Bach Partita practical guide
Ory’s Flute Tips
Bach Partita practical guide I – Allemande
I’m sure you’ll agree that the Partita for flute solo by J.S. Bach is always a great challenge to any flutist – both in interpretation and in the difficulty to perform it, due to its length and lack of possibilities to breathe.
Of all movements, the first movement – the Allemande, requires a great deal of control of both air and dynamics, in addition to understanding the harmony changes and the bass line vs. the accompaniment line.
Here’s my recording of the movement:
I’ve have already discussed in past articles the use of micro dynamics and how they can serve you to interpret Baroque music. In the Allemande (the first movement) this concept becomes very important in order to separate clearly the bass notes from the accompaniment notes.
This would be done by playing the bass and accompaniment in 2 (at least) different dynamic levels and as well, by applying different lengths and articulations to differentiate between them.
The main idea is to play longer and somewhat louder the bass notes (the important notes that mark harmonic changes) and shorter, lighter and somewhat less loud the accompaniment notes (the less important notes that don’t mark changes in harmony).
Before I ‘dive’ into the details of the micro dynamics, there are 2 more aspects that you have to consider first as they would make it easier to perform with the micro dynamics: the tempo of the movement and the way you breathe (or how long/short/often you should breath):
⌛ The tempo:
In my opinion, the tempo should not be too slow. I’d like to play the bass line as an audible line that has a logical connection between the notes and in a very slow tempo it would be very hard to follow that line.
I’m sure you have heard more than once the suite for cello (listen here) or the suites for cembalo (listen here). Notice that in most cases it’s not being played very slowly (there are for example in these 2 recordings I’ve suggested differences in tempo, but I believe these are more due to the nature of the instruments – as the cembalo could hold the bass notes longer while playing the rest).
I’d choose to play with similar tempo in mind and I don’t think we should play slower just because we have to take breaths. I’d consider as well the acoustics of the room/hall you are playing in and slightly adjust the tempo according to it.
You should be able to get the effect of hearing the bass notes while playing the rest of the accompaniment notes.
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😤 Your breaths:
As the tempo of the movement is not slow, neither your breaths should be slow and too deep. These kind of breaths create holes in the music and interrupt the phrases and the fluidity of the music. You would never hear the cello or the cembalo stopping every 2 bars, right?
Idyllically, your breaths should be quick and unnoticeable (and in fact, if you are able to breathe this way, you can breathe many times and never reach the point where you have ran out of air). Quick and unnoticeable breaths would serve the music much better.
Listen again to my recording and try to concentrate this time on the breaths. See how quickly I try to breathe and immediately continue the music after it.
🔤 Articulation, length of notes and dynamics
These 3 aspects of playing are of course 3 separated topics but they have a very strong connection to each other and they must have a certain balance between them in order to serve the music in the best way possible.
In the simplest way to play and explain the differences, we should separate the bass notes from the accompaniment notes. Each one of these 2 groups would differ by both the 3 aspects:
Articulation is the way you attack each notes. Your use of your tongue can be somewhat clearer and quicker for the bass notes (‘t’ or ‘tha’ for example) and somewhat more gentle for the accompaniment notes (‘da’ or ‘la’ for example).
I would strongly recommend to articulate each note and not to add any slurs which are not written. Adding slurs will result in playing accents in the ‘wrong’ places and will give extra importance to the first note of the slur.
I’d also choose to play with single tonguing the whole movement as you can get more control of your attack this way.
📏 Length of notes:
You should be able to separate the length of the notes from the way you attack the notes. The latter is simply the way you start the notes but it could be played both short or long.
The bass notes (or any note in fact that I’d like to give importance to) should be played longer and have a clear differentiation from the rest of the notes. The accompaniment notes should be played shorter, lighter and as well somewhat quicker, in order to compensate the time that was given to the longer bass notes.
Remember: the notes on the paper might seem to be all equally written 16th notes, but in fact they should not be played equally as you would play for example your daily scales.
You should be able to play with 2 main dynamics: One which is louder for the notes you wish to mark and one which is quieter for the accompaniment notes which you do not wish to give any importance to. The difference between these 2 dynamics should be heard very clearly in order to create the best effect of the 2 lines.
Some extra details to take care for:
You’d probably choose to take your breaths after the bass notes. Therefore, you should give extra care to the note after your breath. As it is part of the accompaniment notes you should avoid any accent or louder dynamic for this note. In many cases, because you just took a breath you have a lot of air and the first note you play after the breath might burst out uncontrolled.
The first bar of the piece is lacking the first bass note. Therefore, be extra careful with the first note of the piece and consider it as an accompaniment note.
You can practice few times your attack, dynamic and length of this note when you add the extra ‘A’ that is missing: simply loop the first bar few times with the extra A and after that, remove the extra A yet play the E in the exact same way you did with the extra A.
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