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J. S. Bach : the ouverture in B minor, BWV 831 : a discussion of its origin and style : performance practice issues and their application to the modern piano Kaminska, Iwona


The French Overture, BWV 831, is rarely performed, being one of the most misunderstood keyboard works by J. S. Bach. Pianists' frequent criticism arises because the work fails to be measured in the same flamboyant and virtuosic style of the Partitas. It is often discarded for being too long and containing too many simplistic dances. However, J. S. Bach did not intend for this work to continue the compositional ideas from Clavierübung I, but rather to present an idiomatic keyboard version of the orchestral overture suite in the French manner. This genre came into being in Germanic lands at the beginning of the XVIIIth-century. In many movements from BWV 831, Bach presented the most salient characteristics of French style, with which he was familiar from his early teenage years in Luneburg. During the XXth-century, an explosive amount of research was devoted to the performance practice issues of early music. The existence of an earlier C minor version of the French Overture, BWV 831a, has been a particularly important puzzle piece in the controversial issue of over-dotting. Through an examination of contemporary treatises, current scholarly articles and comparative score reading, many suggestions regarding meter, tempo, phrasing, articulation, dynamics and affect are presented in this paper in general discussion; specific application to the particular problems within the movements of BWV 831 are also presented herein. The fact that this suite is often performed on the modern piano should not obstruct performers from seeking the most appropriate, historically informed interpretation. Furthermore, since the modern instrument is fully capable of presenting the core gestures of the style, the ideas within this discussion may contribute to a more enriching, meaningful performance of this work and like others.

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