Bach C P E - Solfeggietto

Background

C P E Bach (1714 - 1788) was the second son of the great Baroque composer, J S Bach.

Musical style did not, of course, suddenly change from being Baroque in style to Classical and C P E Bach's work may be regarded as a transition between the two periods.

Pupil Match & Suitability

This is definitely a choice for the student who loves to play fast, since this is a rewarding piece that lies well under the fingers once known.

Fluent arpeggio playing is essential, along with a sense of bravura and confidence in tackling such a well known show-piece.

Style & Tempo

You will hear this played at various tempi here; Shehori plays at a moderate pace that may suit a less experience pianist while Paul Barton takes a more adventurous tempo. It's exciting to play and to listen to this piece played at a fast pace but the speed has to be one that a student can manage in a controlled way. 

The style of the music is toccata-like and has more in common with the Baroque than the Classical era. Reminiscent of J S Bach's Little Prelude in C minor BWV 939, the music also relies heavily on the use sequences of scales and arpeggios - a good incentive to practise them!

You can listen to Ton Koopman play the Presto from J S Bach's Toccata in G Major, BWV 916 here on harpsichord to experience the style of the Baroque toccata played on the instrument for which it was originally composed.


Phrasing

The phrasing moves mainly in two-bar unit according to harmonic sequence, although there is very much a feel of continuous movement rather than foursquare structure. It is important that there is some subtle contour in dynamics to show the ebb and flow of tension throughout Bars 1 - 13, after which more overt dynamic contrasts define the phrasing clearly.

Listen to Shehori's shaping of Bars 1 - 13.

Articulation

The articulation will depend to a certain extent on the tempo chosen but the arpeggiated passages will best be played using 'off-the-key' (not gluey!) legato and the repeated chords in the LH of the bars such as b14 and 16 need to be lightly detached. Bear in mind that editions of this work are often over-edited and those bars may or may not be marked staccato. Whatever you see in the score, go for lightly detached articulation that is defined in tone yet not too percussive, and keeps a sense of phrase definition. The dynamics and balance between hands in this performance by Paul Barton are interesting too:

Tone & Texture

The character of this piece dictates an equal balance between the hands in the arpeggios sections.

Where these are obvious points of emphasis, such as in the LH semiquavers at Bar 21 and the important subsequent LH Db, A, B descending bass notes, these could be played with a bolder tone.

Notice how Shehori defines these notes.

Technique

The technique of playing scales and arpeggios is of paramount importance in this piece, since these feature largely throughout.

The most important thing s to remember about playing scales and arpeggios is to keep a healthy hand position.

This is achieved by ensuring that there is freedom of movement in the whole body, starting with the hand position. The arm should move with the hand rather than allowing the wrist to undulate and bend in unnatural positions. A straight line down the Finger 5 side of the forearm is to be maintained where possible, even when the hand travels up to the higher keys.

A good technique has the appearance of very little physical effort being made. Watch this ease of movement in Martha Argarich's playing of the very energetic Partita No 2 by J S Bach.

Fingering

Carefully chosen fingering, adhered to meticulously, can often mean the difference between success and failure in a quick-tempo piece.

The pdf example here shows sensible fingering guidelines that should suit most hands.

Solfeggietto.pdf

Ornamentation

There is only one ornament marked into the score, at Bar 25. This is best played beginning on the upper note of Eb and ending with a turn, as demonstrated.

As always it is better for a student to play the ornamentation in a neat, controlled way that does not disturb the flow, even if this means simplifying it. There is nothing worse in ornamentation than obtrusive trills that interrupt the pulse.

Pedalling

Pedalling is not necessary in this piece and excessive use of pedal renders the performance stylistically inappropriate, as heard here.

Barely perceptible pedal may be used to enrich the tone of the semibreves at Bars 22 - 24, as long as the following semibreves are not blurred.

Teaching Strategies

The first duty of the teacher is to ensure that the student uses a copy of the music by a reputable publisher, since this piece has been subject to massive over-editing in some editions, making it more difficult to play without adding any musical enhancement.

A useful starting point would be to analyse which keys the music visits to establish which arpeggios need to be fluently known (although it is to be hoped that the student knows them all well at this point!).

The main theme, with its characteristic arpeggios and scales has a C minor opening; there is a modulation to G minor, ready for Bar 9; the main theme is restated in F minor at Bar 17; we return to C minor for the ending.

Practice Tips

This piece is relatively easy to memorise since it features repetition in different keys. The student could practise the main theme in these various keys to begin with, taking great care to use consistent, careful fingering.

The linking phrases could then be learned, comparing similarity and differences.

The interpretation of dynamics needs to be agreed early in the teaching and learning process so that these can be incorporated into practice sessions sooner rather than later.
This is because once the piece has been memorised, it becomes more difficult for the student to follow the dynamic markings in the score.

Troubleshooting

The sequential nature of Bars 1 - 4 make it all too easy to just keep going up the keyboard, extending the pattern too far and, in effect, re-inventing the music!

Another pitfall is to change the fingering instead of keeping to the same, consistent pattern. This is a sure recipe for stumbles in accuracy and even a breakdown in fluency, since the music is too fast to allow for conscious thought. Fingering must have become automatic long before a performance.

Final Performance

An excellent performance will be quick yet controlled and neat. Dynamic detail will be convincing, articulation well considered. There will be a sense of bravura and confidence, with assured fluency and accuracy.

A good performance will be neat and accurate, perhaps a little slower but certainly not ponderous in pace. Control of tone and rhythmic evenness may not be quite as assured here, but there will be a sense of character and style.

A sound performance will have secure, mostly precise accuracy, with any small slips not affecting the flow. There will be appropriate use of detail, although the pace may be on the cautious side or perhaps the tempo will be quick but at the expense of neat control.

A complete performance


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