Early Music and Historically Informed Performance Practice

C.P.E. Bach on Historically Informed Performance


Chapter 3: Performance

§ 1: ‘Keyboardists whose chief asset is mere technique are clearly at a disadvantage. A performer may have the most agile fingers, be competent at single and double trills, master the art of fingering, read skilfully at sight regardless of the key, and transpose extemporaneously without the slightest difficulty; play tenths, even twelfths, or runs, cross the hands in every conceivable manner, and excel in other related matters; and yet he may be something less than a clear, pleasing or stirring keyboardist [my emphasis].’

§ 2: ‘What comprises good performance? The ability through singing or playing to make the ear conscious of the true content and affect of a composition. Any passage can be so radically changed by modifying its performance that it will be scarcely recognisable.’

§ 3: ‘The subject matter of performance is the loudness and softness of tones [nuance], touch, the snap, legato and staccato execution [articulation], the vibrato, arpeggiation, the holding of tones, the retard and accelerando. Lack of these elements or inept use of them makes a poor performance.’

§4: ‘Good performance, then, occurs when one hears all notes and their embellishments played in correct time with fitting volume produced by a touch which is related to the true content of a piece [my emphasis]. Herein lies the rounded, pure, flowing manner of playing which makes for clarity and expressiveness.…Many instruments [harpsichords] do not produce a perfect, pure tone unless a strong touch is employed; others must be played lightly or the volume will be excessive. I repeat these remarks…in order to encourage a more musical way of portraying rage, anger, and other passions [my emphasis] by means of harmonic and melodic devices rather than by an exaggerated, heavy attack.’

§ 5: ‘In general the briskness of allegros is expressed by detached notes and the tenderness of adagios by broad, slurred notes. The performer must keep in mind that these characteristic features of allegros and adagios are to be given consideration even when a composition is not so marked, as well as when the performer has not yet gained an adequate understanding of the affect of a work. I use the expression, "in general," advisedly, for I am well aware that all kinds of execution may appear in any tempo.’ [Note: ‘allegro’ and ‘adagio’ appear to be used here generically to denoted ‘fast’ and ‘slow’ movements.]

§ 8: ‘In order to arrive at an understanding of the true content and affect of a piece, and, in the absence of indications [i.e. affect/tempo words at the beginning], to decide on the correct manner of performance, be it slurred, detached or what not, and further, to learn the precautions that must be heeded in introducing ornaments, it is advisable that every opportunity be seized to listen to soloists and ensembles; the more so because these details of beauty often depend on extraneous factors. The volume and time value of ornaments must be determined by the affect [my emphasis].’

§ 13: ‘A musician cannot move others unless he too is moved [my emphasis]. He must of necessity feel all of the affects that he hopes to arouse in his audience, for the revealing of his own humour will stimulate a like humour in the listener. In languishing, sad passages, the performer must languish and grow sad. Thus will the expression of the piece be more clearly perceived by the audience.…Similarly, in lively, joyous passages, the executant must again put himself into the appropriate mood. And so, constantly varying the passions, he will barely quiet one before he rouses another. Above all, he must discharge this office in a piece which is highly expressive by nature, whether it be by him or someone else. In the latter case he must make certain that he assumes the emotion which the composer intended in writing it.’

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