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Johann Sebastian Bach
Inventions, Sinfonias and Duets, BWV 772-805 

F10076    [8595017407628]
TT- 71:06    released 5/1997

       Two Part Inventions (1720) 
    1. Inventio I C major BWV 772    1:31
    2. Inventio II C minor BWV 773    1:45
    3. Inventio III D major BWV 774    1:22
    4. Inventio IV D minor BWV 775    1:00
    5. Inventio V E flat major BWV 776    2:52
    6. Inventio VI E major BWV 777    5:57
    7. Inventio VII E minor BWV 778    1:27
    8. Inventio VIII F major BWV 779    1:05
    9. Inventio IX F minor BWV 780    2:16
    10. Inventio X G major BWV 781    1:12
    11. Inventio XI G minor BWV 782    1:51
    12. Inventio XII A major BWV 783    1:34
    13. Inventio XIII A minor BWV 784    1:34
    14. Inventio XIV B flat major BWV 785    1:41
    15. Inventio XV B minor BWV 786    1:49

      Three Part Inventions - Sinfonias (1720)
    16. Sinfonia I C major BWV 787    1:33
    17. Sinfonia II C minor BWV 788    2:08
    18. Sinfonia III D major BWV 789    1:23
    19. Sinfonia IV D minor BWV 790    1:57
    20. Sinfonia V E flat major BWV 791    2:00
    21. Sinfonia VI E major BWV 792    2:12
    22. Sinfonia VII E minor BWV 793    2:45
    23. Sinfonia VIII F major BWV 794    1:24
    24. Sinfonia IX F minor BWV 795    3:10
    25. Sinfonia X G major BWV 796    1:21
    26. Sinfonia XI G minor BWV 797    2:00
    27. Sinfonia XII A major BWV 798    1:43
    28. Sinfonia XIII A minor BWV 799    1:47
    29. Sinfonia XIV B flat major BWV 800    1:59
    30. Sinfonia XV B minor BWV 801    1:41

      Four Duets from "Clavier-Übung III" (1739)
    31. Duetto I E minor BWV 802    2:25
    32. Duetto II F major BWV 803    4:25
    33. Duetto III G major BWV 804    2:59
    34. Duetto IV A minor BWV 805    2:52

Jaroslav Tůma - clavichord by J. Ch. G. Schiedmayer (1789)
(Collection of the Žatec Regional Museum)
Restored by František Vyhnálek, Hovorčovice (1996)
Range: F1 - f3, Pitch: a = 415 Hz, Temperament: Kirnberger III

