Thursday, January 31, 2008

Hooray for the Bouree

A Bouree is a...

French dance form in fast double two time, accented on the second beat, and starting on the upbeat, the music for which is found in the classical suite. From the Hutchinson Free Dictionary.

Like the Courante, this section of Bach's French Suite VI in E Major is fun to play and it requires a solid left hand. The hands are equal players here. As for many right handed melody centric pianists, my left hand has been sorely neglected. I've been practicing this work with my right hand triple piano and my left hand at forte. I find this more useful than just left hand alone because I need to practice the counterpoint as well. The choreography of the hands is part of what makes this piece so exciting to play.

At this website, there are dance patterns for the Bouree from the time of Louis XIV.
Beautiful to behold.

The rock group, Jethro Tull, made this Bach Bouree famous for youth in the 1970s --- alas it is not the E Major Bouree. It is a slow stately bouree in e minor.

For the 21st century Tenacious D used Bach's e minor bouree in this scatological parody of classical music: Warning explicit lyrics, sacrilegious use of Bach and Mozart, do not open if lacking a sense of humor or deplore the state of the American vernacular...

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Mozart's Birthday

On Sunday, January 27, Renditions Music Services presented a student Piano and Voice recital in San Francisco. I performed Mozart's Sonata in F Major, K 332, Movement 1. My piano coach Eliane Lust once told me at all of Mozart is opera ---- so it does not matter if you are playing a symphony, string quartet, or piano sonata --- all of the musical motifs should suggest characters. I love this idea, and of course I have an opera scenario going when I play this piece.

For me the first movement suggests a glorious fox hunt with the hunt participants splendidly dressed, the horses magnificent, the hounds sleek. I hear the call of the hunting horns, galloping horses charging through the forest, hounds chasing the fox in dense woods, interludes where the hunting party pauses for refreshment and perhaps to frolic in the woods...In my version of this hunt, the fox gets away...but, the thrill of the hunt is enough for the hounds and humans.

In England - where my opera takes place - they are now trying to ban fox hunting. (See and
I understand why so many people are upset with the hunt. Lucky for me a hunt with help from Mozart lives on in my imagination.

Pictures from the Recital Reception

We had a chocolate fountain for the guests - alas this is before the chocolate has been added, nor is the punch in the bowl...marshmallows and strawberries ready for dipping

petits fours, Linda's Lollies and custom M&Ms round out the treats

David and guests

David sang two works "Mondnacht" (“Night of the Moon”) by Robert Schumann and "Phidylé" by Henri Duparc with pianist Seth Stafford. Their performance was lovely and I'm hoping David will upload a clip from this performance soon.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008


What is a minuet? You would think that any pianist would be so familiar with the form having played so very many of these dances in their early careers, but this is about all any of us know.

Grove's Dictionary says....Minuet: A dance, of French origin, in a moderate triple metre. It was known at Louis XIV's court as an elegant social dance performed by one couple at a time, and remained the most popular dance among the European aristocracy until the late 18th century. Lully introduced numerous minuets into his operas and ballets and the dance was frequently included in Baroque keyboard and ensemble suites.

I don’t have much (yet) to say about the Minuet from the E Major French Suite. Mr. Potterton suggested a more relaxed tempo and to save all of the ornaments for the repeats. The only controversy I can find is that some editions --- such as the Henle Urtext --- have grouped the three short works (Gavotte, Polonaise and Minuet) together. Traditionally it seems that the Bourree was placed after the Polonaise with the Minuet following. In that scheme the two fast sections (Bourree and Gigue) are broken up with the ending of the suite being fast – slow – fast. I’m leaning towards playing the three short works together a la the Henle edition because I like them as a group. However, having a slow piece in between the fast dances provides a respite for the fingers, but then once the digits are warmed up, might as well race to the finish!

Friday, January 11, 2008

A melody with any other name would sound so sweet

Contrary to conventional wisdom, first impressions can be so misleading. Take Bach’s Polonaise from the Sixth French Suite in E Major. At first read through, following my instincts, I played the left hand legato and sweetly voiced the right hand melody above it. Ah, a lovely lullaby, a delightful little piece, but alas, I was wrong. When I played the Polonaise for Bruce Potterton in New York this December with what I thought was beautiful, lyrical feeling, he was not impressed. He did not like my interpretation…although he did say that he had heard many pianist play the Polonaise in a likewise manner. I wasn’t really mollified. I knew that the polonaise was a Polish folk dance, but not much more than that. Potterton said that for him the piece should be more march like or even militaristic. That interpretation sounded correct, but very difficult for me to get my head around. So I went to Google for some research…


A stately, marchlike Polish dance, primarily a promenade by couples.
Music for or based on the traditional rhythm of this dance, having triple meter.

