CONVERSATION WITH MARGRIET TINDEMANS
by TIM JANOF
Tindemans is one of the most sought-after players of early bowed string
instruments world-wide. She directs the Northwest Center for Early Music
Studies and is on the faculty at the University of Washington. She has recorded
for Harmonia Mundi Germany and France, Erato, Accent, Classical Masters,
EMI, Smithsonian Collection, Eufoda, CRD, Koch International Classics, and
I thought it would be interesting to read the views of an Early Music specialist,
since we often read what the typical cellist thinks of the Early Music world.
In other words, we get to hear from the "other side" in this interview.
For those of you who don't know, when an Early Music person refers to a
"Modern Cellist" they are referring to the typical cellist today,
who does not attempt to play "authentically," and does not employ
more historic instrumental and musical performance practices. Also, the
words "viola da gamba" and "gamba" are used interchangeably.
of latest recording: Adagio-Aria from Sonate in G major by Elisabeth Jacquet
de la Gueire (Wildboar g601) with Ingrid Matthews, violin and Byron Schenkman,
harpsichord (3.2mb file, 16bit 22k sampling, .au format)
TJ: Did you start out playing Early string instruments?
MT: No, like most people growing up in Holland at the time, I started on
the recorder. I then played the violin, which I studied in college along
with the recorder. I didn't start playing the viola da gamba until I was
21, after I had finished my violin studies.
TJ: You come from a country where Early Music is very big. Do you have any
idea why Holland has so many great Early Music specialists?
MT: I can't quite explain it. For some reason a lot of very good musicians
became interested in Early Music at the same time, like Anner Bylsma on
the cello, Gustav Leonhardt on the harpsichord, the Kuijken brothers, and
Franz Bruegen on the recorder. This group of musicians gave Early Music
a lot of momentum.
TJ: Why did you switch to viola da gamba?
MT: I switched for a couple of reasons. I think I've always been very curious,
and I've always liked history, and not just music history. I loved reading
about earlier times and figuring out how things happened and how one thing
led to another. In music, I was always very curious about what came before
a person or an event in history. For example, I was curious about what made
Mozart so unique in his time, which means that I had to study what came
before Mozart, or what made Bach so unique, which means I had to study what
came before Bach. And so I kept going back until there was no further to
go back, in a sense.
TJ: Let talk about the gamba and perhaps dispel some lingering myths. Is
the cello a descendent of the viola da gamba?
MT: No. The gamba and the cello (the violin family really) developed side
by side in the beginning of the 16th century. The gamba wasn't around any
earlier than the cello, violin, or viola. They just had very different functions.
The gamba was the instrument for nobility, some of who were very good amateurs.
This doesn't mean that there weren't any professionals. But they were relatively
few compared to other instruments, and, more than with other instruments,
an important part of their duties was teaching the wealthy amateur players.
Interestingly, the instruments of the violin family, the violin and the
viola and the cello, were played by professionals from the very beginning.
It was not until the 17th century that it occurred to amateur players to
pick up the violin. The gamba and the violin developed side by side, but
in very different circles. As a result, each instrument has very different
TJ: How is the viola da gamba tuned?
MT: It's a combination of fourths and a third, which is similar to the tuning
of the guitar. In fact, the first gambas are thought to have originated
from the predecessors of the guitar. The only thing that gambas have in
common with the other string instruments is that they're played with a bow.
The way gambas are built, with a flat back and with frets, and because of
their tuning, makes them more like a guitar than a cello.
TJ: The gamba is similar to the arpeggione too. Is the arpeggione a lost
descendant of the gamba?
TJ: What is the range of the gamba?
MT: It depends on which gamba we're talking about. Bass gamba, which is
the main solo instrument, is a seven string instrument, with the lowest
note an A below the cello C-string. The highest string is a D, which is
a fourth above the cello A-string. Earlier gambas and even some of the later
gambas don't have that seventh string. On the six-string gamba, the lowest
note is a D, one step higher than the cello C-string. Basically, the gamba's
range is roughly the same as the cello's.
