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Re: from the [BACH-LIST]: Baroque 'rules'
> Seems to me that Bach followed compositional 'rules' at least
> 95 percent of the time. Things like:
> (1) avoid parallel 5ths,
> (2) avoid using a sequence more than three times in a row,
> (3)avoid over-lapping voices, etc...
I agree with most of what you say here and would like to offer some
clarifications, or maybe just some more food for thought.
Keep in mind that music theorists *after* Bach's work have been the ones
who came up with those musical rules, based on what they saw Bach and
other composers doing. The rules come from good and bad examples, not
vice versa. Theory describes what has already been done, codifying it for
For example, Fux's "Gradus ad Parnassum," 1725. Bach was composing and
had developed his own personal "rules" for his work long before he got his
copy of this. And besides, that treatise is about counterpoint styles in
Renaissance music, not contemporary music. (Haydn and Beethoven also
studied it, among the other composers and theorists up through today who
have worked through that and the Bach chorales and other typical
I'd suggest that it's at least *as* if not *more* important to know the
Renaissance (and earlier) principles of rhetoric on which Bach and others
based their compositional style than to look for any musical rule books.
Music is a language and follows many of the same principles that would
make a speech convincing or unconvincing. Musicians studied these
techniques as a craft. (Most modern musicians don't, unfortunately.
Rhetoric is no longer a priority.)
> Bach broke every 'rule'- but only in the most inconspicuous
> way, that is if he broke a 'rule' it would be in a manner that
> was not blatant, but somewhat obscure. (except those
> pieces that break the rules on purpose for outrageous effect).
Yes. My favorite is still the "Barabbam!" in the St Matthew Passion.
Isn't there a story (in Forkel?) about Bach being notorious for his wacky
organ registrations? He would pull combinations that his observers
thought would never work, but then he'd make them work beautifully by the
way he played.
Then there's that humorous passage in the St Matthew Passion where he
depicts the disciples running around like headless chickens: there are two
oboes da caccia squawking away in ridiculously ornamented lines that
really do sound like chickens. One is not "supposed to" deploy "hunting
oboes" for that, or to inject humor into such a serious story, but there
it is. (Unfortunately, this passage is usually underplayed.)
Or in the first Brandenburg Concerto where he has everybody playing along
merrily in duple rhythm...except the horns which are blasting away in
triplets playing traditional horn calls. What's *that* about?
Telemann broke rules even more shockingly than Bach when he wanted to be
outrageous. So did John Bull in the late 16th century, and Giovanni
Picchi a few years later. So did young Handel at age 23: there's a solo
cantata ("La Lucrezia") he wrote about rape, and his harmonic shocks and
vocal effects really get the point across. Biber wrote plenty of
screwball music. How about that piece by Marais that depicts gall bladder
surgery in grisly detail, no anasthetic?
Generally (*very* generally), the more a Baroque-era composer was under
the influence of the Italians, the wilder things got with this
> Ornamentation certainly has many 'rules' that again, Bach
> followed. Breaking an ornamentation 'rule' even today is very
> risky and better be good- else the critics will be relentless.
> Was it C.P.E. Bach that wrote a keyboard technique book?
> Every page has some kind of fingering 'rule' or technique
> considered essential in order to master the Baroque keyboard.
> The student of Baroque music can make a choice- figure things
> out haphazardly on one's own, basically re-inventing the wheel,
> or, follow the 'rules' (really guidelines) that the masters of
> Baroque created. After all, they created the music.
Yes, in the 18th Century for keyboard there are Kuhnau, CPE, Turk,
Couperin, and others; there's Diruta way back in the 1590's, there are
Frescobaldi's printed instructions about interpretation (early 1600's).
Non-keyboard there are dozens of string treatises by various people, and
Quantz' flute manual (especially relevant in the CPE sphere of influence),
Caccini for the voice, etc...the keyboard player should become familiar
with those, as well, because they are all relevant to the language of
expression. More book knowledge of this technical stuff is better than
less. But it all goes back to rhetoric, the objective reasons why the
musical techniques are derived as they are.
The real reason to know this book material is not to be "correct," but to
be convincing: to play from inside the same mindset that the composers had
when they came up with their musical ideas. Become trained as a
neo-Baroque or neo-Classical musician, thinking musically as they thought,
and then play naturally and instinctively on top of that background.
