University of California, San Diego – Regents' Lecture No. 3 (1966) – Part 2 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.)
So, after all that, I realize we return to the tonic key; now what does that mean? What was the opening? It was this: (Mus. Ill.) And I realize that was a rhythmic figure. It doesn't appear to be. They are almost all the same value notes; they seem... it seems as though it's just an opening run... up and down... which is what it's doing, just going up and down, establishing the key: (Mus. Ill.) That's to the tonic; now tonic goes back to the dominant... sorry, dominant goes back to the tonic: (Mus. Ill.) This is tonic. This is dominant: (Mus. Ill.) And then it does: (Mus. Ill.) That's what these two bars do. And that's very important, because immediately the key is established. Now this is a very strong harmonic pillar. If you don't know anything about harmony, you don't know that's going on, but it has a very great... it gives you a sound in an establishment of some kind that wouldn't be there otherwise; but superficially it appears simply an ornamental run to open the piece, as though the piece begins here: (Mus. Ill.) which it doesn't. It may appear that it does, because then this particular rhythmic figure goes on and on and develops, but you couldn't... you can't... Bach would never have begun this piece this way. Can you imagine it? The beginning of the Chromatic Fantasie: (Mus. Ill.) is not a beginning. So the beginning is this establishment of key, because he knew he was going to be very free after that in every way. But because the structure was going to be free, the figure that he used was a free one. But the harmony just couldn't be more rooted and clear: one, five, five, one. In that is also a rhythmic design. There's not just the run: (Mus. Ill.) You see, I've taken the rhythm out of it; but it's this: (Mus. Ill.) That's the opening. Then this... (Mus. Ill.)
Alright. Now you go through all this winding round of figuration, and finally you return to the tonic for the first time. Then you have that magnificent series of chords, and so I suddenly realized that that's a return to the beginning. It's the first return to the beginning and, in realizing that, I realized that the only thing you could do was to repeat that opening rhythmic design which we had not met in this entire improvisational section, except for one moment — and a very significant moment — which seems to me the confirmation of giving this rhythmic design to the return in the tonic, and this is at this moment of the dominant. Now, I am going to play up to the dominant for you and then show you this moment: (Mus. Ill.) Full stop for the first time since the two opening phrases. Then again rest on the downbeat which Bach did before the second opening phrase: (Mus. Ill.) In other words, when he came to this great pivotal point of the dominant, he stopped and treated it in the same way as he did the opening two measures, so that the opening two measures are total concentrate of the whole next section harmonically. The opening measures: (Mus. Ill.) the dominant. And then that is followed by almost two pages of this virtuoso ornamental section, finally arriving: (Mus. Ill.) of the dominant. And then the next bar is treated the same way as the second bar of the opening, which is: (Mus. Ill.) and Bach does for the second section (Mus. Ill.) Same way. (Mus. Ill.) Only tremendously elongated and extended. (Mus. Ill.) And the whole thing is extended (Mus. Ill.) Finally: (Mus. Ill.) And back: (Mus. Ill.)
So it seemed to me suddenly to reveal that there was only one kind of rhythmic figure to give to this, and this was this: (Mus. Ill.) Because that rhythmic figure is this: (Mus. Ill.) And this is Bach: (Mus. Ill.) Now we come to the chord again. This is a chord: (Mus. Ill.) I'll play it from the first chord with the realization. (Mus. Ill.) You hear how that fits into what follows that Bach himself wrote? Another very important aspect of this is that there is also a chromatic design in this piece, and this is ... this is heard: it becomes inescapable through this rhythmic figure: (Mus. Ill.) But it isn't treated in a simplified way so that you hear only that, this exaggerated kind of thing, but it is just simply part: through this rhythmic design, this becomes more clear: (Mus. Ill.) Then another aspect: the chords themselves (Mus. Ill.) are working up (Mus. Ill.) to a very important (Mus. Ill.) climax (Mus. Ill.) and so important, that Bach builds at this moment on this chord (Mus. Ill.) in order to show it. That was written by Bach. And then out of that comes this ... this run, which he himself wrote: (Mus. Ill.) You see, that's a very important moment. The chords definitely go up and this design shows that also: (Mus. Ill.) Now if you do this (Mus. Ill.) [Almost inaudible remark — laughter among the audience] But this is what has been played for seventy-five years by every pianist you heard — and heaven heard — [amused laughter from audience] This is the accepted way of playing this section and the worst of it is that the harpsichord played it ... played mostly this way too so that listening to this piece on a harpsichord does not mean that you are going to get an authentic interpretation. [More laughter]
You see how many problems are involved in making a decision in how you are going to treat these chords, these several lines of chords and the decisions must come out of considering what you are dealing with, the structure that you are dealing with now. Music, not being a very simple art — although it may sometimes sound that way — has many considerations. You have the harmonic consideration, not only in the section itself, but in relation to everything that has gone on before and will happen after. You have contrapuntal considerations; you have linear considerations; you have those of ornament; you have those of rhythm obviously; and you also have those of instrument ultimately. But that ... that's secondary once you have gone into the structure of the music, because, after all you are playing music; you are not playing instruments. You must first find out what's going on in the music in every sense, and when you understand what's happening there, you'll have much more clarity as to how to handle that music on different instruments. But it would make no sense to play this simply in terms of what you think it should sound like on a harpsichord, or on a piano. You start the other way. Most people start from the wrong end with Bach. They start from the instruments, which is very much the wrong end. You've got to start really from the music, it would seem to me.