TJ: How does the modern bow differ from the Baroque bow?
MT: One of the main differences is that a Baroque bow is either straight
or it's curved the "other way." This makes a big difference in
the balance of the bow. The other thing that's very different is that the
tip is much lighter than the frog. With modern bows, this is still true
to a certain extent, though modern bows are much more balanced. With really
Early bows, there's absolutely no way you can do any kind of bouncing stroke,
because you'll bounce right off the string, since they are so imbalanced
within themselves. But for the music that Early bows are meant for, they
work perfectly fine because you want that kind of natural decay in a note,
and you make use of the fact that an up-bow is considerably different from
a down bow. The bow works really well for the music it's made for, which
has a different aesthetic than Classical period or later music.
TJ: Would you say the Baroque bow is lighter than the cello bow?
MT: It's definitely lighter.
TJ: Does the modern concept of vibrato differ from the concept of vibrato
in the Baroque period?
MT: Yes, quite considerably. Vibrato in Early Music is considered an ornament.
When you read the Early treatises, they never talk about vibrato as a part
of normal technique. It's shown in the table of ornaments, along with trills,
mordents, etc. There are special signs for the different kinds of vibrato.
The composers that dictated which ornaments they wanted wrote very specifically
which note to use a vibrato and which note to not.
TJ: Can you describe the different kinds of vibrato?
MT: Well, there are two main types of vibrato. One is where you basically
roll with your finger, which is the same as the modern vibrato. And then
there's a type of vibrato that is actually done with the next finger. It's
almost like a trill but it's very, very close to the finger that you have
on the string, and it's very light.
TJ: It sounds a little more "jerky?"
MT: Yes. And what is interesting is that this vibrato only goes up. You
have the main pitch and then you only go up from there, which gives a very
different sound than Modern vibrato.
TJ: So, for Baroque period ears, it would have sounded kind of silly to
use vibrato all the time, since it was considered only one of many ornaments.
MT: For a Baroque musician, that would have seemed very silly. It would
have seemed as silly as you eating whipped cream on everything you eat,
whether stew or strawberries.
TJ: Did most composers indicate when they wanted vibrato?
MT: No. Just as few Baroque composers indicated when they wanted ornaments,
they also didn't indicate when they wanted vibrato. But fortunately from
the few that did write about it, we get some indication as to when they
By the way, there is another type of vibrato. In the 16th century, an Italian
named Ganassi wrote about a bow vibrato which is done with a very quick
shaking of the bow, always in the same direction as the overall bowing direction.
It's not like a tremolo, which is back and forth, it's more like a "stutter."
But that didn't last very long.
What you need to keep in mind is that we are discussing a very different
aesthetic than we are used to today. In the late 16th and Early 17th centuries,
you find composers really experimenting with a different sound. For the
first time perhaps, they really became interested in instruments for the
sake of instruments, and in writing purely instrumental music that was not
an imitation of vocal music. Prior to this time, all instrumental music
was functional. It was either for dancing, to accompany singers, or to play
vocal music when there were not enough singers available. This changes at
the end of the 16th century, when composers started getting really interested
in instrumental music.
TJ: Has the concept of intonation changed over the centuries?
MT: Definitely. Equal temperament, which is what you use on modern instruments,
essentially didn't exist when the instruments I use were played. We Early
musicians use all kinds of different temperaments. Throughout the centuries
people have had a variety of ideas as to how to approach intonation. In
the Middle Ages, musicians were striving for very pure fifths, at the expense
of thirds. They didn't care about thirds, because they were not considered
In the Baroque era, thirds became the most important interval. In the tempered
scales, there are certain thirds that are really very good and certain thirds
that are very out of tune. Baroque composers started writing music with
this idea in mind. For example, there is a famous Telemann trio sonata that
is in C major where he all of a sudden goes into A flat. The effect is largely
lost in equal temperament, though it is still a strange tonality, because
it's a somewhat unrelated tonality to go into. But on an instrument that's
tuned in some uneven temperament, it's not only a strange tonality, it sounds
horribly out of tune. I'm sure Telemann did this on purpose because he wanted
it to sound very, very ugly. This is found in Baroque operas too, where
words like "crude" or "cruel" or "ugly" are
accompanied with purposely out of tune chords.
