Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Solo Bach

I practice solo Bach every day. Since I play viola, I can alternate between transcriptions of the Suites for solo cello and the Sonatas and Partitas for solo violin. Performing solo Bach for people (aside from demonstrations for students) is not something I had ever considered doing.

Yesterday morning I filled in at the last minute for a friend who was unable to play violin (solo) for an outdoor funeral. I decided to play viola because I have a viola that can handle the rigors of outdoor playing, and all the reqested music was set low in the violin register. Just before leaving the house I put my volume of Bach Cello Suites in my bag, thinking of my father, who put his volume of Bach Suites in his case when we were leaving his house to play a Mozart Duo movement for Marshall's memorial service, just in case it was necessary. (That pun was unintentional, but I'll let it stand.)

The Bach G-major Prelude was perfect music to play while people arrived and seated themselves in the tent for yesterday's service, so I played it. Suddenly the Prelude I knew so well seemed unfamiliar. I heard it differently. It had a purpose in this place and with these people. After the service I flipped to the Allemande from the C-major Suite, and used it as a postlude. I found myself playing it at a different tempo from my usual practice tempo, but somehow it felt right for the moment. I took the repeat in the first section, and the last person left the tent at the G-major cadence. It seemed right to stop. I did. G major to G major.

I find it very interesting how solo Bach can adapt to circumstances almost on its own. I look forward to the next opportunity to see what happens!


jonathanbrodie said...

Your Bach funeral experience reinforces a new conviction of mine: the greatest thing about playing , not just unaccompanied Bach, but any unaccompanied music , is that we have the luxury play it any damn way we please. Put some other musicians into the project and this ree-wheeling attitude requires some compromise; but when you are playing music alone it supplies a grand palette to do what you please. I didn't always feel this way; various dogmas clouded my approach. I worried far too much about what other people thought of my articulations and phrasings than what I thought of my articulations and phrasing.
I was in the same camp as the great Wanda Landowska:

"You play Bach your way and I'll play him his way." she famously said.

Sound advice? Perhaps not. JS might very well tell us to play it in the way that our souls or the occasion suggests.

We will never know; but lacking Bach's opinion, I offer this revision of Landowska's quote:

"You play Bach your way and I'll play Bach his way...which is to say: anyway you please...but please play in tune."

Elaine Fine said...

I like your "Wanda Variation!"