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I had learned piano when I was young, and now I'm learning it again. I'm interested in Bach's pieces and BWV816 is the first piece my teacher suggested to learn.

The following is the first 9 and half bars of BWV 816 Gavotte. first 9 bars

It start with incomplete bar. According to the music lessons from my childhood, one has to consider the dynamic when they play anacrusis music. So should this gavotte be played like B G / D EF# G E / B - E C / A BC DB CA / ...? (melody for the highest part, boldface font is for forte)

I tried to play in this manner, but I found it unnatural to me; I feel better when I play it just like it is not an anacrusis.

My teacher said she cannot answer my question. I want to refer to some recordings, but it is still confusing. How should I put bach's anacrusis when I play it?

Thank you.

(This is my first question in music SE community. Let me know if this question is not appropriate for this community. Thanks)

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    It's a great question, one that has haunted me since the first time I saw this piece written down. Few recordings actually respect the meter, so listen to several, and do so with a critical ear. I'll try to post an answer with some examples. Welcome.
    – phoog
    Apr 21 at 16:31
  • I would argue that respecting the meter does not mean one has to play every downbeat stronger though. There are other ways to achieve that. In many recordings I've heard, the anacrusis is played louder but with staccato, and the following quarter note on the downbeat, albeit slightly quieter, is held for its full value, occasionally even slightly longer, and connected in a legato manner to the following eighth notes. This gives weight to the downbeat, so I hear it as respecting the meter.
    – Divide1918
    Apr 21 at 17:02
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One must also note that the piece is a gavotte. The anacrusis is part of the dance step. The music of a gavotte is in 4/4 which musically has a strong beat on the 1 of the 4-beat measure. On the other hand (or foot), the dance step starts on beat 3; thus the music is written with a 2-beat anacrusis. (Starting on a beat other than the first is common in ballroom music; mambo and cha-cha-cha start on beat 2 of a 4/4 measure for example.)

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    This gavotte is in 2/2, not 4/4.
    – phoog
    Apr 21 at 23:37
  • Thanks, that makes my point better than 4/4 would.
    – ttw
    Apr 22 at 0:36
  • I searched for a Gavotte dance youtube clip and it helped my understanding this piece. Thanks
    – dust05
    Apr 23 at 5:45
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Your text notation is correct: the anacrusis is a weak beat, and the metric accent should fall on beat 1 of each measure.

To help you feel the music in that way, first try practicing only the downbeat of each measure. There is a built-in "melody" that you can learn to hear. Once you're clear on what those "main" notes are, try practicing without the initial anacrusis, with the goal of maintaining that sense of the "downbeat melody". When you can do that, it should be much easier to fit the anacrusis in properly.

Note: The exceptions to the "downbeat melody" are measures 4, where Bach delays the primary note (G) to the end of beat 1 (leaving aside the G that occurs in the alto voice), and 7, where Bach delays the primary note (A) to the "and" of 1.

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  • I don't see an exception in m. 7. That is, why isn't the C sharp the structural note? Or, if you're skipping the half measure in the numbering and counting in 4/4 instead of 2/2, why isn't the F sharp the structural note? Can you clarify? (Also, since the harmonic rhythm is half notes, it makes more sense to practice "half-note melody," or at least half-note bass line.)
    – phoog
    Apr 21 at 16:29
  • @phoog Measure numbers start from the first complete measure, but you're right, there are errors in my structural notes. I've fixed that now, with the caveat that structural notes are open to interpretation. A good case could be made for the F# in m. 7, but I find the A more convincing.
    – Aaron
    Apr 21 at 16:42
  • I'm aware that measure numbers normally start with the first full measure, but I couldn't make sense of D being on the "and" of 1.
    – phoog
    Apr 21 at 19:57
  • @phoog Yeah, I mistakenly looked at the D in the alto voice. (Though I now think one could also make a case — in theory, but not in practice — for the D in the soprano voice.)
    – Aaron
    Apr 21 at 20:12
  • Thank you, this helped me very much.
    – dust05
    Apr 23 at 5:45
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As you probably know already, anacrusis relates closely to the concept of weak/strong beats. And the perception of weak and strong beats is actually independent of the volume of the sound. To demonstrate this, use an electric metronome or a metronome app (that beeps on each downbeat, that's the point of this) and set it to around 80-130 (the tempo that you can follow comfortably). Listen to the beeps for a while. You'll probably find yourself perceiving some beats as stronger and the others weaker. However, if you think about it, it's quite obvious that the beeps should be of the same volume.

Hence I would argue that there are actually other ways to give a feeling of anacrusis. Instead of thinking of the downbeat as stronger/louder, think of it as having more weight. Take this particular movement (piece) for example. In many recordings I've heard, the anacrusis is played louder but with staccato, and the following quarter note on the downbeat, albeit slightly quieter, is held for its full value, occasionally even slightly longer, and connected in a legato manner to the following eighth notes. This gives more weight to the downbeat, and would probably feel more natural to play for you.

Added remark by @Alexander Woo: On the harpsichord, the instrument these pieces (note: most keyboard pieces of the Baroque era) were written for, it is essentially impossible to play some notes louder than other notes. Differences in emphasis of the notes are indicated by articulation.

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    You might add that, on the harpsichord, the instrument these pieces were written for, it is essentially impossible to play some notes louder than other notes. Differences in emphasis of the notes are indicated by articulation, as you have noted. Apr 22 at 3:18
  • Thank you. I'll consider not only the volume for the anacrusis while playing.
    – dust05
    Apr 23 at 5:47

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