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.
(中文) We had a wonderful masterclass conducted by Mr David Polanski yesterday, on a Sunday afternoon: when most people take the time relax and go out with their friends and family to enjoy their day off, we gathered together at the studio to listen to each other’s piano playing and talk about the great music of Mozart and Beethoven. I thought, what better way to spend a lovely Sunday afternoon together than that.
Teresa Wong plays Bach: French Suite No. 5, (III) Sarabande
This is the series of playing in the dark, enjoy :)
I am beyond delighted to announce that Mr Polanski, a Beethoven specialist, is our guest teacher now for consultation sessions and will be available for regular lessons after June! He will also be conducting small masterclasses and workshops with us. How exciting!
Here is a little glimpse of Mr Polanski’s impressive music experience:
In a career of over 20 years, maestro David Polanski has been sharing the gift of music with students of all ages. A former student of world-renowned pianist Malcolm Bilson (Cornell University), maestro Polanski holds Master of Music degrees both in Fortepiano Historical Performance and in Musicology (Boston University), as well as Bachelor of Science degrees in Piano Performance and Pedagogy (Hofstra University). He is a specialist in the music of Beethoven as well as 18th and 19th century performance practice and aesthetics. In addition to piano tuition, he has been an active performer, accompanist, and composer working with many prestigious organizations including Harvard University, the Boston Ballet, Staatliches Institut für Musikforschung Berlin, Schola Cantorum Basiliensis, Universität Bonn, Universität Nürnburg-Erlangen, and Boston University. Incorporating rigorous music theory, history, and philosophy in his approach to performance practice, maestro Polanski brings an historically informed method to his dynamic conservatory-style teaching and coaching.
(Also see Chinese version)
Toccata in E Minor, BWV 914
- “Toccata”: meaning “to touch” (“toccare” in Italian), a highly virtuosic keyboard genre
- Bach’s toccatas: combination of German toccata style (more serious counterpoint and complex structure) and Italian toccata style (more showy and flamboyant), with alternating free-style (prelude) and strict structure (fugue) – “stylus phantasticus”
- Basically two sets of prelude and fugue
- Seven toccatas in total, this being the shortest of all
- This toccata is also the only one that starts with a slow section
- Four sections in this toccata:
- A prelude in a rather improvisatory style resembling the composer’s later organ work such as Toccata and Fugue in D minor
- A little “fugato”, a double fugue for four voices, lively and rhythmic,
- Adagio: recitative style, combination of Italian aria and Northern German fantasia style, highly improvisatory
- A final three-voice fugue with an extended subject, in allegro, idiomatic violin writing, also thought to be originally written for organ, showing tremendous influence from Italian toccata writing (“Naples Manuscript”)
A more “liberal” rendition of the toccata:
A lesser known performer yet with another beautiful version of the same toccata:
More background details and analysis in our membership area post.
How to write your program cover for your piano diploma exam written part:
These days I have been giving this simple guidance to my students. Whenever they get stuck in their practice, they must ask themselves, “is it technical or musical?”
Technical Command means two things : 1. appropriate application of technique, and 2. sufficient command of the technique applied.
For TC 1, you must find which technical application you need to execute that certain passage, is it more of a forearm rotation or an upperarm rotation? Is it the palm grip or knuckle issue? Or are your fingers not close enough on the keys before execution? Etc etc. Or for TC 2, you have the right technical application but you have trouble in making it happen with solid control, then how are you going to fix it? Is it just about slow practice that magnifies the movement? Or is it a preparation problem, meaning you don’t prepare your hand position early enough prior to the execution of the pattern in question?
Musical Knowledge on the other hand, includes : 1. harmonic and structural analysis of the music (form, sections, phrasing, tonality, key changes, chord progression, notes: chord tones and non-chord tones, and relationships between notes i.e. intervals etc) , 2. historical background of the music (genre, the composer, and the period – other genres, philosophy, aesthetics, and other arts e.g. literature), and 3. interpretation resulted from the understanding of both 1 and 2.
I would point out MK 1 is what most need for the basic interpretation for MK 3. Without 1 there is no basis and knowledge as to where one’s performance interpretation and discretion arises from. How do you know what to do with that particular phrase or chord or note in terms of emphasis, articulation and dynamics? What do you feel and how do you present it and what is the difference when there is a minor 6th but not minor 3rd, or even, and augmented 5th? Of course, now I am pointing out a very small detail here, but always, especially when you have little experience in analyzing the music, start with something big. You start with bigger sections, then find out where each phrase starts and ends, and also the repeated /similar patterns in terms of melody and rhythm. Look for the chords especially some special sounding ones, and the cadences which define the keys and key changes. Where are the secondary dominants? The pedal points?
Let me discuss further in the next post. I think there is already a lot to digest for now. Always one step at a time.
To my dear Friend Steve.
To my dear Grandma.
January 22, 2013
Joy Chan and Teresa Wong play an arranged duet of the famous Bach-Gounod’s “Prelude-Ave Maria” (Note: there is slight change of some bass chords by the arranger, hence the difference in sound/notes compared to the original version).
[qt:http://teresawong.dyndns.org:9001/video/joypreludeduet.m4v 640 360]
Note: For better viewing experience, please click on the post’s title and have the video mostly or fully loaded before you start watching it.