University of California, San Diego – Regents' Lecture No. 3 (1966) – Part 1 of 5
February 9, 1966
(Note: This is a written transcription of an audio recording of a lecture. Thus, there are some demonstrations at the keyboard and the chalkboard that are not preserved.)
... the Chromatic Fantasie and Fugue and the realization of the arpeggio. Those of you who are not acquainted with the subtle art of ornamentation will find yourselves among many millions who are not. So don't let that worry you; but the point is that one often seems in Bach chords ... I wonder if someone could close that door please ... I am sure you have all heard of the fact that Bach did not write down interpretation marks, or very rarely did so. You very seldom see a forte or piano, almost never a tempo mark, and very seldom any phrasing. Now, ornamentation is almost, one might say, the art of playing what you don't see and one of these examples in the Chromatic Fantasie and Fugue I would like to elaborate on today, because several people have particularly asked about it and it happens to be one of the most interesting examples of ornamentation and one of the most important structurally. As I mentioned once before — and I think now and then I may have to repeat myself because I think that some of you vary from time to time.
These chords in the Chromatic Fantasie and Fugue which appear on the third and fourth pages of the score, are marked arpeggio or are understood as arpeggio, and arpeggio does not mean what it meant in the nineteenth century, which is a more familiar kind of concept to most people, which is simply — what is known in layman's language — as a broken chord. (Mus. Ill.) Now, that's a very simplified approach to arpeggio and, actually after 1750, notation became more and more precise so that the terms which we have inherited from the nineteenth century, mean generally very much more simple ideas, and symbols, and realizations than anything before 1750. For instance, "trill," as inherited from the nineteenth century, is a very simplified notion. Generally it appears also in a very simplified way in the so-called notation that you usually see in Chopin, and sometimes you'll have that sort of thing. Well, you almost never had the very long trill in music before 1800. That sort of trill is treated this way: (Mus. Ill.) It's familiar to all of you, and I am sure that's about all there is to it.
Now to come back to the Chromatic Fantasie and Fugue, when you meet these chords, which are just long value notes, you have nothing to guide you at all except the arpeggio style, and what are you going to do with it? Now, you can't approach this field with simply the intuition of the talented musician and a good musical training, because that's not going to get you anywhere in Bach, and certainly not at all in ornamentation if you can't read that kind of language. The tradition which comes from the nineteenth century — because when one speaks in terms of tradition regarding Bach, one usually means the nineteenth century; otherwise one gets more specific about whether it be eighteenth century, or North German, or South German, or English or French influences — has been something that has been carried on through the von Bülow edition, as I mentioned in the first lecture.
Now, what you get on the score is something that looks like this: (noise of chalk marks on blackboard.) Let's do it this way; it's easier. (More noise of chalk marks on blackboard.) Half-notes; that's a full bar. And then you have ... this proceeds n terms usually of two chords in a bar (continuing noise of chalk marks.) Then they march on like that for line, after line, after line. Now, as I say, the art of playing what is not there is pretty much what the great part of ornamentation is. I play you what von Bülow did and what a young pianist who plays this piece does do. You come across this suddenly: (Mus. Ill.) These are the chords: (Mus. Ill.) I'll play it exactly the way it's written, so you get the full idea. (Mus. Ill.) Then that is followed by a great roulade which Bach himself has written out with very great flourish; very ornamental, which suddenly lands on a chord, on a long value chord (Mus. Ill.) And then you have this: (Mus. Ill.) Obviously, you can't play the music that way.
There has been so much emphasis about playing what you see on the score and not moving from the composer's intention that this has been taken, unfortunately, terribly literally so that one plays today more often what one sees on the score than what one can perhaps get to know through study, and, well, meditation. So it's a very dangerous thing actually to play exactly what you see in a Bach score. It's so even with some early Mozart, but anything before 1750, you couldn't do anything more wrong than play exactly the notes you see in the score and I shall be spending this entire lecture on this subject, because it is a fundamental aspect of Bach in terms of the structure, his composition and in terms of performance and instruments, as a matter of fact. It affects everything fundamentally.
Now, von Bülow realizes it this way: (Mus. Ill.) And you go through this great flourish that Bach himself wrote, and then he does the same thing... (Mus. Ill.) Well, I consider that very dull, very unmusical, utterly unimaginative; it has no place whatever in the piece. Worst of all, it has no relationship to anything that has gone before and anything that comes afterwards, because there isn't a figure in the piece that suggests that. There isn't a motive in the piece that has a rhythmic design of that kind. There isn't a linear motive that has any such line. There is no patter whatever that relates to this, and, obviously, all this is simply a continual keeping up of the activity of the chord, which is an extremely simple and mechanical way of handling this, and, actually, in the terms of what is there, is quite wrong and is the result of ignorance; it's the result of not knowing the historical practices in the variety with which this section could be treated. Now, I confess to you that I took twelve years to think about this section and I was never satisfied with my conclusion, and finally I came to a conclusion which has satisfied me and which I have kept to.
