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Bach and Modern Performance Tradition
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Bach Suites Program Notes
Continuo Realization at the Cello
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Great Intentions; Great Performances?

What does it really mean to say that a certain musician gave “a great performance?” Are there standards by which we can actually measure performance quality, other than to say: “that concert left me cold; I want my money back,” or “the concert was fantastic, even life-enriching – but I still want my money back,” something more objective than an audience consensus or the receipts from record sales? The field of aesthetics attempts to address questions like these; some dictionaries even define aesthetics as a “science.” Is terming the contemplation of beauty a science justifiable? On what objective criteria might any such “science” be based, other than statistics measuring a number of beholders’ eyes or ears? ...read more

Rethinking Bach Performance

In recent years musicological research, beginning with the work of David Watkin, has affirmed a body of evidence that during the Baroque period (and well into the Classical) the cello often rendered fully-realized thoroughbass accompaniments for vocal and instrumental soloists.  Its harmonic and contrapuntal capabilities, as a sort of bowed lute with fuller sounds and greater intonation flexibility than the viol, appear to have been exploited by composers without the supplemental use of instruments we more commonly associate with harmonic functions today (these include the various keyboard instruments, lute, archlute, theorbo and others, which it had been assumed until recently the cello reinforced in a purely melodic manner).  This harmonic use for the cello runs counter to our modern perception of it as a melodic instrument (paradoxically, modern solo compositions make extensive use of its harmonic possibilities). ...read more

 


 
 
CD Liner Notes

For listeners who have perhaps downloaded my Bach CD from iTunes, or for any other reason are unable to access the liner notes I wrote for it, you may read or download them here, along with three other pieces of writing.  The next is entitled Program Notes, and it consists of information on each dance in the Bach suites.  A reprint follows of an article that appeared in the DaPonte String Quartet newsletter a few years ago, which addresses the question, “What constitutes a great performance?” The last essay, "Continuo Realization at the Cello," examines the implications of recent musicological research in the field of continuo performance practise.


 

They are made available here as free downloads simply because such ideas as these should be more widely discussed, especially among musicians.  The main object is that Bach performance practise as we understand it today gets the reexamination it needs and so richly deserves.  If it begins to change for the better in any part as the result of websites like this one, then in my view the Information Superhighway is doing its job well.

These materials are under copyright; please credit this source.

  • Myles Jordan
Prelude: The Prelude evolved from lutenists’ checking the tuning of their instruments. It usually has a quasi-improvised quality, but Bach’s are preponderantly far more tightly structured than earlier examples. The G Major Prelude has often been cited as an example of musical verisimilitude, or “tone painting.” It sounds like flowing water – the representation of a brook, or Bach, in German – and most of his musical signature (minus the first letter) appears in its first two measures, thus identifying this music as in some way an autobiographical statement. His incomplete signature “A-C-H,” contained in the key of G Major, is also the syllable of a cry of despair, and consistent with a symbolic representation of himself as “incomplete” since he had very recently and suddenly become a widower (1720). ...read more

Realizations: A New Look at Old Music

Those of us who attempt to play early music exactly as its composers might have expected it to sound are unfortunately very like Susie, the little girl in art class. Asked by her teacher what she was painting, she replied: “A picture of God.” “But, Susie,” her teacher pointed out, “Nobody knows what God looks like.” “Well,” replied the child, “They will in a minute!”

The present recording is the first – and I trust not the last – in which four fundamental changes are made to the way these suites have been played until now, in accordance with what we understand of Bach’s own performance practices. They include: tempi derived from Baroque sources, chiefly from Johann Mattheson’s 1739 treatise Der vollkommene Capellmeister; the incorporation of timbre changes, such as the use of pizzicato, con sordino, and sul ponticello, known to be used by continuo cellists at least since Monteverdi’s time; the use of additional improvised harmony and counterpoint, as described by Bach’s student Agricola and consistent with contemporaneous practices of continuo cellists; and finally consideration of these works’ context as autobiographical statements. ...read more