Bach J.S. - Gigue from Partita IV in D BWV 828
The Partitas BWV 825 - 83 are a set of keyboard suites by J S Bach. Partita is a name for a suite of several dance movements, of which the last one is typically a gigue.
Bach's Partita IV in D BWV 828 would originally have been composed for harpsichord. The gigue is played here by the American, Scott Ross on harpsichord.
Notice how the textures are naturally clear on this instrument even though tonal gradation was not possible. Also notice that the semiquaver notes appear to be fluid and legato whereas the longer notes have a detached feel, with the chords sounding prominent.
Pupil Match & Suitability
This is not a piece for a faint-hearted performer since it is both fast and intricate, needing confident technique with a bravura attitude to performance.
A secure understanding of the dance-like style, with the ability to communicate the essentially joyful character of the music, is essential.
Smaller hands will manage this movement easily, in fact very large hands would be a disadvantage. However there is some requirement in the second section to sustain a longer note an octave above or below the semiquaver triplet movement (bars such as 78 - 85).
Style & Tempo
This Bach at his most ebulliant and joyful! The contrapuntal lines interweave effortlessly in an excellent performance.
The gigue is, of course, a dance and it is essential that the performance be light and full of movement. It would be unwise to be prescriptive about tempo since the pace needs to be quick but not at the expense of musicality and technical control. A pace of between dotted quaver = 126 and 160 is realistic for a student performance.
132 is fast enough to give a lively performance without any anxious control issues but if the evenness and tone can be controlled at 160 this would be an exciting performance!
Goode's pace here is around 160.
Phrasing & Articulation
The choice of articulation is largely up to the performer in Baroque music. A lightly detached articulation style can give a sense of liveliness to a slower tempo and can also lend further buoyancy at a very fast tempo.
In this performance by Ashkenazy, notice how the semiquavers are semi-legato rather than smoothly articulated. The longer notes and chords in bars such as 20 - 32 are often played staccato.
Tone & Texture
As ever, Gould's playing is controversial. This is an interesting interpretation since the very fast pace generates a feeling - if we do not look at the score - that each bar consists of not three, but six, quick dotted quavers!
It is, of course, important to relate the tempo to the chosen interpretation. Simply making the longer notes sound more important than the short ones gives a basis on which to develop a feel for the phasing.
Gould's use of dynamics is based very much on phrasing and textural definition rather than on contrast between phrases.
Whether or not you admire Gould's interpretation, all you really all you need to know about technique for playing Bach is contained within this video! Gould's hand position should be studied and emulated in respect of economy of movement and natural posture.
His hands never betray any sign of strain or stretching, but they remain in the natural shape of a hand no matter which bar he is playing. Notice how the arm moves with the hand so that the wrists do not bend into an unnatural position.
Gould favoured a very low seat at the piano. Although the low height of the chair he used was exaggerated, it is true that it is not possible to use arm weight effectively if we sit too high. The forearm should ideally be parallel with the ground, not angled down towards the piano.
In a piece such as this, sensible fingering can mean the difference between being able to play the piece well and not achieving fluency.
Angela Hewitt, the great exponent of Bach, once remarked in an interview that she is often amazed at how few fingerings are pencilled into students' scores.
A helpful rule for fingering is that the less 'thumb under' and 'finger over' over, the easier it is to achieve fluency at speed. An example of this is the placing of the fifth finger on the LH A (second semiquaver) in Bar 12, which supplies enough fingers to get from the A to the E (5, 4, 3, 2, 1) before going over with Finger 3.
Another rule is to use usual arpeggio fingering where possible, such as in the opening bars of each hand - this is, after all, one of the reasons we practise arpeggios!
It is worthwhile studying more than one edition of this work since different editors have various fingering suggestions. If a certain fingering does not suit a particular student then it should be altered to a more comfortable, efficient fingering pattern. It is however VITAL to check that the chosen fingering works at speed!
Good news for some students is that no ornamentation is required in this gigue! The rapid pace and relentless semiquaver movement make ornamentation unnecessary.
