Friday, October 19, 2007


I grew up during the age of awareness about early music, and as I started to learn more and more about "correct" baroque articulation in the 1970s and 1980s, and developed a reverence for the "urtext" as the best source and the best path to musical truth, I developed a kind of disdain for most of the editions of baroque music that were available during the 1940s, 50s, and 60s. It might have been because the flute editions were often filled with thoughtless articulations and dynamics, particularly when the editor was Jean-Pierre Rampal. I assumed that violin editions would have the same lack of insight, but last night I proved myself very wrong.

I am working on the Bach C minor Sonata for violin and harpsichord, BWV 1017, which I am performing with piano next month. Rather than try to pretend the piano is a harpsichord, and that I am playing a baroque violin, our approach is to play the piece as well as possible using modern equipment. I have been futzing with the bowings of the opening Siciliano, seeking out alternatives to the printed bowing, which I imagine is not Bach's since the edition we are using is not an urtext.

Last night I decided to tape record myself, and to my horror and shame I found that I was making all sorts of false accents, and I failed to sustain dotted rhythms properly when I applied bowings that I thought were "stylistically correct." I tried bowing the passages in question in several different ways, and my tape recorder revealed glaring errors with each bowing alteration. Then I tried the "inauthentic" printed version, and my false accents and rhythmic instability disappeared. My guess is that this part was edited by a very smart violinist who knew how to make the violin do what the music asked it to do.


Lisa Hirsch said...

Wow, I would love to hear more about this.

Anonymous said...

So would I--I'm working on this piece (I'm the keyboard player) with modern violin and modern piano. We're using the Henle edition and I'm too ignorant about string technique to even think about suggesting bowings or fingerings to my partner, but which edition is it that made your articulation woes go away? (And while we're at it, what kind of recorder are you using for a practice aid?)

Elaine Fine said...

I'm ashamed to say that I don't know the edition I'm using. It is part of a public domain CD of violin repertoire that I got on ebay--really! It has nearly everything you could ever want from the standard repertoire for violin and piano for 15 dollars. It is from something called PD Verlag.

The articulation for the opening, which I start up bow the first time and downbow the second time (why not?) has the first two notes slurred (the dotted eighth and sixteenth), and the slur goes to the next eighth note, but with a dot under the slur. I find that if I play that articulation it elongates the last eighth note just enough for it to stay in rhythm.

Another thing that really helps with the first movement is for the violinist to practice with the metronome playing sixteenth notes, because the piano's constant sixteenth notes should be able to be perfectly even. My pianist friend really noticed the difference after I practiced my part with sixteenth note subdivisions.

The recorder I use is a Sony voice recorder that uses little tapes. I find that a recorder with the least fidelity allows me to hear ALL my faults, rhythmic and otherwise, because it really doesn't pick up resonance. I fugure that If I play something well enough to sound good on that thing, it should sound OK in real life.

To record for balance and interperative issues when I'm playing with piano, I use a Sony minidisc recorder.