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Re: GG: Bach Chaconne
On Tue, 18 Mar 1997, Paul Fawcett wrote:
> I too am very fond of the Dm Chaconne, not only because of its intrinsic
> beauty, but also because it transcribes almost without modification to my
> instrument, the classical guitar. In fact, it is in some ways more idiomatic on
> the guitar than on the violin, as I would happily demonstrate to any F-minors
> that turn up in the Athens area (failing that, check out guitarist John Williams
> stunning interpretation on his album 'Baroque guitar'. BTW this is not the
> COMPOSER John Williams). However, I'm sure Gould would have shared my horror
> and aversion to Busoni's transcription for piano; this transcription is perhaps
> more Busoni than Bach, and it is rife with the sort of overblown romantic
> elaborations that represent the antithesis to Gould's approach to Bach.
I agree, the aesthetic is all wrong for Bach, and for me the structure
falls apart with all Busoni's colorful effects and tempo changes. I think
GG would have been much more successful with the Brahms transcription for
left hand alone...(1) Gould was left-handed, and (2) it's a very
conservative transcription (maybe almost *too* faithful to the original)
preserving contrapuntal lines, and (3) Gould's right hand would have been
entirely free to conduct it!
My biggest disappointment, though, of pieces GG never got around to, is
that he didn't play the Busoni "Fantasia Contrappuntistica." It could
have been stunning. It's very different in style from Busoni's Bach
transcriptions (including the Chaconne): this one is pure counterpoint,
and doesn't depend much on any specific instrumental sonorities.
Basically, it's a 25-minute piece that combines Contrapunctus 14 from the
Art of Fugue (the unfinished movement) with a chorale prelude on "Allein
Gott...." In the sections that elaborate the Bach, the counterpoint gets
incredibly complex. There are versions for two pianos, one piano, organ,
orchestra, and maybe others. I've heard quite a few recordings of the
two-piano and one-piano versions. Of the one-piano version, I think Ogdon
pulls it off best, but Petri is also pretty good; Madge doesn't catch the
spirit of it. GG's, if he had done one, would probably have blown them
all away, because of his contrapuntal technique.
Back to the Chaconne:
> My personal feeling is that fattening the harmonies using typically pianistic
> devices will inevitably rob the piece of much of its integrity, but I'd love to
> be proven wrong- I haven't heard any other piano transcriptions...do you mean to
> imply that Shura Chercaski's performance is of a different transcription?
Cherkassky plays the Busoni (I have it); Cherkassky was good at that sort
of Lisztian music. There are also Brahms' version for piano left hand,
and certainly a number of others for piano; also, I made my own several
years ago to play on either harpsichord or fortepiano (trying to use the
transcription style which one of Bach's sons or pupils used in
transferring the G-minor violin sonata to its D-minor keyboard version).
Additionally I have at home CD's of Skip Sempe's improvised version
(harpsichord) and another harpsichord version by a French or Canadian
transcriber (name escapes me), played by Andre Laberge; and an orchestral
version arranged by Casella, from a broadcast by Mitropoulos.
A mumber of years ago I remember seeing a long list of twenty or more
transcriptions for various instruments. It was in a book devoted to
essays about the Chaconne: _The Bach chaconne for solo violin : a
collection of views_ / edited by Jon F. Eiche. <Urbana, Ill.> : American
String Teachers Association, c1985. 156 p. : music ; 22 cm.
My favorite recorded performance of the Busoni version is the one on the
"Siena pianoforte," played by Charles Rosen (I think...a number of
different pianists played in that series on that unique instrument). The
one by Alicia de Larrocha is also pretty good.
> also curious to hear which Violin recordings of this piece people favour...It's
> such a difficult piece that even some of the big names can't really pull it off.
> I think maybe the best I've heard yet is Henryk Szeryng on his
> DeutschGrammaphone recording of the six partitas/sonatas for solo violin , but
> I've really only heard a few performers
Sigiswald Kuijken. His sense of structure in this piece, and in all the
Bach solo works, is wonderful. Jaap Schroeder's recording is also good.
A few years ago I heard a terrific live performance by Jean Kim, who is
from Korea and currently based in Ann Arbor MI. Schroeder also wrote an
excellent essay on Baroque-violin playing style, published in the book I
mentioned above. I like Sergiu Luca's recording, too.
I haven't been really pleased with *any* recordings I've heard on modern
violin (as opposed to Baroque violin, with gut strings and a different
bow), but that's mostly from not liking the way modern violinists
generally do bowing and vibrato, and how they tend not to make weak notes
weak enough. The new one by Lara St John is pretty decent.
> One of the reasons that I find this
> piece so compelling is that it is the only substantial example that I can think
> of Bach writing a series of variations, aside from the Goldbergs. In this case,
> it is simply amazing what can be done with a simple 8 bar theme (which is of two
> very similar 4 bar parts!). The whole piece is so incredibly well conceived,
> balanced (it has 256 bars, a power of two to which I am particularly attracted)
> and executed, that it always makes me wonder why Bach didn't compose more in
> this form.
It's a four-bar theme, not eight. Descending bass line: D-C-Bb-A. Also
used in quite a few 16th-17th century keyboard variation sets (I like the
Louis Couperin one especially), and the Biber Passacaglia for solo violin,
and elsewhere. There are also many versions in major, and it's a good
subject to improvise on in either major or minor.
Variations by Bach, in addition to the Chaconne and the Goldbergs: there's
also a harpsichord piece by Bach, "Aria variata alla maniera italiana,"
which isn't played very often, but is a nice variation set. "The Musical
Offering" is a huge variation set. And the Canonic Variations on "Vom
Himmel hoch" for organ, which Bach wrote as an admission application to
Mizler's society. The "Art of Fugue" itself could perhaps be thought of
as a variation set. All of the "Partitas" for organ are variation sets on
chorale tunes. How about "Christ lag in Todesbanden" (Cantata #4) and
similar vocal works, in which each movement is a variation on the chorale
tune? There are probably other variation sets I'm not remembering, too,
especially among the organ works...some of the chorale preludes in
Klavieruebung III could be thought of as variations, for example, sharing
the same tunes. The "doubles" of dance movements in the solo violin
partitas and the English suites are variations (but just one or two, not a
set). The second minuet in the "orchestral" suite #2 (b minor, flute and
strings) is a variation of the first one, with the melody moved verbatim
into the bass. Etc....
Bradley Lehman, email@example.com http://www-personal.umich.edu/~bpl/