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Topic: Comments on using the GPO Harpsichord

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  1. #1

    Comments on using the GPO Harpsichord

    Lately I presented two Fugues from the Art of Fugue by Bach, notated and played with Overture. This trickered some useful discussion, I really want to go deeper into it. This is the reason why I transferred the text to General Discussion, because otherwise the LR will be crowded with "yes" and "no" messages.

    The starting point will be the very long answer/comment Poolman gave. And I quote:
    Quote Originally Posted by Poolman
    Raymond, I have quite a bit to say:

    1 Your purpose
    It is clear to me that your main purpose in tackling this Everest is for you personally to enjoy and learn. I heartily approve this motive: speaking as one who has sequenced many hundreds of major works by various composers, there is no finer way to learn about composition and orchestration than this. Bach himself learned by copying out other people’s compositions, and made his own pupils do the same. Of course a good inner ear is required when using the 18th century method; but in this century we have the added advantage of actually hearing the music as we go along.

    What I am not so clear about is your purpose in presenting us with both scores and sound files. You mention that you possess a piano score, so I wonder why you show the Overture versions? (They leave some things to be desired.) However, unless you tell me otherwise, I am going to assume that the scores are a side issue and that you are mainly concerned to get a good-sounding performance. Am I right?

    2 Why harpsichord?
    It is by no means obvious that the AOF was intended for harpsichord, or indeed for any specific instrumentation. See http://pipedreams.publicradio.org/ar...keyboard.shtml for a summary
    of the current thinking on that matter. There are some parts of AOF which no single performer can reach. But of course the harpsichord is about as good a contender as the organ or other medium, and better to play it on Bach’s instrument than on a piano, with all its temptations to play in an un-Baroque manner.

    3 Which Harpsichord sound to use?
    The GPO harpsichord sound is as good as any. What is lacks is what all other harpsichord computer sounds lack – the final cut-off. Frank Newman mentions the thud at the impact of the key, but neither the “ross” soundfont he refers to nor any other of its rivals have the sound made as the key is released. First the plectrum drops on to the string, and the slanting cut on its under surface forces it to bend the tongue backwards against its spring as it slides over the string. This is followed milliseconds later by the impact of the felt damper as it hits the string and silences it. All this makes a distinct noise which can be clearly heard if an isolated note is played. It is not loud but it makes an audible click. This release sound will be covered up by the onset of the next note, if legato playing is used, but for staccato or any kind of detached playing, this gentle click clarifies the exact duration of the note played. In other words it is instrumental in making clear whatever articulation the player is using. The computer sounds lack this; there is simply a cessation of sound which, if any reverb is present, means that there is no clear distinction between staccato and legato unless a very perceptible gap is heard. (As a matter of fact my Yamaha Clavinova harpsichord stop does have this authentic click.)

    What this means is that if we lack the defining cut-off sound, the organ would be a better choice, because its sound does not decay as the harpsichord does, so any gap between notes is more easily detected.

    4 Expression
    It is essential to realise that the harpsichord per se is an inexpressive instrument. You cannot vary the volume by finger pressure, and it is usually physically impossible, as well as artistically incorrect, to change stops during a piece. It is more viable to change manuals at a suitable break point during a piece, on a two-manual instrument. But the question arises: where in the AOF pieces are there suitable breaks? We must remember that 18th century harpsichordists found it perfectly acceptable to play an entire piece on one unchanging stop. Of course you can use a different setting for each piece, limited though your choices may be. Your choices are: Back 8’, Front 8’, both combined, Front 8’ + 4’, Back 8’ + 4’, All three. Avoid Buff stop for fugues.
    Instructions how to use all these in GPO are to be found in my tutorial at http://www.garritan.com/HarpsichordTutorilalGPO.html

    So is expression impossible? No, because one way is to use articulation to define phrases or to create a virtual accent, just as organists do, and the other way is to use ornaments to create accents. But are ornaments artistically acceptable in fugues?

    No. First of all, Bach’s music is notoriously difficult to ornament. In many pieces his textures are too complex and quick-moving to find a place to do it, and in some pieces he has already provided the necessary ornaments. There is a place for additional ornaments in Bach, but only in certain situations, such as dance movements, especially on the repeats, or adagios, if he has not already provided them. They are definitely out of place in fugues, whether by Bach or anyone else, because fugues need clear lines of melody, and …. there is another point of importance:

    5 Bringing out the subject
    A common error is to suppose that in a fugue the subject is of paramount importance when playing. Of course it is conceptually important, in that it generates (or should) all or most of the remaining material, which is either a development of the subject or a counterpoint against it. Whatever the situation, a fugue is contrapuntal, i.e. a combination of melodies, and they are all important. If all we needed to hear were the subject, we might as well just repeat it endlessly without any accompaniment whatever. The point of a fugue is to demonstrate what counterpoints can be made to work with it. Yes, with it, not behind it. One should not bring out the subject at each appearance, as if the rest of the work were unfit for publication: the rest of the work is what the fugue is about! All this makes the piano a trap for the unwary.

