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When music is played on a harpsichord, various techniques are used to compensate for the lack of dynamic control. This web page provides some background on harpsichord technique and interpretation. From that page:

Quote
There are no dynamics possible on the harpsichord. To make the instrument louder, you must add another set ("rank") of strings. Alternatives (especially if you have only one rank of strings on your instrument!): arpeggiate chords, double roots and fifths of chords (even in both hands), add ornaments, extend ornaments (trill the entire measure, for example). For accents, place a small "hole" (a lift) before the note to be "accented." To reduce the volume if you cannot shut off a[nother] rank of strings, eliminate notes in a chord, do not play octaves in the bass (this is seldom found in harpsichord music anyway-- except Scarlatti), or trim ornaments.

Piano of course has control of dynamics. This opens up a question of how should Baroque and early music be played on piano? Should we strive to emulate the characteristics of a harpsichord and play the music as if it is played on a harpsichord? Or should we take advantage of the enhanced dynamic capability of a piano ehen choosing an interpretation? Should a melody be projected above other voices using dynamic control, or should voicing be achieved through purist harpsichord techniques?

I have my own views about this, but thought it would be interesting to solicit the views of PW users.

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I should have added that I think there is no right or wrong to this.

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Playing harpsichord music on the piano is akin to playing a transcription of the music, because the instruments are so different in their tone, sound production and key action. In fact, the sound production on a harpsichord is closer to that of a guitar (or lute, theorbo etc) or harp than to a piano, because strings are plucked.....except that you can't 'soften the sound' with your fingers, nor pluck harder on a harpsichord.

In other words, it makes no sense to emulate a harpsichord when playing the same music on a piano.

Though of course, that doesn't mean that one should play Bach like Beethoven or Brahms or Busoni, nor Couperin like Chopin, nor Rameau like Rachmaninov, nor Scarlatti like Schubert or Scriabin. Use the pedals with discretion, articulate cleanly, ornament appropriately, avoid thunderous fff and be stylistically aware (unless you're playing Bach-Busoni-Horowitz, in which case, anything goes with anything, including anything). Polyphonic lines should be voiced clearly and phrased (with tonal and dynamic inflexions) and articulated so they can be heard. It makes no sense to play a Bach fugue on the piano with no dynamic inflexion of the entry of each voice, just because you can't do that on a harpsichord. Contrapuntal voices get lost much more easily on a piano than on a harpsichord, because each note on the latter has a sharply defined initial plucking sound.


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Interesting questions and it comes down to personal preference. Mine:

Make full use of the piano but don’t overuse the pedals, maybe don’t use pedal at all,

Be guided by the music and how it fits together, bring out the musicality rather than add layers on top,

Don’t strive for some faux authenticity, even if you were playing a modern harpsichord you can’t be sure how Bach, Scarlatti et al played.

there’s no reason not to play around: I still really like Jacques Lousier’s jazz interpretations of Bach.

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I can't think of a single great pianist who played Bach with the idea of what I would call emulating the harpsichord. Can anyone name a pianist who they thing fits that description?

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I think my question was poorly worded. My intent was not to ask if readers think a harpsichord should be emulated on a piano, but to what extent interpretive paradigms of a harpsichord should be used. I think there is general agreement that the sustain pedal should be used very sparingly at most to maintain clarity of voices.

A piano rendition also does not need as much embellishment (trills, turns, arpeggiated chords) to maintain interest, and many pianists use less embellishment.

Use of dynamics makes sense, but a tricky point concerns using dynamic and tonal differences between voices to get separation of voices. I've read baroque and early music specialists who are opposed to that. In some romantic era piano music it is not uncommon to project a melody over other voices-- I'm thinking of works like Schumann's Traumerei, a number of Chopin Nocturnes, or the Chopin Etude 10/3.