TJ: Pablo Casals talked about "expressive intonation," where notes
are adjusted depending on the key one is playing in. Is his concept related
to the concept of intonation found in Early Music?
MT: I guess it is in some ways, except that the intonation found in Early
Music is more dictated by the instruments of the time. You can't really
change your intonation within a piece on Early instruments. Basically, your
intonation is set by the harpsichord. The harpsichord sets the tuning for
the rest of the group. Everybody else has to adjust to the harpsichord.
TJ: And the harpsichord is not equal tempered?
MT: No. The harpsichord is very rarely equal tempered. This is not just
a fad, as some have suggested, since harpsichords really do sound more resonant
if they don't use equal temperament.
TJ: Has the concept of phrasing changed over the centuries? For example,
Casals talked about rainbows and how a phrase has a beginning, a peak, and
then it comes down.
MT: Not really. We find Medieval theorists writing about phrasing. I don't
think that the concept of phrasing has really changed that much. I think
maybe the means we use to do it have changed. But basically phrases, with
the arch, the beginning, the middle, and the end were familiar concepts
for centuries prior to the Baroque period.
TJ: Is the concept of a "musical climax" considered a more Romantic
MT: Not necessarily. How it is achieved may have changed, though. In the
Baroque, there's definitely a sense of a climax, somewhere towards the end
of a piece, or at least at a conscious point in a composition. But in a
lot of Medieval music, you'll find less of the concept of a climax, since
there's a lot more repetition. In Medieval music, you have more of a sense
of each phrase by itself, but fitting in a more intellectual structure,
not necessarily going towards a climax at the end.
TJ: Has the concept of "melody" changed throughout the centuries?
MT: Yes, I think that is definitely true, although certain things are universal.
From the Middle Ages on, the dominant had a very special place in any piece,
in any melody. What you do with it has changed over the centuries, but the
concept of tonic and dominant has been played with since the 10th century.
TJ: Clearly a Bach melody is very different from a Schubert melody. It seems
like melodies in the Baroque period were more figures, whereas a melody
in Schubert was more of a longer line.
MT: Early Music had lines too, though they might be shorter lines. Throughout
the centuries, the length of melodies and the length of what composers thought
was an acceptable length for a melody has changed a lot. And the changes
in length have not always been in one direction. For example, when you look
at 15th century melodies, they're enormously long. Sometimes the whole piece
can be basically one line. But in the Baroque period they're definitely
much shorter, and are much more formulaic. I don't think you could claim
that Schubert or Schumann represent an ending point in the development of
the concept of a melody. Like many things in history, the concept of melody
TJ: Would you say that some of the contemporary music is an example of the
pendulum going the other way, where the music has become more formulaic,
a reaction to the lush melodies of the Romantic and post-Romantic eras?
MT: I think that's definitely true for some of the modern composers, particularly
TJ: Early string musicians play with a lot of space between notes. Notes
start out strong and then decay. Does this occur primarily because of the
construction of the bows?
MT: It has to do with mechanics, but it also has to do with a different
aesthetic. Those that wrote methods actually stress the fact that that's
how you should play. So it's not like they're complaining about it. They
just had a different concept of what a beautiful sound was.
You have to remember that in the period that we're dealing with, even in
the late Baroque, that instrumental music comes more into its own. Musicians
like Quantz and Leopold Mozart talk about the voice as the ultimate role
model for all instrumentalists. And I think one of the reasons they say
that is that instrumentalists should always aim to sound like they're speaking.