    So, Raymond, I am not happy about the accent marks you have continually placed in your scores. It engenders a wrong attitude to fugue, and to Bach’s genius. In any case, there is not much that can be done on the harpsichord to interpret an accent sign, other than to shorten the previous note. If this is done, the fugue subject now consists of detached notes rather than a melodious line.

    So, if we accept that every voice is of equal importance, ornaments could well create an imbalance by drawing undue attention to a particular voice. Bach’s counterpoint is sufficiently interesting and well-constructed enough for the melodies to speak for themselves.

    6 Breaking up long notes
    Raymond, you mention breaking up long notes into shorter ones because the sound would die away (another reason not to choose the harpsichord?). One point of view allows this, as being permissible 18th century practice, though one might wonder why Bach didn’t think of that when he wrote a long note. Another view uses the principle that a rest after a note mentally prolongs it until a different note is heard in the same pitch area, so no repetition is needed. I don’t particularly object to your bass repetitions near the end of the second fugue. What I do object to is your creation of arpeggiated chords. These cut across the concept of counterpoint and create a moment of “tune and accompaniment”, so destroying the horizontal nature of the voice parts and creating a spurious vertical view.

    6 Summary
    So, Raymond, here’s my advice:
    1. Seek a harpsichord sound with audible cut-off, if it exists.
    2. Record the plain notes, no ornaments, no accents, no phrase marks, nothing else.
    3. Choose tempo carefully. No exaggerated rallentandos.
    4. If you are issuing scores, take care that each hand can play what you put on its stave. Harpsichord keys are a bit narrower than piano, so a 9th is OK , even a 10th at a pinch. But no more: perhaps some notes should be on the other stave.
    5. Enjoy!

    Terry Dwyer
    Let's break down this story into smaller pieces.

    1.Purpose
    Is to extend my knowledge of music and to share it with this community.
    Why I presented the score as well as the music (played back in Overture), is obvious. Why not? Not everybody has the score and I believed that doing so contributed to the Garritan Community.

    To lift point 4 under Summary, the score I have is a pianoscore. Poolman mentioned that the score must be carefully written because of the span of one hand. True, but in written pianomusic it is quite common that though a scoreline has to be played with the left hand, it is written on the stave for the right hand (and vice versa). While studying this piece any pianist will take notes to which hand those notes belong (sometimes editors place RH or LH next to that sentence). So I am not so concerned about that, as long as one hand with all notes to it, belong to one and the same manual.

    2.Why Harpsichord?
    Simply because I wanted to explore the sound of the GPO Harpsichord, nothing else (also considering that the source is a pianoscore).

    3.Which Harpsichord?
    Now that I know, gently pointed out by Poolman, that the GPO Harpsichord sounds well enough but lacks the essential sounds of the mechanism, I have to review my original thoughts. I really didn't realize that this sound was so important, but I should have known, because my Steinberg The Grand has keysounds!

    This morning I surfed of the Net and found some great sound samples of Harpsichords (Vienna Special Keyboards). I only hope that Garry does the same for the Harpsichord as he is doing for the Steinway. Speaking about GPO, more instruments lack the sound of the mechanism, not only the Harpsichord, e.g. that Flute Organ.

    4.Expression
    I've read the Tutorial over and over again, before I started this project and after having studied the written score (in the book), I decided that I have to stick to one manual per fugue, because of the span of the fingers. Maybe not for all Fugues, but the majority requires just one and only manual. I am not sure what he means by virtual accents. Maybe I have another Dutch term for this, but for now, it isn't clear. The accents I'd put in the score were merely an aid for pointing out the original theme (as the Edition Peters did). Though it is not expressed by some extra velocity, it helps to see the development.

    5.Bringing out the subject
    I useful piece of text. See also my notes about the accents (above). I used to play most pieces of the Well Temp. Klavier. As I read your comments here carefully, there is not such thing as expression for the fugues. In fact this comes down to a very dull and bouring performance, apart from the fact that the music itself must speak (melodyline and counterpoint). Why is Bach different from Scarlatti. I find these short Sonatas very sparkling and after having corrected my score, the way you suggested in this message, it isn't quite the same. Bach=bouring and Scarlatti=clear, sparks.

    6.Breaking up long notes
    I've read that link to pipedreams and from that I did some other investigation of AOF. The overal idea from all texts I've viewed is that Bach made this as a pure theoretical exercise. But why then involving his son's in the creation of this work? Why did Gustav Leonard perform the work? [discography]. You are speaking of Bach would have forgotten or it was common to "think" a note duration until the next one comes up. I am not sure, he forgot about the limitations of the Harpsichord. Did he really notate those long notes? Or are they additions of the editors [as sometimes happened]?

