Book 2’s Hardest Measures (thus far)

Every prelude and fugue has a different type of difficulty (almost making each one its own etude), but certain moments just stick out for their tedium. Even though I’m not very far into Book 2 (page 20 of ~140), measures 24-25 of the C# minor fugue are trouble!

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  • Hand switching for the alto line (the penciled-in swoops representing when the left hand should take the notes written in the treble line)
  • Conceiving of a fingering that doesn’t require the hands to be crisscrossed or on top of one another. A good rule is thinking of the thumbs as barriers, even if they’re not being played––within a set hand position (which here change every measure) the lefthand thumb should not rise above the righthand thumb, vice versa.
  • Nontraditional fingerings for scalar passages that require the hand to be “scrunched.” Example: beat 4 of measure 24, above. The right hand plays the F# with the pointer finger, followed by an E with pinkie finger.
  • Henle’s recommended fingerings: This could be content for a separate post. In general, the editor’s fingerings do help out, but they forgo “better” fingerings for a strict adherence to pedagogical rules, namely don’t place the thumb on a black key. In almost all repertoire, I disregard this rule about 75% of the time because fingering decisions can become quite easy with that allowance. The other 25% of the time, there is, in fact, a good reason for the avoidance of thumb on a black key. In the case of the Henle Edition of the WTC, they’ve decided to be consistent (sometimes to a fault) on a fingering system, which may be best for younger students who may need the structure that fingering rules provide. In general, though, I feel their printed fingerings can crowd the page in those moments and force the pianist to change hand positions when it’s not necessary.

Week 2 Reflections

Overall, the C Minor Prelude & Fugue in Book 2 is quite straightforward; I found experimenting with various articulations, touches, and dynamics to be a rather easy and fun process. For example, in starting the piece, I tried out a few different versions simply by changing the articulation type in each hand. Here, you can hear staccato articulation in each hand (1), followed by full legato in each hand (2), followed by a lighter legato in the sixteenth notes with two-note slurs in the eighth notes (3). Use the small arrow on the right side of the video image below to cycle through each version. Press the center of the video to play/pause the recording before cycling to the next.

I chose option 3 because I think it best showcases the ability to play different articulations in each hand. During moments of similar intervallic content, I continue with this articulation throughout the piece; in other instances of eighth notes (usually instances of more stepwise motion), I use a more detached/staccato touch.

Difficulties

With the two-note slur for eighth notes, it can be difficult to taper the second note of the slur enough. Even if the second note is softer, it can still sound overbearing (especially since the second note of each beat is often the same pitch throughout the measure).

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In measures 1-2, the second eighth note of each beat is almost always a C.

It’s also interesting to note that after measures 1 and 2, the Busoni Edition begins marking beats 2 and 4 with accents, with the off-beats as staccatos. Although I didn’t consult this edition until after I’d learned the movement, I think he’s on to something, as a fast tempo can give those beats a sense of propulsion into the larger beats of 1 and 3:

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Busoni may have imagined the accents giving harmonic emphasis, which acts as a kind of leading tone to the larger beat. It should be noted: I’m having a difficult time finding recordings of pianists who play it this way.

The C Minor Fugue is one of my favorites, as I’ve always felt Bach’s slow, minor movements are the most beneficial for building polyphonic ears. In the post about my process for learning fugues, I pointed out the importance of building muscle memory through the mindful stretching of the fingers to reach certain intervals (i.e. it’s not just learning that finger 5 goes to finger 2, for example. It’s about  feeling that stretch, both physically and mentally). This is a great fugue for that kind of deliberate practice––it’s shorter, the theme doesn’t involve any extended stretches of “fast notes” (such as the C Major Fugue), and (theory-wise) the movement offers some interesting ways of stacking motives.

My biggest difficulty was in the latter of these three features. More specifically: moments of rhythmic augmentation––that is, stretching the theme into larger rhythmic values. Instead the theme’s standard eighth-note introduction, we can see it written in quarter notes in the left hand at the bottom of the first page. When the theme (which I also label the melody, at times) becomes wider in rhythmic value, it becomes difficult to hear it in the same way as I heard it when it was in eighth notes. Basically, my mind doesn’t seem to want to stretch that far, to hear it across two measures rather than one. Here is the first instance:

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The left hand (tenor voice) stretches out the theme (seen in the right hand) to quarter notes.

While a first-time listener might be able to hear the left hand as the theme, my goal is to first hear these theoretical features of the music, myself, as they’re happening. Second, I must find a way to broadcast those clever moments to the audience through technique. In general, it’s difficult to bring out a theme that is written in a middle voice (in this case, the tenor voice). However, I’ve found the true difficulty lies in the stubbornness and impatience of the ear.