Playing Bach on the piano is a topic that continues to generate heated debate among musicians. This is natural, given that the development of keyboard instruments since Bach's time has been dynamic, while interest in Bach's music has remained constant if not increased over time. Does one seek to imitate the harpsichord, clavichord, or any of the other instruments Bach played his own keyboard music on?
Can you play with freedom and creativity while being within the bounds of historically-informed performance? In this lesson segment from her course on Bach's D Minor Keyboard Concerto, BMV 1052, world renowned pianist Simone Dinnerstein and our friends at Tonebase seek to answer these questions and more!
"My feeling is the piano is the most glorious instrument, and I want to enjoy the instrument and use all the capabilities of the instrument to illuminate Bach's music. I think Bach would've loved this modern-day Instrument."
Should You Use The Pedal When Playing Bach?
Bach wrote for many different types of instruments and was interested in the unique tonal characteristics within them. He often would transcribe his own pieces for many different instruments. For these reasons, Dinnerstein suggests you embrace playing Bach on the piano and use this modern instrument to bring out the sonorities, textures, and articulations afforded to it. Yes, that means employing the sustain pedal, which carries its own unique timbral effects. However, the pedal should be used with care – always with an ear to enhancing the colour of different lines and not obscure the counterpoint.
Considerations When Playing Bach's Music
Bach's music is multifaceted and can present many distinct challenges to the performer. A great place to start is looking at the architecture of the compositions. Listen for the unique voices and leading, looking at the instances of sequences, canons, and imitations as they move through the voices. In order to interpret the music and play it on the piano, one must understand what is happening in the score.
What compositional devices is Bach using? Once you determine the form of what you are playing, you can begin making decisions about how to articulate that form.
What Should You Avoid?
Bach's music is full of intricacies and detail. When every detail is shown, the music becomes overwhelming to the listener. A hierarchy must be imposed at times in order to avoid a thickness of sound which can hide the unique movement of each voice. One must have clarity when looking to play this music on the piano. If you as the performer don't perceive this clarity in the first place, the audience never will.
Watch Simmone Dinnerstein's lessons and more on tonebase Piano. Looking to learn more about Bach's work? Why not explore our sheet music essentials guide to Bach or our beginner's guide to classical music here.