Discussion:
Bass in Prelude of PF&A BWV 998
(too old to reply)
w***@pacbell.net
2005-07-06 03:48:23 UTC
Permalink
Bach went to the trouble of writing all those rests in the bass notes -
if he wanted it to sustain he could have easily notated it so. In the
only recordings of the piece that I own, Eduardo Fernandez lets every
bass note ring until the harmony changes, while Kevin Gallagher usually
lets it ring, sometimes cuts it. Presumably they have good reasons for
doing so. What is one to do?

Bill
Richard F. Sayage
2005-07-06 14:00:10 UTC
Permalink
Best advice I can give you is to record yourself and make your own
determination. There are key areas where the damping is appropriate,
otherwise it becomes a bit muddy. Let your ears do the talking! :-)

Rich
--
Richard F. Sayage
Savage Classical GT
Bay Shore, NY 11706
www.savageclassical.com

Remove ZEROSPAM to reply...thx
Post by w***@pacbell.net
Bach went to the trouble of writing all those rests in the bass notes -
if he wanted it to sustain he could have easily notated it so. In the
only recordings of the piece that I own, Eduardo Fernandez lets every
bass note ring until the harmony changes, while Kevin Gallagher usually
lets it ring, sometimes cuts it. Presumably they have good reasons for
doing so. What is one to do?
Bill
Andrew Schulman
2005-07-06 18:12:42 UTC
Permalink
This topic comes up every now and then. I just asked on
http://groups-beta.google.com/group/alt.music.j-s-bach?hl=en about it.

Personally, I don't like the sound of the short basses as written in
the BWV 998 Prelude; I've gone back and forth as far as BWV 999, it is
hard to decide as a case can be made more easily both ways. I do
wonder if the bass line with the rests as written reflect the sound of
the clavier, and don't account for the effect that basses ringing
through the rests have with a lute or guitar, a sound that many people
find very pleasing.

In any case, I let my ear decide in situations like BWV 998. For
instance, in m.'s 1-10 I let the basses ring through to the next
harmony, in m.'s 11-14 I observe the rests, and so on through the
piece. It depends on the situation and I feel that being flexible
about the basses works well, i.e., do what you think sounds best at the
moment in the piece. There are several instances in the Bach Reader
where his sons or students comment on Bach the teacher as encouraging
creative thinking.

Andrew
Post by w***@pacbell.net
Bach went to the trouble of writing all those rests in the bass notes -
if he wanted it to sustain he could have easily notated it so. In the
only recordings of the piece that I own, Eduardo Fernandez lets every
bass note ring until the harmony changes, while Kevin Gallagher usually
lets it ring, sometimes cuts it. Presumably they have good reasons for
doing so. What is one to do?
Bill
Ashby
2005-07-06 19:53:05 UTC
Permalink
Post by w***@pacbell.net
Bach went to the trouble of writing all those rests in the bass notes -
if he wanted it to sustain he could have easily notated it so. In the
only recordings of the piece that I own, Eduardo Fernandez lets every
bass note ring until the harmony changes, while Kevin Gallagher usually
lets it ring, sometimes cuts it. Presumably they have good reasons for
doing so. What is one to do?
Bill
In Bream's 1992 recording of the Prelude, his damping approach is fairly
consistent. When the lower voice sounds alone, he lets it ring through. But
in measures where 2 voices are played simultaneously, he observes Bach's
rests pretty much as written.

In the Allegro he plays the rests as written. Bream comments in the liner
notes that "The problem of keeping the basses damped in the joyously flowing
Allegro is a lutenist's nightmare!"

Bream says there is doubt as to whether Bach's lute works are really written
for the lute. On the title page of the PFA autograph is written "Prelude per
la Liut o Cembal." The meaning of this is unclear, according to Bream. It
could mean "lute or harpsicord," or it could mean "lute-harpsicord," which
is a gut-strung keyboard instrument now extinct. (In my opinion, it's
perfectly clear, at least syntactically: the word "o" in Italian means
"or"). However, some lute scholars have concluded that PFA is probably a
lute-harpsicord work rather than a lute work.

