University of California - San Diego - Regents' Lecture No. 2 (1966) - Part 2 of 3

LECTURE II - February 3, 1966

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

[Part 1 | Part 3]

The melody simply is always flowing. All the music is always melodic which is as it should be according to the way Mozart wrote his music. And it is not possible to make this incisive, rhythmic staccato that is supposed to be the fashion in playing Mozart today. You can't do it. The piano won't let you do it.

Now what's forgotten is the way each generation, each era approached something with its own concepts, with its own orientation. We blame the 19th century for its romantic handling of Bach, but we forget totally what the 20th century is like and what are we bringing to Bach. Well, we think we are bringing the right thing, at last. Well — so did Busoni. Busoni, in the early 20th century, in his edition of the Preludes and Fugues, said: We have now arrived at a period of perfection in music, so that we can realize Bach in the true way, in a way Bach himself could not do because he was too limited — his times were too limited. Well, I think that this is implicit in many of the writers of the 20th century who say now we have gone back to the harpsichord and we have gone back; to the clavichord and the baroque organ, and now we have the true way of playing Bach.

Now there is no question in my mind whatever that about 75 years from now this will be said again but about something quite different; and another 125 years from now there will be another absolutely perfect way of approaching Bach, etc. And there will probably always be the controversy between the musicologist and the artist. Maybe one day they will come together. This is what I am spending my life doing — is trying to make this something that is integrated, which is necessary because the tradition of Bach was lost. The tradition of composing the way Bach composed, thinking the way he thought, and performing the way musicians did in his time was lost for 75 years and it has had to be reconstructed. In order to do that you have to learn a great deal about the period of Bach, about his roots, about his background, about what went on in other arts as well. So one has to understand something of both sides of the picture. And yet you must be a musician, you must be an artist in order to understand the musical aspect of what you are doing — not only the historical one.

Now to come to something concrete like the partita. Those of you who were here last week will remember something I hope, about my talk about the dot and the French Overture form. The very opening of the Partita is a figuration which is built on the dot. The whole first movement is a curious and interesting movement because it is divided into three parts. The opening, which is built as I say with this dotted figuration, and then the next section which is labelled by Bach himself "andante". And that is very unusual because Bach almost never set down tempo marks. And this is followed by an allegro fugue, and that makes up the first movement of the Partita.

Now before I go on to that in itself, we must have a word about the meaning of the term "partita". What it actually is is nothing more or less than a suite. And what is a suite? That is a more familiar term than partita and we can find a definition for "suite" whereas we actually cannot find a clear definition of "partita". A suite is a group of dances; it is a collection of dances; it is just a series of dance forms, originally strung together without any particular reason, without any particular sense of an integrated whole. And gradually this became more and more a whole movement. Even very close to Bach one finds suites which are quite loose in their conception. But Bach in his suites and his partitas made a whole form from beginning to end; in his grouping and his selection of dances and what followed which. That doesn't mean they don't stand on their own, they do. But they are contained in such a way that they make a whole form as a suite.

Now those works which are called French Suites, and those which are called English Suites — the descriptive part, the French, English has no meaning whatever. Bach did not call them French, he did not call them English. This has been appended later. There are all sorts of theories why. Somebody says that the English Suites are called English because they were commissioned by an Englishman, This isn't so at all. We have absolutely no record and there isn't any particular likelihood that it is so. There is no doubt that those suites which are called the French Suites are composed more in the French style, a little bit more related to the kind of thing Couperin does and therefore they may have received this sort of descriptive term. But this has no importance.

Now Bach called this group of suites — himself he gave the term of "partita" to the six suites. So that in the C minor Partita, the opening movement is called "sinfonia". Now that is not a dance form. That has an interesting history. It comes from Italy — the term "sinfonia" — and it was a term which was used to designate this kind of andante-fugue-allegro combination of movements for string instruments. Bach used this term, it seems quite clear, because he had this andante-fugue-allegro set. Now I speak with this kind of, not hesitance but pauses because this term "sinfonia" could mean a number of things. It could almost mean anything that was played — anything with sound. Like the word — the term "toccata". How you are going to be very careful about the meaning of that term. You can write lots of papers on what a toccata is or should be. But the fact is it comes — it has a very simple root from the word "toccare" which means to play. And the implication about the "to play" is instrumental playing as distinguished from singing, from music that is sung. And therefore eventually the toccata — toccatas have always very varied sections — all sorts of sections of instrumental play. Gradually, of course, it became quite a contained form again.

