Here’s a sequel to Better than ever: more Bach.
In my current liminal state while my house is being renovated, apart from enjoying my local library, I’ve got back to playing Bach on the violin. One hopes it’ll be like riding a bicycle, and so it turns out (wobbly). Among several fine musos’ excuses, most apt is
It was in tune when I bought it!
All I need is the Bach cello suites; indeed, maybe they’re all we need in Life… I’m less tempted to return to the violin suites—apart from memories of struggling over them through my teens, they’re just harder! OK, one day I’ll get back to the Chaconne.
First stage is to refresh my memory. The cello and alto clefs are mostly under my fingers by now, though it can be a bit like driving in Birmingham, going round in circles till I find the right exit—so with my sheet music currently buried in boxes I occasionally resort to online scores.
I’m playing my modern violin at the moment, tuned down a tone, with a gut “E” string. I use my baroque bow occasionally, but it doesn’t feel quite right with the modern violin. A good rosin discipline makes all the difference HELLO, although it’s not so frequently applied as chalk in snooker…
I continue developing an arcane system of bowings, often designing slurs (and fingerings too) to reflect conjunct melodic movement, particularly semitone intervals. This varies according to my mood, as it should do, but I like to have a template. Arpeggiated passages are good practice for string crossings. And then, after all the nitty-gritty, it has to sound natural and organic… As opposed to writing or listening, what’s great about expressing such nuance is that it’s more of an immersive physical process than a mental exercise, potentially like the riaz of north Indian raga (see Neuman, chapter 2).
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Apart from the cello suites, I’m also relearning the A minor flute Allemande. I greatly admire the hieratic feel of David Tayler’s metronomic lute version, allowing the note permutations to speak for themselves; but working out bowings and fingerings on the violin, this is the kind of thing that I’m internalising, without having to annotate it like this:
This may seem a bit, um, fiddly, even Irish—so having worked out these patterns, I try not to let them get in the way.
I will go on to adapt the Bach-Siloti prelude (cf. the Bach-Busoni Chaconne), though I think it may be more stimulating on the erhu, inspired by the divisions of south Chinese instrumental ensembles…
Anyway, it feels great to Become One with the instrument again [Again?—Ed.], getting it in tune, and indeed with myself. During the interval from playing I’ve been absorbing a lot of music of all kinds—more Bach, kemenche, dhrupad (which I’d love to learn to sing, but that seems too ambitious), and so on. Still, I find myself hampered by my classical upbringing, feeling little need to rework Bach’s old notes into my own—far from a young sax player, who might have a similar reverence for Coltrane but will always create something new. Indeed, Bach improvised on Bach, and so do organists today. Me, I’m just trying to remember how to play the violin…
See also The Feuchtwang variations, and my roundup of posts on Bach.