It is my inclination to do that in some works by say Handel or Pachelbel where the melody is more dominant than in many works by say Bach or Buxtehude where contrapuntal complexity is more dominant. A well known example would be the Air from Handel's Suite HWV 430 known as The Harmonious Blacksmith. Here is just the Air (let's not worry about the variations for this example):

http://forums.pianoworld.com/ubbthr...rmonious-blacksmith-air.html#Post3032481

My inclination is to play this with the melody projected over the other voices as one would so in Schumann's Traumerei or Chopin 10/3. But over the years, I've communicated with a number of early music specialists who disagree with me regarding how material like this appropriately should be played.

Thoughts?

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The more I play Bach's fugues, the LESS I am inclined to bring out each individual subject. The entire idea of voicing each subject is tedious and contrived, and you can't really do it on a harpsichord, anyway!!

I advocate treating each Baroque piece on its own merit. Add pedal if necessary. Add even more pedal if it sounds good. I'm in no business for "authenticity."

Right now I play more Baroque music than any other period's music. There are simply too many great pieces that aren't being played or explored.


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Originally Posted by AZNpiano
The more I play Bach's fugues, the LESS I am inclined to bring out each individual subject. The entire idea of voicing each subject is tedious and contrived, and you can't really do it on a harpsichord, anyway!!

Agreed. Personally, playing a harpsichord and talking to a harpsichordist was an eye-opener; Many pianists try very hard to "bring out the subject", and end up ignoring the rest of the notes, when that really isn't the point of polyphonic music. E.g. I heard Daniil Trifonov playing Bach, and I fell asleep because it was just an hour of ppp music with one subject's entries being accentuated at mf over and over.

I try to play all polyphony a bit "flat" because IMO the woven textures should be able to speak for themselves. I find the music largely "plays itself" when you adjust the balance so every voice is heard.

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The entire idea of voicing each subject is tedious and contrived, and you can't really do it on a harpsichord, anyway!!
Harpsichordists will do this with different stops on different manuals and through the use of lifts, and by varying use of legato, staccato, and portato.

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I advocate treating each Baroque piece on its own merit. Add pedal if necessary. Add even more pedal if it sounds good. I'm in no business for "authenticity."
That is my position also.

Quote
Right now I play more Baroque music than any other period's music. There are simply too many great pieces that aren't being played or explored.

Yes. There is a tendency to equate baroque piano music with Bach's harpsichord music with some Scarlatti and Handel sprinkled in, when the Baroque era was a very rich and diverse era with many great composers of keyboard music.

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Originally Posted by Sweelinck
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The entire idea of voicing each subject is tedious and contrived, and you can't really do it on a harpsichord, anyway!!
Harpsichordists will do this with different stops on different manuals and through the use of lifts, and by varying use of legato, staccato, and portato.

BUT......not playing the subject at fff and everything else ppp. The nuances on a harpsichord are subtle. The prevalent way of playing Bach fugues on the piano for the last 200+ years has been POUND POUND POUND POUND POUND on those subjects. It gets so boring.

I hear a ton of Bach played each year by students. By far the most memorable one last year was played by a student who had no regard for voices. The entire fugue was played with great passion and vigor, and strong dynamic contrasts. To me, that's what Bach's music should sound like--not the academic "let's delineate the voices" approach, like dancing on eggshells.


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Originally Posted by trigalg693
I try to play all polyphony a bit "flat" because IMO the woven textures should be able to speak for themselves. I find the music largely "plays itself" when you adjust the balance so every voice is heard.

I think it depends on the tempo and character of the music. Sometimes you can just legato everything and up the dynamic contrast to bring out the excitement and/or passion. Other pieces can be mostly non-legato, and then the one legato line will sound louder without being played louder.

We have Bach Festival here in California, and some of the comments my students got from judges will prove how INGRAINED the boring way of playing Bach is deemed the "correct" way. There's no room for excitement or passion or pedal or great dynamic contrast. Heaven forbid if you want to take a ritardando at the end. Heaven forbid!


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Originally Posted by AZNpiano
I think it depends on the tempo and character of the music. Sometimes you can just legato everything and up the dynamic contrast to bring out the excitement and/or passion. Other pieces can be mostly non-legato, and then the one legato line will sound louder without being played louder.