So the opening movement of the Partita is a Sinfonia. And perhaps I'll play that by itself. (Plays - Sinfonia, C minor Partita no. 2) It is a little difficult for me in talking to you because I realise you are a very miscellaneous group and I am covering sort of from A to Z. This whole advanced picture of Bach and various problems, and sometimes I will be speaking and explaining things very, very simply and sometimes I will be covering things that are really quite complicated technically. So when I want to talk to you, say about this figurated opening movement and show you what it means on the blackboard, I hope you will understand.

Now one gets something that looks like this [...] I will have to check on the exact way with Bach [...] Alright. Now this figure is this (plays) Remember it opens with a chord (plays) and now there's this figure (plays). Now if you understand how to play that, you understand how to play this opening. Those of you who were here last week will remember that I said that the dot meant, usually, not that the note should be held as one does today, and as one is taught today — that when you see a dot after a note, you must hold that note for a certain arithmetical point in time — but it meant giving it up, making a space. Don't hold it; do just the opposite; get off it; make a rest; don't connect it. So, if one understands this, one can play this piece for what it was really written. If you are literate, if you can read this kind of notation. However, if you play the way you are taught today — mostly, not always, but mostly — you would play it this way (plays). Does that sound more familiar?

There is one other thing that I do, and that is in the study of ornamentation — and I want to establish at the outset that the term "ornamentation" is a very bad one. Some more informed people use the term "embellishment" which is a little fancier, a little more musicological, but it is just as bad because it gives the impression that it is external, that it is something — a decoration. Now what goes on in what we term this whole field is not a decoration. It is not an ornament and it is not an embellishment. It's part of the music. Until you get to understand that, you can't even begin to play the simplest ornament in Bach. That doesn't mean people don't play them. They play them, but they play them externally, or in a kind of, you know, according-to-the-rule thing which makes no sense whatever. And often if you follow the rule, you do it wrong. So one of the things you learn in the study of ornamentation, which is the study of music, is that the chords were very seldom played straight.

As a matter of fact the concept of the chord was an entirely different one. How I use the term "concept" very much whenever I talk about Bach, whenever I write about Bach and musicians don't tend to use that term very much, and you don't see it too much, either, in other peripheral fields. But I think that we cannot escape it because there is always some sort of concept underlying whatever it is we do, whether it be fully conscious, partially conscious or totally unconscious. We bring with us again our own orientations. Now the chord, as such, on the lute did never exist (plays unbroken chord) this way. It was always (broken chord) on the lute. Now in the transfer from the lute to the harpsichord, there was not much change and there was also not much change in the way the music was written.

So that the combination of the composing techniques and the forms in which musicians wrote and the instruments which were known and played are all quite integrated — and as a matter of fact they always are. You never have the instrument over here and the composer over there, and suddenly you discover that this is the wrong instrument or the right instrument for this music. It just doesn't happen that way. The whole idea of chord didn't exist. This is again a 19th-century idea. So that to open like that (plays unbroken chord) and then to play all the rest (plays) That's a chord (unbroken chord) That's the bass (chords), That's a very beautiful bass and that appears to be all chords in our eyes and in harmonic sense they are — I mean — but they are chords. But in a performing sense, they are not simultaneously to be played and this happens very rarely.

I think I mentioned last week something about the Italian Concerto in the opening. Instead of this (plays) which everybody does; this is not something that would have happened in the 17th and 18th centuries (plays broken chords) broken. And now to tie this up with the instrumental question. If one were playing this Italian Concerto on a harpsichord — and let us say with a two-manual harpsichord, it would not be at all in the nature of the instrument itself to play this opening harmonic chord (plays unbroken chord) that way. It wouldn't be good harpsichord playing to do that. Good harpsichord playing would demand this (plays broken chord) and it then gets character which perhaps you might have noticed now even on the piano.

So, therefore, in the way I play the opening, I am giving you an insight into the structural reasons and the historical reasons for the way one builds a performance. Now the next section of that movement is, I think, quite simple — the andante. It is singing; It is contrasted; it is a very simple idea of melody of two voices which unfortunately in the 19th century came to be known as melody and accompaniment. In this sense it isn't — it is always in two voices, only one voice is very florid and the other voice is very simple. And if one can think in these terms, and I think you can, you can begin to get inside the music ...

(change of reel)

... integrate. And they make sense on all the levels in which they are written, that is the harmonic, because the florid voice is tremendously involved harmonically, the melodic, the rhythmic and the contrapuntal. And by realizing these things about these two lines, then you realize all these aspects of the structure which are there. You have only to see it to find it, and then know how to articulate it. Now all sorts of interesting things happen as a result of this kind of phrasing, because certain harmonic implications come through which I will illustrate more in the Allemande because it is going to be much more obvious in the Allemande. Here it is much too subtle; it would take too much time. And now just a word about the Fugue and we will have a break for 10 minutes.