The majority of beginners at the piano pass through a period when they are urged by their teachers to study the Inventions and Sinfonias by Johann Sebastian Bach. These small works are understood by whole generations of piano novices chiefly as instructive little pieces, however, only the initiated would regard them as a reflection of greater creative ambition. This certainly brings to mind the excellent school of polyphonic thinking, a means to acquiring mutual independence of hand and nimbleness of fingers; nevertheless, as is always the case with Bach, it seems to me that, even here, greater artistic design is far superior to its practical use in teaching, as in the case of the preludes and fugues in the Well?Tempered Klavier .
     The modern concert piano from the point of view of sound, however, has little in common with the world of Bach. The word "piano" in connection with music by J.S.Bach, merely means that the composer intended the player to use any one of the instruments which have a keyboard. These include the organ, harpsichord, clavichord or, in keeping with the latest research, also the pianoforte or Hammerklavier, which Bach evidently discovered through Gottfried Silbermann, the well-known builder of organs and other keyboard instruments.
     If we wish to interpret the Inventions and Sinfonias or similar works by Bach so that we render a faithful account of the composer's aims from the point of view of period practices, the use of the clavichord appears to be particularly appropriate. The clavichord reigned during the course of the century as an instrument exceedingly suitable for beginners and intermediate students of music. It was the most simple of the keyboards from a structural point of view and therefore also the cheapest and did not require any special maintenance. It was thus much more accessible than theharpsichord, let alone the organ which, in view of its location in churches, was not comfortable to use during the winter months. Furthermore, the organ bellows had to be pedalled.
     The clavichord has its ancient precursor in Pythagoras's monochord which, of course, had only one string and served for measuring acoustics. It was not until the Middle Ages that more strings appeared and the instrument was given the keyboard familiar at that time from the organ. If we hear a performance on a Renaissance clavichord today, it may help us to uncover the many mysteries surrounding period interpretation. Unlike the harpsichord or the organ, but similar to the contemporary piano, we can influence the strength of tone or musical phrasing on the clavichord by striking the keys accordingly, enabling crescendo or diminuendo, or even dynamically differentiating two or more notes played together in a chord. Furthermore, unlike the piano, the clavichord allows us to produce gentle vibrato. The vibration of the notes, and even tuning the notes of a chord with the fingers is not possible with any other keyboard instrument. The experience which all musicians acquired at that time, thanks to the clavichord's qualities described here, necessarily paid off in their further professional life. Thus our experiences today help us to explain even the more generally valid subtle style nuances of historical interpretation since the principles of musical expression which could be applied to one instrument could certainly be transferred, for example, to ensemble or vocal performance.
     The suggested virtues of the clavichord are given by the simplest possible construction of its mechanics. In the true sense of the word, there simply aren't any. There is only a vertical metal tongue (tangent) fixed at the far end of the key; when it is depressed, it touches the string and with the vibration of one of its parts in the direction of a fixed bridge - located on a resonance board on the right hand side - this tangent substitutes a second bridge. The string vibrates as long as the key is depressed. Then the tangent moves away and the whole string is silenced by a felt damper on the left hand side where it is secured to the main body of the instrument. The player's finger can alter the pressure of the tangent on the strings while they are vibrating, thus the measure of vibration is controlled and, in fact, also the purity of the tuning of two or more notes sounding together.
     The gentle lever connected to each clavichord key affords perfect control of the keys using all the fingers and allows the player to achieve fine distinction of tone colour. This is a marvellous advantage, regardless of the fact that the performer never disturbs his surroundings with his diligent practice: the clavichord is practically inaudible. Therefore, I also recommend that, while listening to our compact disc, you adjust the volume of your amplifier until the sound from your loudspeakers becomes gently soothing. Only when you find yourself having to strain to hear anything at all, you'll have the opportunity to savour something which, in the world of consumer music, is unrivalled. Naturally, an experience like this cannot be enjoyed as background music for another activity. It's better to wait, for example, until late evening - the best time to listen to Bach with your undivided attention. There is, of course, the danger that, by listening with the volume turned down, you may fall asleep...
     A number of musicians performing live concerts on the clavichord have found that even the incredibly soft sound of the clavichord is able to seize the attention of the public, even during the course of awhole evening's recital. The strange thing is that the human ear, after a while, is truly able to adapt itself, and begins to differentiate even the relatively small differences in sound as expressively emotive and aesthetically effective.
     Like the Inventions and Sinfonias which, in my opinion, is one extended compositional architectural piece, the duets from the third section of the piano exercises are also conceived by the composer chiefly as philosophical micro?worlds. This is supported by the traditional notion that, in these four, intricate and difficult compositions, Bach was seeking musically to express Aristotle's four elements: earth, air, fire and water.
     Our recording was made on a raw autumn day in the chapel of the castle at Roštejn near Třešť which is veiled in an unreal, almost ghostly silence. The castle chapel provides the perfect acoustic environment, its stone walls support the intonation of aliquot notes in the broadest possible spectrum.
     The listener who cannot resist turning up the volume to satisfy his requirements, will evidently be unsettled by other noises made by the instruments, namely the "clacking" of the keys and the occasional scraping sound. In view of the authenticity of the instrument used, these sounds cannot be totally eliminated. A mere drop of a needle onto the stone floor would be seized by the microphone far more strongly.
     The clavichord made by Johann Christoph Georg Schiedmayer from 1789 was identified at the end of 1993 at the Žatec Regional Museum by Dr Bohuslav Čížek from Prague; his dissertation "Clavichords in the Czech Lands (National Museum - Museum of Czech Music, Prague 1993) gives the first comprehensive survey of clavichords in this country. Schiedmayer (1740-1820) was the most important member of this famous German family of instrument?makers from the 18th century. He was born in Erlangen, and for most of his life he worked in Neustadt an der Aisch. At least eight clavichords ascribed to him exist in the world today, one of which is to be found in Boston, USA. These clavichords are all built on the same principle as the instrument from Žatec, i.e. they are free clavichords where each tangent serves one note. All clavichords incorporate two strings secured side by side for each note; on the smaller instruments - known as fretted clavichords - however, two or three projecting tangents together use an identical pair of strings.
Another Schiedmayer clavichord located in Bohemia deserves a special mention; until recently it was in the property of a rural parish church. The current owner won it at cards down the pub and it is to his credit that he had the instrument restored by a specialist.
     The Žatec clavichord, originally from Podbořany, was also in a bad state of repair since it had been the victim of insensitive treatment at the hands of amateurs. It was restored in 1996 by the expert hand of František Vyhnálek in Hovorčovice near Prague.

Jaroslav Tůma

© 2HP Production, October 2017
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