    I removed the arpeggiated chords, as well as the repetition of some long notes.

    7.Summary
    1. No way, I do it with GPO. That Vienna Instrument cost me too much money.
    2. Already did and where necessary corrected my earlier mistakes
    3. Tempi, yes very carefully. But sometimes we have to slow down a bit to het all notes together with one hand. In piano performances we used to say "take your time to grasp the keys".
    4. See remarks on the score above.
    5. Enjoy, I will. But you made me aware that this whole project, started with enthusiasm, went down in solely a study project and that it isn't useful to present it in the LR. The reasons are clearly stated. Not enough quality!!
    Raymond

  2. #2

    Re: Comments on using the GPO Harpsichord

    Raymond,

    Just one point: if you consider that an "expressionless" fugue is boring, I wonder if you get any enjoyment out of Bach's organ fugues (discounting the almost certainly unauthentic Toccata in D minor)? There is no way to bring out the subject on the organ, any more than on the harpsichord. (It is gross to use a separate manual for the purpose). This does not make either instrument totally incapable of interest, because, as I said in my main statement, there is always the important matter of articulation, i.e. gaps between some notes and not others. Scarlatti is not attempting the sort of counterpoint that Bach does.

    Bach is only a boring composer if you care nothing for contrapuntal ingenuity and wonderful harmony. A fugue is not a dance! (Correction: even Bach wrote the so-called Gigue Fugue for organ.)

    Terry

  3. #3

    Re: Comments on using the GPO Harpsichord

    Quote Originally Posted by Poolman
    Raymond,

    Just one point: if you consider that an "expressionless" fugue is boring, I wonder if you get any enjoyment out of Bach's organ fugues (discounting the almost certainly unauthentic Toccata in D minor)? There is no way to bring out the subject on the organ, any more than on the harpsichord. (It is gross to use a separate manual for the purpose). This does not make either instrument totally incapable of interest, because, as I said in my main statement, there is always the important matter of articulation, i.e. gaps between some notes and not others. Scarlatti is not attempting the sort of counterpoint that Bach does.

    Bach is only a boring composer if you care nothing for contrapuntal ingenuity and wonderful harmony. A fugue is not a dance! (Correction: even Bach wrote the so-called Gigue Fugue for organ.)

    Terry
    I meant boring my Bach in relation to the recording of Scarlatti I listened to.
    Bach is by no means boring. Sorry about this confusion.

    Raymond

  4. #4

    Re: Comments on using the GPO Harpsichord

    One sentence escaped me at first. You were talking about articulation, little gaps. Where can I learn more of them?

    Raymond

  5. #5

    Re: Comments on using the GPO Harpsichord

    There isn't much to say. See my Rhythm Tutorial at:
    http://homepage.ntlworld.com/terence...0Tutorial.html

    Part 2, pp4-5.

    Clearly this is where the cutoff sound of the harpsichord comes in useful.

    So, by judicious mixture of staccato and legato, any phrase or motive can be given a character. When you play the 48, do you not instinctively play some groups of notes staccato? For example, Fugue 2 from Bk 1 of WTK, I play the subject thus: first three notes slurred but third note and next two notes staccato. This is but one way, others could be just as valid. So long as you give it life! Of course, you need to play it the same way every time it recurs.

    Terry

  6. #6

    Re: Comments on using the GPO Harpsichord

    Raymond, you don't have to buy the VSL Special Keyboards to get a harpsichord with release samples. The solo Harpsichord and the PMI Historic Keyboards - both from SampleTekk - have them too.

    And I agree with Poolman; that release sound does make a huge difference. It's a shame the GPO harspichord doesn't have it.

  7. #7

    Re: Comments on using the GPO Harpsichord

    Quote Originally Posted by Nickie Fønshauge
    Raymond, you don't have to buy the VSL Special Keyboards to get a harpsichord with release samples. The solo Harpsichord and the PMI Historic Keyboards - both from SampleTekk - have them too.

    And I agree with Poolman; that release sound does make a huge difference. It's a shame the GPO harspichord doesn't have it.
    Thanks Nickie. Let us stick to GPO. I think I've found a intermediate solution.
    In the whole Garritan sampled library there is only one instrument - as far as I've looked - that makes a clicking sound and that is any sax in the JABB.

    What I did was the following. I assigned to every voice the JABB saxes, soprano, alto, tenor and bari. Set it to "use only pedal without CC", also set the modwheel to zero and raised the noise level of the keynoise (is a knob in KP2). Set all panning to center and added where necessary some volume.

    Now I have for every note a clicking sound - maybe not quite the same as for the harpsichord in real - but nevertheless it is noticeable, including the release at the end of chords.

    If you want to have a look (by ears) at it, just go to here
    Maybe after some more careful tuning it will be a bit better (equalizer to amplify the the lower freqs).

    Raymond

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