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4. Prelude and Fugue in C sharp minor from Book 1




I used to have a profound mistrust of anyone who told me that they enjoyed practising scales - but now I hear myself explaining to others how interesting they can be! What is happening? Well one thing is very clear. To practise scales in a way that you want to, when you want to, and with some real sense of purpose is quite different from the common experience of having to practise scales in a tightly proscribed way in order to be tested on them in the course of an examination. One of the most interesting and beneficial ways of practising scales on the piano is as a tool in discovering a true independence of touch between the two hands. Play as slowly as you want to, left hand legato and right hand staccato. Be aware of each sound beginning and ending. Be aware of the different physical sensations in the two hands. Change around - play the left hand staccato and the right hand legato. Next, try playing loud and soft - left hand forte,right hand piano; then right hand forte, left hand piano. Even if you stay resolutely on C major this routine will show you how slowly you need to go to experience real independence of control between the two hands. Giving a few minutes each day to this routine will pay huge dividends when it comes to playing real music, whether classical, pop or jazz. If you feel comfortable playing scales in lots of different ways with lots of different touches you will find that your journey into the heart of what a new piece is really about will proceed much faster. One of the key elements to getting inside the positive scale experience is an understanding of the circle of keys. It still saddens me to realise just how many people have practised scales for years without anyone ever explaining the circle of keys to them satisfactorily. I have also met many people over the years who have passed their Grade V examination in Music Theory who seem to have little if any practical knowledge of how the circle of keys actually works at the piano. On the other hand, however, I have had the positive experience of teaching practical music theory to many people who have suddenly seen how everything works at the piano and how it can indeed be an enjoyable experience to play patterns, both melodic and harmonic, in all twelve different tonalities. Practising scales with different touch between the hands and understanding the circle of keys at the piano are both excellent preparation for the journey through the 48 Preludes and Fugues. This journey embraces all the keys, including the very obscure D sharp minor with its C double sharps (ignored even by the examination boards in favour of the identically sounding but differently notated E flat minor). This journey embraces a wide range of dynamics, a wide range of effective articulations, and a wide range of fingering challenges to sort out. but more than all this, the journey embraces a huge range of emotional resonance and colour. This has been the driving force behind my own exploration, both in terms of playing and also in terms of relating some of the pieces to my own Musical Remedies, a set of compositions based on the Bach Flower Remedies. Understanding and practising the scales relates to playing and experiencing the 48 Preludes and Fugues in the same way that understanding the structure of the plants helps an appreciation of the possibilities of the various Bach Flower Remedies. In the case of the scales there is a simple finite structure which underpins an open field of musical experience. In the case of the plants there are clear tendencies about how particular plants flourish which give all the clues as to how the Remedies can help the subtleties of the ever-changing mental state. This is all explored in great depth in Julian Barnard’s wonderful book Bach Flower Remedies : Form and Function. It was a few years ago now when I was practising the C minor Prelude from Book 1 of the 48 that I was suddenly struck by the similar emotional resonance to that of the first of the Bach Flower Remedies, Impatiens. There was something about the incessant semiquavers and the way they lead into an even faster section near the end that led me to link the two together. Soon afterwards I was practising the Prelude in E flat minor from Book 1 and was very struck by the daydreaming quality of the music and a similar emotional resonance to the second of the Flower Remedies, Clematis. And so this journey of mine continued until I had identified twelve Preludes and Fugues from the 48 matching up with the Twelve Great Healers, the first set of the Flower Remedies which Dr Edward Bach discovered. The resulting Bach to Bach programme which emerged from this is something I have performed four times now. It is a deeply meditational programme, transforming and intertwining sounds and energies in a fascinating journey of discovery. For those who are interested, the full set of connections is as follows : Impatiens Prelude and Fugue in C minor (Book 1) Clematis Prelude and Fugue in E flat minor (Book 1) Mimulus Prelude and Fugue in G minor (Book 1) Agrimony Prelude and Fugue in D minor (Book 1) Chicory Prelude and Fugue in A minor (Book 1) Vervain Prelude and Fugue in C sharp minor (Book 1) Centaury Prelude and Fugue in F minor (Book 2) Cerato Prelude and Fugue in F sharp minor (Book 2) Scleranthus Prelude and Fugue in E minor (Book 1) Water Violet Prelude and Fugue in E major (Book 1) Gentian Prelude and Fugue in A flat major (Book 1) Rock Rose Prelude and Fugue in B flat minor (Book 1)