Piano masterclasses with Maestro Murray Perahia - April 2022

Bach: Overture in French style, first movement

Matan Gur Nelson, piano

Bach included the “Overture in French style” together with the Italian concerto in the second volume “Clavier Übung” which he published himself. The first volume presented the six keyboard partitas. Despite the title “Overture” the work is a full suite for all intents and purposes written in a French style in a manner that illustrates Bach’s amazing mastery of the various national styles.

The work opens with the grandeur of the “French Overture” movement, a form that Bach also used in other works, including the orchestral suites, the fifth cello suite and the central variation in the “Goldberg Variations”. The French overture was one of the most dramatic forms used in the Baroque period and originated, as its name indicates, in France, where it was formulated and modeled by the great court composers of the kings of France, led by Jean-Baptiste Lully – Louis XIV’s minister of music. The overture was intended to be performed when the king entered with a measured but firm step, and was characterized by a tense intensity of dotted rhythms and ornaments in fast and virtuosic scales. Traditionally, the overture included a second section, which was written in a light and moderate polyphonic style that allowed the great tension that had accumulated in the first part to dissipate, and perhaps, when the king sat down on his throne, to allow the nobility, who stood in rapt anticipation and admiration in front of the march of the sovereign and his retinue, to return to the really important matters, chatter and gossip.

In the master class, Maestro Perahia places a special emphasis on the measures that must be taken into account and the issues that must be considered when performing a work in the French style and even more so in the form of the “French overture”. Perahia dwells on melodic (voice leading) and rhythmic directionality, as well as on the controlled use of the pedal necessary to express the measured and strict noble atmosphere that is required in this type of music. In the fugue section, he emphasizes control and balance for the sake of the clarity of the polyphonic texture, and teaches the student and us an interesting lesson in the psychology of musical performance: in a polyphonic texture like that of a fugue, there is no need to deliberately emphasize the different lines and the separate entrances of each one, it is enough for the player to be aware of them and understand them, everything else will happen by itself…