Whether or not to use pedal in Baroque music is a matter of some concern to many teachers and students. The crux of the matter is how, not whether, the pedal is to be used since it would be ludicrous to suggest that pedal should never be used in Bach. The sustaining pedal represents an integral facet of piano tone production and a dry tonal quality results from omitting to use it.
The video here of Martha Argarich demonstrates that touches of pedal enhance the tone even in fast-paced Bach, when used with meticulous aural discrimination.
It is possible to see the dampers moving but notice that use is sparing and that the pedal is never applied over long stretches of fast-moving notes.
Pedal could be applied as mere touches throughout this gigue as long as the performer listens, monitors and adjusts. For example the very first note could be pedalled but it would sound inappropriate to hold the pedal down for the whole arpeggio. The first six bars could alternatively be played with no pedal at all.
The places that most benefit from pedalling are phrases such as Bars 38 - 44 where the first and second beats could have tone enhancement. The choices to be made depend on the student's progress in using the pedal intuitively and instinctively and on their ability to use it with an advanced technique and fine aural discrimination.
If the overall effect of pedalling causes the listener to be aware of sustaining then it is probably being over-used. Lack of pedal is much preferable to over-use. The rule here is definitely 'less is more'. Beginnings of bars and phrases, as well as longer value notes, will often be the places needing the little touches of pedal.
It is inadvisable for the teacher to pencil in pedalling for a student at this level of work since this allows abdication of responsibility to listen carefully and to adapt the pedalling to the particular acoustic and piano.
A good starting point is listening to two contrasting interpretations. No busy teacher has the time to learn every single piece they teach to the point of perfect fluency and in any case when you listen together you can discuss the interpretations.
Give the student a clear strategy for learning the music, based on sound memorisation techniques, such as separate hands work in chunks building up to hands together work in short sections.
Remember to explore your student's preferred learning style and ensure that more than one way of learning is explored - finger memory is notoriously insecure under pressure since a mistake can cause a breakdown so analyse the structure of the music with your student, giving them enough musical signposts to keep on track even if a few slips are made.
Learning is best done in chunks, relating short sections to known patterns - for instance the opening bars are based on familiar arpeggios and scales and the LH part imitates the RH at the interval of a fifth.
Always make conscious fingering choices and test them out at speed in short bursts at first. Always use the fingering you have chosen.
Separate hands practice is essential at first, after which short sections can be secured with hands together.
Remember to plan ahead to give plenty of time for discussing the musical ideas in the second section and for working on memorisation so that both sections are known equally well.
Practise with a musical intention at all times. Experiment with use of detail and once you have decided on articulation and dynamics, always play with detail and musicality. Pay attention to phrasing shape and know which lines you want to project.
Listen very carefully to the tone and balance between parts - many students do not actually listen when they play.
Build up the speed gradually and also challenge yourself to play with a quick tempo in short sections, after which the sections may be joined together.
Practise performing in the weeks leading up to the big day.
The main problem heard in performances of pieces of this style is lack of fluency in the second section. Students often practise until a piece goes right but not until it cannot go wrong and the section that goes wrong is usually the second one.
The reason is clearly that the opening section was started first and has had more thorough practice. The solution is to plan ahead and designate at least as much time to learning the second section as to the first.
A good performance to emulate is the one by Andras Schiff since the pace is manageable and the textures are clear with an interesting balance between bringing out the semiquaver lines and the longer note value lines. The gigue begins at 27.14, but the whole work is delightful to hear.
Notice the way in which Schiff uses dynamic contrasts to communicate the harmonic structure and key changes, as well as dynamic gradation to shape the phrases.
An excellent performance will share the consummate technical ease of this performance, along with the sensitivity to texture and phrasing. The light, dance-like character will be communicated and fluent accuracy will be assured throughout. Use of dynamics and articulation detail will be carefully considered.
A good performance may still be taken at a brisk pace and will be well interpreted with sound musical ideas regarding texture and balance. Technical control will probably be less assured however.
A sound performance may be taken at a rather slower pace but there will still be some sense of style and character. Alternatively the pace might be ambitious but the performer may struggle to keep control of evenness.