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THE WELL-TEMPERED CLAVICHORD
1. "Will you please tell me in what order to use the preludes and fugues of Bach?
2. "Should they be given to all advanced pupils?
3. "Should they be used as etudes or pieces?
4. "Can the preludes be used separately from the fugues?
5. Is the student supposed to learn the entire forty-eight?
6. Why should much time be spent upon them when they are played so little?" - A. L. D.
It is very rarely that I receive an inquiry in regard to the Bach Fugues, Doubtless but few of the readers of the Round Table have pupils who advance far enough to play them. There are some, however, who, like A. L. D., have an occasional pupil who is ready to study them, but so rarely that the teacher himself hardly feels familiar enough with the fugues to know just how to use them. With the majority of players who have to engage in active teaching the difficult works of Bach seem to take a position similar to that of the Latin and Greek one learned in college. Although Bach's works are by no means a dead language, yet it is a deplorable fact that the treasures of musical beauty contained in them are allowed to lie so continuously upon the shelf.
Someone has said that the Well-Tempered Clavichord is the musician's bible. We do not question the merit of the Bible; neither do we read it as often as so wonderful a book would seem to compel. But as we put faith in the Bible, so does the musician put his musical faith in Bach and build up his musicianship upon Bach's music. I have yet to hear of a great composer or pianist who has not acknowledged Bach as the fountain head of his inspiration. The ease and facility of Bach's manipulation of the material of musical composition has been the marvel of all true musicians ever since Mendelssohn's great service in making the master of Eisenach better known to the modern musical world. Bach was much more modern in his composition than those who immediately followed him. The means of expression of his day were entirely inadequate to his thought, which was universal and far-reaching in its significance; hence his piano works are equally fresh to-day. Not only this, but his thought was so much in advance of his time and instruments that it will bear being brought up to date without doing violence to its integrity. As Busoni has pointed out, the works of Mozart and Haydn will not bear being adapted to modern conditions, but belong more to their time. It is true the Bach idiom seems remote to the average listener, but the extremely contrapuntal style, whether ancient or modern, is always caviare to the general audience. But for the contrapuntal style to be caviare to the musician means that he is no musician in any but a superficial sense. The contrapuntal idea is one of the most life-giving principles in music. There have been no greater worshippers at the shrine of Bach than Liszt, Wagner and Richard Strauss. The surface listener finds little in the music of these moderns to suggest Bach, and yet they have all been masters of the Bach principle, and their works are vivified by it. Modern composition is a great tree whose roots reach deep down into the Well-Tempered Clavichord. Not to know it, not to study it, not to learn and play many of the preludes and fugues is to stop short of high musicianship. To predicate that they are played "so little" is wide of the mark. They are, perhaps, too intimate in character to find place upon the modern concert platform, but they are played more in private than one realizes. Modern concert music has become so brilliant in effect and recitals are given in such vast halls that the works that have been transcribed so as to meet the requirements of modern concert players, such as the transcriptions of Bach's works by Liszt, Tausig, d'Albert and Busoni, are more suitable and better represent the genius of the great master mind. These works cannot be compassed, however, except after one has had a thorough preliminary training in the Well-Tempered Clavichord. Many of them are only possible to the highest virtuosity. Meanwhile the player who has never studied the Well-Tempered Clavichord and mastered its many difficulties has never solved the problem of ease and independence of finger action; neither has he trained his mind to a broad and ready comprehension of the many voices or parts that are constantly flowing through the majority of really great compositions. The audience that listens only for the solitary melody with the simple accompaniment misses much of the deepest and most abiding pleasure that music can provide. If you are not ready to study the Well-Tempered Clavichord without rebelling; if you do not enter upon the task with delight you are not yet ready to step into the ranks of that class which is known as the better element among musicians. This, I think, sufficiently answers your sixth question.
In answer to your fifth question I would say that it is not necessary to learn the entire forty-eight preludes and fugues. It would be a heroic task to any except those whose technique has become so finished that they could almost read them at sight. There are many who reach this stage, but I doubt if they spend an equal amount of time upon all the fugues. It would hardly be possible to say that they are all equally worthy of attention. The probability is that the majority of students who take up the study of the Well-Tempered Clavichord only make use of the first book, and do not learn all twenty-four of the fugues in this.
In answer to the fourth question I would say that the preludes are many of them played separately from the fugues and often in concert. The fugues may be played without the preludes, but in concert a fugue is rarely played in this manner.
