Watch the Indianapolis Competition Livestream weekend vote: Start Bach's Preludio up-bow, or down-bow?

September 12, 2021, 12:51 PM · After 300 years of playing this staple of the repertoire, you'd think violinists might come to a consensus about how to start the "Preludio" from Bach's Partita No. 3 in E major. Up-bow, or down-bow? Of course, we haven't.

I started thinking about this while working on this week's article featuring violinist and Butler School of Music violin professor Brian Lewis's advice about the Preludio. While writing it up, I noticed that Brian starts the piece on an up-bow, then he takes two ups on the first two eighths that follow. I know I start down-bow, but hmmm - why do I do that?

I dug out my editions and discovered that a lot of very knowledgeable pedagogues have different ideas about whether to start this piece up-bow or down-bow.

Bach Preludio bowings

For example, Galamian starts it up-bow, then does a little up-up on the third and fourth eighth notes that follow. My International edition, edited by Joseph Joachim and Andreas Moser, clearly marks it with down-bow, but then they put a little up-bow on the last sixteenth note in the second measure. The Szeryng edition doesn't say either way, but it also does the little up-bow on the 16th, so the implication is that the piece would start down-bow. Bach's manuscript - to me it implies starting on the down-bow, with the big slur connecting the 16ths to the next group of eighth notes (that's my own justification for starting down-bow - I do the five-note slur). Of course, nobody wants to start the bariolage that follows on an up-bow, so whatever way you start, it all has to work out to a down-bow to start the third measure. (But of course there is always the exception - do feel free to tell me you slur the first two notes on the third measure or something....!)

I take this disagreement to mean that we can justify finding quite a range of solutions here!

So my question to you is: Do you prefer to start up, or down? If you play this piece, how do you start it, and why do you do it that way? Is it because a teacher gave you that bowing long ago? Or other reasons? Have you changed your mind over time? If you simply like to watch this piece performed, then what does your favorite performer do? Please participate in the vote and then share your thoughts!

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September 12, 2021 at 07:08 PM · what's wrong with the original Bach version here, and starting down-bow of course? this is also how my Henle edition prescribes it (they don't even bother to explicitly mark the down bow!)

September 12, 2021 at 08:40 PM · I was taught down-bow, and never changed it. My teacher and I used the Barenreiter Edition, and the bow markings in my book made by my teacher is the same as the one by Szeryng.

Henryk Szeryng and Uto Ughi were my favorite S&P Bach violinists when I was learning S&P. I also like their tempo, which I have emulated. I don't care so much for the faster tempo from other violinists.

Maybe there should be another poll on how fast you play it? LOL.

September 12, 2021 at 08:59 PM · I start with a down bow and I play the five-note slur. That slur has a feel to it which doesn't happen if you do something else. So for me the five-note slur is part of the music as Bach wrote it. I like it that way.

September 13, 2021 at 02:18 AM · I am with Lars Peter on this one. I play the slurred 16ths in third position though (shifting down from fourth). Why do both of these famous guys suggest to use an open E at the beginning of the group? isn't this screaming too loud and sharp?

September 13, 2021 at 08:06 AM · Albrecht while I agree with the third position here, but in general an open E need not be ugly. A nice exercise by Simon Fischer to practice this is to play a nice E on the A string, then immediately play the open string, and trying to mimick the sound. Also conversely there is an exercise: play a clear open E, then immediately play an E on the A-string and try to make it sound equally clear. You need both skills when playing music (sometimes in a passage on the E string with an occasional E on the A string, you don't want it to be muffled; and conversely, like here in the piece, should you want to use the open E-string, you can play it with a not too sharp sound).

September 13, 2021 at 01:10 PM · Agree with Albrecht on both points.

September 13, 2021 at 01:41 PM · I studied it with Szigeti when I was very young and it's my recollection that he used the open E. I could be wrong but that is the fingering that is in my copy of our work together.

September 13, 2021 at 03:11 PM · I also use the open E.

It actually makes sense since the open E is used a lot a few bars later.

September 13, 2021 at 04:11 PM · I never even thought of trying an up-bow! But I'm told that with baroque bows it doesn't make a lot of difference.

September 13, 2021 at 08:52 PM · Galamian's bowing seems to afford a nice distribution, consuming some more bow in the up-direction just before the five-note slur. However I tend to hear a little tenuto on the first eighth note, which I'd rather not play upbow.

September 13, 2021 at 10:36 PM · Lars Peter, that first E is musically different from the many Es that appear later in the bariolage section. One is part of the opening melody and should fit in with its neighboring notes, the other is the pedal point which is allowed, maybe even required, to sound differently from the other notes.

The other point is: Bach's own violin had a gut E string which would shriek less than our modern steel E strings so the point is probably moot or at least less salient for HIP players.

September 14, 2021 at 10:53 AM · I have Rachel Barton Pine's edition, and she indicates a starting down bow, and the five-note slur with open E. This is exactly how I play it, the only difference being that I incorporate a suggestion of my teacher's which is to play the last three quavers of bar one as separated up bows. This prepares for the slur at the beginning of bar two.

No doubt there are lots of good reasons not to do this, but it seems to work for me.

September 14, 2021 at 08:39 PM · Lot of over thinking on this one going on here.

September 14, 2021 at 09:36 PM · Albrecht, I agree that the first E is musically different from the many Es that appear in the bariolage section, but I nevertheless think it makes sense, because the E is the tonic and is emphasized with the big resonance you get from the open string, and I agree with jean that the E can be nice.

September 14, 2021 at 09:44 PM · Michael, I don't think this topic is about over thinking. I would rather say it is a topic related to working with a detail concerning the quality of the musical performance of this great piece.

September 15, 2021 at 02:04 AM · Ok, matter of taste, I suppose. Here is a matter of (genuine) curiosity: How do you play the other notes in the second measure? Of the two examples above Schering leaves it an open question for the sixteenths, Galamian makes you use first position for the f#, then leaves it up to you for the second e and only prescribes fourth finger for the third e (presumably d#: 3rd finger).

For myself third position all the way through measure 2 is the easiest and safest fingering.

September 15, 2021 at 08:01 PM · I go to 1. position and play E-Fsharp-E on the E string and Dsharp-E on the A string.

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