If you really analyze language, you get to a point where most syllables
have consonants in between them. Most consonants are actually space, a discontinuation
of sound. The concept of space between sounds in Baroque music has a lot
to do with that. In Baroque music, you think of articulation or you think
of the length of notes as the length of syllables that are ever-changing.
That is one of the things that I find lacking most often when I work with
modern players. I tell them that just because the four eighth notes look
on the page like they're the same, it doesn't mean that they have to sound
like the same four eighth notes. Preferably they all sound a little different
and, if you play a piece with only quarter notes, no two quarter notes should
sound exactly the same.
TJ: Let's talk about trills. Are there standard rules for performing a trill?
Certain modern cellists don't like to start on the upper note of a trill.
Are they breaking a "rule?"
MT: Nowadays we've sort of accepted that, in Baroque music, most trills
start on the note above. It's not necessarily true for all trills and it's
not necessarily true in all periods. Certainly in the early 17th century
a lot of the trills do start on the note, and not on the note above. It
depends on the music you are playing.
TJ: What if you are playing the Bach Suites? How should one play a trill?
MT: I would normally start them from above. But, I don't think it's as big
a deal as it's sometimes made out to be. What I think is more important
is the awareness that a trill doesn't necessarily always have to have the
same speed all the way through. Starting a trill slower and speeding it
up gives a different effect than a trill that starts very fast right away.
Another concept that I wish modern players were more aware of is that you
don't have do a trill all the way through the note, unless you have a turn
at the end. Sometimes it sounds better if you don't do a trill all the way
through; you play the first half of the note with a trill and then stay
on the main note without the trill for the remainder of the note.
TJ: What does the term "authenticity" mean to you?
MT: "Authenticity" is a term I don't like to use very much, because
it has become a very loaded word. I think more and more people have started
to realize that authenticity is something that is impossible to achieve,
even if it were desirable to achieve it. And I don't think that authenticity
in the sense of recreating a performance exactly as it was at the time of
the composition is necessarily the most desirable either. As I said earlier,
I've always been curious and I think sometimes knowing about the composer
and his times, and the kind of instruments he used when he wrote a piece,
might give one insight into what the composer was thinking when he wrote
certain works. But I don't think that "authenticity" should be
a goal in itself. Personally I love the sound of Early instruments, and
it is easier for me to express myself musically on them.
I don't think that certain pieces can only be done on Early instruments.
In a way, it is silly to even talk about authenticity. When I play Medieval
music, I am very much aware that we don't have actual Medieval instruments,
that we don't really have a Medieval instrumentalist to consult, that we
hardly have any music, that we don't have any treatises, that we really
don't know how they played, and that we don't know what they were thinking.
Also, the circumstances in which we are playing are so different from back
then that you very quickly realize that, with Medieval music, you cannot
recreate a performance the way it was in the Middle Ages. One might ask,
then, why we even bother to play this music? I do it because I think the
music still has a lot to say to me personally and to modern audiences. So
in that sense, I love to recreate it.
TJ: Do we really know how musicians played back then?
TJ: Does your concept on how Baroque musicians played come from your interpretation
of the treatises?
MT: We try to interpret the treatises, and we look at old artwork that depicts
Early musicians. But the further back we go in history, the more difficult
TJ: Do you think that Early musicians followed their own "rules?"
Just because some Baroque period professor may have written a book on performance
practice doesn't mean that anybody actually read it.
MT: That's true. There were as many different musicians, different styles
of playing, disagreements and agreements on performance practice as there
are now. So yes, you're absolutely right, somebody might write a book in
Paris in 1710, but that doesn't mean that somebody in Cologne in 1715 would
play the way dictated in the book. It wouldn't even mean that somebody else
in Paris would play the same way. There have always been different ways
of playing, and different ways of approaching music.
