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How to play harpsichord music on a piano

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#16 Spanish Pavane

Spanish Pavane

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Posted 01 December 2017 - 16:57

This is what I think, as a recorder player and as a pianist.  So I risk getting my head bitten off (always wary on the forums...).  On recorder, you get the dynamic contrasts by using - well not tricks exactly, but you can't without (often unsatisfactory) 'leaking' of holes or alternatives get true dynamics.  On recorder, if you want to emphasize a note, you'll shorten the note before, you might fractionally pause on the note or fractionally delay it.  You use the most subtle of rubato to get the effects you want eg you might make the most marginal of accelerandos to give the effect of a crescendo.  I emphasize these are all very subtle.  In order to get variety you use different articulations and even more variety by using different consonants for the tonguings.  So you use detached, or staccato or tongued legato or slurred etc.

I think harpsichord is akin to recorder and presents a similar range of solutions.  You have to give the effects of contrasts and different nuances by other means than true dynamics.

On piano, I see it as doing all these things and you have the added bonus of being able to play dynamics as well.  So that's amazing.

To answer, why would you detach quavers; I can only say that sometimes you do, sometimes you don't; that there is no 'right' way, that you play and listen to as much Bach as possible, that you decide which performances you like and why and gradually you develop your own thoughts on what you like to do.  And it's not the same every time; I often play, say, the first two-part invention and it's different every time.

I second listening to Angela Hewitt; listen as she comments on the Gigue from the fifth French Suite.

As in all music, you gradually get a feeling for what is appropriate.  So, for example, you'd know when a playing of a Chopin nocturne was either exquisite or way over the top.  You know when a playing of Fur Elise is just the right speed - and when it's too slow, too sloppy and sentimental, when it's too fast, when it's too mechanical.  And when it feels right for you.

I think, anyway.

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#17 EllieD


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Posted 01 December 2017 - 17:20

Those are all very valid points, thank you everyone for your input! smile.png 


Clearly this is a very big area, and there's always going to be different options when playing, but I would hope that I can remain faithful to the instrument and to the music - as best as I can anyway. Obviously it's a long work in progress!


For me, being able to vary the dynamics means that there is less need to vary articulation - to do both could start sounding rather bitty and break a piece of music into little mini-sections that were never intended - e.g. a quiet detached passage, a louder legato passage and that's practically two different pieces potentially, so I think subtlety is required. The variety of articulation (and ornamentation) in Baroque music was to make a piece interesting, not (I think) totally to change its character.

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#18 elemimele


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Posted 01 December 2017 - 17:45

I heard, also, an account from a harpsichordist on dynamics, while talking about playing from figured bass notation. He said clearly that harpsichords have dynamics: a harpsichord playing more notes is louder than a harpsichord playing less notes. In addition to subtle changes in articulation, he expected to interpret a figured bass by adding more notes when he needed to be louder (which makes perfect sense). Probably not a good strategy on a piano? (thinking of the texture that would result).

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#19 LoneM


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Posted 01 December 2017 - 22:01

That works very well in figured bass, and since you only have the bass line you are free to vary the texture according to your taste and what the music requires. However if you're playing Bach's keyboard works you can't really alter what the Great Man wrote!


I am lucky enough to have a harpsichord as well as a piano. It took me about 6 months of playing the harpsichord exclusively before I got the best out of it, discovering how important different articulations (or alternatively different lengths of legatos) are for expression.

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