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exercises in nerddom/perambulations through sound

BWV 998, Prelude

998 is an absolute cornerstone of the classical guitar rep. The 2nd edition of Frank Koonce’s J.S.┬áBach, The Solo Lute Works┬ácalls it “especially mature,” (cuz yeah, usually Bach was all like, eating his own boogers and pantsing people) and it’s one of the last works J.S. wrote with the lute in mind, sometime in the last ten years of his life.

I feel like I can hear Bach’s imagination in these three movements. They sound modern, relatively speaking, and there’s an element of prescribed improvisation that’s a lot like what his son C.P.E. would be up to in his own work to years later. The prelude & fugue feature some of my favorite lines in the sprawling Bach canon. The fugue subject is just a heart melter and is one of my top ten musical ideas ever (is that a thing?), while the suspended fermatas in the prelude are a gift to a performer, plain and simple.

For all of that superlative praise, 998 is a tremendous pain in the ass. My journey with it began about 7 months ago, starting with the fugue, allegro and then, most recently, the prelude (personal order of difficulty, hardest to easiest). Here are a couple of takes from practice seshes in the last 7 days (both recorded with iPhone voice memo and given a small dollop of verb to counteract an extremely dry recording environment):

5 things I like about this take:

  • Goes at a pretty good clip without feeling rushed
  • Solid opening (motive grows out of first note)
  • Contrast between tonic/dominant timbres
  • Boo boos did not detract from a confident performance
  • God, the Carrington sounds amazing

3 things that could be better about this take:

  • Enjoy first suspension & fermata (3rd inversion 7th chord) more. Match tone in resolution.
  • More defined bass-line, especially when harmonic rhythm picks up
  • More lift in triads, more plummet on way to second suspension



5 things i like about this take:

  • I made a conscious effort here to slow down. I saw Ricardo Gallen’s performance of the prelude here and I really really liked the dreaminess of it.
  • I like the way my attempt at ^ sounds
  • Love the way that first suspension/resolution sounds
  • Return to tonic sounds damn triumphant.
  • God, the Carrington sounds amazing

3 things that could be better about this take:

  • False starts suck
  • That same dreaminess that brings out the best mysterious qualities of the prelude also led to some mental lapses: stay focused, son.
  • Slower tempo does not mean dynamics don’t exist

Generally, pretty happy and will continue to forge forward. Ben Verdery says that making decisions about how you want to approach a piece actually gives you more freedom once you’re playing it. I’ll get about making those decisions concrete and then post again.