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I love Bach even when it's played badly
30 Sep 2009
Expressing the inexpressible...?
Lately, I have had the pleasure of working on lots of Bach with my students.  I wish I could take credit for the fact that so many of them are working on major Bach works at the moment, but in fact it just seems to be coincidence - I try to not impose my will too much on students when it comes to choosing repertoire, though I certainly do suggest things and, when given a menu of options, I do express my preferences.  (I do encourage a variety or repertoire each semester, and some students are preparing for auditions where will be required to play Bach.)  As a child, I loved Bach more than any other composer - I'm not even sure who was in 2nd place for me.  At some later point, I came to appreciate that other composers might be equally great, while being different in their aesthetics and their aims. 

What I've noticed over the years is that Bach's music sounds great, even when it is played badly.  Or at least I can say that *I* enjoy it even when it is played badly.  (I wonder if this might limit my ability to teach Bach well, since a bad performance still has its merits).  This is not at all true of, say, Scriabin.  A good performance makes the music sound great, but a bad performance makes it unbearable. 

I would like to offer the following hypothesis (one which I admit is not well thought-out): one measure of how much we like something is whether we can still enjoy a mediocre form of it.  For example, I love great Chinese food, but if I am in an airport and they have one of those "fast food" Chinese places, I won't eat there.  On the other hand, I can eat Mexican food or Pizza no matter how sub-par it is.  I think that is a measure of how much more I like Mexican food than Chinese food.  Likewise with country music - I don't like it at all, except when I hear Patsy Cline or perhaps a few other really great singers.  Now chocolate - I can eat almost any level of chocolate and be thrilled - whether it's truffles from the famous Sprungli in Zurich (where they won't sell it to you unless you promise to eat it within a couple of days) or last year's Halloween handouts. 

What do you think? 
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Beethoven: Concerto for Piano no 5 in E flat major, Op. 73 "Emperor"
Mendelssohn: Concerto for Piano no 1 in G minor, Op. 25
Barber: Concerto for Piano, Op. 38
Brahms: Variations (11) for Piano on an Original Theme, Op. 21 no 1
Schumann: Papillons, Op. 2
Schoenberg: Little Pieces (6) for Piano, Op. 19
Kirchner: Pieces (5)
Bartók: Out of Doors, Sz 81/BB 89
Bartók: Romanian Folkdances (6), Sz 56/BB 68
Bartók: Sonata for Piano, Sz 80/BB 88
Bartók: Rondos (3) on Slovak folktunes for Piano, Sz 84/BB 92
Bartók: Allegro barbaro for Piano, Sz 49/BB 63
Bartók: Mikrokosmos, Sz 107/BB 105: Book 6
Bartók: Dance Suite for Piano, Sz 77/BB 86
Ravel: Concerto for Piano in G major
Beethoven: Sonata for Piano no 14 in C sharp minor, Op. 27 no 2 "Moonlight"
Dvorak: Trio for Piano and Strings no 3 in F minor, Op. 65/B 130
Rachmaninov: Concerto for Piano no 2 in C minor, Op. 18

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