Now, let me begin at the beginning. I'll play the opening motives of the piece. (Mus. Ill.) Now we come to the chord. (Mus. Ill.) See, how absolutely absurd it would be to keep to the so-called composer's intention and play what you see in the score? Well, you simply can't do it. I'll go on playing exactly what's written on the page. (Mus. Ill.) Right Here. Now this is Bach. (Mus. Ill.) It's written out. (Mus. Ill.) Then suddenly: (Mus. Ill.) Now it's a magnificent series of chords, but it simply makes no sense whatever appearing there to be played in that way; yet I can guarantee that whether you know it or not, you have heard performances of music of Bach and pre-Bach which were played that way.
I remember a concert which I heard of the Corelli Concertos in Carnegie Hall one time, and it was a rather important event, because they are very rarely played, and the conductor said to the audience about one particular movement, he said, "We have studied this score very careful and, since we believe we must adhere to the composer's intentions, we are playing it exactly as we see on the score. We are not departing from what he intended." And then he turned around and did everything absolutely wrong. There is a certain kind of treatment of a triplet figure. (Sotto voce: I'm departing for a moment.) A triplet figure which is written as triplets, in a triplet rhythm that is, we get this: (Noise of chalk marks on blackboard) Then you see the three notes, which sound like this: (Mus. Ill.) That's a triplet figure. And against it, you have a figure like that: (Noise of chalk marks on blackboard) Can you see that? Now that's supposed to be divided into four parts so that this note is the fourth of the four beats. Now that figure is written against the triplet figure. Now in the nineteenth century and in our time, we are very careful about, we are very precise, and we are very careful about what we see and what we do so that the correct way, if you saw that in a contemporary score or a score of the last hundred or so years, you would play that sort of thing rhythmically this way: (Mus. Ill.) That's absolutely wrong! It should be played: (Mus. Ill.) The sixteenth, what we call the sixteenth note, that is the fourth of the four beats in this figure, takes on the rhythm of the last note of the triplet figure. It's the triplet figure that decides the ultimate rhythm and not this figure. This falls into the rhythm of the triplet with the result that you have a very flowing rhythm. Well, this particular conductor was playing exactly what he saw on the score and the entire movement was this "pa-da-da-dom-pa-da-da-dom..."
Now, at the same time, one also hears something closer to this kind of treatment. You very often find a half note or a full whole note with a fermata, followed by a rest towards the end of a movement. This is a very typical kind of structure and then there is, what we call, the cadence, that is the resolution of the key which ends the piece. Now, you have all heard this, again knowingly or not knowingly, and I have heard it thousands and thousands of times where the movement is going along, usually at a brisk rate, because this usually appears in a fast movement: then suddenly comes to a total stop on a chord like this: (Mus. Ill.) Break; and then: (Mus. Ill.) And that's the end of the piece.
Now, when you come... when you see this... it means cadenza. So what you ought to do when you come to there... (Mus. Ill.) Whatever. You must do some sort of the soloistic cadenza; but if you have good taste and a little, a lot, not a little — we can't admit anything little here, because a little knowledge is the most terrible thing I can encounter — but if you have an understanding of what this means, when you must fit your cadenza to the movement you've been playing. Now, that's really just common sense, isn't it? But that is very difficult to come by, I am afraid, because certainly we wouldn't have gone on for over 75 years with this kind of realization: (Mus. Ill.) We wouldn't have gone on all these years with that kind of realization in this Chromatic Fantasie if there had been anybody who realize that this does not fit the structure of the piece, and this seems an awfully simple thing to see, but it hasn't been done; it hasn't been seen. So in order to break traditions, in order to break habits, it sometimes takes much longer than to create something absolutely new, as you have to get an awful lot out of your system, and in the case of Bach, in the case of ornamentation, and the phrasing in Bach, and so forth, you have to develop a whole new sense of rhythm, an entirely different table of rhythm, because Bach's harmonic structures are built into the beat, rather than on the beat, and the nineteenth-century music was built more on the beat, and this is what we have inherited. So there has to be an enormous shift rhythmically, harmonically, and in all sorts of ways.
Now, I tell you what I finally decided to do with this section. I realize that after, as you hear, this whole opening is a tremendously, improvisational, very ornamental kind of writing; yet, really, it has certain very strong pillars of structure, because if it were totally without that, it would be chaotic, and no matter how free something may appear, when you really begin to analyze it, you find that it has some very deep roots which are upholding this apparently free structure; otherwise it wouldn't be a very good piece of music. Now, what I found in studying what was really going on here, there were some very important rhythmic implications which were not terribly noticeable and after this whole ornamental, improvisational thing, one returns in this section, the chordal section, to the tonic; for the first time to the tonic key, the key in which the piece began, because this is improvisational, not only in terms of many ornamental passages, but it also is, has moved, moves quite far away from the original key, so that there's been movement harmonically, as well as activities in terms of lots of notes and very wide gamut of writing: this covers many octaves.