TJ: If these treatises were just written by some lonely professor stuck
in his study, could we be given a false picture of how musicians played
MT: We could. I think as a good researcher you try not only to study a source,
but also try to find out how reliable that source is. There are ways of
figuring out whether what somebody wrote was widely accepted or not. We
know that some of the treatises, like the Leopold Mozart and the Quantz
book, were very widely quoted, and that there were enormous amounts of prints
of them in different languages. So we don't just study the sources, we also
look at how widely they were accepted. We ask ourselves, "Did musicians
at the time actually listen to them? Or is this somebody that's somewhere
off in a corner writing for himself?"
For example, there's a famous book by Hubert le Blanc, who wrote in the
middle of the 18th century, "Defense de la Bass de Viol." In it
he's ranting and raving about the evils of the cello and the violin family,
but you don't have to go very far to realize that he is in a way a loner
who is very old fashioned and trying to hang onto the viol when everybody
else has already long since been in favor of the violin and the cello. So
we don't necessarily treat him as an authoritative source. We try to study
each source with caution. There's no sense in just accepting everything
at face value.
This applies to books written today as well. For example, there are many
different methods nowadays. Do you know any teacher that completely agrees
with any method?
MT: Right As a teacher you always have your own method, and you always end
up telling your students to "do this a little differently," and
"don't do this the same way," and "the other things are fine,
but this is not quite right," and so on. And of course that was true
in the Baroque period too.
TJ: Would you say that Anner Bylsma is truly somebody seeking to play "authentically?"
Or is he actually more of a personal player that happens to play with a
baroque bow and cello.
MT: I would say he's much more of a personal player. I think he's a wonderful
musician, but I think he's much more "Anner Bylsma" than a Baroque
musician. I think he plays the way he does because he likes a certain sound.
I don't mean to say that Early musicians wouldn't have sounded that way,
since we really don't know whether it would have sounded that way. But I
think, especially with Baroque composers, that they were very aware of the
role of performers and they wouldn't have wanted him to play any other way.
On the other hand, I think most Baroque composers would have been rather
puzzled by the fact that we musicians nowadays tend to only play pieces
that other people wrote. They would have thought this rather strange, and
would have said that we were lazy because we don't write our own pieces.
TJ: When you hear somebody playing, say, Bach on the modern cello in the
modern way, are you offended? Would you say they were playing it incorrectly?
MT: No, not at all. I don't think any musician can tell another musician
what to do and what not to do. What I don't like is somebody that's clearly
not thinking about the music, but just repeating clichÈs. For example,
if I hear cellists that are clearly trying to sound like Casals, then I
don't like their playing. It's not because they are playing on a modern
cello, it's because they are not Casals.
TJ: You don't like their playing because they are imitating.
MT: Right. I don't like mindless imitation.
TJ: There has been an antagonism between the Early Music people and the
Modern cello people for many years. Modern musicians seem pretty defensive
when the subject of Early Music practice comes up. On the other side, many
Early musicians seem overly judgmental of the Modern players. Is this really
MT: Not any more. Unfortunately, some of the Early Music people have taken
the approach that "this is our music and stay away from it," which
I think is ridiculous. I don't think anybody can claim any music as their
own. We all search for whatever way of playing suits us best and enables
us express ourselves musically, and that's different for me than for a modern
cellist. But that doesn't mean one's better and one's worse. They are just
TJ: Eva Heinitz, who was my cello teacher for several years, was a pioneer
in the Early music movement. She was one of the first musicians in the 20th
century to tour and record with the gamba. Interestingly, in the same recital,
she would often play the gamba on one half and the cello on the other half.
I remember her mentioning that the Early Music people who followed in her
footsteps seemed to discount her because she didn't play as "authentically"
as they wanted.
MT: She had the misfortune of having to deal with the first major wave Early
musicians who were a lot more militant and a lot more judgmental. She had
her hand in the Early Music world as well as in the Modern music world,
which didn't sit well with many Early Musicians. But I think things have
evened out a lot more and I don't think Early musicians feel like they have
to fight for their "turf" as much, since Early Music is more accepted.
Early musicians have come to respect what has been done by their predecessors.
I think Eva Heinitz was judged very unfairly in the past, but thankfully
she is now beginning to receive the recognition that she deserves.
