I’ll be honest, I don’t know much about baroque dances. When I got the chance to do baroque dance in college during “Intensive Arts” (the UNCSA version of a J-Term) I didn’t exactly take notes. So far my strategy when playing baroque dances has been to play cleanly and in a good steady rhythm (bolstered by many hours of playing with a metronome). The fact is that I haven’t really played that many baroque dances.
Several years ago while teaching at St. Joseph’s School of Music, one of my Suzuki kids came into her lesson all excited because this was the week she was going to start the next piece in her book “Corrente” by Paganini. Aside from being able to play it and teach it, I hadn’t given this one a lot of thought. She came in saying the name of the piece with an ultra-Italian pronunciation “Corrente!” (cor-rent-ay). I laughed and said that I hadn’t thought about pronouncing it like that before since it was just an Italianized spelling of the french Courante. I told her, “It’s the same thing, just that this one was written by an Italian guy.” WOAH! Was I ever wrong! These are entirely different dances!
Before starting to learn the “Courante” in the Partita in Bm BWV 1002 I pulled out Dance and the Music of J.S. Bach by Little and Jenne. Eager to get some knowledge I started in to the chapter about the Courante. It was fascinating and well written – I was getting what I came for. However, there was one big problem… What was being described didn’t seem like my “Courante” at all.
The French courante was described as either serious and solemn, noble and grand, hopeful, majestic, and earnest. All of these qualities imply a slow tempo. In fact, the courante is the slowest of all the dances with three “temps” (beats) to the measure. (Jenne & Little, 2001)
I was sitting there two pages in just totally confused but I pressed on to the end of the chapter. At intervals I would listen to various artists perform this piece. Most performers play this piece fast, some play it and its double at break-neck speeds. Check out Chris Thile playing the BWV 1002 Corrente and its Double (fast forward to 10:30 to get right to the Corrente). By the way, listen to Chris’ intro he gives a pretty good description about what a double is. Watch it, you won’t regret it. Then fast forward to 10:30.
My answer came at the end of the chapter, or rather, the first page the next chapter… The Corrente. Up to this point I’d been using the Bach-Gesellschaft version of the score. I chose this one because it had clear notation and no violin fingerings. I love the idea of looking at the autograph but guitar fingerings can get complicated and I love a clean score. I figured this is basically the same as what Bach wrote. The idea that B-G would contain errors didn’t even cross my mind (look for future posts on this subject, I’ve found more errors).
In BWV 1002 and BWV 1004 B-G clearly says “Courante.” Check it out:
Now check out the autograph:
Wow… It couldn’t be more clear that these things are not courantes. I wonder how many performers recorded these dances trying to capture that regal french flair of a courante? If you listen, it kind of sounds like some people fell for this mistake (I’m not going to throw anyone under the bus, listen and judge for yourself).
This cavalier attitude toward titles is carried into music of Bach and Handel, who wrote both courantes and correntes which appear wrongly titled in modern editions…for no apparent reason. (Jenne & Little, 2001)
Purchase the book from IU Press to find out more about interpreting these two different dances. http://www.iupress.indiana.edu/product_info.php?products_id=21181
This is why it’s good to consult with the autograph if one exists… and in that spirit…
Go get your copy of the autograph at scribd. Here’s a direct link to the autograph: https://www.scribd.com/doc/126188609/Bach-Violin-Sonatas-and-Partitas-BWV-1001-1006-Composer-s-Manuscript