Toccata BWV 915
The toccata an extensive piece intended primarily as a display of manual dexterity written for keyboard instruments reached its apex with Johann Sebastian Bach in the eighteenth century. Johann Sebastian Bach’s seven Toccatas incorporate rapid runs and arpeggios alternating with chordal passages, slow adagios and at least one or sometimes two fugues. The Toccatas have an improvisational feel to them analogous to the fantasia. Unlike the Well Tempered Clavier, English suites, French suites and other sets, Bach himself did not arrange them into a collection. When JS Bach left Weimar the Toccata at that time was out of fashion. They became in vogue again after his death and were organized into a collection. The g minor Toccata is one of the more obscure of the toccatas and has rarely been performed partially due to the extensive second fugue with its many thorny passages of the contrasting gigue rhythm. However, this Toccata has many fascinating effects. It is one of the only pieces by JS Bach that has dynamic markings of piano and forte.
The g minor Toccata opens with a flourish, which leads into an expressive adagio with an improvisational feel. The adagio is interrupted by a lively allegro in the relative major key of Bb which includes concerto-ritornello passages of imitation and solo/tutti passages. A deceptive cadence leads back into the adagio where it was interrupted and then closes the adagio with a perfect authentic cadence in Bb major. This aspect provides a unity to the different movements of the Toccata. The other striking example of unity between movements is the beginning flourish repeated at the end of the second fugue, which leads into a formal closing of the work.
The extended fugue in a gigue has a subject of an ascending sequence combined with a countersubject of driving triplets. The subject of the fugue has twelve expository entries followed by eleven entries. There are inversions, permutations, combinations of minor with major, which is varied by modulating to the subdominant, then to Eb major and then back to the g minor tonic. The vivacious counter subject of driving triplets provides a symmetrical balance.
To learn more about Fugues please read my other Hub: The Art of Fugue
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Practice Tips for Developing a Solid Technique in Piano Performance
Practicing is both an art and a science. Every student of piano performance must remember that their achievement on the instrument will be the direct result of the amount of time and the quality of their practicing.
The art and science of practicing is not just time spent at the instrument but time spent listening to the music the student is working on, studying and understanding the harmonic analysis of the music as well as researching the time period and technical characteristics of the composer of the piece you are working on.
In addition to this, it is advisable for the student to prepare a weekly plan outlining the time spent on specific techniques, repertoire, sight-reading and review of old or previously learned repertoire.
The purpose of technique is to serve the pianist’s imagination and realize his/her interpretive ideas on the instrument. The pianist should be able to have complete control of their fingers. In order to achieve this we have to train them so they will do whatever we want them to do to serve the pianists imagination. Technique and interpretation are interwoven.
Just as technique and interpretation are interwoven, reading musical scores and listening to music are equally important and interwoven. The art of listening to one’s own playing can be acquired first by listening to other pianists. Piano students need to learn to listen to other performances on a deeper level, following musical ideas and subtle nuances which the student may or may not incorporate in their own performances.
Just as technique and interpretation are interwoven and listening and reading are interwoven, understanding music scientifically or music theory and memorization are deeply interwoven. The human mind can best retain things it understands, things that ‘make sense’. If we understand something musically, understand the musical structure of the piece the student is well on the way to memorizing and a solid performance. With this being accomplished the pianist is then able to use their technique to serve their imagination and deliver an inspired performance.
In order to analyze, appreciate and comprehend the musical form called fugue, one must first know the various elements that comprise a fugue.
Every fugue has its own individual characteristic, which display a full range of human emotions. From peacefulness and tranquility to anguish and despair. JS Bach used rhythms, motives as well as melodies and harmonic movement to capture all of these human emotions. Bach used the temperaments of the different keys to establish the mood of each prelude and fugue. These same tonalities are also clearly defined in his choral works as well. Bach was acutely aware of symbolism in art and religion and used it extensively in his works and was well aware of the subtle subliminal effect it has on the listener in addition to the harmonic progressions, melodic intervals, rhythmic motives and patterns.
Bach very adept in the understanding of numerical symbolism, used numerical codes in all of his music which had a profound effect on the listener as well.
For example in the prelude in c minor from book I, of the Well Tempered Clavier, for the first thirteen bars there are subtle changes. The first note of the first and third groups are the highest and the first note of the second and fourth groups go below the mordent. At bar 14 there is a change. the melodic notes are now above the mordent.
The number fourteen was a very symbolic number for Bach. It represents his name B-2, A-1, C-3, H-8 which equals fourteen. This was Bach way of identifying himself in the music. Sometimes he did this by having fourteen notes in a motive.
Although each fugue and prelude has its own characteristic based on the melody, rhythm and harmonic progression there are particular attributes that are common in all fugues. Each fugue will have one or several of these common attributes.
• subject-the main theme announced at the beginning of the fugue and recurring throughout the fugue.