Bach is known to have possessed several lautenwercks (lute-harpsichords). He
also designed and had built for him a thing called a lautenclavicymbel in
around 1740 (about the same time the PFA triptych was assembled). The
literal translation is "lute-clavier-harpsicord." Here's a good website
called "The baroque LUTE-HARPSICHORD: A Forgotten Instrument:"

http://tinyurl.com/8b4ky

Ashby
Robert Crim
2005-07-06 21:35:29 UTC
Permalink
Post by Ashby
Bream says there is doubt as to whether Bach's lute works are really written
for the lute. On the title page of the PFA autograph is written "Prelude per
la Liut o Cembal." The meaning of this is unclear, according to Bream. It
could mean "lute or harpsicord," or it could mean "lute-harpsicord," which
is a gut-strung keyboard instrument now extinct. (In my opinion, it's
perfectly clear, at least syntactically: the word "o" in Italian means
"or"). However, some lute scholars have concluded that PFA is probably a
lute-harpsicord work rather than a lute work.
Bach is known to have possessed several lautenwercks (lute-harpsichords). He
also designed and had built for him a thing called a lautenclavicymbel in
around 1740 (about the same time the PFA triptych was assembled). The
literal translation is "lute-clavier-harpsicord." Here's a good website
called "The baroque LUTE-HARPSICHORD: A Forgotten Instrument:"
http://tinyurl.com/8b4ky
Check out:

http://philiphii.com/articles/bach_lute.html
http://www.lautenwerk.com/whatis.html
http://www.jsbach.org/hillworksforluteharpsichord.html

The latter CD is especially interesting for it's interpretations of
the old standards. They are different and convincing.

Robert
Post by Ashby
Ashby
XUL
2005-07-07 00:34:56 UTC
Permalink
The meaning of this is unclear, according to Bream. It
Post by Ashby
could mean "lute or harpsicord," or it could mean "lute-harpsicord," which
is a gut-strung keyboard instrument now extinct. (In my opinion, it's
perfectly clear, at least syntactically: the word "o" in Italian means
"or"). However, some lute scholars have concluded that PFA is probably a
lute-harpsicord work rather than a lute work.
I have a wonderful "latuenwerck" recording of the so-called lute music on
Dorian CD--sadly now out of print. The pieces sound great on this
instrument...the counterpoint flows effortlessly.
Howard Posner
2005-07-07 23:18:28 UTC
Permalink
Post by Ashby
Bach is known to have possessed several lautenwercks (lute-harpsichords). He
also designed and had built for him a thing called a lautenclavicymbel in
around 1740 (about the same time the PFA triptych was assembled).
We know from the inventory of his estate that in 1750 Bach owned one "1
Lauten Werck" and one lute. The lute was an expensive instrument, valued at
21 reichsthaler. His Stainer violin (Stainer's instruments were the most
prized anywhere, including Italy) was valued at only 8 rt.

All the other instruments listed are keyboards or bowed strings, which he is
known to have played.

HP
Andrew Schulman
2005-07-07 01:56:44 UTC
Permalink
Some interesting responses at
http://groups-beta.google.com/group/alt.music.j-s-bach?hl=en

A.
Stanley Yates
2005-07-07 04:01:24 UTC
Permalink
Post by Andrew Schulman
Some interesting responses at
http://groups-beta.google.com/group/alt.music.j-s-bach?hl=en
Andrew,

Beyond nuance, it isn't really a matter of interpretation at all. Rests are
rests. It's only a question of how long, precisely, one would like the
silences to be (a sixteenth either side, let's say). Ignoring some of them -
on the grounds that one prefers it that way - obviously is indefensible in
terms of attempting to accomodate the composer's intentions (and in this
case, the composer is Bach!). These kinds of bass articulation are very,
very common in bass parts of all kinds of music from the baroque through the
late eighteenth century (and in bass guitar parst today!). Essentially, the
rests alleviate metric stodginess and provide rhythmic forward motion (and
they are mostly found fast movements - like the Prelude to the PFA - rather
than slow ones). If one would rather sustain them, that's fine too - but
let's not pretend this has anything to do with interpretation or styilistic
performance!

