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Thread: Well Tempered Experience

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    Sr. Moderator Taggart's Avatar
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    Default Well Tempered Experience

    I've got back to piano lessons (again - and on skype!) and my teacher has me working through the Well Tempered Clavier.

    I've always enjoyed Baroque music because of its structure and its link to folk tunes and dances. I find Romantic music too lush and "syrupy".

    When I first heard the WTC (at University) I found it dry and uninteresting. As my listening (and playing) skills have developed, I am now getting more out of it.

    The point of this thread is to examine what we like about the WTC. Which pieces we prefer both to play and to listen to. Is there a difference? One of my previous piano teachers remarked that while she enjoyed playing Hindemith because of the technical challenges, she found it almost impossible to listen to. Which pieces offer particular challenges either in playing or in analysis or both.

    I'll also be looking at You Tube resources. There's quite a lot of Book1 here played by Richter with a scrolling score to allow you to follow what is happening. There's a lot of Book 1 readily available. Book II has fewer resources available with a score apart from gerubach although there is the Paul Barton set on an "odd" piano( with a 4th pedal ).
    Music begins where words leave off. Music expresses the inexpressible.

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    Senior Member tdc's Avatar
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    I like to listen to all of it, wish I could play more of it, still working on fugue no. 1 in C major from book I. In the process of learning this fugue it has made me like the piece even more. So for me playing through things tends to increase my enjoyment, though of course one can burn out on any piece after a lot of practice on it. I only spend time learning things that I already love listening to so I can't think of an example of a piece I like to play but not listen to.

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    My teacher has been working me through it relentlessly with little time to perfect any piece. It's an interesting approach. Working on the preludes is better than Hanon or Czerny and you certainly see where they get some of their ideas.

    I found the 1st fugue in book 1 challenging because it's an exercise in stretti. The main subject will support stretti on every note. This presents a whole range range of technical challenges to get the voicing feeling right.

    I'm just starting no 3 from book II which is "fun" because it's in C#. Actually, I was surprised that it was not more difficult to read but it is still a challenge.

    I'm also polishing up no 2 from book II in C minor. This is a nice bouncy prelude and a stately fugue. Lots of work needed.
    Music begins where words leave off. Music expresses the inexpressible.

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    "So for me playing through things tends to increase my enjoyment, though of course one can burn out on any piece after a lot of practice on it. I only spend time learning things that I already love listening to so I can't think of an example of a piece I like to play but not listen to."
    It took me about 3 years of playing to understand that I am only going to learn those pieces which I enjoy listening to or have an appreciation for. I have had to purchase a lot of sheet music to cull out those types of pieces but it has been well worth the price.
    Now, if I can learn to play all of the pieces that I enjoy listening to ...

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    Senior Member Allegro Con Brio's Avatar
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    Thank you so much for this thread! I consider the WTC to be the greatest work ever composed for solo keyboard, and after years of fearing that my insufficient technique would not be able to do this immortal music justice, I’ve finally decided to take the plunge and start at the most logical place - Book I, P/F I. I learned the prelude a long time ago as an intermediate student. Children can play it with ease, but interpreting it is a different manner. Does one opt for a liberal use of the sustain pedal and lots of dynamics to make it “pianistic" or a more “dry,” unforced harpsichord approach? Should one emphasize a certain note in the repeated figurations to form an inner-voice melody? Should rubato be applied? When performed thoughtfully, this prelude sounds so blissful and refreshing, like a wide-open clean slate ready for Bach’s kaleidoscopic exploration of keys that is to come. Despite its extreme simplicity, it never fails to move me. It is such a great example of the “art that conceals art.”

