University of California - San Diego - Regents' Lecture (1966) - Part 3 of 3

LECTURE I - January 26

From the Rosalyn Tureck Collection,
Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center at Boston University

[Go to Part 2]

Now von Bülow — you know we musn't be too trivial about these people — he was a great man; he was a great musician — but at the same time he simply didn't know very much about this particular angle. I make this sort of preface to my remarks because it is so easy to make fun of figures in the past and say they knew nothing; they didn't know this, and didn't know that. It is so easy to make them small figures — whereas one can challenge people in this time to equal in achievement what the great figures of the 19th century produced. For instance these — the Tausig, the von Bülow, and the d'Albert, and, of course, Busoni. Now these people are laughed off the map today, but this is nonsense. They were very great artists and great musicians. It is this aspect which was rather blank. The trouble is they have been taken — this has been taken as gospel and there is probably not a pianist In the world since maybe 70 years who has not played this edition of the Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue. And I am sure that those of you who have listened to performances of the Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue on the piano by anybody and everybody, except myself, has heard the von Bülow edition unknowingly. Now this is what von Bülow does because he is a romantic player — this isn't enough (plays); he has to add this (plays). Then there is a lovely recitative and then Bach suddenly confronts you with another series of chords, and this goes on for a while and every time does this constantly (plays). Well now, that is supposed to be effective, but I don't think it is„ It is terribly boring; it is terribly unmusical and certainly not what Bach would have done as a composer, as a great musician. Even aside from the historical practices, no good composer would write anything like that. So you see it is the responsibility of the performer to fill in — our term is to realize — this series of chords. Well unfortunately it has always been realized this way.

To come back now to the Prelude in C major. It's a very famous work. Perhaps more articles have been written on this Prelude than any other work of all the Bachs. Because this is also a series of chords (plays) a heavenly series (plays) listen to that (plays). Now that's a great work of art; a great masterpiece — and no one has ever written such a series of chords — before or since. Now the fact is that Bach wrote out the notes the way he wanted them realized and so what you heard me play — what you hear in this Prelude is Bach's own realization of of this series of chords. And it's a simple arpeggio, not von Bülow's type of arpeggio. It is broken, the open chord, the figurated chord (plays). That's the whole piece and he keeps within one design as you notice. It couldn't be more simple. And this has aroused more interest over the centuries and more writing about and more thinking about than any other single work of Bach. One of my main reasons in starting with this work is to show you how designs can be carried out in a basic concept — a basic idea. I have explained to you that this is a series of chords and that it is composed in arpeggio.

Now many of the Preludes of the Preludes and Fugues from the Well-Tempered Clavier are composed in this design. Fundamentally an arpeggio idea. Now I will play another Prelude and Fugue for you. This is a very different kind and combines perhaps two of the main things I have been talking about today — that is the influence of ornamentation on music and on performance. I mean both. I mean on creating music as well as performing music, and this creation of a work out of this basic idea of arpeggio which is based simply on a series of simple chords — on nothing fancier than that. The Prelude is again on this idea but it has in it instead of just the pure arpeggio which you heard — when I say pure arpeggio, I mean it in a much weaker sense, a 20th-century sense of arpeggio — simply a broken chord. Earlier 16th, 17th, 18th century is a very much more variegated meaning. But now in the D major which is on this design, you have added an acciaccatura. Now what is that? That is that slanted line I mentioned to you earlier — just that. Now this is what happens when you meet an acciaccatura (plays). You hear that — that's a third. When you see the line between the two notes slanted, it means play the note in between which would be that (plays) in this case. Now sometimes you will play them all together (plays) and sometimes you will slide them (plays). Now this is the Prelude (plays) this is what Bach has done with the acciaccatura instead of this (Plays D major Prelude). Now at the end of that Prelude you get a little cadenza — a recitative cadenza (plays). Now that chord — that's a pretty romantic sounding thing just by itself — but it's an original — Bach wrote it (plays) which then leads on to another cadenza, which simply means a little free piece — do anything you like — anything goes (plays). Usually after a cadenza a very strong design occurs in order to hold the piece together and bring it to its final conclusion. Therefore you get that (plays) instead of something more fluid.

