Recording Bach

Nothing like recording Bach to make a person feel imperfect!

Glenn Gould quit performing Bach so that he could produce perfect recordings, albeit spliced and diced.
I know because he called me once in the middle of the night to tell me all about it!

And Radu Lupu has seemed to quit recording (not since 2007, his last recording –of Schubert), because he dislikes the laborious process.

I am betwixt and between. I have seemed to step away from live performance, and have been enjoying the process of gathering up whatever good work I have done in recent years to put onto CDs—(my Composer’s Landscape Series.) If I wish to add to the live performances, in order to augment the CDs, I am making some recordings at home, with a good little Zoom Wave recording system I bought myself.

It is quite a faithful sound system, and my piano is in perfect tune; so recently on a quiet Saturday afternoon I wanted to seize the moment and get a lot of Bach preludes and fugues and suites together on tape . I heartily dislike and reject the notion of collage-recordings, and yet, when you try to get an honest, continuous, spontaneous account of a piece in one shoot, stuff happens!

I always tell my students they cannot expect perfection, are not computers, and have to love their humanness and accept whatever flaws that may occur. But that is in live performance: an experience so ephemeral, that the tones evaporate, dissipate, into the ether forevermore; whereas these tones I am producing for recording will be etched in vinyl forevermore. No one wants to go on permanent record with less than their own best. And in some ways, I think one live mic is a more demanding receptor than hundreds of pairs of ears attached to live human heads!

And so, for example, in one particularly “slippery” prelude and fugue from Book II of The Well-Tempered Clavier, the A flat major, I believe I had about 30 takes until I was pleased enough to acknowledge that I couldn’t do it any better. And those rejected takes are spiced with expletives and pleas (“You are kidding me, God!),when I had a trainwreck after the 25th take, after almost  getting to the final cadence, and then!…

I learned just how much emotional energy, stick-to-it-ive-ness, and resolve I have. I so much want to complete this series with my best efforts, for whatever reasons. But it is so draining to focus to that extent, and the tireder one gets, the less likely a successful take will be. Many times, I was near quitting the project, and then plowed on. It so surprises me that the sets of preludes and fugues that I played in live performance, flowed out with much more ease than at home— it takes me several starts to achieve that perfect balance I want to feel—that dance-like pulse so essential for good Bach…

The other frustration is that I am omitting countless preludes and fugues I have known and loved, in my lifelong pilgrimage through both books of the WTC, many partitas, suites, and so on, and the final collection on my CD will be but a portion of “my” beloved Bach. And so it is with the Mozart, Chopin, Beethoven, Schumann, Schubert and Brahms CDs.

I am having a long, lucky life filled with happy music-making, and I have “known” so many great masterpieces… it almost feels unfaithful to those works not included in this series. But it will be enough.

One thought on “Recording Bach

  1. “And in some ways, I think one live mic is a more demanding receptor than hundreds of pairs of ears attached to live human heads!” — Having my share of trying to record myself, I couldn’t agree with you more!! Though, my recordings were much more informal, so a number of mine kept their mistakes. I like how you call it part of our “humanness”. Musicians, by nature, are perfectionists. Such a tormenting dichotomy, isn’t it!

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