    I find the fugue to not be as difficult as some of the others that I’ve attempted (pitifully) to sightread, but as always fingering and clarity are big concerns. I prefer a leisurely, lyrical approach and can currently play about half of it somewhat comfortably at my preferred tempo. My fingers tend to get tangled when Bach demands multiple voices in the right hand. This music is a holistic challenge. It can be frustrating, but so rewarding to explore the depths on offer in these pieces. I’m hoping to make enough consistent progress to post consistently in this thread, but who knows.
    "If we understood the world, we would realize that there is a logic of harmony underlying its manifold apparent dissonances." - Jean Sibelius

    "Art, like morality, consists of drawing the line somewhere." - G.K. Chesterton

    "Ceaseless work, analysis, reflection, writing much, endless self-correction, that is my secret." - Johann Sebastian Bach

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    There's a nice list here of the fugues in order of difficulty.

    One piece of advice I came across is to play some of the voices and hum along with the one you miss out. This helps you get the structure clear.

    Multiple voices (in either hand) is a pain. I find myself sitting playing one hand for two or three measures just to get the fingering working. I use the ABRSM edition and find the fingering reasonably helpful. Two particular challenges are the slide - where you move the same finger from one note to another - and finger substitution where you have to move fingers on a held note to free fingers for other notes. The other problem is when you have to pop in notes from the other hand to cover stretches or allow for a more even sound. It's slow tedious work but does pay off.
    Music begins where words leave off. Music expresses the inexpressible.

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    I'm a recent(ish - three years ago) returner to lessons too, and my teacher also put me straight on to a diet of Bach and Mozart while we worked to get my playing, decent enough for an amateur but splashy after nearly half a century of piano playing without the discipline of lessons, back under control. One of the pieces I'd played for her at my introductory lesson was the prelude in B flat minor from Book 1 of the Great 48, so for my first assignment she set me the fugue, which I hadn't learned before - and which is in 5 parts!

    If you're finding that what you're currently doing works for you, I'd say keep on with it and good luck to you. I however found that a rather different approach to that fugue, and to other Bach pieces we subsequently worked on, helped me and was relieved to find that my teacher - a Baroque specialist whose primary instrument is the organ - was quite happy for me to continue with it. My approach was not to concern myself at all with bringing out the separate voices initially, but simply to learn and play the music en bloc as I would any other, allowing the voices - and what was necessary to do them full justice - to emerge naturally as my mental and muscle memory assimilated the pieces in question.
    Last edited by Animal the Drummer; Apr-07-2021 at 10:52.

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    Agreed.

    One of my teachers said it was notes first, then expression, then dynamics and then speed.

    You've got to know the notes well enough to play them easily and comfortably before you can do anything else. Much of what I'm doing with multiple voices is getting to know the notes, the fingering and the timing then I can decide how to pick out the voices (once I recognise them) by hand and finger adjustment. A lot of the time, just playing the right notes is bad enough.
    Music begins where words leave off. Music expresses the inexpressible.

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    Senior Member Dimace's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Taggart View Post
    I've got back to piano lessons (again - and on skype!) and my teacher has me working through the Well Tempered Clavier.

    I've always enjoyed Baroque music because of its structure and its link to folk tunes and dances. I find Romantic music too lush and "syrupy".

    When I first heard the WTC (at University) I found it dry and uninteresting. As my listening (and playing) skills have developed, I am now getting more out of it.

    The point of this thread is to examine what we like about the WTC. Which pieces we prefer both to play and to listen to. Is there a difference? One of my previous piano teachers remarked that while she enjoyed playing Hindemith because of the technical challenges, she found it almost impossible to listen to. Which pieces offer particular challenges either in playing or in analysis or both.

    I'll also be looking at You Tube resources. There's quite a lot of Book1 here played by Richter with a scrolling score to allow you to follow what is happening. There's a lot of Book 1 readily available. Book II has fewer resources available with a score apart from gerubach although there is the Paul Barton set on an "odd" piano( with a 4th pedal ).
    I wish you the best with your new beginning.
    „Es gibt drei Arten von Pianisten: jüdische Pianisten, homosexuelle Pianisten -- und schlechte Pianisten.“ V. Horowitz

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