Now, I feel very hampered in not having a harpsichord or a clavichord here and, ideally, an organ as well, because I would like to be able to do what I often do do, and that is, to play the same piece, or the same section, or several works on all these instruments, and to show you the final finesse after all this is worked out structurally and musically and historically, and all that goes into it, of what one can do with it ultimately on different instruments, because you must remember that in Bach's time, the musicians did not play only one instrument; a keyboardist played the organ, and the harpsichord, and the clavichord, and harpsichords differed very much from each other; there were one-manual, and two-manual and three-manual harpsichords; there were pedal harpsichords; there were those without; there were those with many stops; there were those with very few; hand stops, knee stops, foot stops, and so forth, so that they varied; the harpsichord itself varied very greatly from instrument to instrument. I will give more time to instruments in another lecture, because that's quite a large field in itself; but anything involving realization of music, and "realization" — I'm using the term as we use in ornamentation — to play out what is written or what is not written at the appropriate moment, involves first all those structures and then depends to a certain extent — not wholly; please don't misunderstand me — not wholly on the instrument you are playing, but this is one influence.
Now, fundamentally, however, we are talking now about the structural realization of this section. Now, to return to the next part, we come smack up against this chord: (Mus. Ill.) Now that's a transitional moment harmonically and there's this wonderful series of moving ... eighteen chords (Mus. Ill.) and so forth. Now again you see the von Bülow edition in the traditional way of playing this; this goes back to the same old way that they (Mus. Ill. drowning out rest of sentence) so after all this marvelous thing (Mus. Ill.) and so forth (Mus. Ill.) That's the way I think it should not be done. Now, I carry over structurally the same idea, but then I fit it in as it works according to the harmonic movement, because perhaps the most outstanding aspect of this section is its harmonic movement.
When we come up against this, as I said (Mus. Ill.) that's all you see. So I simply fit in the [...] of the line as it fits. You have (Mus. Ill.) as Bach has written, and you land there (Mus. Ill.) So instead: (Mus. Ill.) simply do: (Mus. Ill.) Now I change the direction of the arpeggio (Mus. Ill.) This goes up: (Mus. Ill.) and instead of going all the way back (Mus. Ill.) which one does in the old nineteenth century way, I simply go back to the center (Mus. Ill.) because this is what Bach has written next (Mus. Ill.) He remains in the central register and he has a line descending in the soprano (Mus. Ill.) So I make the arpeggio from above, so you can hear that (Mus. Ill.) Then you got this series: (Mus. Ill.) So: (Mus. Ill.) which is very important harmonically. You couldn't do (Mus. Ill.); you couldn't carry that on, in that direction. Having started from the top, going down (Mus. Ill.), one might be perhaps tempted to continue that (Mus. Ill.) You couldn't do that; first of all, you need a bass, a root for your harmony; you can't go on, and on, and on, without a bass, establishing the harmony, the position of the harmony, and so forth (Mus. Ill.) And it's such a change in harmony, too. We could go to the D-sharp and hear that change. You don't hear it if you did this: (Mus. Ill.) You see, nothing very much happens there (Mus. Ill.) But if you do this: (Mus. Ill.) that is what is happening harmonically; something quite new and unexpected. But I keep up the rhythmic figure established by this opening motive (Mus. Ill.) Now in the middle of this group of chords, Bach himself allows two shorter notes in the middle (Mus. Ill.) He goes back to the long chords (Mus. Ill.) and he arrives at this: (Mus. Ill.) Marvelous sound! And that's a stop. And from there he writes the recitative. Therefore, I allow myself the luxury of (Mus. Ill.)
Now, this was ... this was Bach's recitative: (Mus. Ill.) And then suddenly again: (Mus. Ill.) Again, you can't play it in this way, and so (Mus. Ill.) What I am trying to say, Bach starts his line in the center in the tenor or the alto. I continue that line there and the historical practice of arpeggio was that if you did break it in any continuous way, you never kept up in the same direction, up and down, and up and down, and up and down. You broke it up, you broke it down; you started from the ... you went up and didn't come down; or you start from the top and go down and didn't come up; or you may go up and down and up; or you may start the arpeggio from the center of the chord, from any note in the chord. But when I say "any note," it means any note that fits in the melody of the moment, or the rhythm of the design. So there are all sorts of possibilities of doing this kind of arpeggio, and there I vary it, with the result, you see that this ... and this is all worked out very careful as far as the ... what is happening at this moment in relation to what precedes and follows. These recitatives help me in knowing what design to follow and the harmonies that Bach has before them and after them. This all fits into the picture and makes one whole structural section. So it isn't just a matter of breaking the chords that you see in a certain way whenever you see them, because this is the most dangerous kind of idea to have, and it results in what I have been showing you, that von Bülow and every one else since has done.