Page:A Dictionary of Music and Musicians vol 1.djvu/538

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

matter how or in what manner it is accomplished.' One of the boldest of these experimenters was Couperin, who in his work 'L'art de toucher le clavecin' (Paris, 1717) gives numerous examples of the employment of the thumb. He uses it however in a very unmethodical way; for instance, he would use it on the first note of an ascending scale, but not again throughout the octave; he employs it for a change of fingers on a single note, and for extensions, but in passing it under the fingers he only makes use of the first finger, except in two cases, in one of which the second finger of the left hand is passed over the thumb, and in the other the thumb is passed under the third finger, in the very unpractical fashion shown in the last bar of the following example, which is an extract from a composition of his entitled 'Le Moucheron,' and will serve to give a general idea of his fingering.

About this time also the thumb first came into use in England. Purcell gives a rule for it in the instructions for fingering in his 'Choice Collection of Lessons for the Harpsichord,' published about 1700, but he employs it in a very tentative manner, using it only once throughout a scale of two octaves. His scale is as follows:—

Contemporary with Couperin we find Sebastian Bach, to whose genius fingering owes its most striking development, since in his hands it became transformed from a chaos of unpractical rules to a perfect system, which has endured in its essential parts to the present day. Bach adopted the then newly invented system of equal temperament for the tuning of the clavichord, and was therefore enabled to write in every key; thus the black keys were in continual use, and this fact, together with the great complexity of his music, rendered the adoption of an entirely new system of fingering inevitable, all existing methods being totally inadequate. Accordingly, he fixed the place of the thumb in the scale, and made free use of both that and the little finger in every possible position. In consequence of this the hands were held in a more forward position on the keyboard, the wrists were raised, the long fingers became bent, and therefore gained greatly in flexibility, and thus Bach acquired such a prodigious power of execution as compared with his contemporaries, that it is said that nothing which was at all possible was for him in the smallest degree difficult.

Our knowledge of Bach's method is derived from the writings of his son, Emanuel, who taught it in his 'Versuch über die wahre Art das Clavier zu spielen.' But it would not be safe to conclude that he gave it literally and without omissions. At any rate there are two small pieces extant, the marked fingering in which is undoubtedly by Sebastian Bach himself, and yet differs in several respects from his own rules as given by his son. These pieces are to be found in the 'Clavierbüchlein,' and one of them is also published as No. 11 of 'Douze petits Préludes,' but without Bach's fingering. The other is here given complete:—

In the above example it is worthy of notice that although Bach himself had laid down the rule, that the thumb in scale-playing was to be used twice in the octave, he does not abide by it, the scales in this instance being fingered according to the older plan of passing the second finger over the third, or the first over the thumb. In the fifth bar again the second finger passes over the first—a progression which is disallowed by Emanuel Bach.

The discrepancies between Bach's fingering and his son's rules, shown in the other piece mentioned, occur between bars 22 and 23, 34 and 35, and 38 and 39, and consist in passing