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More Thoughts on the First Fugue of Book One (C Major)

May 5, 2019


To even out the touch on a series of notes, especially if the sequence of fingers are adjacent, it is best to precede the execution of the separate notes by play a cluster made up out of all the notes.  The trick is that when you now segue to the notes played sequentially, you retain in your hand and in your body the feeling that each of the five fingers is playing each individual notes, and not that only one finger plays at a time.


The Bach fugue starts with a lone voice to which, one by one, other voices are added.  You want to stay at the same level of relaxation when you go from one voice to two voices, two voices to three voices, and three voices to four voices.  Nothing new has to happen.  There must be no  extra effort at the point where the new voice is added.  No extra energy or physical application of energy.  Even four voices is as easy as playing a series of chords.*  This requires a counter-force to remain subjectively “more and more relaxed” when the body, as the voice number increases, naturally tends to increase in tension and effort. One might call this compensatory, subjective feeling in the body, a crescendo of relaxation.


There is a wonderful point of stasis in the fugue when three voices simultaneously play A naturals (a2-a3-a4). Even though the pianist knows from experience that the next note is C natural, they should nonetheless wonder out loud “what will the next note be that spoils the stasis of the three a-s; how unexpected, it is a C natural”.


The stretto sections are hard.  When a new voice enters with the  theme before the previous voice has finished its rendition of the theme, it requires a split mind to play it so that the first notes of the new theme entrance sound-like the beginning of the architecture of the of the theme, while the voice that is already playing not be made to sound as if it too is once again at the beginning of its career, but is at the middle or closer to the end (depending on the exact circumstances) of the archetectonic curve of the theme-phrase.  Playing two voices that are at different points in the arc of its phrase, is one of the most difficult things to do in a fugue.  It is like listening to an actor give a speech and noting the difference between how they begin the  speech and how they end it, and yet, in music, superimpose the two upon each other.  They both can’t either begin or end when a second voice joins a first voice in a stretto.

A special case of this situation is when the three sixteenth notes in one voice is the finishing the theme, the tapering off, while if there is another voice present playing the beginning of the theme which is a statement, a declaration appropriate to the opening of a  statement.


Sometimes, when two voices are in one hand, and one voice is static while the other is moving towards the held note, the easiest fingering is to use the same finger over and over on each of the moving notes.  But to do so, it helps if the stationary finger acts as an anchor to the other finger, using its muscles to pull the other finger towards it as if making an attempt to create a glissando with the finger that is to move from one note to the next rather than a ratcheting motion as the other finger leaves one note and passes by the gap between that note and the next adjacent note.


When the right hand plays b4-d5 then g5-bf5.

One of the most marvelous implied dissonances in Bach.  And if you play those four notes together so as to emphasize the dissonance, then start transposing the chord downwards one, then two, then three octaves, you will suddenly hear one of the most dramatic moments in Bartok’s “Bluebeard’s Castle,” that early unsurpassed masterpiece in his output.


Joe to A.B.: In general when you play the two thirty-second notes in the middle of the theme, they are not timed right in relation to the eighth notes that have preceded them.  They tend to be too fast and a bit spasmodic.  One of the most important rhythmic exercises that a pianist can do is learn to switch from a series of quarter notes to a series of eighths, to a series of sixteenths and then to a series of thirty-seconds.  Once adept at doing this then do a series of quarter noted first then eights.  Then back to a series of quarters followed immediately by a series of sixteenths.  And lastly a series of quarters followed by a series of thirty-seconds.  Changing speed in the ratio of 1 : 2 is easy.  But to change in the ratio of 1 : 4 or 1 : 8 takes more practice and experience.

* And in these chords, sometimes it is hard to remember that one, or more, notes in the chord are held notes that begin sounding before in another such chord

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