J.S.Bach :: Prelude & Fugue in F Minor, BWV 857 (WK I)

When I started playing music, so incredible long-time ago, I was told time after time, that Bach was a very conservative composer. Some of the 'voices' of my musical education even did go that far, that he possibly not could have understood the new ways his son's had chosen.
Well...yeah... I don't buy this. I mean, diving in to the music of the greatest master of all times, one is constantly surprised of the progressive use of harmony and playing technique. Bach was the Franz Liszt of the 18th century on the field of expansing his technical abilities (and with that, those of his contemporaries and next generations).
This prelude is of an extreme sadness, and, thinking of Franz Liszt and the habits of the 19th century, he might have called this piece 'Tristesse'. It has a beautiful expression of mood and harmony, and is followed by one of the more complex fugues, that Bach provided with a theme that... well... also could have been written by Webern.

Oh, that old-fashioned Bach, only busy with his long-passed counterpoint...!
It is a composed fugue for sure, I mean, in the sense that it is hard to play in a way to give all four voices its full range of tone and colour. A string quartet would be great, and, with the humble technical skills that mother nature gave me, I was thinking what the effect would be if recorded voice by voice, in a multitrack recording. So, progressive Bach would meet progressive technique... May be once, as an experiment... but not in this fugue, such a masterpiece within masterpieces.
Aren't we lucky to have all that music at reach?

Wim

Bonus: an attempt for redefining HIPP: Historically informed performance practice

Vlog n°11, in which I continuo the conversation we had in the last video (about the title Authentic Sound). Some conversations have sharpened my mind, in the sense that I felt it to be necessary to redefine the so called 'historical informed performance practice (HIPP)'. Reason why is because of the often heard statement that the only thing that really matters is the music itself. Not the way you play it, not the instrument, but the vision, the diction, the story, the personality.

Of course this is true. And to make clear to you that I do underline this statement, I can tell you that one of my favourite recordings is Gould's latest version of Bach's Goldberg Variations of 1982. At the end, it is only the music that matters and the interaction between the musician and the composer. No doubt about that.

There is only one BUT. If we want to label certain performances with the label 'historically informed' and others not, we must know where to draw the line. After all, we have an audience that search for these kind of performances or recordings, and we are obliged to inform them well. They accept on our authority what does and what does not fall into the margins of this label.

This is difficult, not to say impossible, if we start commenting on the interpretation this or that musician gives to this or that historical source. The key meaning of interpretation is that you change things into your own understanding, and since no one of us was there when Bach or Mozart played their works, nobody of us can claim to have the truth in his/her hand. So no objective criteria can be made out of the way of playing. Fortunately!

But what then? In my opinion, there is only one aspect that can draw a clear line between performances/recordings that fall within, and that fall out the framework of the HIPP, and that is the choice of instrument. Not in the strict sense that we only use the instruments the composer has known (this would be impossible, since we cannot use the original instruments any more, and if we do, their present state is not necessarily reflecting their original sound), but restrict ourselves in the choice of instrument to those instrument the composer could have known. Or, that were available to him or contemporaries.

If we take this statement as a definition, things become clearer: As much as Glenn Gould was rethinking the music of Bach, and even in some aspects tried to come closer to him, he falls of, based on his choice of instrument. But also a Mozart recording made on a Walter copy of 1795 falls off! And however this might sound radical, it is important. Because this kind of recording (which is perfectly ok to produce, let me be clear on this) can falsely give your audience the idea that they listen to the sound of Mozart. Which is apparently not the case, since the sound of this instrument is different of what Mozart COULD (not has, we were not there!) known.

It can get complicated, but this definition is clear and can work as a guide for correct explanation to our audience.

And at the end, as I said... it is the music that counts. Only that. But let us be careful with the definition of this HIPP-movement in respect of that 'first generation' that had to fight for its existence. We should not take it too easily for granted.

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