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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
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 :eek:).
 

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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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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
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.
 

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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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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.
 

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Discussion Starter · #6 ·
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.
 

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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.
 

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Discussion Starter · #8 ·
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.
 

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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 :eek:).
I wish you the best with your new beginning.
 
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Well, having elevated my game on the C major fugue to the point where I am comfortable with my interpretation (even though it’s still very far from perfect), it’s time to move on to the C Minor. To be honest it’s not among my favorite P/Fs as it seems more like a dry technical study than any of the others, but it is very good for building up the technique that is necessary for Bach playing. The prelude looks a bit daunting on paper, but since the fingering patterns are so consistent it is quite easy to play at a slow or moderate pace (if you want to hear this prelude treated as an unabashed showpiece, listen to Richter). But just like the C major prelude, there is the added challenge of finding a non-monotonous approach to playing these repetitive figures - personally I favor a buildup of dramatic tension through top-note voicings and terracing of dynamics as the progressions become more dissonant, then you get the chance to exercise a little show-off flair in the final part of the prelude, which is like a fantasia. In many ways I see this piece as a companion to its counterpart in the major; the structure is uncannily similar.

I also find this fugue comparatively easy to sightread, but like all fugues there are spots of slippery fingering that need to be dealt with. It is rather martial and “academic” sounding, with a four-square subject, and I think it needs to be played breezily, unaffectedly, and in an unforced fashion. The ideal effect should be of an austere beauty, like a Dürer woodcut, and the contrast between the brusque subject and the flowing countersubject needs to be emphasized. Even though I’ve just done a few play-throughs, I think I’ve almost got all the notes right, but I have a feeling I’ll be spending lots of time on this one trying to get it to sound “just right.” Even when he is more technically forgiving, Bach never makes for easy performance solutions. He can be like a tricky uncle, offering you a piece of delicious candy but then quickly pulling it away and telling you that you have to mow the lawn in order to earn it.
 
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No. 3 in C-sharp major. Oh, JSB, why did you: (1.) Have to make the third fugue one of the trickiest in the book, presenting a major early stumbling block to anyone aiming to learn it straight through, and (2.) Choose the most impossible key signature rather than the more familiar D-flat major? I've seriously thought of transposing it into the enharmonic myself to make it infinitely easier to read, but somehow I find there's a particularly delicious challenge in adding the difficulty of actually deciphering the notes to the already present technical demands. Alright, now that I've vented a bit, I'll say that this is probably my favorite major-key P/F in Book I. It is just so irresistably joyful; whenever I feel melancholy, I put it on and extraordinarily calming felicitous thoughts fill my mind. This is the exact opposite of the stereotype of Bach as stuffy academic who didn't know how to have fun; he is clearly having the time of his life composing this music - very possibly due to the fact that he is drunk on sharps;) The prelude is a good old-fashioned barrel of fun and a great example of how Bach could make something memorable and wonderful out of repetitive figurations. It is not as tough as the fugue, but music this high-spirited really needs to be played in a brisk manner, and precision is needed in voicing and rhythm where you need to strike a fine line between quicksilver lightness and emphatic incisiveness.

This fugue - oh dear. The fingering here is really a bear, especially if you disdain the sustain pedal, with Bach forcing the hands into all sorts of punishing positions while demanding an unbroken sense of line to create the sensation of a grand dialogue between the hands. In fact, the piece reminds me of a concerto movement or a cantata chorus in its extrovert busy-ness; it's quite astonishing how much textural richness Bach is able to pull from a single instrument. You can almost hear the trumpets, violins, and woodwinds entering in succession. This is the same composer as that hauntingly rudimentary C major prelude? When played with virtuosic elan and clarity by such as Richter, it is absolutely thrilling and you never want it to end. There is a sequence a little more than halfway through when the music moves from a slightly more layed-back B major section back to the home key with a ringing trill in the soprano voice and a series of tight-knit imitations - it gets my emotions every time. The momentum never flags for a second. So, needless to say - I'll be taking this one very slowly to get all those darned notes right, and I'm hoping that once that happens, everything else will slide into place. The thought of being able to dash this off seamlessly is so exciting for me that is pushes me on to make it happen. But don't be surprised if I offer my comments on the C#-minor (which I've already sightread several times, and which I consider extremely special) before I finish this one.

And though I usually don't care too much for the tinny sound of his piano and his rather dry interpretations, I think Paul Barton nails this one (and I can't say how grateful I am for his overhead-view videos with scores):

 

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The first fugue from Book II is the one that always gave me the most problems. It's really tricky to play it smoothly at a brisk tempo. But once you figure out a good fingering it's such a joyful piece. Another tricky one is the E flat fugue from Book I but it's also a gem.
 

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The next set I want to move onto is the B minor prelude and fugue from book II. That way I will know one major set and one minor set, the first set from book I and the last set from book II. Wish I could work through them faster to update this thread more, but I go slow with these.
 

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I listen to the WTC a lot and I like most of the preludes and fugues, but I don't find them to be all equally great -- it's subjective though, obviously. One thing that I must say is that I'm always liking the set more and more, and some of the ones that didn't grab my attention at first suddenly show their charm.

One that I'm studing right now is the E major from the 2nd book (BWV 878), which is beautiful and not too difficult to play.
 
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