SY
Andrew Schulman
2005-07-07 15:52:01 UTC
Permalink
I find this comment on the alt.bach site to be very illuminating-

"This is familiar feature in basso continuo parts.
The bassline in the score is having half notes (or longer), while the
actual rendition is written down in the parts.
If I'm not mistaken Johann Mattheson discusses this in his 'Der
Volkommene Capellmeister'. (1739, facsimile published by Baerenreiter)
It is also discussed in the liner notes of the 1971 Harnoncourt
recording of the St. Matthew Passion.
Sybrand Bakker"

I would agree with you about the rests in the fast movements, I tend to
follow them very carefully for the reasons of forward motion you
mention. But in slow movements, a different story, and here we
probably disagree about the Prelude, I don't hear it as an Allegro but
rather as an Andante. I think letting the basses ring in many places
in the Prelude of 998 sounds a lot better, and obviously I am not alone
in this interpretation.

I've asked Sybrand to convey the Mattheson and Harnoncourt comments.
You may be wrong, it may have everything to do with "interpretation or
styilistic
performance! " But ultimately, a person's performance has to come
down to what sounds best, and fortunately there will always be
different ideas about how things should be done. What a boring world
it would be otherwise!

Andrew
Sarn Dyer
2005-07-07 16:28:01 UTC
Permalink
Andrew Schulman wrote:
But ultimately, a person's performance has to come
Post by Andrew Schulman
down to what sounds best, and fortunately there will always be
different ideas about how things should be done. What a boring world
it would be otherwise!
As long as it *is* what sounds best and not just what the player has
become conditioned to hearing. Sometimes, it can be hard to tell the
difference...

Some players assume that, because the Prelude (bwv 998) begins with a
bass note, the following phrases all begin with a bass note too. But if
the opening bars had been written, for, say, cello, they would probably
have been notated as a single part with the bass an octave higher. In
that circumstance, the ear would be more likely to hear the bass notes
in the second and third bars as both the *ends* and the beginnings of
phrases.

To try to put this more succinctly, the rests bring out the rich
ambiguities of the implied counterpoint.

Sarn

PS BTW, the Darren Hippner guitar was a great success, an open but
strong-sounding instrument... and unbeatable value.
Stanley Yates
2005-07-07 16:47:00 UTC
Permalink
Post by Sarn Dyer
Some players assume that, because the Prelude (bwv 998) begins with a
bass note,
Hi Sarn,

I think that it's this very opening low bass note that leads so many players
to take a too slow a tempo. It can also fool the ear into thinking of the
entire first beat as an anacrusis to beat 2. This is the way I hear many
people play it, and it's wrong of course - beat two is a weak beat! It
should be enough to simply count the beats out loud (in a properly stressed
four) as one plays the piece to realize how the piece should go
(ONE-two-three-four rather than one-TWO-three-four!)

I play this piece with the bass an octave higher - I find the very low
basses too heavy, plus my ear won't accept any substitute for the descending
8-7 bass motion in m4!

SY
--
http://www.StanleyYates.com
Andrew Schulman
2005-07-07 17:13:25 UTC
Permalink
First beat, yeah I'm with you on that-

Now, moving the bass an octave higher? No! Get an 8-string guitar,
play it as written!

Andrew
Post by Stanley Yates
(ONE-two-three-four rather than one-TWO-three-four!)
I play this piece with the bass an octave higher - I find the very low
basses too heavy, plus my ear won't accept any substitute for the descending
8-7 bass motion in m4!
SY
--
http://www.StanleyYates.com
Stanley Yates
2005-07-07 17:34:05 UTC
Permalink
Post by Andrew Schulman
First beat, yeah I'm with you on that-
Now, moving the bass an octave higher? No! Get an 8-string guitar,
play it as written!
Andrew
I agree - I've come to the conclusion that Bach on the 6-string guitar is a
losing battle. It just doesn't do it well enough. But on the 7-string with
Russian tuning - another matter entirely!

