In this essay, I will compare and critique three different renditions of the same piece by Johann Sebastian Bach, Prelude and Fugue in C major from the Well- Tempered Clavier BWV 864. For making the interpretation, I have pick three different pianists; Glenn Gould is the first one, Samuel Feinberg is the second one and Daniel Ben Pienaar is the third and also the last one. After I will listen to all three interpretations, I will discuss the different performing style of this three pianist approaching music components such as dynamics, tempo, colour and articulation. Furthermore, I will comment about the general style of performance or other contrasting aspects that need to be discussed.
I will start my rendition with Glenn Gould one of the best-known and most celebrated classical Canadian pianists of the 20th century. He had lived between 1932 and 1982. His pianist carrier was remarkable thru the technical interpretation proficiency and the special way on articulating the polyphonic texture in Bach’s creation. He is known for his various eccentricities, adapting his lifestyle and personal behavior in the manner on playing the piano, resulting into an unorthodox musical interpretation.
After the first listening of the Prelude and Fugue in C major from the Well- Tempered Clavier BWV 864 by J. S. Bach in his interpretation I had a little sock. The manner that he articulated the notes was totally different of what I have heard before. He didn’t linked the musical phrases to make a continuous flow of the music, making the opposite showing a hopping music and a little too rhythmic for the Bach style.
Regarding the prelude, the technique used by Gould is to accentuate the first note from the left hand and to hop the last three notes from the right hand. The sound is a little weird but you can also think that he has trying to reproduce the sound of the instrument used on Bach’s time. Then, the players were singing on harpsichord, the ancestor of the piano that looked almost the same but had a different approach of the sound. Unlike the piano, where the hammers action on string making them vibrate by creating a long and profound sound, on the harpsichord the strings were plucked creating a short and shrill sound.
The changes of the dynamic can be subtly hear beginning with a stronger dynamic for the happy part and going with a lower dynamic for the sad and more dramatic part and for the climax were the tension is growing also the dynamics are going even bigger that was in the beginning and for the ending of the piece everything is going from lower to lower sound finishing in almost nothing.
Regarding the fugue, the performance is amazing. He has an incredible sound and each repetition of the theme is really well highlighted in contrast with the second and the third voice. The polyphonic line is clearly market during the hall fugue each note is well separated from the other, all coming perfectly in time, giving the impression of a machine playing it.
The tempo is a little too slow for the both pieces and this feeling is more substantively for the fugue giving the impression of a lengthened fugue but this permitted the enough time for the ornaments to be done in a special way. The lovely ralentando from the last bar of the piece gives offers a grand final for the entire fugue.
For the second interpretation, I will continue with Samuel Feinberg who was a Russian pianist and also a composer. He lived between 1890 and 1962. He stayed almost his entire life in Moscow. Feinberg remained famous in the music history due to his complete recordings of The Well- Tempered Clavier by J.S. Bach.
The way Samuel Feinberg is interpreting the first piece, the prelude is quite different from Glenn Gould. Feinberg is linking the musical phrases together very well, leaving the feeling that everything seems to be singed in the right place and the main melody has a continually flowing sense.
The tempo is a little faster towards Gould and this is a good thing here because is allowing the melody to have a sinuous development, and leaving the feeling of a jerky melody away. The fugue is also a little faster too then the previous offering here a natural flow of the melody. The only thing that doesn’t seem to be in it place here are the ornaments. Because of the faster tempo they seem a little hurried and this give the impression of unclear details.
The dynamics have a wide range of progress in this two pieces going from the lowest dynamic possible to the louder one. The prelude is starting in a big pianissimo which for me it seems appropriated for this piece, is like beginning from nothing, constructing a new world, an angelic one and the dynamic are varying a lot during the whole performance, influencing the feelings of the listener. In any piece of music, the dynamics are a big component of the composition part, changing a lot the colour of the piece, regarding the place and the way that are related to the music.
Even if Bach didn’t write any dynamics in the score, pianist during centuries had interpreted in their own personal way. The manner in which Samuel Feinberg approached the problems of dynamic for the fugue seems to me the most appropriated from all the interpretation. His gradual crescendo during each bar and the climax with so many beautiful colours and then a little decrescendo for the final part give the music a meaning, almost making it to be ready for singing. The gradation of the dynamic is not an easy thing to do but Feinberg manages to do it in a professional style.
Another difference from Feinberg to Gould is the pedal. As I said above Gould used the hopping technique, making his piece sound like it was played on a harpsichord but Feinberg is approaching the opposite technique with long notes and musical phrases that almost merge into one another and for emphasizing with this thing he used the piano pedal. The right pedal of the piano makes all the music that is going outside the piano sound louder and a little clogged. By pressing the pedal all the notes action will remain there in the sound and it will sound more legato and maybe a little crowded. If the pianist is changing the pedal often enough this will give to the whole piece a feeling of unity and completion, the same as happens here.
For the second piece, the fugue is approach also different. Even if the interpretation regarding the tempo is better and the main voice is also highlighted, here Feinberg exaggerated a little with the accent put in the main theme. You can hear it thru the whole fugue very loud and clear each times is appearing even if it is on top, above or in the middle. That’s not a bad thing but I feel that the second and the third voice are left behind no doing any difference between the second and the third voice, prevent in this way the presentation of polyphony, an element so important in Bach creation.
The dynamics here is seen very little, creating the impression of a piece is played from one end to another in the same dynamic. Only the point of climax in the piece, where the harmonic tension is growing has a little difference, going louder but not for long and the difference is small. For the end, the motif from the right hand are accentuated being the only motif from the piece that is louder, maybe in my opinion a little inappropriate.
The articulation of the phrase is clear, having the two notes from the left hand longer with legato and in a low dynamic and the three notes from the right hand are a little more accentuated and well press and easily separated but is a huge difference between Glenn Gould interpretation where the notes are literally hopping and here on Daniel Ben Pienaar interpretation are only separated.
The fugue has an incredible uniformity, as I rarely heard everything being played in place with precision forming the perfect sound. The final is divine, the pianist having a special care in weighing the low dynamics of final measures, treating in detail each note decreasing progressively from one to the other. This is a big challenge for a pianist during the performances, to know how the weight the intensity of the dynamics for creating the perfect atmosphere and the element of surprise for the audience.
Another astonishing thing in this fugue performance is the way on how the pianist is dealing with the polyphony. For each voice it was given the necessary importance, not being too loud or to low, finding the perfect balance and even then you can still here the theme during the entire piece.
In conclusion, if I will be put to make a choice between these three different renditions of Prelude and Fugue in C major from the Well- Tempered Clavier BWV 864 by J. S. Bach it will be for sure a hard one and definitely I will not pick one pianist for the interpretation of the two parts. In my opinion my favorite for playing the Prelude is by far Samuel Feinberg because of the way he built the musical phrases that almost merge into one another, creating the feeling that the music is flowing continuously until the end, creating with the help of the dynamics a huge range of beautiful colours that transpose the audience in another time. For the fugue I will the interpretation of Daniel Ben Pienaar because is perfectly built in regard of all the elements. The tempo is perfect, not too slow and not too fast, having time for all the details to be played separate and clear and the polyphonic line is clear but not too much highlighted in a harmonious consistent with other voices. Of course, my opinion is subjective and everything I sad is a matter of taste because all three pianists are amazing. You can choose your favorite.