TJ: Would you say that you find the same emotional depth in Baroque music
that you find in Classical or Romantic music?
MT: I don't think you will find less depth in Baroque music. It's definitely
expressed very differently. The goals we are after in Baroque music are
often very different. In some ways you could say that Baroque music is much
more formal and formulaic. It's something that's not only found in the music,
it's a sign of an era. When you look at Baroque art, Baroque architecture,
and Baroque literature you find the same kinds of fascination with form
and structure. You find fascination with repetition in a way, and with how
you can express yourself within a rather strict or even sometimes rigid
framework. This is a very different concept and a very different aesthetic
from Romantic music.
TJ: Would you say that composers were much more focused or obsessed with
their own feelings in the Romantic era than in the Baroque era, that their
music was somehow more personal?
MT: Oh, absolutely.
TJ: Would you say that Baroque composers wrote music more for God, the church,
or their Prince, and less for themselves?
MT: In Baroque period and certainly earlier, music was considered more of
a craft since it had to be functional. You have to remember that public
concerts as such, where people go to sit and listen to music for the sake
of the music, only started happening in the Baroque period; the notion of
a concert where everybody pays money to sit and listen to music is a relatively
new concept. It's not something that a Baroque composer would have been
familiar with. For example, they would write a cantata for a certain Sunday
in the church.
TJ: Do you think that composers were more humble than they were after the
Baroque and perhaps Classical periods?
MT: I don't know if it's a matter of humility or just that circumstances
were very different. Composers couldn't become as obsessed with themselves
because they wouldn't survive. Many were considered servants to royalty.
They were just the entertainment.
TJ: Are there discussions in the Early treatises about musicians trying
to express themselves emotionally? The reason I ask this is that often it
seems that some of the Early musicians of today seem detached when they
MT: No, there's a lot of talk about expression and how to bring it out.
I don't know if it's something typical with Early Music or more that it's
just the way some people are. Some musicians are more detached than others,
whether Modern or Early musicians. I will admit that it could be said that
it's easier to be more detached in Baroque music than it is in Romantic
music, since personal expression was not the primary goal during the creation
of Baroque music, and because there is definitely a strong structural element
in Baroque music. You could look at Bach as a mathematician in a way, though
that's not all there is to Bach, of course. Whereas if you were to try look
at Schumann as a mathematician, you wouldn't get so far.
TJ: Is it true that Bach wrote out much his ornamentation?
MT: In most cases he did. He's one of the few composers that was very picky.
TJ: Do you know why? Did he just grow tired of the excessive use of tasteless
MT: I think he did. Of all the Baroque composers he was probably somebody
that was confident of the high quality of his music and he didn't want performers
messing with it. Also, ornamentation had gotten somewhat out of hand. For
example, there is an account of Handel singers who basically changed the
opera or changed the arias so that they could put in more ornaments at will,
who would hold notes longer, and who would hold loud notes a lot longer.
Or if you look at a 1710 Amsterdam edition of a Corelli work that supposedly
has some of the ornaments that Corelli put in himself, they're really wild,
and are pretty excessive even for our tastes. I can imagine that a composer
at that time like Bach would say "enough is enough!"
TJ: In one of my past interviews, the musician said that changing the bow
direction at the beginning of each phrase is a relatively modern concept.
She likes to hold the bow over the phrase, and not change with the new phrase.
Have you ever read of such a practice in the treatises? Do you consciously
break the bow at the beginning of a phrase?
MT: It is important to change the bow with each phrase, probably more so
than in later music. There are a lot of Baroque bowings that even prescribe
two down bows in a row, just to make the phrasing very clear. So I haven't
found any sources or research to support that claim.
TJ: Anner Bylsma once said to Jeffrey Solow, cello professor at Temple University,
when discussing the Baroque composers, "Those old guys would just be
so pleased that we were playing their music at all." Do you think that
that's probably a true statement, that they wouldn't care so much about
how "correctly" we play?
