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From: Andrys  <andrys@n...>
Date: Wed Mar 29, 2000 7:45am
Subject: [Great Pianists] Re: Argerich's Bach

On 29 Mar 00, at 4:45, Patrice Mathews wrote:

> Andrys wrote:
> >Bach is among the most romantic of composers, bar none. 
> Well, maybe Scarlatti...!

   :-)     You and Tomsic!   But you do play Dominico more interestingly 
than she, and she's good at that.  Just a bit too hard for my tastes.
> >The, to me, idiotic request for more dry playing in Bach shows very
> >little REAL familiarity with the sound of a harpsichord which is *never*
> >"staccato" 
> Er, I use detache freely. Variation in note durations is one of the
> relatively few tricks we harpsichordists have at our disposal!

 Yes, my carelessness.  I meant the kind of dry, intense staccato used by 
pianists who think they are emulating the sound of a harpsichord.  Used 
even for normal allemandes.  Detache, definitely, but not to the point that 
on the piano one hears no continuing sound whatsoever, where melodic 
lines need to continue.  It's bad enough that piano sound decays quickly 
while the harpsichord sound continues in that bell-like way I mentioned, 
but when pianists use extreme staccato (as Gould did) in poor emulation of 
harpsichord sounds, I object, and this used to be done a lot.  I still am 
grateful to Gould for his illumination of inner lines during the faster 
passages especially but I don't miss all that ultra staccato.

> >Harpsichords are like BELLS
> Or lutes, their true parents ;-)

    French harpsichords get further away from that and do sound more like 
bells to me.  Definitely the plucking is similar to the what's done on lutes 
but I hear the lute effect more with Italian or Flemish harpsichords and 
appreciate it most in those laments for lutenists who died falling down 
stairs  :)    On the other hand I hear it a lot in some of Chopin's waltzes.

> >the tone does *not* decay in the way a
> >piano quickly does.  There's no pedal needed to keep the tone going ! BUT
> >in piano, that pedal had better be there if partially emulating the sound
> >of a harpsichord is important to one.
> I think it's often (not always) an issue of the force of the keystroke
> (piano) and of holding the note. But then I don't know that emulation is
> appropriate anyway. Awareness, yes.

  Right.  I don't think emulation IS appropriate.  It's a lost cause.  There's 
very little similarity between a harpsichord sound and that from the piano.  
But if someone (like Gould) is focused on emulating what t(he)y think is a 
harpsichord effect, then that abrupt and affected staccato isn't going to 

  Holding the notes, as you do so well, is essential in slow movements, but 
if you release a note, the sound will tend to continue where it doesn't on 
the piano.  Can't emulate that on the piano with only held notes due to that 
swift decay.   One can try, but I've never enjoyed such a dry approach as 
is heard from the piano where the pedal isn't used.  I find it sterile.

> >the tone of notes continued and one had to be very careful so
> >they not smear into other notes in a way that hid the actual harmonies
> >intended because the tone continued.
> Continued only if one hung onto it! All else is acoustics.

  No.  We differ on this.  Acoustics is everything and won't help a piano 
when the note is released.   
  I love to listen to the sound continue in the unstopped vibration of the 
strings of a harpsichord when the note is released.  I'm talking about 
French harpsichords, and Bach had a liking for French music.  

> >I was 4th row center and there was not too much pedaling for those of us
> >sitting together. Perhaps by the time the sound got upstairs, there was
> >more smearing.
> What I heard from first tier right (straight from under the piano lid) was
> a very convincing transcription, as it should be and as is inevitable. What
> is the particular virtue of sounding like a harpsichord anyway?

   We sure agree on that question.

>  Bach wrote
> down the harmony in his head, non-idiomatically, for a universal instrument
> that has yet to be invented, even though it exists all around us. 

> The only qualm I had was with the rhythm in the beginning Adagio. All the > 16th-note rests should be dotted, which makes for an even more powerful > Frenchified gesture, more air, more sweep, more drama. One could pick at > the Courante for similar non-observance of "echt" performance practice but > that movement worked for me--I didn't miss the subtle rhythmic shifts. I agree, on all three points. > As a pianist-turned-harpsichordist, I've been more than ever thrilled by > Argerich. (And we're talking 30 years of adoration here!) She's not playing > just a piano. Or, she is but it's no longer just a piano. ;-) - Andrys in Berkeley

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