If you mean, in your third question, etude in the sense of something of questionable musical or aesthetic value written solely for the practice of a given technical point, the Bach preludes and fugues certainly should not be given as etudes. Aside from the common technical study there are etudes which are of the highest artistic value, of which the Chopin, Liszt and Henselt etudes are noteworthy types. In these the idea of etude and piece are merged in one. There is no line of demarcation. As study material the fugues are invaluable. As pieces they are on the highest artistic level. After the student has achieved the technical ends to be desired in their study there remains the aesthetic delight of being able to perform them with ease. In the daily study it is doubtless better, however, to let the Well-Tempered Clavichord take the place formerly occupied by etudes. The student cannot afford to drop that part of his work devoted to "pieces," and the fugues will provide him with all the technical problems he may need for the time.
The answer to the second question, is that the preludes and fugues of Bach should be given to all advanced students who are serious in their work and who intend to become serious musicians. There is a class of players who develop a technique of extraordinary brilliancy, but whose superficiality is also extraordinary. From an educational point of view the fugues would doubtless be recommended as a means of all-around mental and musical development. And yet in such cases it often seems like debasing artistic riches, so flippant is the manner in which they express their dislike of these great master works. Their touch is often very musical in quality, and they have a dashing manner of playing brilliant things that is decidedly taking with an audience, unless that audience happens to be a cultivated one, but they go through life riding on the surface, and are always a perplexing problem to serious musicians. Bach remains a sealed book to them, often a book that is never opened. You cannot force Bach upon them. If they will meet you half way you may be able to be of much service in opening up their horizons, but no one can predicate what you should or should not do in individual cases of this sort.
The fugues are of such a uniform grade of difficulty that there is little choice in their order of succession in study. From an educational standpoint an edition of selections from both books would be an excellent thing, for many of the most interesting are in the second book, and the majority of students discontinue their Bach study with the first book. Meanwhile, for the purpose of this article, I shall confine myself to the first book. No. 10 in E minor may be studied first. The prelude is a good introduction to the study of Bach, as it will at once betray any unevenness of finger action. The same may be said of the fugue, which is the only one in two voices. No. 6 in D minor may follow. In contrast to this fugal meditation the brilliant and vigorous No. 5 may come next. The prelude will show the beauty of a perfectly even finger legato. The fugue is fairly majestic in its vigor and is always a favorite. No. 2 makes an excellent complement to these, the two hands combining in the brook-like murmur. The excessive staccato indicated in the Czerny editing of the fugue that accompanies this prelude, the most commonly used edition, is dry and monotonous. It is much better phrased in the Busoni edition. As a matter of expense the Busoni edition may not be generally used for pupils, but it should certainly be in the hands of every teacher. His comments are invaluable to those wishing to teach or learn the Well-Tempered Clavichord. Played in accordance with his phrasing this fugue becomes one of the most charming pieces imaginable. Although the staccato may have been effective on the clavichord of Bach's time, yet it does not accord with the spirit of the modern piano. The graceful prelude in A flat, No. 17, with its suave fugue, follows comfortably here. Then No. 6 in F major, both prelude and fugue presenting many difficulties, although very pleasing in effect. Then No. 9 in E, followed by the bravura-like prelude in B flat, No. 21, and its almost playful fugue. No. 23 may now put the player in a more serious mood. No. 13 which may come next, is charming from beginning to end. No 8. in E flat minor, is technically of comparative simplicity, but emotionally one of the most difficult. It is a direct forecast of the modern romantic school, and was regarded by Rubinstein as one of the most beautiful of Bach's compositions, a sort of nocturne of the deepest significance. It requires an infinite gradation of tone quality and should not be attempted too early in Bach study. Busoni regards the accompanying fugue as the most important in the first book. It requires a player of mature interpretive powers to do it justice. No. 7, in E flat major, may be studied next, and then the first in the book. Although the prelude is the simplest of all, yet the fugue is difficult. No. 15, in G major, will also be found more difficult than it looks. Then may come No.3, in C sharp major, a fascinating prelude and beautiful fugue. Those who had the good fortune to hear MacDowell play this prelude must have realized how delightful these things can be made when the perfunctory, pedantic method of playing is abandoned in favor of the emotionally living interpretation that so great a mind as Bach would have approved could he have lived until to-day. After having studied these, students may take up Nos.16. 22, 12, 4, 18, 19, 20, 24, completing the first book. Some of these later ones may be omitted and some of the most notable ones from the second book substituted for them if desired.
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