University of California, San Diego – Regents' Lecture No. 3 (1966) – Part 5 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.)
Now, again this ... this is a very interesting rhythmic design. We have a combination of eighth notes, triplets and sixteenth notes. Now there are three basic rhythmic designs in the piece. If you play this supposedly accurate ... correct way, you ignore the entire rhythmic structure. If you (Mus. Ill.) because to play arithmetically correct, doesn't mean you are playing the piece as written. Now this obviously means (Mus. Ill.), that is ... again, it's a flourish. This is operatic. If you know something about seventeenth-century Italian opera, you'll know that this is a phrase that couldn't have been written without that kind of opera. So you either begin (Mus. Ill.) or you can (Mus. Ill.) Now, those lifting off of notes which I do — some are a little shorter, some not so short — that's not written in the music; again, for us moderns. If we are to play something short, we may do it only when we see a staccato mark.
Now, what I have already told you — those of you who have been here before — is that the dot means lifting off; it also means changing the value of the following note. Now, we have these figures occur in this variation suddenly; after this sort of sparkling triplet figure, we suddenly get the dotted note and sometimes a trill mark, a symbol is written above it, and sometimes not; but wherever you've got that kind of figuration written out, it meant: put an ornament there. Take my word for it, please. If you start to study, you will agree with me after some years; you'll find it in every single book, over and over and over again. But, it means a dot and it means an ornament.
Now, you see, that charm that comes into the rhythm when you know how to handle that moment in its ornamentation. Now, again, let us say you know a good deal about ornamentation and you know that when you come upon this figure: (Mus. Ill.) something that's written in the large notes, like that: (Mus. Ill.), it really means (Mus. Ill.) or: (Mus. Ill.) Alright, very good. (Mus. Ill.) You know that much. Now, if you are going to play it that way, how can you play this: (Mus. Ill.) You see, it makes no sense. This is a very ornamental thing and it is a very free figure and this is where 'notes inégales' comes in; there's a freedom, it's not a metronomic sound at all. Some moments you play the long note a little longer, sometimes not so long; sometimes you run the triplets a little faster, depending on what's going on in the harmony, and what has preceded and what is following.
Now, Variation Four; I will just play it through for you; now, this is a, I think, a very good example of written-out 'notes inégales': (Mus. Ill.) Now, I'm playing the rhythmic design correctly. I confess to you that I have done it a little according to, again, according to the design. The design opens in the bass (Mus. Ill.) on the beat (Mus. Ill.) (Mme. T. humming above the music.) But in the other voice, begins off the beat. Now, how could you play ... we are going to play absolutely visually again: (Mus. Ill.) You see, you can't treat 'notes inégales' that way either. All this staccato is written into it; it's written into the rhythmic design. You can't do this (Mus. Ill.) for a syncopation. You must: (Mus. Ill.) Now, each one of you, if you play ... if you play this piece, each one of you may do it differently. You may want staccato here, or a little legato there, or a phrase marked, or ... wherever; you may want it louder, you may want it bigger, you may ... or you may want it even more delicate. But you must ant something. You cannot simply: (Mus. Ill.) translate visually (Mus. Ill.) Now I am going to let you do the talking. Would you like to ask some questions?
Male student apparently in one of the back rows asks a question regarding performance of Bach, relating to "what you see on the page". (Most of the question is all but inaudible.)
Mme. T.: "Yes, yes, alright, yes. Well, I would propose this: that in teaching them, from the very beginning, that they be taught that what you ... what you don't do is as much a part as what you do do: in the sense that for instance, let's take the little musette which most of you can play. By the way, do you know my volumes Introduction to Bach?"
(Student's answer inaudible.)
"Now, let's take that musette which is written so: (Mus. Ill.) Now, I'm playing that legato, and we all assume ... we musicians all sort of assume ... that you play something absolutely the way it appears on the page, it's going to be legato. Now, why should we assume that? Why can't we assume it's going to be all staccato? Why didn't we think that way? Now, this is a very pianistic way of thinking because legato became very fashionable with the growth of the piano. Legato playing, that's Mendelssohn; and pearly scales — that's Mendelssohn, and mellifluous sound. So our fundamental assumptions belong to a time closer to us, and one that we are more directly involved with.
So that is ... I'm leading up to this, that in teaching a child, the most fundamental, most simple points: he is taught to read this piece: what I think is as important to point out to the child as "that is A" (Mus. Ill.) and he begins to read how the notes ... and he plays cleanly, and he plays evenly, is the kind of rhythmic design; this is not very complicated melodically, not very complicated harmonically, although a child can grasp ... (Mme. T. interrupting herself) Here: (Mus. Ill.), you have a long note, yes? And here, you have four short notes: (Mus. Ill.) Now you have long opposed to short. Now, any child can understand that! Now, it's possible ... now this is ... a child can understand this, too, where one can say 'It is possible to treat this in performance according to the longness and the shortness of the notes'. Now 'long' is obviously (Mus. Ill.) a note that's held and, possibly, if they are slow notes (Mus. Ill.) they'll all be held (Mus. Ill.) You don't even have to introduce the word 'legato' for a while. They'll all be held (Mus. Ill.) But then you have four short notes: so let's play them short, so you play 'long' – 'short': (Mus. Ill.) Now, here it's more short notes: (Mus. Ill.) We want to keep it very simple. Staccato for the sixteenth, and legato for the eighth, and a child gets a much more vivid understanding of what rhythmic design is the minute he looks at a page, and he begins to understand this: there is such a thing as short and long, is not just 'You can't linger' and so you get (Mus. Ill.) which I think is more interesting for a child to listen to, as well as to play, than this (Mus. Ill.)
