Friday, September 28, 2007

Regarding the French Suite in general...

These suites, not particularly 'French' in idiom, lack preludes, and are shorter and less elaborate than the Partitas and English Suites. Nevertheless, they contain some of Bach's most popular and accessible keyboard writing. (from the Urtext Edition of the French Suites)

When I read that, I got an idea to play around with adding a prelude before I play the French Suite No. 6 – especially since I have a favorite prelude in E Major from WTC Book II. I’ve been fascinated by the effective use of the step interval in the broken chord that Bach uses a lot in the Allemande. For example in the B Major arpeggiated chord ending the first section, the notes in the right hand are b, c#, #d, f#, b, followed by f#, d#, f#, b. The c# does not belong the b major chord, but the extra step creates such a beautiful effect. This addition of a step in the skip pattern is also used in the WCT Book II E Major prelude. It makes me wonder if the passing tone used with the triads is what I really love about these pieces and not the "joyful" key of E Major.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

My Heart Sings

JS Bach, French Suite, No. 6
The Allemande

What is it about the key of E Major that makes my heart sing? I always feel happy when playing in this key. I think a big reason I was attracted to this piece is because it is in E Major. One of favorite preludes is the E Major one from WTC Book II. Several years ago in Harper’s Magazine (January 2005), they published a sidebar about what the musical keys represented. It was fascinating. According to Christian Friedrich Daniel Schubart (1739-1791) the Key E Major represents: “…loud shouts for joy, laughing pleasure, and still not altogether full gratification.” Perhaps this image was planted in my brain, so from now on, I feel joyful about E Major…the power of suggestion?

Anyway, back to the work at hand (no pun intended!) I have the notes of the Allemande in my fingers. I’m working on tempo and checking my fingering and ornaments. I find Alfred’s Ornamentation Book helpful as it gives me a point of reference to begin with. I’m also exploring added trills on the repeats. It’s fun to try mordents and appoggiatura at full and half cadence points. I also find the sequences in this work fun. I know that Bach’s work is full of sequences, but the syncopation with the leap of the 6th is extra rewarding…but, is it fulfilling?

Monday, September 24, 2007


About the Allemande…it is a dance in moderate duple meter first appearing in the Sixteen Century.

As one of the enduringly popular dances of the Baroque genre, an allemande is often offered as a standard portion of a musical suite. While early on an allemande served as a prelude to the suite, the dance is usually included in the first movement today. Here is some information on the history of the allemande, as well as some of the features that make the allemande unique in the world of Baroque dance. The origins of the allemande can be traced back to the Renaissance of the 16th century. The name of the allemande is actually based on the French word for "German," and points to the fact that the dance is based partly on elements of popular Germany dances. Featuring a moderated tempo along with a double meter, the allemande was a lively representation and quickly caught the attention of dancers as well as composers. During the 17th century, there was some experimentation with the allemande that changed the basic structure of the dance. Instead of a double meter, a quadruple meter was employed. In addition, the overall tempo of the movement was increased. Most of the refinements came about in order to accommodate similar changes in the musical compositions.
It is worth noting that no less than Bach and Froberger in Germany composed allemandes that were geared for use with keyboard instruments, while Italian and English composers focused on musical compositions for string instruments. English composers also experimented with a tripe meter to the allemande, as well as working with the quadruple meter concept.

From WiseGeek

Friday, September 21, 2007

Diary of a Pianist

This diary will be an attempt to document my process as I learn various masterworks of the keyboard literature. I wanted to start this blog as a way to connect with other musicians and music lovers as the practice room can be such a lonely place!

I always envied ensemble players – as they get to interact with other musicians while learning pieces – even though I never really sought out chamber music for myself, being far too interested in solo playing.

When I first thought of this diary project, I originally chose Pour le Piano by Debussy as my starter project. But I had a lot of trouble getting underway. I did download some great recordings of the work (so far my favorite is by Claudio Arrau, but Phillipe Entremont’s recording really gets my heart rate up – his Toccata tempo takes my breath away!), bought a score, and read through the Prelude and Sarabande (notice I did not read through the Toccata…), but I just couldn’t seem to get any further than that. I just talked a lot about playing the work.

So, this summer I attended the Golandsky Institute at Princeton University for the second time, and, like the first time, I found inspiration at the Institute. One of the master classes featured a lovely young pianist, Monika Haar, playing the sixth French Suite of J. S. Bach. I fell in love with the piece, and having never learned any of the Suites, I realized it was high time to start in on one. I’ve always loved Bach, but for years I had a phobia about playing his music – all that ornamentation! Later, seduced by the Early Music Movement, I felt Bach should not be played on pianos, as they did not exist at the time when Bach was composing his music. Also, my technique was rusty from not playing the piano for ten years from 1983-1993 (long story, don’t ask!), and, frankly, playing Bach’s music is hard.

However, one by one, I conquered my fears, including making peace with playing Bach on the piano and not on a period instrument (more about that later) and I’ve made J. S. Bach a staple of my piano diet. When I first returned to the piano, my teacher Eliane Lust had me relearn all of the Two-Part Inventions by singing one line and playing the other which was a wonderful may to reconnect to the piano and to Bach. I’ve also worked on several Preludes and Fugues from Book I of the Well Tempered Clavier, and of course now I’m learning a French Suite.

My next post will be about working on the first dance of the suite, The Allemande!