Clear enough what happens with the change. But in between — that lovely connection between the Andante, the floridity of the Andante, and the more concise rhythms of the Fugue. You have a little cadenza (plays) now that's a cadenza. The fact is that Bach wrote out all the notes. I am sure that some of you are aware of the fact that originally cadenzas were completely improvised by the performer. As a matter of fact, they were always the meat of the early Italian opera. Audiences came back every night to hear the same opera sung by the same performers. The art of the performance lay in how the singers would vary their cadenzas every night — not how they sang the arias, but how they would vary the cadenza in the aria. Now that was all music that the composer never wrote — and that was the whole point. He would write a set aria and at a certain point he would come to a certain harmony which was usually something like this (plays) which probably sounds familiar to you. But in our time when this appears, the performers usually just play it. They say — we must be true to the intention of the composer end he wrote that as a half-note with a fermata over it, so we hold it for a half-note value and maybe a little bit longer because it's a fermata, and go light (plays) and that's the end of the piece. Whereas when you come to a chord again like that with the fermata over it, the fermata means cadenza.

I never forget early in my career — I was playing a Bach Concerto with an already established conductor, and I came to one of these fermatas and I went on and played the cadenza. He stopped the orchestra; he stopped everything and said: "What are you doing?" I said I was playing the cadenza, "But it's not written in the music!" But of course it's not written in the music, that's the whole point. But I had a very hard time. Now Bach wrote the cadenza. There are times when Bach wrote out his cadenzas and this is one of the times which he did. He wrote this cadenza in two bars. Now if you know it is a cadenza, you play it like one. If you are going to be in good 20th century style, very true to the page and play exactly what you see written, which is fundamentally a very good way to be trained, but there is a certain limit to that — if you are going to do that, you are going to play this this way (plays). Now does that sound familiar? Unfortunately it does to me. I've heard it played like that too often. Now what is happening is that Bach is writing in even more florid rhythmic values than he has up till now — for these two bars. And therefore he puts in certain dots, for instance here (plays) and listen to the harmony. It remains suspended, suspended, suspended until the resolution comes for the Fugue (plays). So I'll play just the cadenza (plays chord) that has a fermata over it (plays cadenza). Alright we'll go on after 10 minutes.

SECOND HOUR

We were having a perfectly marvelous discussion which all of you have missed and which we won't try to repeat, we won't use the repeat this time. But I'll no doubt touch on this subject again. Now I shall go straight on to the Allemande. This is going to be a little bit — to show you how there can be a structure of performance. Now this again is originally my own phrase "the structure of a performance." Performers don't think very much in terms of the structure of a performance, or if they do, they are certainly not conscious of it. Yet they certainly have a structure of performance in the playing of a work.

Now with Bach — if you have a certain kind of — well with all music for that matter — in this particular Allemande, the structure is simple, its not — it does not hit you between the eyes. There are not these three basic changes as there are in the first movement at all. It's all quite a melodious flow of two voices, and this is a little bit more obviously two voices than a melody and an accompaniment than was the Andante in the first movement. But still too often it is treated as melody and accompaniment because despite the fact that there is already a great deal of awareness of contrapuntal thinking and writing, and there is a great deal of talk today among musicians and musicologists about this, when it comes to sitting down and playing a piece like this, the orientation, or background, our parent, the 19th century, is still lurking back there.

There is still the feeling of right and left hand, soprano – bass rather than two voices. The fact that one is high and one is low doesn't mean that the high one is important and the low one is unimportant. As a matter of fact, if you really study the history of music and you know something about Eastern music from which — let us face it — our music does come, you will know that there is a certain kind of music in the East where when what we would call "high" means "low" to them and what we would call "low" means "high" to them. In other words they call what we call the bass, they call that "high"; and what we call the soprano, they call that "low." So there is another upset to some pretty long established notions about "high" and "low." Here again these are two individualities — they integrate — that is the beauty of them. Alone they would be lovely, but they don't have much meaning. But when they are together, then you have something of significance and therefore you must treat them that way.

Now what happens when they are put together. Quite a new form emerges, as well — as well, remember. So that I am working constantly on different levels of different forms — I am not just playing an Allemande. I am working with two voices, each distinctive and which integrate. This is a contrapuntal form. Then by becoming integrated, they create quite another form from beginning to end.