The Baroque Urtext Score (4): Tempo and Rhythm

I was hoping this would be the last post in this series, but I can’t quite squeeze everything I want to say in this week’s offering, so I crave your indulgence and will wrap it up next week when I bring some loose ends together. Fortunately, I have already covered ornamentation in my very first two blogposts ever (probably because I wanted to get it out of the way?). If you haven’t read them, here is the first post, and here is the second. Tempo I don’t want to get bogged down in complex baroque theory about time signatures, “good and bad” notes, etc., as outlined in the numerous treatises of the period. The subject is too vast for this. The purpose of this post, along with the others in the series, is simply to highlight the main areas of concern in the form of a potted digest so you can feel empowered, not restricted and even more confused! Thus I will touch on the most important areas and leave you to fill in the gaps – the reading list at the end is a good starting point. Meter Baroque musicians would have worked on the principle of a hierarchy of beats, the first beat of the bar the strongest, the last beat the weakest. 2/4 time was felt as “strong-weak”, 3/4 as “strong-weak-weaker”, and 4/4 as “strong-weak-less strong-weaker”. I am sure we all remember this from elementary theory lessons. This really doesn’t apply to the same extent in romantic and modern music – a residue of this remains but factors such as the long legato line and other phrasing/accentuation modifiers have diluted it and smoothed things out significantly (except, perhaps, for characteristic forms such as waltzes, marches […]

By |November 11th, 2011|Practising|2 Comments

Some Thoughts On Legato

We have all played the game of Stone, Paper, Scissors. On a count of three, each player forms the hand into one of three gestures which they throw at each other. The idea is that stone blunts scissors, scissors cut paper and paper covers stone, and so on. You can ask a pianist to throw from their hand an interval of your choice, with no reference to a keyboard and the result will be accurate and immediate. If the guage in the hand is then matched up to the keyboard (no cheating here!), the measurement will invariably be spot-on. Try this out on someone – any realistic interval between any pair of fingers. This shows that our hand is capable of ultra-precise measurements of distance, which we do by feel rather than by eye. Of course it takes a bit of experience, but even intermediate players will be able to do this. Some errors in piano playing can be traced back to a faulty sense of measurement. The most obvious example of this is skips, where eye-hand coordination is responsible for measuring either a large distance, or a fast one, or both. (I plan to do a whole post on this soon.) Less obvious, perhaps, are errors in passages where the hand is constantly moving from one position to another and where the internal measurements in the hand need to be very reliable. PRACTISING STACCATO PASSAGES LEGATO There are two main pitfalls in managing staccato passages. Even though a passage is intended by the composer to be articulated staccato, this does not usually mean that each note is not still part of a longer, implied line. Aurally, we still need to hear the intervals, and physically, […]