We have Bach Festival here in California, and some of the comments my students got from judges will prove how INGRAINED the boring way of playing Bach is deemed the "correct" way.

It took a lot of indoctrination but I've come around to liking the rather extreme articulation done by baroque-specialized musicians playing on period-correct instruments. On a piano, I like a slightly smoother sound, but I try to think in terms of smaller groups of notes, breaking it up, and I find that highlights the polyphony better (since articulation makes it sound like there are distinct voices).

On top of that goes dynamic contrast, some motifs naturally stand out, giving you leeway to accent other subjects that get lost more easily.

I don't spend a whole lot of time on Bach but I like to think I have an approach that attempts to combine the authentic baroque flavor and origin with the sonority of the piano. Of course, this is completely unacceptable to competition judges, but luckily I'm an amateur so I can probably get away with skipping Bach at any competitions I go to smile

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Originally Posted by Sweelinck
When music is played on a harpsichord, various techniques are used to compensate for the lack of dynamic control. This web page provides some background on harpsichord technique and interpretation. From that page:

Piano of course has control of dynamics. This opens up a question of how should Baroque and early music be played on piano? Should we strive to emulate the characteristics of a harpsichord and play the music as if it is played on a harpsichord? Or should we take advantage of the enhanced dynamic capability of a piano ehen choosing an interpretation? Should a melody be projected above other voices using dynamic control, or should voicing be achieved through purist harpsichord techniques?

I have my own views about this, but thought it would be interesting to solicit the views of PW users.

Of course that is technically true. But because of that, composers embedded in their score, places where additional (sound) volume is expected. One way is to densify the texture either horizontally or vertically, ie adding more voices to increase the volume; Scarlatti does that often; another way is to virtually increase the volume by going to 16th or even 32nd in both hands. It does not physically increase the volume but give the impression that it does. Otherwise the distinction between voices can be done by agogic rubato or various accentuation. When Bach wanted specifically one voice to stand out (in particular when it is an intermediary of low voice), he adjusted the score accordingly. Reading the score carefully gives a number of indication of what the composer intended (though that does not mean one has to be

BTW you dont change usually the register on the fly (stops), it is usually done on large chunks of the work, repeats for example or sections that are well identified.

The difficulty with the piano is that, contrary to the Harpsichord which has a crystal clear sound, it has a dark, heavily (harmonically) loaded sound. Even without the pedal it tends to muddy the voices, in particular when they are close to each other. So if one plays at exact same volume the 2 hands and both legato, the result will always be more muddy than on a harpsichord. The specific of the harpsichord is that one can hear very well both voices together, and the top voice stands out naturally, without being artificially highlighted.

My take is that it requires a lot of work on the articulation first and then adjust as needed the dynamics. But the result will always be different than on a harpischord, so at the end what is most important is the musical and artistic vision. I agree that highlighting artificially each voice by pure dynamic means can become systematic. Sometimes going ff and assuming the passion is perfectly fine. But given that the writing of Bach was spefically intended for the instruments of his time (the Goldberg for example clearly for harpsichord), there is no direct and immediate way to transfer to the piano. It is an artistic work to define how to adjust to the piano technique.


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Originally Posted by trigalg693
Originally Posted by AZNpiano
The more I play Bach's fugues, the LESS I am inclined to bring out each individual subject. The entire idea of voicing each subject is tedious and contrived, and you can't really do it on a harpsichord, anyway!!

Agreed. Personally, playing a harpsichord and talking to a harpsichordist was an eye-opener; Many pianists try very hard to "bring out the subject", and end up ignoring the rest of the notes, when that really isn't the point of polyphonic music. E.g. I heard Daniil Trifonov playing Bach, and I fell asleep because it was just an hour of ppp music with one subject's entries being accentuated at mf over and over.

I try to play all polyphony a bit "flat" because IMO the woven textures should be able to speak for themselves. I find the music largely "plays itself" when you adjust the balance so every voice is heard.
Haven't virtually all the great pianists and even the great Bach specialists brought out the subject in fugues or emphasized a line when some melody goes back and forth between the hands in a non fugue? Can anyone give an example of a pianist who doesn't do this? OF course, I guess one could over do this which is what you may be talking about.

