Bach J.S. - Prelude in E (Eighteen Little Preludes) BWV 937
This prelude comes from a set entitled 'for Beginners on the Keyboard'. It is a piece written expressly for the purposes of strengthening pupils' abilities at playing counterpoint.
Whilst it belongs to a collection testifying to be that of Bach, there are a number of aspects which put some doubt on that as far as the harmonic analysis goes.
This may be down to copyist errors or it could be a piece which has found its way into the collection from another source.
Pupil Match & Suitability
This is an ideal piece for a student of around grade 5 level.
It is relatively straightforward from a musical perspective although does contain a few tricky moments of co-ordination where the counterpoint does not do entirely what is anticipated.
It will be more of a challenge to those students who have not already tackled several easier pieces of two part counterpoint.
Style & Tempo
In the style of a two part invention, this is a straightforward piece designed to further the technique for 'beginners on the keyboard', according to the attribute on the title page of many editions.
Consistency of articulation and clarity of fingerwork are the elements sought after in any performance.
Phrasing & Articulation
Clarity of finger work is a major element to pursue here (check out more in tone and texture).
There are, as always, different ways to articulate both the quaver and semiquaver lines.
Once the choice has been made, consistency of touch and choice of articulation is something which examiners and adjudicators will look for in a good performance.
Tone & Texture
A firm tone will work well in performances of this piece.
Some gentle shaping will also help to add direction to the musical line.
The technique here is mainly one of coordination.
It takes some skill to accomplish all the moves required in the constantly changing musical environment here.
Independence of hands is the main aim in this piece from a pedagogical perspective.
Good fingering is essential here. Insist on this and do not put up with lazy or inconsistent fingering.
Some principles to bear in mind are:
(i) use the obvious fingering to suit the key:
This would mean ensuring that the RH thumb is used on the E in the semiquavers of bars 9 and 10.
(ii) Avoid fingering which creates unnecessary stretches.
For example in bar 1 (LH) use the 5th finger on each of the first semiquavers of beats 1, 2 & 3, rather than any other which might cause undue tension.
Relatively little ornamentation is printed and little, if any needs to be used.
The turn suggested in bar 19 has a pleasant musical effect, helping to draw the line to its natural conclusion in bar 20.
Adding mordents on the final cadence notes, as heard here, can be effective and artistic.
The framework of this piece is chordal.
Therefore aim to get your student to understand the harmonic outline from the start.
Work very much in hand positions and get your student to know clearly the changes in hand position. Security is based upon this knowledge.
Note that hand positions change at different times within each hand and that working on this particular aspect of co-ordination can not only make it easier to get to know but safer to play.
Knowing the different patterns is the key to learning this piece. Therefore impart to your students the need for knowing the various patterns almost from memory and not being reliant upon the printed notation when practising.
Get them to know the different types of patterns - chordal - scalic - and work towards careful fluency in small bits.
test their knowledge of what they have practised and identify strengths and weaknesses in the their time inbetween lessons.
Judging whether or not the student is ready to tackle this particular piece should be done partly on the basis of their ability to learn the notes hands separately of, say, the first ten bars within a week.
If they are struggling with this, then you should ask yourself whether sufficient work has been covered previously to make the learning of this profitable at this stage.
An excellent performance will have clarity and confidence with clean well articulated lines. The articulation itself will be consistent and the tone, especially in the semiquavers, will bubble along without any sense of heaviness. There will be a natural underlying sense of musical direction.
A good performance will be clean and rhythmic. It may not have the same degree of musical buoyancy as the excellent performance yet there will be confidence and a keen sense of style about it. The tempo itself may be safe rather than exciting.
A sound performance will be accurate and have a consistent pulse to it. Awareness of contrapuntal lines may be limited and the range of tonal; gradation possibly absent. However it will be workmanlike and satisfactory.