Now the Fugue is particularly interesting because it is built in what we call the French Overture form, and that has all sorts of implication, the most important visually being the dot and aurally, if you are aware of these things, this figure (plays) the long note on the score has a dot following it and then followed by a short-valued note (plays) then there is another long valued note followed by a dot. It looks like this ... Can you see? That's the note, that's the dot — long note, short note. That note is [unclear] the amount of time as this one; that 3/4 the value of the two notes — and there's that dot. Now ordinarily according to this, this kind of symbol designates the amount of time that a note is to be held. If you saw only that ... if it were alone it would have that kind of look — it would have a little flag. But it is connected to another note — you do that for the sake of simplicity. Through the evolution of notation, this is what has happened. This is equivalent in time to that. ... That means these are equal. ... Let us say that in 4/4 time each gets two beats within the one large beat. Now when you do this you make a sort of crooked design — you take away the symmetry. You make one note three quarters of the group in time and the last, one quarter. However since this gets only two beats, you have got to do something to give it the third. So you put a dot there. The dot means half the value of the note which precedes it. Now this has become one of the greatest centers of controversy — that poor little dot. In that dot is centered one of the most enormous aspects of style in playing Bach and 17th century music as well. The French Overture form — the form is dependent on that dot — and there is one other aspect to the French Overture idea, and that is that a figure like this must always be preceded by a kind of ornamental florid design like this (plays). That is a typical French Overture figuration motive and then followed by the short, short, long (plays).

Now again, you see, after Bach, composers began to write down more and more what they had in mind. Now this may sound a little difficult, but the actual fact is that early on very little was written down by a person who wrote a piece of music, and gradually, by the time of Bach, quite a lot was written down on the page but by no means everything. As I have illustrated in the Chromatic Fantasy for instance — just a series; of chords, but not how to break them, where to break them, whether they should go up or down or up and down. And we have discovered that they used to start at the top and go down and they started in the middle and went out. They went in every which direction. One could also do this sort of thing in the chords with different rhythmic designs. So there were great possibilities. However as composers wrote down more and more what they had in mind, the imagination and the demands on the performer became less and less as far as conception was concerned.

Now when I say less and less there might be some people who would jump on me — well, heaven knows it is hard enough to play a Beethoven Sonata, and just about everything is written down there. And that is perfectly true. When you have a great piece of music you have to measure up to a great conception, but when you are working with music like Bach — and a good deal of pre-Bach too — part of the art is to create that piece, literally, because you have to find notes and designs and make them. Now how does all this relate to the dot. In our time we are taught that when you see a dot it means — of course a certain quantity of time — but it means you are supposed to hold that note. Now this has come in with this idea — a sort of recent 20th-century idea — that you must be true to the composer's intention. Now this has not been a universal idea at all. This is quite a recent idea and therefore you must play the notes exactly as they appear on the page — you must play exactly these notes. So a piano student is taught is taught and a violin student is taught, all music students are taught that when you see a dot — if you have a good teacher — if you have a bad teacher, he won't tell you this and then you go to your teacher and he says, "oh, that was terrible training you had because you were not told this," and you realize how sloppy your teaching had been.

When you see a dot, you must hold that through the whole length of that note — the full time value of that note — so that if you see this note today in music, you will not only play that note and hold it for the two beats which it would by itself, but you must hold it for three beats absolutely through till the moment of the fourth which is when you play the next note. So if you were a good student and studied this Fugue you would play it like this (plays) I am sorry — I am playing it — wrong. I am trying to play it in this sort of present era way (plays). Does it sound familiar? Have you heard it played that way? You see that is supposed to be absolutely correct and the best training will tell you to do that, and it is absolutely wrong. It couldn't be more wrong. The dot is what does it. First of all the dot meant more often than not — one has always to qualify the minute one gets into the area of ornamentation — so you will always hear me qualifying these remarks. More often than not this meant that there is to be a space between the two notes — a rest; and it also meant that the note that appeared after it is to be half the value that it appears to be — at least half, sometimes less. It is supposed to be much shorter. So now where, according to the notation, this would receive one fourth of the value of this whole little design and which one does do from about middle Beethoven right through to the present day — which is this (plays) you must do (plays). And not only that, but you have to give it space; you have to give it breathing room (plays). Do you hear the character that it gets immediately and it seems it is so right. This is so rigid and hopelessly unmusical (plays).

