Bach J.S. - Little Prelude in D major BWV 925
Bach's Little Preludes were written essentially as teaching pieces. This particular prelude comes from the notebook of Wilhelm Friedmann Bach, J S Bach's eldest son and second child.
Although numbers 1, 2, 4 and 5 in the notebook were undoubtedly composed by J S Bach himself, it is possible that this prelude was actually written by W F Bach sometime in the 1720s, under the guidance of his father.
The music would originally have been played on harpsichord, as heard here played by Eggar, or on clavichord.
Pupil Match & Suitability
This is quite a texturally complex piece for the Grade 6 student but it is an appealing prelude with a tuneful subject that is easy to recognise and remember.
There are considerable technical and musical challenges here.
1/ Technically the student will need to have, or be prepared to develop, independence of hands and the ability to define textures in relative tone and shaping, both between hands and also within the same hand.
2/ Musically the students will need the ability to discriminate between the voice parts and to hear the whole lines, arriving at a well considered balance between the textures.
That said, we might possibly hope for a student performance that approaches the technical control heard here. The pianist is Leone.
Style & Tempo
The tempo very much depends on one's concept of the character of this piece - as well as on the student's capability.
There is of course no definitive way of interpreting a Baroque piece. The wide range of tempi in professional recordings attests to this.
Any indications of tempo in published editions are, of course, editorial since composers of this era did not give metronome markings.
The tempo illustrated here by Angela Hewitt, acknowledged contemporary expert in the interpretation of Bach, is an ideal choice.
Phrasing & Articulation
There are certain conventions which tend to govern the playing of fugues. The specific articulation applied to the subject, counterpoint and other aspects of the material are usually played with the same consistent articulation.
To do otherwise would imply a lack of appropriate stylistic awareness and careful preparation. The playing would sound untidy, unstructured and without consistency of articulation throughout the parts.
Listen to Glenn Gould playing here, noticing his choices of articulation, but remember that this is not the only way to interpret the music stylishly. A grade 6 student would probably give a more successful performance using a less detached style.
Tone & Texture
This is probably the most challenging aspect of playing, and teaching, contrapuntal music because the fugal entries need to be clear and yet not over-emphasised.
Because a semiquaver line in a high register will naturally draw our attention it is not necessary to play this too loudly. It can be more effective to give a little weight to the slower moving notes.
On the other hand, a middle part or lower semiquaver line might need relatively more tone in order for the listener to notice it as a new entry. A sensitive ear for balance is needed. Remind your student to listen to the sound they are producing - they often forget!
Listen to the textures here in Tipo's playing.
The techniques required to play contrapuntal music well are, above all, musicianship skills. Do not underestimate the importance of developing a wide range of aural skills, which, ideally, will have been built on good foundations earlier on in the student's learning.
The capacity to hear separate and independently phrased lines before attempting to play them is of enormous importance.
Coordination skills need to be in place so that students are able to play not only with different dynamic levels between hands, but also with differing articulations. All too often, playing tends to do one of these things at a time, but not two or three in combination.
The capacity to play with different dynamic levels within the same hand, as well as different articulations, is also important.
Finger swapping is a skill worth having, as is the ability to share a middle part between the hands in order to maximize the ease of playing.
These kinds of techniques need to be developed to work eventually at speed.
The ABRSM edition, J S Bach: Eighteen Little Preludes shows sound fingering.
For small hands, a further choice for the final two bars might be to use RH fingers 2/5 instead of 3/5 on the second quaver A, with LH taking the first bass clef E in the same bar.
The final bar works better for small hands with the final four LH notes played 2, 1, 1, 1. These will probably be detached anyway, as in Gould's version here, so the effect will be the same.
Although students often regard ornamentation as a defining feature of Baroque music, there is little need for it here.
Gould (heard here) gives a stylish touch to the chord at Bar 10, by arpeggiating it and this is a feature of Baroque keyboard style.
The only other ornament is a simple mordent at Bar 14, where F sharp - G - F sharp is all that is needed.
Pedalling is best avoided in a Grade 6 performance of this piece. Touches of pedal in Baroque music are not entirely inappropriate where the tone benefits from enrichment, but this is best left until the student has more experience.
Never teach a fugue in just a 'vertical' way - always explore it in a linear way.
The fugue subject should be memorised first and then the student may begin to explore the episodic material beginning at Bar 5, noticing its use of the second, then the first part of the subject.
Point out the way in which the original material may be developed, such as the inverted fragments in the middle line of Bar 12.
There are two crucial things to remember in practice session:
(1) careful, slow work on all individual parts and combinations is essential
(2) appropriate, achievable goals must be set for practice.
With younger students the best approach may well be a fairly didactic one. Try using a tick box scheme whereby certain elements are practised every day, being sure to encourage feedback at the following lesson.
The most common problem heard in playing of Baroque pieces is lack of complete fluency. A small smudge in accuracy can remain insignificant, but not if it causes a break in fluency.
The problem is caused by:
1/ lack of secure memory of the music
2/ over-reliance on finger-memory rather than
understanding the structure of the music.
3/ not practising performing
4/ poor concentration when performing
5/ Inconsistent fingering.
An excellent performance will be fluent and show authoritative control of technique as well as a stylish awareness of sound Baroque interpretation.
There will be appropriate detail, with the tone and articulation lending a sense of character in relation to the well judged tempo. Textures will be effectively defined.
A good performance will demonstrate thorough knowledge of the music with secure continuity and use of detail will give a sense of style and character. The overall effect may not be quite as convincing as an excellent performance due, perhaps, to a less poised technique, less convincing textural clarity or perhaps too obvious use of dynamic variety for the style.
A sound performance will show reliable familiarity with the music and any small slips will not affect the continuity.
There will be sufficient technical control to give reasonable evenness and there will be some attention to tonal variety.