MT: I don't think they would care at all, though they would probably be
very surprised and think us rather crazy to be playing such old music.
TJ: Do you think they would find it crazy that Early musicians are choosing
to play on old instruments too? Wouldn't they prefer that you play on the
more powerful modern cello or violin?
MT: Well, they might, although it's hard to tell whether they would think
that since they didn't know the difference. They don't complain about their
instruments being too soft. I think it's a little dangerous to say they
would have preferred the modern instruments. Some of the composers, like
Bach to a certain extent, preferred equal temperament and thought that it
was superior. It's no coincidence that he wrote the Well-Tempered Clavier.
But I don't think people in general were unhappy with their instruments.
TJ: Let's talk about the Bach Cello Suites, and about the Allemande of the
D Major Suite in particular. It is a movement composed primarily of thirty-second
notes. Though the piece is only twenty bars, it takes up two full pages.
Based on your knowledge of Baroque performance practice, would you guess
that these thirty-second notes are actually written out ornaments?
MT: I would imagine so, just because thirty-second notes, and even sixteenth
notes, were considered relatively fast notes at the time. For an Allemande,
they're definitely very fast notes.
TJ: So you wouldn't play each note as if it had some special meaning?
MT: Certainly not all of the thirty-second notes would have a special meaning.
Sometimes Modern violinists, violists, and cellists play Bach for me. I
often end up telling them to try to decide what might have been Bach's overall
framework in the piece, to try to decide what a simplified melody would
be. Based on their findings, they then decide which of the ornamental notes
are crucial to bring out the framework, and which are the ones that the
framework would still be there, even if you didn't play them.
TJ: In one of my past interviews, the cellist maintained that we cellists
make too much of the notion that the Bach Suites are composed of dances.
He said that the dances weren't danced for hundreds of years prior to Bach.
People weren't, for instance, dancing allemandes in Bach's day. And therefore
he maintains that it doesn't make any sense to think of them as dances.
Do you agree with this?
MT: I strongly disagree. First of all, they did dance Allemandes in Bach's
day, though they did not necessarily dance allemandes to Bach's Allemande.
For example, when I was growing up in Europe, I could talk to anybody about
a waltz, and everybody would immediately know how it went. Even if they
didn't dance it anymore, people would immediately know how a waltz goes
and the basic tempo. Similarly, this was definitely still true in Bach's
time, that people had a feel for a dance like the Allemande, Courante, and
TJ: And they would be able to say, "Hey, this doesn't sound like an
MT: Right! And so a composer like Bach, who wrote many, many other pieces,
wouldn't see the sense in composing something as a courante, unless he wanted
to use that framework of recognition. Sometimes he actually goes against
it and sort of surprises you by not doing necessarily what is expected.
But, in a way, that's also using the framework, and using the fact that
everybody would recognize it.
TJ: Perhaps he was playing a joke on the audience.
MT: Exactly. He's was playing on their expectations. But I think that one
should definitely think of dances, and then figure out where Bach goes against
TJ: In one of my past interviews, the cellist said that the one thing we
really do know about how musicians probably played back in Bach's day, is
how Bach sounded on the organ, because we still have the organs that he
played on. He said, "While we don't know with what orchestration he
played, we have an idea of what the notes sounded like. Certainly he wasn't
allergic to notes that start with a distinct beginning and don't have a
swell in the middle." He said that his goal when playing Bach is to
sound like he's playing the Suites on the organ.
What do you think of this?
MT: I think that he's absolutely right. One of the things that is often
exaggerated in Early Music is that each note has a swell. This isn't necessarily
true. Just because a bow tends to do certain things, doesn't mean that it
can't do something else. There's definitely been a way of playing Baroque
music where you get slightly seasick because of all the swells. In this
sense, yes, an organ is a good role model.
I have to qualify this a little bit by saying that a lot of Baroque organs
actually have stops that produce swells, like the Vox Humana. Many Early
organs have stops that try to mimic the human voice, producing notes that
are not straight tones.
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