University of California, San Diego – Regents' Lecture No. 3 (1966) – Part 4 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.)
(A significant portion of this lecture discusses J. S. Bach's Aria variata in A minor, BWV 989 especially the second variation.)
So there must be more ... something more to it. And there is! Obviously, there is! Now, just as I analyzed this approach to arpeggio, the chords, and all that it involved, the 'notes inégales' involves many things also. The great trouble is this kind of literal thinking and you hear about this 'notes inégales', you know that this was actually written down by an author of the seventeenth century as an example of 'notes inégales'; but you can't stop there, because that's absolutely deadly; but because we may not have hundreds of precise examples of how to handle the 'notes inégales', that does not mean that this is the only way it was ever done, or maybe two or three other ways. So what to do about it!
Well, now, this Aria and Ten Variations [BWV 989] is very seldom played; it is beginning to be played a little bit more now; it's very seldom played, because it is filled ... oh, the Aria is filled with ornamental symbols. Now, if you are illiterate as far as reading the ornamental symbols, you can't handle this music at all and the fact is, the truth is, that most performers are totally illiterate in this field. Now, the Variations, on the whole, have hardly any ornamental symbols at all and that makes it just as difficult for the opposite reason. The art ... performers don't know what to do with them. On the one hand, you have too many ornamental symbols that can't be read; on the other hand, you have something so simple that it seems it's not a very good piece of music; it's very dull; and one can't do anything with it; so it's never played.
Now, what I've just said to you is absolutely in quotes; I have heard this from many keyboard players and not just the pianists. Now, let's see what this is about. Just to be sure that I am telling you the truth all the time, check on the score. Well, I'll play you the Aria so you can make a little sense of the Variations as well. And I'll play the Aria without ornaments; just what you see on the score. There's quite a lot there actually. (Mus. Ill.) Now, I'll play it with the ornaments that are written in the score. (Mus. Ill.) Now we go on: (Mus. Ill.) I am playing without ornaments: (Mus. Ill.) Doesn't that sound like a lot of renaissance music you've heard? And this is the way this music is played most of the time in our time: but ornamentation was, if anything ... played a greater role in that time, than in Bach's time.
Actually, the whole historic line of ornamentation is a descending one to the time of Bach, and dribbled off to nothing into the beginning of the nineteenth century. Now, that sounds as though it could very easily be a piece of renaissance music, the way it is performed today, but it is performed without enough understanding of ornamentation, of what was done with this music by the performer and what the composer assumed the performer would do. Now, that does not mean a rigid design. It means really quite the contrary. Every performer introduces different ornaments; this was the charm; this was one of the greatest arts in performing, and remember that performers and composers were always the same and there wasn't a performer who wasn't a composer; that was nonsense; and most composers were very good performers. So this ... no one gave that a second thought. But we are living in a very different kind of time of specialization.
Now, with ornaments: (Mus. Ill.) Now, many of those ornaments are in the score and some of them I have myself added. Now, this is expected of knowledgeable performers in this music, although it is still something that one has to explain to most modern students and audiences even. The fact is that if you saw a score without any ornaments at all, on the whole, you had to ornament it yourself, and this is the ... this is the most important, the most specialized aspect of ornamentation knowing where to put the ornaments and which ornaments to introduce when you don't have any in the score.
And then there is one other aspect that that most people don't think about and many don't know, and that is the whole problem of manuscripts. There is no such thing, or on very few works of Bach, is there such a thing as the right manuscript, so that even if you are very conscientious, if you start digging into the manuscripts, and want to see with your own eyes and you put aside all editions — which is a pretty wise thing to do, because there aren't any editions of Bach and not any good at all: just a few that you can depend on as far as notes are concerned, but not for interpretation — but if you want to see the manuscripts themselves and you want to check on whether the ornaments of the best editions are proper and accurate and precise, then you get into a real field of thistles, because every ... oh, in many works there are a number of manuscripts for the same work and, in most cases, every is different from every other one. The ornaments are quite different. They are placed in different places. They are different ornaments. The notes even are different.
Very often, in one manuscript there will be six different hands: for instance, the forty-eight Preludes and Fugues of the Well-Tempered Clavier has been very carefully edited over many years of very serious work in the original Bach-Gesellschaft edition. That edition of Bach took fifty years to make and now there are groups of musicologists who are working on a second Bach edition, because of all ... most of you people here, all kinds of scientific devices which we can now use to study manuscripts like X-rays being used on manuscripts and all sorts of interesting things, from which we have learned; the fact is we haven't learned all that much; it is not revolutionizing our knowledge of Bach by any means, although it sometimes is made to do so. Whatever work we can do from this point on is going to be small compared with the work of the original musicians and scholars on the first edition of Bach. But we can refine our knowledge and we can either confirm or be more clear about whose hand is where.
Now, there is a musicologist working on this new edition of the forty-eight Preludes and Fugues; we has been working on it for ten years and he still has no idea, he cannot tell the printers when it will be ready for publication. That gives you just a very tiny idea of what is involved in looking at a page of Bach and so when you hear anybody talk about the right manuscripts, just take it awfully easy. There happen to be about eighteen manuscripts of the forty-eight Preludes and Fugues and about twenty-two early editions. Now, there are enormous differences. In Bach's ... oh, in the manuscripts which are more than less in Bach's hand, there are differences on every page, every other page, sometimes every few lines; it's not all in Bach's hand. So when you go from manuscript to manuscript and you see in the same work that each one has its ornaments in different places, you realize that more is involved than simply research.