From: Oxford University Press

A stately Polish processional dance or an instrumental piece. The dance, accompanied by singing, has long been used at weddings and public ceremonies. The melodies are in triple metre and have a simple structure, consisting of short phrases usually without upbeat. As a court dance, accompanied by instruments rather than by singing, it became the most highbred expression of the Polish national spirit and the most representative of Polish dances throughout Europe.

The 18th century saw the stylization of the polonaise. Those of Bach (French Suite no.1, Orchestral Suite no.2) show the characteristic features of triple metre, phrases without upbeat and a closing rhythm which throws the accent on to the second beat. German composers propagated the dance as a musical form and many polonaises were written by Telemann, J. G. Goldberg, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Weber and others. Chopin's famous examples established ex.1as the typical polonaise rhythm. Among other notable piano polonaises are those of Schumann and Liszt, and the form was used by several Russian composers, including Musorgsky (Boris Godunov), Tchaikovsky (Sleeping Beauty, Eugene Onegin) and Glinka.

From: Britannica Concise Encyclopedia

Dignified ceremonial dance in 3/4 time, frequently employing dotted rhythms, that often opened court balls in the 17th – 19th century. It likely began as a warrior's triumphal dance and had been adopted by the Polish court as a formal march as early as 1573. The dancers promenaded with gliding steps accented by bending the knee slightly on every third step. It often appeared in ballets, and it was used as a musical form by composers such as George Frideric Handel, Ludwig van Beethoven, and especially Frédéric Chopin, whose piano polonaises were martial and heroic.

OK, so some scholarship supports Mr. Potterton’s interpretation. So far, none supports mine!

From Columbia Encyclopedia

polonaise (pŏl'ənāz', ō'–) , Polish national dance, in moderate 3–4 time and of slow, stately movements. It evolved from peasant and court processions and ceremonies of the late 16th cent. and was later used by J. S. and W. F. Bach, Handel, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, and Liszt. Chopin, exiled from Poland, expressed his patriotic fervor in 13 polonaises.

Typical rhythm of a Polonaise: Eighth note with two sixteenth notes followed by four eighth notes

Now this is interesting. Bach’s rhythm for the E Major Polonaise is: two sixteenths followed by an eighth note then two quarter notes. Why so different from the typical rhythm? Does that support my theory of a lyrical, dreamy piece? Also interesting…

The polonaise (Polish: polonez, chodzony; Italian: polacca) is a rather slow dance of Polish origin, in 3/4 time.

Hmmm, could I play the work my way? Stay tuned!

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

A Kissing Dance

When I first starting playing the Gavotte, I thought it must be some kind of bowing dance. I could see so clearly a formal dance with partners coming together and then moving apart to another partner and staring the pattern again. It sounded pompous and somewhat military to me. Image my surprise when I found out that the Gavotte is a peasant dance. I do so love the upbeats in the work. I’m paying special attention to beat one to highlight the off beats. It is also a hopping type dance. I keep wanting to play two note slurs where there are harmonic sixths ---- does that suggest hopping? (I found out while studying the Gavotte in New York, that even though there are no slurs in the urtext score, it is customary to play the 6ths as two note slurs.) And then I found out that the Gavotte is a kissing dance…I guess the Saraband isn’t the only sexy dance from the Baroque!

From…the Gavotte is: a lively peasants' kissing dance that became fashionable at the 17th- and 18th-century courts of France and England. Supposedly originated by the natives of Gap (Gavots) in the southeastern French province of Dauphiné, the gavotte was danced in royal ballrooms as a round with skipping steps adapted from the branle. Couples concluded improvised duet performances by kissing their partners. Later the dance developed more formal figures, and flowers were exchanged instead of kisses. At the French court in the 18th century, the gavotte was at first stately and later more ornate; its slow walking steps were in 4/4 time, with upbeats on beats 3 and 4.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008


I’ve been told that the the Saraband is the dance of seduction. Is it named for the person who danced it first - Sara or Zara - as some claim? Was it danced in a harem in Moorish Spain? Regardless, by the Baroque era in Spain it was considered a dance of ill-repute. Certainly in Bach’s E Major suite it appears to live up to its reputation. Bach teases a melody of rising and falling notes out of the most elaborate ornamentation; the turns - a soft caress; the slides and rolled chords evoke stroking; the appoggiaturas- tension, anticipation; and trills over several beats suggest the sensuality of a master at the height of his powers. Underneath it all is the driving pulse of the triple meter - accentuating the second beat. Despite all this masterful music making, the piece feels sad...haunted...maybe by the remembrance of a past love...not forgotten, but relived in every note.