Bach in you & me

In 1998, I came to live in Zaandijk, The Netherlands.

'Bach in Bullekerk' was regularly in the local newspaper. Every month, at the Bullekerk, there's a Bach's Cantata played. In 2000, I started going there occasionally and in 2002, they stopped the monthly Bach's Cantata concerts after doing it for 25 years!!

There were some moments I still hear in my head, e.g. an exquisite duet between a clarinet and a soprano, and I still have no idea which Aria it was. The clarinet and the soprano were singing and intermingled with each other intimately, playfully. Such fine musical lines were moving in the air of the church, the Bullekerk, while the sun was shinning too. I was deeply moving.

The acoustic of the church played an important role to enhance the intensity of the duet, for sure; but no other material could ever replace the Aria. It was a very specific style, people say they hear it immediately when they unknowingly listen to Bach's music. Sophisticated, deeply emotional, and yet, "simple". Just two musical lines, two people, listening and talking to each other.

Was it the beginning of my fascination to Bach?

Is it why I'm so fond of, especially, Bach's two-voices work for piano?

At the same time, I also started playing the piano again and to my surprise, some pieces by Bach from my childhood were still in me after quite a long time not playing them!

Not only Bach, but also Scarlatti and other Baroque composers, have a special place in my life in general; and specifically in my musical life, in my piano playing life.

How do their music help our musicality growing?

The dancing forms demand our lively sense of rhytm, the polifony is a beautiful practice for both hands to be independent, the plenty of running notes force us to learn to phrase every motief, every musical sentence musically.

Others would mention 'technique' too, yet technique is not specific.

Technique is actually everything about how we do music. How to listen, how to study, how to practice; how to use our body, arms and fingers to make music; how to read the musical blueprints/music sheets; how to start, to continue playing and, how to end a piece while sharing the music in public, etc.

If this is all technique, yes, the music of Bach and his contemporaries is good for our 'technique'.

For ideas: Here are some of the nicest Baroque repertoire to help us learning to play the piano/clavier:

Vader Jacob Canon - not really a baroque composition, this children song is to prepare our both hands for the 2 voices music.

Minuet BWV 822 - This minuet comes from an early-written Suite by JS Bach. I encountered it first of all in Walter Caroll's First Lesson in Bach and I was astonished by the fact that the2 voices were written exactly the same but the other way round in these Minuet 1 and Minuet 2. The message for me was, as if JS Bach informs us see his musical lines not as melody and accompaniment but as equal musical lines interacting with each other. What do you think?

Johann Pachelbel, Canon in D (found in Hal Leonard book 5) - This is quite a simple yet lovely version from a method book Hal Leonard 5, listen to the original version. Here is Luc playing this piece in 2019. A piece of music is always an exercise in itself too, however simple/complex it is. This simple version of Canon in D is also quite an exercise to practice e.g. a steady beat, different characters of musical lines, different articulations and dynamic, etc.

Musette in D, BWV Anh (played by Melle) - A fun piece to learn jumping with your both hands to different directions accurately and musically. A challenge to be alert and awake. Sit tall and big, breath, and enjoy this cheerful piece (does Melle sit tall and big in the video?). Study the modulations carefully, it pays off! Here is a tutorial I made once.

Johann Pachelbel, Fuga in C (found in 'Fur Elise' book) - An excellent piece to learn to study from various entries because we need to know when the (main) themes come; besides we also need to play the other voice with its own character which might differ to the theme at the other hand. Sometimes both voices sing harmoniously together, sometimes they're contradicting each other. How good is this short piece for the hands independence! Here is a tutorial I made once.

Minuet in G, BWV 114 - A piece as dear as a good friend, not at all 'easy' eventhough some people think so. Listen to my favorite version played by The Philadelphia Orchestra. Listen to this version with a lot of the pedal I made to question the pedal issue. Here is a video with this piece where I question the soft beat vs strong beat idea.

Minuet in Gmi, BWV 115 - This piece, together with the BWV 114, are included in the Suite for Clavecimbel by Alexander Petzold. The whole suite is very charming.

Minuet in G, BWV 116 - A lively, beautiful piece which for me personally quite a challenge to teach.

C.P.E. Bach, Solfeggieto - Such a good and kicking piece to learn to transpose the main theme from Cm to Gm and Fm; to play various modulation passages, and cadences; to learn about form; to bulld up speed and still play with clarity, etc. At the end it's simply a satisfying piece to play.

D. Scarlatti, Sonata in A, K.322 - I still remember how it helped my 'touch', its transparent feature requires a solid, yet a singing tone. I used to find it extremely difficult to let it be smooth and solid.

D. Scarlatti, Sonata in A, K. 208 - I was perplexed when I discovered this piece. Seldom is a piece so tranquil and dramatic at the same time.

J.S. Bach, 6 Kleine Preludes BWV 933-938 - These 6 pieces are mostly 2-voices pieces, they are absolute jewels. I started studying all 6 pieces because I was preparing for my recital in May, '22 at the Huis van de Wijk (a neighbourhood centre closeby). A year later, when I had a meeting with my teacher and her other students, I played them again and "as if the ink (of the music sheet) was still wet", she said. These pieces are indeed very fresh, they can teach us a lot about music eventhough they are considered quite "simple" pieces, they are actually masterpieces in a small format.

J.S. Bach, Inventions (and Sinfonias) - Originally for his son to learn playing cantabile, to learn about composition, and are later writen with the introduction saying 'this collection is a straightforward method for serious clavier lovers to get better'! Listen here to the version with the violins played by Janine Jansen cs. Listen to some of my favorite "exercises" and aim to learn them yourself Dm, D, Am, A, Bm, F, Bb, G, and C. Once I made this tutorial to practice the Invention in F backward.

J.S. Bach, 6 French Suites - with 6-8 dances in each Suite, this collection is very satisfying to play and to listen to. Here is no. 2 in Cm, played by Cyprien Katsaris, which made me surprised when hearing it for the first time because of its playfullness.

J.S. Bach, Partitas; English Suites

Fantasia in Cm

The Italian Concerto

Check my youtube Baroque playlist.

June 2023