SY
--
http://www.StanleyYates.com
Greg M. Silverman
2005-07-07 17:38:03 UTC
Permalink
Post by Stanley Yates
Post by Andrew Schulman
First beat, yeah I'm with you on that-
Now, moving the bass an octave higher? No! Get an 8-string guitar,
play it as written!
Andrew
I agree - I've come to the conclusion that Bach on the 6-string guitar is a
losing battle. It just doesn't do it well enough. But on the 7-string with
Russian tuning - another matter entirely!
Try it on a d-min tuned lute, then you'd get all the bass you need
(wouldn't be a biggie for you in terms of its similar tuning to the
Russian one, your biggest hurdle would be in acclimating your RH). :-)
Sarn Dyer
2005-07-07 19:01:05 UTC
Permalink
Post by Stanley Yates
I play this piece with the bass an octave higher - I find the very low
basses too heavy, plus my ear won't accept any substitute for the descending
8-7 bass motion in m4!
Hi Stanley,

Ha - well, you neatly pre-empt the only solution that occurs to me: to
play the 8 of m4 an octave lower than written!

But I guess that, if we all had the alternative of playing Baroque lute
music on the instrument for which it was written, our ears would soon
learn to pass over some very irregular movements in the bass, albeit
partly disguised by the octave courses.

It may be rather a secondary and abstruse point, but r.h. use can also
have some effect on the way some guitarists physically feel phrasing.
For example: when the action of the thumb isn't completely integrated
with that of the fingers, as when the fingers are moving primarily from
the middle joints and the thumb is moving primarily from its base joint
at the wrist.

SD
Miguel de Maria
2005-07-07 19:32:00 UTC
Permalink
That's interesting...I just read a website, that I got from this group,
that says that baroque music is usually played too quickly, especially
in the outer movements. It was the website with articles about the
lute-machine and the German violin bow. It also said that German music
tended to be brooding and contemplative, more reflective of what would
be played in a church than in the streets. It said that the rule would
be to never go faster than the fastest notes that could be cleanly
articulated, and the beauty of counterpoint could only be appreciated
when played at a moderate tempo. I'm just repeating what I read :)
Stanley Yates
2005-07-08 13:06:04 UTC
Permalink
Post by Sarn Dyer
Hi Stanley,
Ha - well, you neatly pre-empt the only solution that occurs to me: to
play the 8 of m4 an octave lower than written!
But I guess that, if we all had the alternative of playing Baroque lute
music on the instrument for which it was written, our ears would soon
learn to pass over some very irregular movements in the bass, albeit
partly disguised by the octave courses.
I've always been struck by CPE's description of how to compose (or
improvise) a prelude: (paraphrasing) start by moving the bass down from the
octave by step to to the fifth, introducing some temporary excursions along
the way for variety; do the same back down to the tonic, perhaps with some
pedal tones; add varied harmonies above (i.e. varied inversions); apply a
figuration (arpeggiation, passagework, etc)!

SY
--
http://www.StanleyYates.com
Sarn Dyer
2005-07-08 18:31:08 UTC
Permalink
Post by Stanley Yates
I've always been struck by CPE's description of how to compose (or
improvise) a prelude: (paraphrasing) start by moving the bass down from the
octave by step to to the fifth, introducing some temporary excursions along
the way for variety; do the same back down to the tonic, perhaps with some
pedal tones; add varied harmonies above (i.e. varied inversions); apply a
figuration (arpeggiation, passagework, etc)!
Excellent advice, and perhaps even better advice to students of
composition in general. Harmonising downward and upward steps in as many
different ways as possible, demonstrates so many important harmonic
relationships. Perhaps I unconsciously took this simple idea from TTAoPKI!

I recently read of J.A. Scheibe's criticism of Bach (JS) in 'Der
Critische Musicus' where he takes him to task for removing:

"...every natural element from his pieces through their bombastic and
muddled nature, obscuring their beauty through an over-abundance of art."

Hopefully, this invective gave young Scheibe - aged 23 - some momentary
relief from his frustrations... ;-)

SD
Andrew Schulman
2005-07-07 17:24:30 UTC
Permalink
I'm delighted to hear this!

Darren has built two 8-stringers for me in the last few months, got one
in April, the other in June. Both lattice braced, similar to the Paul
Fischer design rather than Smallman. One is German Spruce/Flaming
Maple, the other Swiss Spruce/Brazilian. Both excellent, except one
thinks you have to observe every rest in 998 and the other doesn't; but
that's show biz!