Learn the grammar first, then have something to say. Being merely correct
is too shallow a goal: it leaves too much focus on the grammar as an end
There are also the cases where composers taught keyboard technique mostly
by example rather than in words: Bach's Inventions, WTC, Art of Fugue (a
wonderful textbook taking keyboard technique to the limits, but hardly
ever thought of in that manner); the 19th-century books of exercises by
various people; etudes; Bartok's "Mikrokosmos;" etc. One can learn as
much by wrestling with those compositional choices as by reading words.
> Even Glenn Gould is following the keyboard rules most of
> the time, as much as he wanted you to think he was playing
> in a new way- he really wasn't. He was following the rules
> 95 percent of the time. (I'm not fooled by his unusual
> mannerisms one bit, which are nothing more than distractions
> when for some reason a lot of people think his mannerisms
> are proof of genius.)
Gould's technique was not neo-anything. It was thoroughly modern. (If he
were still alive he "wouldn't be caught dead" using historically-informed
fingerings, phrasing, temperaments, or ornamentation: he considered those
irrelevant.) His interpretations were modern, sometimes deconstructive:
his playing presents a critical analysis of a piece of music. Sometimes
those analyses have nothing at all to do with what the composer might have
recognized, either as analytical or as compositional techniques. Gould's
work has value in being interesting and thought-provoking. And one of his
aesthetic choices was to disregard the contemporary treatises and
priniciples that are associated with the music, choosing instead to use
later techniques (including some of his own home-grown ideas, and a large
dose of Schoenberg).
> Apparently Bach saw no need to write a book on theory
> or composition. Maybe Bach thought his music was
> example enough and that his compositional techniques
> were so traditional that there was nothing new happening
> in his music that needed explanation. Bach didn't create
> new harmonies or forms- he just used harmonies, melodies,
> and forms far more brilliantly. Within the 'rules'- 95 percent
> of the time.
Au contraire! The Inventions/Sinfonias were *explicitly* to teach his
sons and pupils theory and composition, along with keyboard technique. And
see other examples above.
> Naturally, it became all the rage to break the Baroque rules
> and yes, countless new masterpieces emerged. But, when
> the romantics broke the rules and everything became possible
> we were also subjected to too much 'new' music that is full
> of :
> (1) endless sequences that pretend to be brilliant just
> because they repeat all the way up or down the scales
This happened long before the romantics. Pick any number of Vivaldi
concertos, some of the Bach toccatas, the finale of Bach's d-minor
keyboard concerto, or works written 50+ years before Bach.
Sequence is an old device. Mozart knew it so well that he could skewer it
directly in "A Musical Joke," the most spectacular 20-minute musical
raspberry ever written by anyone before Peter Schickele.
For a particularly amusing example that Bach knew, there's one of the
"Biblical Sonatas" by Kuhnau (published 1700) which depicts the Israelites
wandering for 40 years in the desert: years and years of sequences,
intentionally dull. (Bach modeled his melodramatic "Capriccio on the
departure of a beloved brother" after the six sonatas in that collection.)
> (2) melodies that are flashy but essentially lacking substance
> (3) harmonic lack of discovery- or petty harmonic tricks,
> like sudden key changes that really provide nothing of
> intellectual merit but only shock value
Umm...this is also long before the romantics. Try Gesualdo, Marenzio, di
Lasso, etc. Palestrina in the mid-1500's was forbidden by his employers
to use that type of effects: the church knew about those techniques and
considered them dangerous. Fifty years later, Monteverdi came in for
harsh criticism from some sides because he made too much dramatic use of
unprepared shocks in some of his work. That's what the whole "first
practice / second practice" debate was about c1600.
"Salome" of 1905 and "The Rite of Spring" of 1913 were really not any more
musically scandalous than the outrages that had taken place 400+ years
earlier. Just history repeating itself.
> These kind of problems have plagued a lot of music
> since Bach (there are many great exceptions of course),
> Go ahead, break the 'rules'. But as the old adage goes-
> better learn the rules first- then you know how to break
> them - and then if you're lucky, you might succeed.
Agreed. But rules are not very helpful if merely followed without an
understanding of where they come from, or why they exist.
Or, one can (like Gould) deliberately choose to play by different rules,
and see where it leads.
Bradley Lehman ~ Harrisonburg VA, USA ~ 38.45716N+78.94565W
firstname.lastname@example.org ~ http://www-personal.umich.edu/~bpl/