Sunday, November 23, 2014

Handel vs. Bach on the Piano

Handel works on the modern piano much better than Bach.  The reason is simple: Bach's keyboard works do not sound well with equal temperament whereas Handel's, for some reason, do.  It would require a much more detailed analysis than I have time to bring to this issue.

I know it because, as a child (my best authority on all subjects) I had nightmares because I could not "locate" the A of Bach's A minor English Suite, a piece I loved and played a lot.  It took me most of a lifetime to figure out that that was the reason: His A does not resonate properly on the modern piano.

It is at this level that sound is most urgent.  It is not in the least a matter of theory. 

Well might you then ask why do so many pianists perform Bach?

A good question and not easy to answer.  If you pay attention to the physicality of the sound when pianists play Bach it is striking to me that some play as though the music consisted only a procedures, not at all of sounds: Glenn Gould comes to mind.  Others play Bach with real feeling for the sounds.

I almost did not go to hear Piotr Anderszewski play an all-Bach program, fearful of what I might not like.  But I was glad I did and I will not soon forget his sensitive readings especially in D minor, a particular pregnant key on the modern piano.