J.S.Bach :: English Suite n°3 in G Minor, BWV 808

Movement List:
Prelude
Allemande
Courante
Sarabande
Gavotte I + II
Gigue

The six English suites of Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750), of which you hear in this recording the third one, would have been written around 1715. The exact date is not known, but certainly not later than 1720. So rather 'early' works, and an interesting date in relationship to the first documented unfretted clavichords, which appear at the same time.

The mainstream literature connect the harpsichord as the original instrument of choice of preference for these pieces, as is the case for almost any music written before 1750. However, the position of the unfretted 5-octave clavichord was much more dominant than what 'we' today think, and certainly this period around 1715 is interesting. Just think about the reason WHY and by WHO this old renaissance instrument was or (was wished to be)transformed in to a by then modern keyboard of 5 octaves? Not so many research has been done to answer these questions (if any), but they are important ones.

Not to say that this music is solely clavichord music. Far from that. The 18th century would write 'keyboard' music, that is: music to be played on 'a' keyboard, whether it is clavichord, harpsichord, later pianoforte or tangentenflügel, organ, or one of the many other keyboard types that the 18th century has known. Not all pieces are exchangeable, some are intended to be played on this or that instrument (e.g. organ works with pedal parts)
This approach takes much tension away from the choices we can or are supposed to make. By playing this music today on my clavichord, I am not at all STATING or PROVING that this is the ONLY choice one could make, but I'm choosing the clavichord today, since I feel connected to this instrument today.

Bottom-line is, that if you restrict yourself to a type of instrument that was available in the 18th century, you step in to the context that those musicians and composers have known themselves. Today, much emphasis is being put on the performance itself, much less on the music, that, in those days, was central in the performance.

The composer showed his composition skills, and in the meantime, his skills as a performing musician. If you listen to this recording, you probably are interested in my vision on the piece you already know. A huge difference, that cannot be corrected (and should not be tried to correct), but is good to realize!

The choice of instrument do influences the way the music sounds (of course), but also on the approach you take towards the interpretation. The differences might be small at the end, but are nevertheless important: the instrument takes part in the complicated process of decision making, adding its own demands and wishes to the music you play.

With other words: it's hard, not to say impossible, to play the same music the same on different instruments. And that... is the fun part of it! This interaction, very natural with organists (because they always have to adapt to different instruments), has become perhaps a little strange to the keyboard player of today. Music from before 1750 has to be played on 'a' harpsichord, (Viennese) music after 1750 on 'a' pianoforte. Period (it seems). No, it is much more complicated than that, and more interesting too!

Concerning my interpretation of this English suite, I see this YouTube channel as a garden full of experimental flowers. I do not intend to ask for your time with a recording of which I feel that it is not finished. That would be unjustifiable. No, what I mean is that these complex pieces are always a work in progress, they need a concentration and a level of expression that -in my feeling- demand very much of the player. And far from saying that on the harpsichord this music becomes an easy task, the clavichord adds its own complexity to it, giving other, and in some cases, more options, but at the same time the urge to take more decisions in sometimes microscopic fields of expression.

The choices of tempo in connection with the tempo words and dance patterns, are not always easy and appear to follow other rules than the 'normal' music. I admit that it is not always clear to me how exactly this relationship is (notation - dance pattern), but I plan to make a series of vlog's on notation and tempo in the near future. I look very much forward to this, since it could also for myself put things in a row and let me discover, together with you, new insight in this ever beauty of 18th century music.

 

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