Articulation in Early Music (Part 4): J.S. Bach, Grave in A Minor, a Performer's Perspective

This video could be called Articulation in Early Music Part-Four, as it delves into that inexhaustible topic, building on parts one, two, and three. This time though, the focus is on interpreting Bach’s complex rhythmic notation, specifically in the Grave, although the points of discussion as well as the study suggestions can be applied to other repertoire as well.

Couperin once said “We don’t write like we play.” Well, nowadays we also don’t write like we play. If we get a contemporary score, we may seek lessons on how to interpret the music or we may speak to the composer; and we often need to put in our 10,000 hours to learn the piece, both insofar as the inherent technical requirements and our own personal interpretation. However, all that notwithstanding, when we get an old manuscript, there are different kinds of questions, especially with the rhythm and the ornamentation. But again, this is similar to a score in a jazz fake book or the traditional fiddle music: It is not written the way it is played, and so when we play from those scores, likewise, we do not play the way that it is written.

Fortunately in the case of earlier music, we have many surviving accounts and anecdotes that we can use as information and inspiration as we work out our interpretations. The video deals with all that and gives some step-by-step advice on how to approach learning the piece, using Bach’s meticulously notated divisions as a firm grounding and a starting point.