordination won't break down when combining them, and then it can be sped up with some metronome work and polished up.

Anyway, thanks for indulging me and my hubris, and I'll have to go and practice my 3rds. And yeah, I listened to a few other versions, and on Grumiaux's it is really noticeable how you can still hear the pulsing 8th notes there, but on all the other ones I heard, it was harder to tell, so I don't know that it is THAT important. I hadn't even realized that those 8th notes were supposed to not be slurred until you pointed it out earlier in this thread.

Edited: November 25, 2022, 10:47 AM · As Mr. Quivey said, so many piano pieces require complete rhythmic multitasking. I remember learning Debussy's First Arabesque and having trouble getting the triplets against duplets right. And that is a million times easier than trying to play some of those contemporary works that require, for example, 15:8 sixteenth notes against 9:4 eighth notes... Even the 3:2 double-stop passage in the second movement of Sibelius isn't too bad compared to what pianists deal with.
Edited: November 29, 2022, 3:47 PM · revisiting that Telemann spot; Fantasia #2, Largo, ms. 6, this time with the violin in hand. Subdivide the 3;2 triplet thing into 6 - 1/16th notes:
double-stop with trill, stop the trill, single top note, double-stop, double-stop, single top note. The top line is sustained, bow hair always on the top string. Very tricky-but possible. The guy in the video sort of does that, but unfortunately a little out of tune on some double-stops.


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