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JS Bach's 'Great' Prelude and Fugues


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Can of worms, AJJ! There are inégales and inégales. As I have beefed before, I know some organists who seem to think that notes inégales are just an excuse to "jazz" a piece up. They are missing the point. Notes inégales are not about making a piece "skippy"; they are about playing pairs of equal notes elegantly in a way that involves inequality. That might go as far as dotting the strong quavers, but elegance, not skippiness, is always the key. I realise that this wasn't part of your question.


More to the point, perhaps, there is the question of whether the notes inégales convention is to be applied to music outside France. From what I understand, the main argument seems to be not over whether the convention was known and applied outside France (everyone seems to agree that it was), but whether any non-French composers intended inequality where they did not notate it. In other words, when they wanted it, they notated it. Bach was, we can assume, thoroughly acquainted with the French style of performance from frequently going to hear the Duke of Celle's band when he was young. But he was equally interested in Italian music and style. Like any self-respecting, all-round musician, he was interested in acquiring a broad knowledge about music and, as his music amply shows, he was entirely his own man as regards the way he absorbed these influences and re-presented them. How far is it safe to assume that, just because he wrote a piece that is in a broadly French or Italian style, he intended exact imitations of those national styles of performance to be deployed? Was Bach a HIPster? Who knows, but I suspect not! :)


As for BWV 562, we aren't dealing with four equal quavers anyway, are we? The question is whether, in the main theme, the appogiaturas are to be interpreted differently from the two notes written as a pair of quavers. Since the difference in the notation of these notes is consistent throughout the piece (except for the apparent omission of some appogiaturas) it would seem logical to assume that Bach did intend some sort of distinction to be drawn. I can envisage several different solutions to this, but have no idea as to which, if any, might be "correct".


As for performance, I admire the general approach in the YouTube video I posted in the thread linked by Wolsey at post #4. The speed is spot on for me and I like the treatment of the ornaments. That said, I don't play it exactly like that. I find this an incredibly grand, solemn, weighty piece. Its power is almost overwhelming, especially the way it grinds to a climax on that diminished chord in the last line. So I prefer to play it organo pleno (and I don't detach the pair of unslurred quavers in the theme). I do make one concession to the French style: I trill the final E natural.

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Thanks Vox - lots to think on.

M-CA in the meantime - playing at Alkmaar - not the recording I mentioned and not a French instrument of course - but I do like her way with the piece - similar speed to your linked version but with just a hint of Gallic elegance.




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