Joe's Blog

When to connect notes between two voices rather than staying with notes in one voice

November 22, 2019

A.B.’s lesson on 11/21/19: The Well Tempered Klavier, Book I, C Major Fugue

A.B. has been so much preoccupied with separating and preserving the identity of each voice in the fugue that it has led to awkward transitions from a note in one voice to a note sounding immediately thereafter in  another voice. This happens most especially when one voice has been sessile for a bit of time and then streams ahead again.  There is a virtue to practicing the connection between the current voice (on which focus is being maintained by the pianist) “obliquely” across the staff or staves to the first note that is flowing again in the voice that was tranquil for a while.

Here are a couple chosen from myriad examples:

Measure 4:

The connection between the g4 in the soprano voice (close to the beginning of the measure) to the f4 in the alto voice. Here the difference in flow-rate between the two voices is minimal, eighths in the alto and sixteenths in the soprano, but connecting the g4 tothe f4 will help remind the listener of the connection in the alto voice between the first note of the measure, g4, to the g4 on the and of one, despite the intrusion into the pitch range of the alto voice of the soprano voice on the second note of the measure.

Measure 8:

The connection within the first beat between the tenor voice e4 and the bass  voice g3. the logic here is that the connection downwards of a sixth from e4 to g3 is easier to connect in the hand than the descent of two  sixteenths spanning just a minor third (bf3 to g3) which occurs while the e4 is being held as an eighth note.

Measure 12:

To maintain individual control of two voices in the right hand throughout the measure (the soprano voice and the alto voice) it helps to zig-zag physical attention from one voice to another. Here is a plausible series of notes that can lie along the zig-zag path: d5 b4 c5 gs4 a4 gs4 f4 b4. Many other such paths are open to the hand to follow.  Here is a path for the  physical attention of the left hand in the same measure: b2 e3 fs3 d3 at the beginning of the measure.

Examples abound in all measures of the fugues. Here is the philosophy behind doing this technique. If a piano player roll was cut out to have the  player piano sound the notes of this fugue, the player piano itself would have no consciousness of whether the next note it sounds lies in the same voice or a different voice than the note that just sounded. Just the plain  evenness of the succession of notes creates a fugue-like aesthetic pleasure to the performance.

This is also an example of not doing the obvious thing to do while playing, but something as different as possible from the former. The obvious thing to focus on is the integrity of each voice in and of itself with the attention only accidentally straying suddenly to the succeeding note of a different voice. But there is a “logic”, or rather a “perverse” logic that I subscribe to, that advocates doing the thing that is the least obvious, in this case create a zig-zag path between the voices, as a way of shedding new light on the connections between the notes.

Having attention remain on one voice aids only to the physical connections between a single voice and not all the other connections that the listener  hears at the same time as the piece evolves from one note that sounds
to the next note sounding – which may or may not be in another voice depending on the rhythm.

Other related blogs have to do with

#1 single voice integrity, and with

#2 turning a fugue into a chorale (into just a succession of chords
including repetitions of any notes that are in the process of being
held at the same moment that any other voice sounds a new note).


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