[End of tape, gap before the start of the next tape]
"You could do: (Mus. Ill.) But you'll only give an approximation of a clavichord on this. Do you see my point?"
Female student, apparently in one of the back rows, now asks a question (all but inaudible).
Mme. T.: "I certainly go along with the idea of articulation and that is something that's been talked about a great deal; oh ... a lot twenty-five, thirty years, actually. So it is something that has to be talked about a great deal all the time. There is no question; the articulation has to be made. The idea of continual legato all the time, that again is nineteenth-century organ playing. So it has nothing to do with Bach and has nothing to do with his structures, because you can't hear anything in this kind of way; and that's alright for nineteenth-century organ music, but it isn't right for Bach. Now, however, if this is so — as you say — that the non-legato is suggested, instead of legato, I would say that's quite incorrect. I think it's just as wrong as all-legato."
Same female student now comments on Mme. T's reply and apparently asks another question.
Mme. T.: "Well, then you are really talking about articulation and the danger ... I mean, I bring this up right away because I see a danger of too much non- ... so-called 'non-legato' playing, which is, of course, entered into the playing of Bach, too, in terms of just non-legato. It has brilliant string-playing of Bach; absolutely brilliant Bach performances on the violin is that notion of non-legato. It is, to my ears, about the most ghastly, unmusical, insensitive sound that anybody can make. In these Bach Sonatas you are always having 'boo-boo-boo-boo-boo-boo-boo-boo-boo', a single bow for every note. Well, if you have any information about viol playing, in gamba playing, you know, first of all, it's near ... it's almost impossible and no one thought in those terms. With the curved bow, which was made to make a long line and extended and connected, you weren't going to use a curved bow on a gamba in this kind of present day violin Bach approach, and you never hear Bach played otherwise on the violin, but this way. So this non-legato has, of course, permeated every field and every instrumental aspect of playing Bach and, of course, it has come ... the organ is about the last to get it really, and it's a very dangerous idea. I wouldn't think in terms of non-legato; I would think in terms of ... oh, a great deal of articulation though, which is another thing, really."
Same female student in back row now asks another question.
"I think it's going a little too far. I think it's slightly dangerous. It expresses that thought about starting to use a good deal more than that non-legato; I don't think that any performer need think in terms of general legato or general non-legato. I think these are only ways of articulation, and you use them according to the particular structures you are dealing with. You see?"
Male student asks: "You said that the sustaining trill is relatively ...?"
Mme. T.: "Oh, yes."
Male student continuing: "And the Two-Part Inventions ..."
Mme. T.: "Yes, yes, but that's another kind of trill, yes. No, no, it's correct, but it's a measured trill and that's a very different trill from the unmeasured trills of Liszt and Chopin, Paganini. You know the difference. Yes."
Female student in back, asking a question: "While on the subject of trills, I have heard that Bach is a triplet triller ..."
Mme. T.: "Yes, you see, this is the kind of definition you get which gives you no insight. It gives you a fact, but it gives you no insight so that if you are told that, that, as a fact, is quite a good fact. But you're told that and you don't know how ... (interrupting herself) or you may be told about this particular situation; but how do you ever use it in the future? In other situations? And this is the kind of teaching and thinking that I am trying to do something about, because you are given that, it's a very nice piece of information, but it gives you absolutely no insight, and no way of handling this information. Now, if one were told it this way instead that, first of all, trills are part of the structure (noise of chalk marks on blackboard) and everyone can see that you get a (interrupting herself) ... well, I won't use the lines; so to make it even more clear (more chalk marks on blackboard).
Let's say you get a trill (more chalk marks on blackboard), an ornament over a two-eighth note and you play it either this way, or you play it this way. It's always according to the arithmetical value of the main note; of the notes over which the symbol appears. Now, the main note, on the whole, is divided by twos, not by threes, and since trills, if they were continued trills, were always measured — and most ornaments, even shorter ones, were measured — they always had to be divisible into the two. Therefore, you don't play trills in triplets. Do you see? Now, I think this would give one deeper insight as to the whole general need in every trill you come across and every ornamental symbol, how to handle it, how to think it out, rather than this thing in terms of a fact 'Bach never used triplets in trills', you see? It becomes a terribly pedantic kind of fact, and it doesn't mean anything."
Apparently same female student in back row now asks another question.
Mme. T.: "Pretty often when you're dealing with triplets. It's just as simple as that." (Laughter in the audience.) "Actually, a 'Schleifer' is a triplet. It's not as though triplets didn't exist."
Female student now comments on Mme. T.'s reply.
Mme. T., answering, "Sometimes; you know, there are three notes in the inverted mordent; and that's a group of three. Sometimes you play it as going into this group of four, and sometimes you may do it as a triplet. But you must see where this is appropriate."
[End of recording]