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Originally Posted by pianoloverus
Haven't virtually all the great pianists and even the great Bach specialists brought out the subject in fugues or emphasized a line when some melody goes back and forth between the hands in a non fugue? Can anyone give an example of a pianist who doesn't do this? OF course, I guess one could over do this which is what you may be talking about.

According to the harpsichordists, all pianists play Bach wrong, and this is one example of why smile

According to them, the place where the problem begins is where I just bolded your post. There is no "the subject", there are always multiple subjects, and the first one doesn't deserve highlighting.

After listening to harpsichord and organ, I agree with their philosophy and find all the great pianists incredibly boring when they play Bach. The point is not to highlight one subject over and over, all the subjects are played together in different combinations of voices constantly throughout the fugue, so it's actually the last thing you need to hear highlighted. I was told "the other stuff" and the connective passages are actually the interesting parts of a fugue.

The problem now is that if I play Bach for a pianist, they'll tell me I'm doing it wrong.

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No, one shouldn't bang out each entry of the subject in fugues (I believe that Richter - Sviatoslav, not Karl - did a lot of that in his WTC) but on the piano it shouldn't be submerged either, otherwise it all sounds like a mush of harmonic chords. We can just play it pp when it enters on its own (before getting louder) before other voices come in, or detached, for example.

Basically, if a fugue doesn't sound like a fugue with several voices when played on the piano, the pianist is a harpsichordist in disguise. (They normally put on a white wig, I believe).


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Originally Posted by sidokar
BTW you dont change usually the register on the fly (stops), it is usually done on large chunks of the work, repeats for example or sections that are well identified.

While harpsichord or organ, stops will be set for an entire piece or section of a piece, the player's hands can move between manuals on an organ or 2-manual harpsichord. If I were playing a Sweelinck Echo Fantasy on harpsichord, I would set one manual to a lute stop for playing the "echo" phrases.

Or in Clerambault's Trumpet in Dialogue where the trumpet melody is moving back and forth between the treble and bass, on an organ one manual will be set to a trumpet and one to flutes, and the hands move back and forth. On a piano, dynamics would have to be used instead.

Originally Posted by trigalg693
Originally Posted by pianoloverus
Haven't virtually all the great pianists and even the great Bach specialists brought out the subject in fugues...
According to the harpsichordists, all pianists play Bach wrong, and this is one example of why...

There is no "the subject", there are always multiple subjects, and the first one doesn't deserve highlighting.
Lots of composers in the Baroque era composed fugues (not to mention Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Brahms, and Shostakovich) and Bach composed keyboard works that are not fugues.

A fugue has a subject and an answer that are woven together across the voices. A double fugue would have two subjects, a triple fugue three subjects, etc.

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Originally Posted by trigalg693
Originally Posted by pianoloverus
Haven't virtually all the great pianists and even the great Bach specialists brought out the subject in fugues or emphasized a line when some melody goes back and forth between the hands in a non fugue? Can anyone give an example of a pianist who doesn't do this? Of course, I guess one could over do this which is what you may be talking about.
According to the harpsichordists, all pianists play Bach wrong, and this is one example of why smile
So all the great pianists don't know what they're doing? I find that, even if true, beyond extreme and almost bordering on the absurd. I think what harpsichord players think is unlikely to change anything since their instrument is not very popular compared to the piano.

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Originally Posted by Sweelinck
Originally Posted by sidokar
BTW you dont change usually the register on the fly (stops), it is usually done on large chunks of the work, repeats for example or sections that are well identified.

While harpsichord or organ, stops will be set for an entire piece or section of a piece, the player's hands can move between manuals on an organ or 2-manual harpsichord. If I were playing a Sweelinck Echo Fantasy on harpsichord, I would set one manual to a lute stop for playing the "echo" phrases.

Yes on a 2 manual harpsichord, you can use either one, but again, you would do that for specific sections of the work, where changing the register would make sense in the context of the piece.


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