Day 22: Suite No. 4 in E flat major, Sarabande.

Self-portrait of e. e. cummings. Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

By Miranda Wilson

Today’s set of three takes was notable for being the most different (from each other, that is) set of takes I’ve made in this project. This was largely because of tempo, though it had other ramifications for phrasing, dynamics and so on. I’d practised the Sarabande at a tempo that I thought conveyed the timeless marvel of the suspended tension-resolution that characterizes the Sarabande.

That opening/shutting feeling that, if I were in a poetic mood, would remind me of the e. e. cummings poem “somewhere i have never travelled, gladly beyond”: i do not know what it is about you that closes/ and opens; only something in me understands/ the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses… (Full disclosure: we had that poem read out at our wedding by my bridesmaid, who cried copiously all the way through and had to fan herself frantically with the book while she got her voice back. I have a very soft spot for it.)

However, this tempo didn’t work at all. My rationale had been that it gave the rhythmic impression of a slow three, but in fact, I’d say it sounded as if it were “in twelve”! (It’s not that I have a tiny imaginary conductor waving a stick about inside my head, but I find it quite helpful to think of how a piece should feel according to a downbeat.) So I decided a dramatic rethink of the tempo was in order. For Take 2, I aimed for a moderate three, and upon listening to it realized that even that was too slow, focusing as it did on the micro-details of the line rather than the broad sweep of the tensions and resolutions in the harmony (i.e. the thing I’d thought I was bringing out in the first place). So in Take 3, I imagined myself “in one,” and that, I felt, worked the best of the lot. To give you some idea, Take 1 took over 5 minutes, Take 2 was 4:02, and Take 3 came out at 3:25. That’s a lot of difference both in overall length and in tempo.

Tuning was also an issue today. I decided to use my “chordal” system for intonation almost exclusively, because the Sarabande is so packed with chords. Sometimes I nailed a difficult bit (there are so many in this challenge-packed movement) and sometimes I didn’t. One thing I wish I’d thought more about before I started was what to do with the Cs on the A string. They sound a bit flat to me. Maybe I should have gone for the sympathetic resonance of the C string, which would have pitched them sharper. But then, my reasoning had been to make them flat in relation to the E flats, because in the system I’m using (not, I hope, too pedantically) major thirds get made narrower and minor thirds get made wider, and…it’s thoroughly done my head in. I took note of this problem for the next time I play the E flat major suite.

Today’s video.

Today’s practice list: E flat major Sarabande, Bourrées I & II, Gigue; C minor Courante.


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