Sunday, February 08, 2009

So You Want to Play Bach's Prelude No. 3

My latest trial by fumbling is Bach's Prelude No. 3. It is beautiful and tricky and this edition includes an awkward page turn after 12 bars. Like many adults attempting to master piano, I have a sense of how I wish to render the piece (though it often sounds like RENDING), if only the synapses would fire properly. I want the poco dims and the poco crescs to come out subtly, sensitively, exquisitely too, please.
And because Bach is nearly synonymous with Glenn Gould, I have been trying to decide whether I ought to listen to his recording of this Prelude. Though I have no doubt that my Prelude and his would hardly be recognizable as the same work, there is a strange sort of alliance going on. I would like to know what he has done with these clever unexpected accidentals, the balance of the left hand reaching for that low D, the resolve of the poco rit. What does one learn from another's interpretation of a piece? Why do some musicians avoid listening to someone else's version while others study it intently? What does Glenn, not even remotely in the same musical sphere as I, have to offer me? And will it be useful to me as my fingers are wont to play Broken Telephone with my head, producing what I did not have in mind at all?
Listening to Gould has its dangers. One begins to believe his is the definitive version. But does not everyone have his Idea of What It is Supposed to Be? When I consider the two versions of the Goldberg Variations recorded 26 years apart, I am reassured. Glenn believed in exploring. And changing his mind.
The possibilities are endless. Even my ham-fisted version.


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