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My Interpretation of Bach's Minuet in D Minor, BWV Anh. 132

Cory Hall

This is in my opinion one of the finest pieces in J.S. Bach's Notebook for Anna Magdalena Bach, an almost 300-year staple of beginning to intermediate level keyboardists and pianists. I have much different opinions concerning this Minuet (or "Menuet" in the original German) than most teachers and performers. For the sake of this discussion, I have considered the measure numbers as if there were no repeats but rather all 32 measures have been written out (that is, instead of a total of 16 measures with two sets of repeats). The first thing you will notice in my performance is that I play it predominantly legato with no non-legato or portato. ("Portato" is a mode of articulation somewhere in between staccato and legato. Composers often indicated this by using staccatos accompanied with slurs, which often implies playing staccato along with some damper pedal coloring.) It seems to be in vogue now among teachers and students to play this as well as other minuets with mostly non-legato quarter notes, the reason being that a minuet is a dance which implies a staccato or non-legato touch. This assumption is ludicrous. Since when does "dance" music necessarily imply staccato or non-legato playing? Piano teachers who make students play this minuet in a hacked-up fashion because it is "dance" music are apparently mistaken about the definition of "dance music." Furthermore, they are doing a disservice to their students, who first and foremost need to learn how to play in a legato and cantabile fashion as Bach himself instructed his students. (Bach highly valued the ability for keyboardists to play in a "cantabile" fashion.)

Personally, I think this non-legato approach ruins this particular minuet, although some more lively or cheerful sounding minuets may benefit from such articulation. This minuet is pensive and lyrical in character rather than lively or cheerful, which suggests that a legato touch is best. I try to play it as seamlessly legato as possible with the exception of some slight phrase breaks or breaths after measures 4, 12, and 16. In order to achieve a total legato, it is necessary sometimes to use finger substitutions, for example, a 5-1 on the first "D" in measures 24 and 32. It is also permissible to put a slight break between the two Ds in measure 24, although I prefer a total legato and finger substitution.

I have developed my own unique system of fingering which had developed on its own over the 44 years I have played piano. Often, my fingerings deviate from the norm; however, they are almost always better and more "finger friendly." For example, in measure 3 I do not play the "normal" 1-2-3-5-4-3 but rather 1-2-1-4-3-2. Hence, my right-hand fingering for the first four measures is: 1 5-4-3-2 | 3 1 4 | 1-2-1-4-3-2 | 1 2-3 1. The thumb is an exceptionally efficient finger and using it two times in measure 3 seems more comfortable and "open" than having to scrunch up the fingers into a 1-2-3-5-4-3 position. I also use untraditional fingering in the next four-measure phrase: 1 3-2 4-3 | (2-3)4 3-2-1-3 | 2-3-4 1 2 | 3. The use of the two-finger groups 3-2 and 4-3 virtually guarantee accurate two-note slurs here, which imbue the music with grace and elegance. measures 17 and 19 are difficult for pianists with small hands, since it is musically best to connect the 10ths. I advice stretching the tenths and even "over holding" the bottom "F" and "D" for an extra eighth note. That is, do not let go of the bottom notes until the third beat, and in addition, play them softer than the top high notes. This gives the music added expression.

After much deliberation and thought, I have chosen the tempo of 96 per quarter for this minuet. I used to play it faster than this; however, I now believe that the beautiful and lyrical character is enhanced by this slightly slower tempo. Also, you may notice in my performance that I vary the dynamics slightly for added expression. Most notably, I play the identical measures 9-16 a little softer than measures 1-15, as a sort of echo effect, as well as measures 19-20 softer than 17-18. And since this is such a beautiful piece, I have chosen to simply play it two times through because once seems too brief. Thank you for reading this article, and please enjoy my performance below!