how to practice a fugue?
1.play each voice separately.
e.g. if there are four voices,
Step 1. play only soprano voice
Step 2. play only alto voice
Step 3. play only tenor voice
Step 4. play only bass voice
2. Play two voices together
Step 5. play soprano and alto voices
Step 6. play tenor and bass voices
Step 7. play soprano and bass voices
Step 8. play alto and tenor voices
It’s very important to hear firstly each individual voice before practicing them together.
The concept is very simple:
Imagine a fugue is played by a string ensemble, so it would be first violin + second violin + viola + cello. Do they practice together without practicing on their own? No! Only now YOU the pianist has to play every single line together yourself. Therefore, if you really want to know the voices well, you must practice listening and playing each of them separately. In the course of learning each voice, you get to understand how each of them works and how it sounds. Then, when you put them together, you would find it much easier to hear each voice and bring out whatever musical patterns you need to according to the importance of them respectively.
The same concept can be applied to practicing any polyphonic writing or simply, left hand-right hand situation. In order for the voices / two hands to coordinate well together in harmony and balance, they must be able to perform on their own terms first. And to be able to perform on their own terms first, you must train them to do so separately. Often that’s the solution students miss out on taking (“too boring!” “too much time!”), and that’s the main reason why they don’t get familiarised with the piece they have been working on even for a long period of time. Drilling without strategy on how to practice and precision on details will never get to the point where one truly knows about the piece albeit hours spent at the piano.
Here are some great references for anyone who is serious in learning more in depth about piano/keyboard music of the classical era:
CPE Bach’s treatise: Versuch über die wahre Art das Clavier zu spielen (Essay on the True Art of Playing Keyboard Instruments)
It’s available in German and French at IMSLP: http://imslp.org/wiki/Versuch_%C3%BCber_die_wahre_Art_das_Clavier_zu_spielen,_H.868,_870_(Bach,_Carl_Philipp_Emanuel)
For English translation: https://www.amazon.com/Essay-True-Playing-Keyboard-Instruments/dp/0393097161
Czerny’s Op. 500 Pianoforte-Schule
another historic treatise, in particular the second chapter concerning “the proper performance of Beethoven’s works”.
English translation: http://imslp.org/wiki/Pianoforte-Schule,_Op.500_(Czerny,_Carl)
Second chapter on it’s own here: http://imslp.org/wiki/Special:ImagefromIndex/356510
Rosenblum’s Performance Practices in Classic Piano Music
This is the go-to reference for all aspects of historically-informed performance at the piano Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Performance-Practices-Classic-Piano-Music/dp/0253206804
Brown’s Classic and Romantic Performing Practice: 1750 – 1900
Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Classical-Romantic-Performing-Practice-1750-1900/dp/0195166655/ref=pd_sim_14_4?ie=UTF8&dpID=51zCN6Dra0L&dpSrc=sims&preST=_AC_UL160_SR105%2C160_&psc=1&refRID=MZ31B06KHX63PDSB2767 .
Malcolm Bilson’s DVDs on performance practice:
(If you don’t know who he is, go learn here )
And his recordings:
Special thanks to our guest teacher Mr Polanski for this note.