“Music is a moral law. It gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, a charm to sadness, and life to everything. It is the essence of order, and leads to all that is good, just and beautiful, of which it is the invisible, but nevertheless dazzling, passionate, and eternal form.”

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Bach Sinfonias for String Trio

     Yes, I know this is a piano blog. But many of us also have an unfathomable love for string instruments and the playing of same. So, let it be known that, in an effort to add to the repertoire for this combination, I have transcribed Bach's keyboard Sinfonias. I did this originally for my own use, but after some persuasion, I've decided to make them available for others at Amazon     
     When I play Bach’s music, I can’t help thinking of a quote from his son, Carl Philip 
Carl Philip Emanuel Bach
Emanuel. In his Essay on the True Art of Keyboard Playing, Bach the younger begins his explanation of style “my late father told me...” This gives me goose bumps even now. One of the things his late father told him—this also appears in papa’s preface to the Inventions and Sinfonias—is that we should work above all to “achieve a cantabile style in playing and at the same time acquire a strong foretaste of composition.”  It’s this endeavor to achieve a singing style that gave me the idea to transcribe these little gems, part of the pianist’s catechism, for literal “singing” instruments—that and my desire to have more repertoire to play as a cellist in a string trio.
J.S. Bach
     Often referred to as three-part inventions, Bach’s Sinfonias (Sinfonien) reflect the master’s continuing concern for the complete education of musicians. They were indeed conceived originally for keyboard—and are rather more difficult to play than the two-part Inventions—but as always in Bach’s keyboard works, their probative value reaches far beyond the mere pressing down of keys in the proper order. Bach sought to teach the complete musician in his Clavier Übung, of which the Sinfonias are a part. Übung is translated for our purposes not just as practice in the general sense of learning keyboard technique. It also means emersion in the professional essence of the art, as in the practice of medicine or law. These pieces are about learning composition and style, and, in short, how to bring music to life.
String trio.
Notice how colorful music can be.

     We know that Bach transcribed not only his own works for different combinations of instruments, but also the works of other composers, particularly those of Vivaldi. It

has been speculated that this was for him a method of study or an effort to make rare compositions more generally available to the public. Possibly. I am more moved, however, by A. Schweitzer’s assertion that “this was his way and it gave him pleasure.” It is in the latter spirit that I offer up these tasty morsels.
     My urtext soul at first balked at the many edits I’ve included. My justification is that students sometimes need guidelines, though professionals may curse me. All markings can of course be ignored, including metronome and expression indications, but they are an outgrowth of many years of study. Even so, when I play these on the piano I often take exaggeratedly different expressive approaches, including tempos. To quote again from Bach the younger in his passage on performance, “If it doesn’t sound good, don’t do it.”

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