CPE Bach Solfeggio

SUNDAY, August 23, 2020 – 8:20 PM

CPE Bach Solfeggio

This is one of the most frequently played pieces by developing pianists. It’s also usually very badly played. Most performances at best sound like robots are playing. The problem with these “student pieces” is that it’s almost impossible to find performances by top performers, so you are left with YouTube instructional videos and videos of young people who are not yet fully capable of doing justice to the music, or older students who don’t yet know how to make the music come alive.

I’ll pick the best I can find, then please listen to each. Leave a comment telling me what you like. A hard rock arrangement is at the end. The point is that people have been playing this music for at least a couple centuries, and it’s still going on right now.

Let’s listen to several versions…

A little girl first…

She gets credit for playing so well at such a young age. I can forgive anything minor that goes wrong, because by the time she is 21 she will probably be amazing. But note the total stupidity of the set up. She has to bring out her own little box for the pedal. Then this little girl has to adjust her own seat. If I were part of this I’d walk out on the stage and help her set up.

But she plays great. She did not play the usual ending that perhaps CPE Bach did not write, and there are places where she did not add octaves in the LH. None of  those things are her choices at such a young age.

Too much reverb…

There is almost no variation in sound. At 00:55 he plays E natural in the LH, which is a really awful mistake. Things like this happen live, but when you are recording you do it again. I’m leaving this here as an example of how not to play.

This is much better…

He adds some LH octaves at 00:44, three of them. I have no objection. I’ve thought about suggesting this as an alternate idea, but I’m not quite convinced. The ending is changed, and I don’t like that at all. There could be more variation in touch.

And now Sally…

She plays this very well. She’s doing something with it. It has a lot of contrast, changes in articulation, changes in dynamics. I don’t listen to anything players say if they don’t play well, but since she does, at least in this, I listened to ideas. She has some good ideas. But I’d like to teach her about jazz minor, why we use the term and why it applies to both modern music and music going back many centuries. One snarky comment – listening to her talk and express herself reminds me of Sybill Trelawney.

I actually like this…

I would never play it this way. For me it is understated, not dramatic enough. But his way of playing it is very convincing. His basic technique is extraordinary. His trill is great. He starts on the upper note and really drills it. But he leaves off the last two notes, the till suffix.

So far if I could combine the accuracy of Chirag with the drama of Sally, I’d be fully engaged.

What is an 8 string guitar? Well, I like it…

He changes a few notes, and I don’t always like that. But I really like the sound. Guitarists play with details more. The extra notes in the chords towards the end are very interesting. He’s improvising a bit.

Bass guitar, and this fun.

He had to change some notes because of the low range, but he changed a few more.

Hard rock? It’s totally different…

This is a bit like what might have happened if Queen used this. It’s like CPE Bach meets Bohemian Rhapsody.

Now the music…

For the record, I’ve been working on this for more than 20 years. I can play music like this is my sleep, but that’s not the problem. How do we trick students into doing it?

It’s all about the plan…

  • You have to have a plan. You have to break things up:
  • Don’t fall into the “2+2=5” trap.
  • If you can’t play it right three times in a row, you got lucky. Luck does NOT count in music.
  • Divide into parts, to find main sections.
  • Break parts into steps.
  • Work from hard to easy. Get the hard spots first.
  • Always nail the ending. It’s the big finish and what people remember most.
  • As you do more, play SLOWER.
  • Faster is only better when it works. Otherwise it is just plain stupid. Professionals never go faster than they can do things right. Students generally are in Let’s Pretend world, where in their minds they are playing to huge applause but what is actually happening is failure.

Now the scores, public domain:

  • Solfeggietto – manuscript : This is pretty much what the music looked like when it was written. You will find this almost impossible to read, and CPE Bach used an upper clef where first line was middle C.
  • Solfeggietto – eye sore: Just looking at this hurts my eyes.
  • Over-edited Solfeggietto: This is sort of readable, but it’s still confusing, and the editor added all sorts of markings that the composer did not write.

And the scores, as I use modern software to make it all easer:

  • Solfeggio FAKE SHEET: This is a guide to how to practice the harder spots in chords. I call it a “fake sheet”, because it does what modern jazz and pop lead sheets do. It sets out the structure.
  • Solfege WITHOUT KEY SIGNATURE: This is the music, no changes, but there are no key signatures. It makes it easier for intermediate players.
  • Solfeggio, KEY SIGNATURE : This is harder for intermediates, but we advanced players prefer it because space is saved. It demands a higher understanding of keys, scales, chords, and overall structures.

NOTE: I change key signatures in sections when the music clearly modulates. CPE Bach did not do that. But today we change signatures as often as we wish. It does not changes the notes. It does make the music more logical.

SECOND NOTE: I prefer the LH to always be in the lower staff and the RH to always be in the upper staff. This is not necessarily faster or easier to write, and in fact it takes longer to write it that way by hand. But in modern notation programs it is just as fast, and it’s much clearer to read. You don’t ever have to figures out which hand is playing the notes.



9 thoughts on “CPE Bach Solfeggio

  1. I listened to all the versions and found that I liked the sound of the guitar. The rock performance really got my attention. It was different and creative. Sally ‘s playing was amazing.

  2. Though I didn’t expect to, I liked the 8-string guitar performance the best. I think the guitar helps to capture the dramaticism and overall theatrics of the piece. I also think the variations made helped to suit the sound of the instrument and the tone the player took a bit more.

  3. Wish I could hear Wolfie play this. I like the dry articulation of Jhaisinghani, I like some of the drama of Sally, but overall found her performance to be the kind of early 20th-century sentimentalization that I really dislike. A blend of the two would be ideal.

    Oddly enough I found no Gould of this. o.O

    As for the metal kids, I would’ve used a *lot* less bass drum, and a *lot* more snare. Let the snare double the melody, all staccato-like. Plus instead of keyboard and guitar, I would’ve had one guitar do one voice, and a completely different guitar do the other. Use a sharp twangy Telecaster for the right hand, and a nice warm Gibson ES for the left. Give it color!

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