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Re: The Fifth partita, Gould and counterpoint

On Wed, 5 May 1999, Martin Smith-CF wrote about the Musical Offering's
six-voiced ricercar:

> I was lucky enough to be with Rosen over the last couple of days for a
> recording session where he not only recorded this piece, but stressed again
> its importance. Interestingly, he went on to say that the piano was the
> ideal instrument for counterpoint (hence the worship of Bach by the
> 1809/10/11 composers) because it allows the artist to bring out the
> different voices and therefore "make sense of" the counterpoint.

But GG himself correctly pointed out in the LP liner notes of the Partitas
that the harpsichord gives much more contrapuntal clarity than the piano
to start with, and on the piano one has to work much harder at it.

That's even more obviously true on a 17th or 18th century harpsichord
(whether original or copy) as opposed to the modern Wittmayer harpsichord
which GG was (later) most familiar with.

The modern piano in standard condition is built with a bland uniformity of
registers that makes counterpoint particularly *difficult* to bring out:
it's designed to make a basically homogeneous sound.  In distinction, on a
good harpsichord, clavichord, organ, or fortepiano there is more built-in
tonal variety from bass to treble, and this helps to bring out
counterpoint automatically.  The player doesn't have to put any special
effort into it; contrapuntal voices have their own tonal integrity.

Sure, Rosen is correct that a sensitive pianist may bring out individual
voices prominently on the piano, but that's equally true (and more
immediate in a tactile sense) on clavichord and fortepiano.  And on
harpsichord and organ it's basic technique to do so via articulation and
timing.  Even though Rosen, Tureck, GG, and some others are/were
particularly concerned with pianistic clarity of voices, Baroque
counterpoint is "against the grain" of what the modern piano in its
generic usefulness is built to do.  GG of course knew this, and had his
piano surgically altered so its action was more immediate, like that of a
fortepiano or clavichord.  It was also revoiced to give a more transparent
and harmonically complex tone, a clearer attack, and less prominent
sustain.  These alterations gave GG better contrapuntal clarity at the
expense of big volume.  Close miking helped the clarity, too, along with
GG's remarkable finger control, his posture, his analytical thinking, his
refusal to sound like a typical pianist....

When is this Rosen remake of the six-voiced ricercar scheduled for
publication?  I'm fond of his earlier recording and it would be
illuminating to compare them.  Did he redo the three-voiced one also?  
That's the one that's allegedly Bach's first piano piece, since he
allegedly improvised it at the king's court.  It's more rhapsodic and
improvisatory, quite episodic, while the six-voiced one is more

> And if so, do Gouldians in general dislike the famous fifth partita
> recording that he hated because there was too much piano playing going on?
> Actually I have to confess to liking it very much, but perhaps to be a true
> disciple of GG, I should be more rigorous and concentrate on later, less
> "expressive" recordings. 

I'll stand by what I opined about this fifth partita recording a few times
in the past year: 

That is, I think it's some of GG's best Bach playing.  I wish he'd kept
playing in that style instead of changing himself.

> The third and final question is, if I should do this, which recordings in
> the mind of the F-minors best show off Gould's later style?

I'd say the Brahms Ballades/Rhapsodies and the set of Haydn sonatas.  In
those recordings I hear GG willing to play beyond his analytical
intellect: humor and joy in the Haydn, extreme moodiness in the Brahms.

If you're looking for positive recommendations of his later *Bach* style,
don't listen to me.  I'm curmudgeonly in my dislike of all his post-1970
Bach.  See http://www.tug.org/mail-archives/f_minor/msg03742.html

> ps. Am just buying a house and considering which part would benefit most by
> being painted Battleship Grey.

That rather depends on which other part is painted fire engine red.  :)

Bradley Lehman ~ http://www-personal.umich.edu/~bpl/ 
Harrisonburg VA, USA ~ 38.45N+78.94W

"Music must cause fire to flare up from the spirit - and not only 
sparks from the clavier...." - Alfred Cortot