Andrew
Post by Sarn Dyer
PS BTW, the Darren Hippner guitar was a great success, an open but
strong-sounding instrument... and unbeatable value.
Stanley Yates
2005-07-07 16:34:58 UTC
Permalink
Post by Andrew Schulman
I would agree with you about the rests in the fast movements, I tend to
follow them very carefully for the reasons of forward motion you
mention. But in slow movements, a different story, and here we
probably disagree about the Prelude, I don't hear it as an Allegro but
rather as an Andante. I think letting the basses ring in many places
in the Prelude of 998 sounds a lot better, and obviously I am not alone
in this interpretation.
It seems that almost every guitarist plays this piece too slowly! Remember
that during the baroque, a time signature was used to indicate not only
meter but also tempo. Compound signatures in four (i.e., 12/8) aren't
generally used for slow tempos - tempo siciliene would probably be the
slowest, and that's only around an andante or andantino, but our Prelude
clearly isn't a siciliene aria style. I'd certainly settle for a moderato.
It's only a matter of establishing a reasonable pulse - think of that
well-known Bach compound meter movement, Jesu Joy of Man's Desiring.
Post by Andrew Schulman
I've asked Sybrand to convey the Mattheson and Harnoncourt comments.
You may be wrong, it may have everything to do with "interpretation or
styilistic performance! "
I agree - it has everything to do with stylisitc performance! But let's not
forget that performance practice is a field based upon research, usually of
written sources. There are certainly period references that discuss
performance of a written score in a more articulate or detached manner than
notated (which is what Sybrand is talking about), but none that I know of
(from any period, actually) that suggest a performer should replace notated
rests with a sustained legato.
Post by Andrew Schulman
But ultimately, a person's performance has to come
down to what sounds best, and fortunately there will always be
different ideas about how things should be done. What a boring world
it would be otherwise!
Certainly!

SY
--
Stanley Yates
http://www.StanleyYates.com
Andrew Schulman
2005-07-07 17:16:30 UTC
Permalink
OK, call it moderato, we agree. And yes, a similar tempo to Jesu.
Post by Stanley Yates
I'd certainly settle for a moderato.
It's only a matter of establishing a reasonable pulse - think of that
well-known Bach compound meter movement, Jesu Joy of Man's Desiring.
Howard Posner
2005-07-07 23:04:39 UTC
Permalink
Post by Andrew Schulman
OK, call it moderato, we agree. And yes, a similar tempo to Jesu.
Unless you guys are in the same room or have discussed this before, you've
reached a pretty illusory agreement, since tempo in that piece varies
widely. Joshua Rifkin, in his performance of cantata 147, takes it at about
100 quarters per minute (not having the score in front of me, I'm assuming
it's written in 3/4 and the small notes are eighth-note triplets), which is
perhaps half again the tempo of Ormandy and his ilk.

HP
Andrew Schulman
2005-07-08 00:17:11 UTC
Permalink
Yes, we are really good at being illusory (right Stanley?)...

But seriously folks, I think the key word in the quoted text was
moderato, which for me means a dotted quarter note = 76-80, which is a
good tempo range for both pieces, IMHO.

Andrew
Stanley Yates
2005-07-08 13:42:35 UTC
Permalink
----- Original Message -----
From: "Andrew Schulman" <***@panix.com>
Newsgroups: rec.music.classical.guitar
Sent: Thursday, July 07, 2005 7:17 PM
Subject: Re: Bass in Prelude of PF&A BWV 998
Post by Andrew Schulman
Yes, we are really good at being illusory (right Stanley?)...
As much by sleight of hand as by illusion, I would have thought...
Post by Andrew Schulman
But seriously folks, I think the key word in the quoted text was
moderato, which for me means a dotted quarter note = 76-80, which is a
good tempo range for both pieces, IMHO.
Andrew
Stanley Yates
2005-07-08 13:12:56 UTC
Permalink
Post by Howard Posner
Post by Andrew Schulman
OK, call it moderato, we agree. And yes, a similar tempo to Jesu.
Unless you guys are in the same room or have discussed this before, you've
reached a pretty illusory agreement, since tempo in that piece varies
widely. Joshua Rifkin, in his performance of cantata 147, takes it at about
100 quarters per minute (not having the score in front of me, I'm assuming
it's written in 3/4 and the small notes are eighth-note triplets), which is
perhaps half again the tempo of Ormandy and his ilk.
HP
It really doesn't matter Howard. All I'm suggesting here is a simple system
of exploring baroque tempo possibilities by experiencing the pulse,
considering the time signature and comparing with other broadly similar
pieces. By the way, if Jesu is notated in 3/4 with triplets, then my
comparison is false since this suggests a slower tempo and more serous
character than 9/8.

