There was a request for me to share some thoughts about articulation in the music of J.S. Bach. Thanks for the suggestion!
I don't think what I'll talk about here is exclusively only for Bach, but I do think that Bach or German baroque music in general has certain characteristics which demonstrate quite clearly my concept. Click on the video below to listen to three ways of playing the first measure of this Bach violin sonata, each with a different combination of tonguing and breath work. You may want to turn up your volume and hear it a couple of times to fully recognize the subtle but important differences.
from J.S. Bach's Sonata in B minor for Violin and Obbligato Harpsichord
I'm currently preparing this piece for a performance and honestly, I've been feeling stuck with that first measure for awhile! And while I was using varied articulation, there was something about the tonguing and the breath that didn't quite match up, or wasn't refined enough. It sounded stiff and dull just like Example 1 or 2.
Basically, I would suggest here the tonguing pattern T DR(it) 'TR D(it). R is like the Latin hard R. The (it) or apostrophe signals stopping the sound with the tongue, which is very important in baroque music to give a clear shape to phrases, and also establishing metric stability. I'd tongue the second T (note E) a bit lighter than the first T (F#), but I also realized I can create a nice gesture on the E if I gave more of an impulse with the breath there, which is what you hear in Example 3. It propels the melody forward and gives it a good swing.
Not all T D R's are the same, a T could be slightly more forward or slightly more backward in your mouth. Stopping the sound has also its variants. On top of all that, there's the question of how you use the breath to further sculpt the sound, which means working on flexibility in directing the air. I like to think of articulation as sculpting and carving the sound like a sculptor working with an extremely fine knife. This image works particularly well with German baroque music as it echoes the music's defined, perhaps slightly edgy structure. It brings clarity to the counterpoint. It fits the language well if you're working with a singer.
Do let me know what differences you hear in the above examples! More on the concept of sculpting sound can be found in my video workshop "Music & Imagery - playing with a 3-dimensional sound".
ABOUT THE BLOG:
I got inspired to document my own observations in flute-playing and music-making. Also, I thought it's important to pass on the teachings of the great Wilbert Hazelzet, as well as many other mentors who have influenced my artistic visions one way or the other. Enjoy this potpourri of tips, inspirations, and musings.
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