Now, the editions come out now and then; aside from this big Bach edition — which will be known as the Second Bach-Gesellschaft Edition [ed. actually the Neue Bach-Ausgabe] — we have very scholarly works published (and some of them are very good), but they made an enormous fuss about saying "Now, here we have the true and correct edition according to the manuscript with the correct notes and, at last, for the first time, we have the right ornaments," and so forth. I am thinking of an edition by Ludwig Landshof of the Two-Part and Three-Part Inventions. Now he's a very good scholar and he has done beautiful work; but he does claim that this is the first time that the Inventions are presented in the correct way.
Now I have checked — by the way, those differences between manuscripts in our terminology are called "variants" — I have checked all the variants of the manuscripts and I have checked all the variants in the Bach-Gesellschaft Edition. That is, the first edition, which is so very good because it does present the different variants from all the different manuscripts, so you have a marvelous source of research right there in this edition. Then, of course, you can amplify it by going to West and Easy Germany, where most of the manuscripts are, but it's a very good basic source. Now, I have checked all these variants. There is nothing that is new in the Landshof Edition, but absolutely nothing, not a note, and not an ornament. The only difference is that Landshof has selected this ornament to go there and that ornament to go there and not this one to go there, and so forth. But you can find every one of these ornaments among the variants and you can find every one of these situations without ornaments where he may have selected that variant. So there is nothing new that has been discovered by him, but, you see, the danger is that he claims this is the first time this has been presented. But if you've studied, if you have done your homework, you'll realize this isn't so. So you have to be very careful: you've got constantly to weigh the situation in the large and in the detail.
I preface all this with a little variation that's coming, because here again, there are ... now and then you find the ornament and sometimes you find an ornament in a ridiculous place and this will be soon in the manuscript. Now that might have been the copier's mistake. A rather hilarious example of a mistake of ornamentation is in the B minor Partita, which is known as the French Overture, where there is, without doubt, an ink spot over a note; and there have been articles written on this ornament (suppressed chuckles among the audience) and this is published; this is common knowledge; you can get the material and read it; and Walter Emery has written a very attacking article on Ralph Kirkpatrick for playing this ornament — which he does; he plays it on the harpsichord, and he plays it as an ornament, not as an ink spot. (Pronounced laughter among the audience.) And it makes a difference. (More laughter in the audience; Mme. T. herself chuckles.) So you see a few nuances of the situation.
Now, this next variation has an ornament here: (Mus. Ill.) Now I'll play it the way I have worked it out, which is very little different: (Mus. Ill.) Now, what have I done to it? I'll finish the variation. (Mus. Ill.) I have added a few ornaments, but I have added them where the design already had suggested it originally. You have this: (Mus. Ill.) Now, you have it on the third: (Mus. Ill.) and then you don't have it (Mus. Ill.) An ornament is part of the structure. I can't emphasize that enough and we have millions of ways of recognizing it in terms of structure, as many ways almost as there are ornamental moments. The ornament becomes part of the rhythmic design ... yappa-ba, yappaba, yappaba, yappabas. It isn't (Mus. Ill with Mme. T. vocally outlining rhythm on top of music) But it's (Mus. Ill.)
Now you must be careful not to run the danger of it sounding like a little factory-built motive, because you can't do it absolutely every time: you must recognize it as a motive. If you realize that this is a motive, then you'll begin to handle it as a composer handles it, which is the only way really that a performer has a right to handle music written by someone else.
Now, we come to the next variation, where the ornamentation is written out in large notes. (Mus. Ill.) Now, that variation combines almost everything I've been talking about for an hour and a half, that little variation. The ornament is this: (Mus. Ill.) You have that same ornament written out: (Mus. Ill.) That is known as a "Schleifer": (Mus. Ill.) All you see is this sign in the score: (Mus. Ill.) But there's a "Schleifer" there, and a "Schleifer" is played this way: (Mus. Ill.) So this is a "Schleifer" (Mus. Ill.) Just lots of "Schleifers". (Laughter in the audience.) (Mus. Ill.) You see?
Now, I have something else going on here. Now, we come to the 'notes inégales'. If you were ... by the way, ornaments have a certain rhythmic quality too. Now, in the ornamental symbol there is never really a clear rhythmic indication of what value notes you are to employ. There are certain basic rules about some of them, rather specific rules. But where you have rather more notes than less in the ornament, there really is no rhythmic ... precise rhythmic indication. And this is another problem in ornamentation. It takes a great deal of study and a great deal of actual performing experience to get the feel of what to do with these ornaments. Now, these are written out in terms of triplets: (Mus. Ill.), because a "Schleifer" is a three-note ornament. We have two-note ornaments, we have four-note ornaments, and then we have many-noted ornaments. Now this is a three-note ornament, and it's really a slide.
Again we come to that third: (Mus. Ill.) And this is a slide through a third: (Mus. Ill.) Now, these ornaments are written out. Now, if you are going to play correctly in the modern way, you play what's on the score in the rhythm; it sounds like this: (Mus. Ill.) And then you try to get very curly: (Mus. Ill.) Now, I just don't believe composers of any era wanted music to sound like that and we hear too much Bach sounding like that. Listen very carefully (Mus. Ill. — ornamentally deliberately exaggerated) (Laughter in the audience.) Now, the way this music is written — not the way it appears on the page — but in the way in which this music is constructed, it becomes obvious when you look at it from the inside-out; not from the outside-in, that this is a place where the famous 'notes inégales' would be involved. No one, in their right musical senses, really can play this piece this way; it's played this way ... we hear so much Bach played this way ... because we have become so concerned with correctness and accuracy and the not-departing from the intention of the composer, that it has become as absurd as the legend of the emperor's new clothes. This effort to be accurate has so removed us from the art, and by that I don't mean anything only intuitive, I mean from what is going on in the actual structure of the music, so that it has become tremendously impoverished.