• answer-the first entry of the second voice
• codetta-a short connecting passage between the subjects/answers
• countersubject-a secondary theme with which the first voice may accompany the second voice and recurs along with other subjects and answers
• exposition-first section of a fugue during which all the voices enter either with the subject or the answer
• episode-a passage between entries of the subject and answer often occurring with a modulation
• subsidiary subject-second or third subject introduced and also capable of being combined with the main subject
• inversion-turning a melody upside down so all existing intervals are replaced by similar intervals
• interchange-the displacement of two or more melodic lines so the lower part becomes an upper part or an upper part becomes becomes a lower part
• augmentation-altering the subjects rhythm so the subject is double the length of the original subject
• diminution-altering the subjects rhythm so the subject is half the length of the original subject
• stretto-overlapping of two or more entries of subject or answer
• coda-a passage bringing a conclusion to the fugue
With the advance of tempered tuning, JS Bach was able to compose in multiple keys, which previously had not been used. For the keyboard player of his day this meant one would need to develop greater dexterity and technique to perform works in these new keys with five, six, or seven sharps. JS Bach advanced to form of the Fugue to the highest level, from ‘The Well Tempered Clavier’ The Toccatas and Partitas and with his latest unfinished masterpiece: ‘The Art of Fugue’
‘Among the numerous miracles of St. Francis of Paola, the legend celebrates that which he performed in crossing the Straits of Messina. The boatmen refused to burden their barque with such an insignificant looking person, but he paying no attention to this, walked across the sea with a firm tread’…Franz Liszt
The story is beautifully captured in Liszt’s music. The calm strength of the opening hymn-like music is throughout the piece pitted against the roaring and crashing of the waves (represented by rushing scales and tremolos), finally emerging victorious in a glorious fortissimo restatement at the end of the piece.
Chopin Opus 35, A Musical Biography
Chopin’s Musical Biography & Mastery of Large-Scale Form
Chopin composed a Marché in 1837, stark and unadorned in melody but quite powerful. Opus 35 is built around this Marché and is the foundation of the sonata. Two years after the Marché was written as it was originally called, the sonata became published 1839. The outline of the sonata is:
I Grave/Doppio Movimento
III Marche funèbre
Beethoven’s Sonata no. 12 op 26 is often thought of as an influence to Chopin’s opus 35. It has a similar construction; the first movement is a theme and variation. The second movement a scherzo, the third movement a funeral march and the fourth movement is a finale of unrelenting sixteenth notes. It is known Chopin played and admired it. Additionally he used it a great deal in his teaching. Many of his students reported working on it. Chopin’s earlier attempt at the sonata was in 1829 with his first sonata in c minor. Haslinger the publisher agreed to publish it in 1829 but later changed his mind. With Chopin’s works now being in demand, Haslinger had it engraved to begin publication. Chopin refused to authorize its publication but learned it was already in distribution in a letter from his father. He had recently made his home in Paris, following an unsuccessful stay in Vienna. Beethoven’s presence was still larger than life in Vienna as master of the sonata form, and Chopin wanted to prove he too had mastery of the large-scale form. He did not want to be judged by a composition written while he was still a student.
Chopin gave a preview performance of the Marché and reviews of this performance state Chopin had a ghostly appearance. The solemn feeling of the Marché brought tears to the eyes of the audience and Chopin removing the word funèbre from the title of the Marché intensified the music’s painful impact.
Marquis de Custine, left the most evocative corroboration in a letter of 22 October 1838 to Sophie Gay:
‘Consumption has seized that figure and has made of it a soul without a body. To say his farewells to us…then, to finish, funeral marches that, despite myself, made me dissolve in tears’.
Opus 35 is structured as a narrative, a story where each of the movements leads directly into the next. The stormy agitated chords of the coda in the first movement become the theme of the scherzo.
The four bar introduction to the first movement marked grave could just as easily be an introduction to the Marché. The finale which is a miniature sonata in and of itself sums it all up in one of the most mystifying enigmatic pieces ever written for the piano in a minute and a half.
The exposition in the first movement depicts a stormy life of a Polish émigré going first to Vienna then onwards to Paris, France. The turbulence and agitation of the first theme group in the exposition exhibits Chopin’s inner turmoil, which is strongly contrasted with a lyrical second theme group in the exposition. The sarcastic side of Chopin’s personality is shown in the Scherzo. The scherzo is fiery and displays a great deal of rage with explosive chords, which emulate the repeated tonic note as in the Marché. In Chopin’s life there was also a great deal of unrest over political problems in Poland as well as a tumultuous relationship with George Sand. Another source of controversy was his opposition to the romantic climate in which he was immersed in Paris. An ingenious composer with strong roots in classical and baroque music, Chopin’s music was also revolutionary. Lyrical trios in the second and third movements follow the classical sonata outline going to the relative major keys yet still have Chopin’s distinctive nocturne style. This put his signature on the classical sonata form. Chopin’s frail health continued to deteriorate and he was often consumed with thoughts of death, hence the foundation of the sonata is the Marché. Friends said he often stated “please make sure I am not buried alive”.
Chopin establishes mastery of large-scale composition (sonata form) with his own signature style in his only composition without dedication. Chopin’s contribution to the sonata form development is substantial in opus 35. As the sonata form developed from the Baroque period of pieces with multiple movements each with their own character this developed into the sonata form of the classical period, Beethoven first expanded the form than began to compress the form and link the movements together motivicaly. Opus 35 continues the development of the sonata form with creative mastery and development of motives, which penetrate each other and are linked together.