The prelude in C Minor by Johann Sebastian Bach, performed on the archlute by David Tayler.
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A. As instruments became modernized in the 19th century, builders and players tended to focus on the volume of sound and the stability of tuning. Modern steel strings replaced the older materials, and instruments were often machine made. Historical instruments, built individually by hand and with overall lighter construction, have extremely complex overtones—which we find delightful. Modern instruments are of course perfectly suited to more modern music.
Q. Why is the pitch lower, or higher?
A. Early Music performance uses many different pitches, and these pitches create different tone colors on the instruments. See https://goo.gl/pVBNAC
Bach's prelude BWV 999 features a dialogue of two textures. The more present texture, which consists of an endless arpeggio in the treble range, is accompanied by a flat-footed bass line that is almost invariably composed of two melodic skips downwards. This bass pattern is varied only once, in the thirty-third bar (Bach loved to construct pattern in threes), where the work stabilizes in G Major before the final coda. In the arpeggiated part, long lines of counterpoint are carefully woven into the chordal texture, also resolving in the thirty-third bar with the bass line. In the middle section of the work, the stepwise motion of the bass settles on a long pedal point on D which oscillates briefly with the E Flat a half step higher; the E Flat is the pivot point between the two keys of C Minor and G Major.
To use Richard Crocker's term, the arpeggios "ruffle" the homophony, and Bach uses his genius to create a small gem of a prelude from the different textures and harmonies.
The original manuscript for the prelude includes the rubric "pour le luth" (for the lute), and the work can be performed on different types of lutes or keyboards including the lute harpsichord, and sounds well on all of these. On the lute, the performer can use dynamics to accentuate some of the contrapuntal lines, but the work is equally persuasive on the keyboard.
Pitch A=415; temperament: Neidhardt-Doodle
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Archlute by Andreas von Holst