SY
--
http://www.StanleyYates.com
tollimees
2005-07-07 09:20:15 UTC
Permalink
Post by w***@pacbell.net
Bach went to the trouble of writing all those rests in the bass notes -
if he wanted it to sustain he could have easily notated it so. In the
only recordings of the piece that I own, Eduardo Fernandez lets every
bass note ring until the harmony changes, while Kevin Gallagher usually
lets it ring, sometimes cuts it. Presumably they have good reasons for
doing so. What is one to do?
Bill
JS Bach uses often multivoice facture played by solo-instrument. Solo
trumpet can play fuga with 3 voices in Bach's style. This means, that
there will never be physically two or more simultaneous voices played.
Bach is marking only beginnings of voices and letting them ring in
listener's imagination. In this sense It doesn't make difference
whether to leave the voices to ring in reality or dump them out sharply
and leave the rest of them to sound in listener's imagination.

I agree with mr.Yates, that dumped bass is rhytmically much more active
and legible. Isn't the conflict of different rhytms the basic idea of
polyphony?
For my money dumping of several notes is MUST in Bach's music. only
with dumping one can exploit the real beauty of polyphony.

In Prelude BWV998 It's cleaner to dump the basses out. In imagination
the notes are always cleaner than the real ones. And secondly, the
conflict between bass-rhytm and melody-rhytm is appealing.
Allar
Andrew Schulman
2005-07-07 20:57:59 UTC
Permalink
"Harnoncourt starts noting the difference in notation between the score

and the continuo part. The score is without rests, the continuo part
is with rests. The continuo part is supposed to be younger than the
score, so is supposed to contain the final form.
He stipulates that Bach didn't introduce a new way to accompany the
recitative, after 15 years of performing the Matthew Passion.
Then he quotes number 4a, 'Da versammleten sich die Hohenpriester'
showing both variants.
He then continues that one should play the bassnotes briefly, as has
been written down in various treatises. The main reason for this is
everyone could follow the text more clearly.
Also Alfred Duerr in his preface to the edition in the NBA remarks the
rests should be observed.

Sybrand Bakker"

Having quoted this I will say that I just don't like the sound of the
short basses in the Prelude, keeping an open mind about it (as much as
possible).

I think the short basses reflect keyboard writing. It would be nice to
know what Bach would think hearing it on the guitar with the basses
ringing, so I have just contacted Madame Arcati (from "Blythe Spirit")
to arrange a seance, at midnight tonight. I'll keep you posted...

Andrew
tollimees
2005-07-10 07:04:45 UTC
Permalink
I forgot one reason, which makes me to use short basses. It's the
question of relaxation:

Short basses are strained, but long basses give the feel of relaxation.


This makes me use short basses at the beginning and after it and the
long basses only, when there is "relaxation of the end" needed. I'm
certainly playing the last chord as long as possible. Bearing in mind
those massive organ-works last chords, which can be about 10 seconds
long and give very strong "this is the end"-feeling. On guitar It's not
possible of course to be as massive. but It's still not bad to let the
last chord ring and ring and ring w/o any hurry of dumping It down.

Casual use of basses destroys stability also: In BWV998 Prelude you can
play long basses at the beginning with success on open strings. But
furhtemore there is no way to be as long any more. It has no musical
explanation, why the bass-lenght is suddenly changeing. There are only
technical reasons behind this unstability. For the sake of real
stability It's better to be short stright from the beginning. Then
there will be no misleading changes in musical tissue. And It
hypnotizes listener with bigger success. (I'm using myself as listener
though. You never know what is in the head of so-called "usual"
listener. )

There is not of course abloute truth in it. But this is just mine
explanation, why I'm doing the thing as I am. For me the short bass
gives bigger unity, clearer, stable tissue and decent feel of ending at
the end (I mean the feel of relaxiation, when the basses go long
instead of short).


Allar

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