Then also it fits; it becomes logical. This is the beauty of Bach — not the logic, I don't mean that — but the inner order because the figure preceding it is made up of what we call 32nd notes (plays). Those are 32nd notes. And when you know how to read this notation — in other words, when you know how to read the dot — you realize that you begin to play that short note, not as what we call a 16th, but at least a 32nd. And then that fits with the whole design of that motive because you have a whole group of 32nd notes preceding the long note and then you come out of it again with 32nds. I'll play the whole motive for you now (plays). You see! So the whole motive makes sense. Otherwise this beautiful floridity (plays). No composers, even of tenth rate talent, would compose a motive beginning with such floridity (plays) followed by that (plays). He wouldn't pass his first year examination. But this is the way the this Fugue is played most of the time and it is the way it would be played if one doesn't have this knowledge.

And this is why in order to have the joy in this music, in order to make an artwork of performance of this music, which it deserves, you've got to read books — and then you have to put this together, you have to apply it. It isn't always enough to know the dot is short and that there's a pause too — because sometimes — sometimes you don't do this. And you have to become very experienced, very knowledgeable and then us this intangible artistry, this experience of the artist in knowing when something is suitable and when it is not. It isn't all that mysterious because one is helped by a lot of tangible solid facts if you are equipped with them. You put them all together; then you know how to place it inside the music and how to express it. Now I am going to throw this open for discussion particularly because there was an interesting question asked of me which I should like to have asked now so you can all hear my answer, but I am so attached to this thing. I thought there was some water, but I can't find it.

( ... About ornamentation. It seems to me that it can be a kind of relationship between the calligraphical work of, for instance, ... the music. They can be a kind of necessary passages between the musical written form against the (?) normal written form written or quoted by a scribe on a page. So this can be things related to written tradition while the innovation is represented by these notes ...)

Yes, certainly the musical notation is the new thing and the innovation is a gradual development indeed.

(These kind of things can be a kind of ...)

Well actually the ornamentation symbols come out of the symbols for chant, and if you will look at the Talmudic chants, you will see that their notation is almost totally this kind of ornamental thing. And the introduction of notation on lines is a very recent thing — well, it's always difficult to pinpoint this — but by about the 11th, 12th centuries lines began to appear. However they were not so near as what we have today, but you would find 12 or 15 or 20 lines under each other — and the few main notes which more often were square — I am sure you have all seen lampshades — if you have not seen anything else, you have seen the lampshades, and on those are the notations for Gregorian chant. That is already a very developed notation with these square notes. The chant I was talking about was very much older — thousands of years ago — and this is a carry-over — so that at a certain point in these cultures — in the Eastern and Western cultures — and the meeting of them — they were both employed.

(Because — if I may again — the Chanson d'Orleans presents in the manuscript a very characteristic fact; it is two, three words — unfortunately I am not at present a medievalist and do not well understand — plus certain other things, notations. And there are puzzling points as well as this one but there is the last one because you have just mentioned it in terms of fighting against the philosophers. And I saw one of the manuscripts of Bach and it appears to me that the notes are ... sometimes with a ... It seems to logical ... across the notes ... notes when the words like in — I think it's the Passion ...)

Yes. That is something else and that is a very interesting aspect of music in general — pre-Bach and in Bach — and I give full credit to Schweitzer who was the main figure who pointed this out to the world. And since then, of course, all musicologists have studied not only Bach in this light, but all others. And it is definitely so — confirmed and this was a baroque way of writing, that is a very pictorial way of writing. It suddenly occurs to me — for instance, in a way — very simple — just as the art developed in the Church with pictures instead of writing because the people couldn't read. Now in Bach — and this is something we will spend a long time on next week — you get musical pictures to hear. You spoke about looking at a score and it appears as though all the notes are going down visually. Well, for instance, there is a famous chorale prelude which is called "Through Adam came our fall." Now a chorale prelude is something which is written on a hymn — it's a prelude which is written on a hymn which the congregation sings. And I go into this very simple explanation because this again is an enormous development in music. Bach was influenced by Buxtehude in this. As a matter of fact, Bach was fired from his position a number of times because he wrote such glorious Preludes, whereas you know (plays) that's a prelude, that's a chorale prelude — what I just played. But what you hear ...

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