I'm playing Bach French suite no.5 in G major BWV 816 for ATCL diploma exam. This suite was composed in Baroque period, so should I play staccato on each notes? Should I use a bit pedal? Because the piano still hasn't been invented in the Baroque period, and there was only harpsichord and clavichord, should I imitate their sound on the piano?

  • 1
    Do you really think playing the slow movements staccato makes any musical sense at all? Try actually listening to some performances (including harpsichord) on YouTube!! You can't "imitate" a harpsichord on a piano - and trying to play a modern piano with harpsichord keyboard technique (even if you know what that is technically, which from the question you appear not to) is nonsensical as well.
    – user19146
    Oct 25, 2017 at 4:26
  • I'd just add that the piano was invented by Cristofori about 1700, so it was around in Bach's time. Of course it wasn't like a modern piano- it was built much more lightly. There's a story that Bach tried a piano and didn't like it, but as far as I remember, the story is apocryphal. Oct 29, 2017 at 20:55

3 Answers 3


Certainly no need to play staccato. Opinions on pedal use in Baroque music differ.

One feature of the Baroque style was that the musical content was more important than the sonorities. Yes, Bach wrote for unaccompanied violin and cello making full use of their technical possibilities. But a whole lot more Baroque music was practically interchangable between keyboard, string ensemble, wind instruments - whatever was handy. And all those musicians would have played and phrased in the ways idiomatic to their instruments, they wouldn't have been obsessed with imitating a harpsicord!

So my take on it is - be aware of the history, serve the music as best you can, but don't worry TOO much about 'authenticity' unless you ARE playing music specifically intended for harpsicord ON a harpsicord.

Your teacher's opinion may differ. Listen to him too.

  • Yes! Being strict about authenticity stop making sense as soon as when one chooses to play a piece on an instrument that was not even around during the composer’s lifetime. The (merely superficial) similarity between the harpsichord and the piano has misled many to believe (and even teach!) that however Bach played the harpsichord is the only way to play Bach, even on the piano; but the latter is an entirely different beast, and technique (and thus choice of phrasing, speed, etc.) is necessarily a function of the instrument that is being played. In my opinion, this also settles the pedal issue
    – giobrach
    Dec 30, 2017 at 17:32

Baroque music consists of notes, not sound effects. A harpsichord by no means is the only keyboard instrument on which something might have been played. With regard to pedaling in an exam, you need to be quite careful: when there are countermelodies, in particular in stretto passages, the pedal cannot do multiple voices justice at once. Anything that will turn polyphony into one harmonized melody will get purists rather annoyed.

Doing staccato outside of the score demanding it would be a distraction: you need to make the best and most consistent of all your lines. That may involve playing some lines legato and others more leggiero, but that is a really tricky feat to pull off consistently. Doing it in an unobtrusive manner is beyond diploma level. Don't angle for it if you cannot pull it off convincingly.

If you don't have the skills yet to aurally follow and mould your various lines at the same time, a no-nonsense consistent articulation is your best bet.


Refer to recordings by, say, Gould or Richter and you can't go wrong.

  • 1
    Or you can go in two quite different directions!
    – Laurence
    Oct 25, 2017 at 17:03
  • Yes, neither of which would lead to a staccatofest. As a child prone, nay devoted, to musical solecisms, I once pulled off a chirpy version of Air on the G String before I discovered that the staccato marks all over the score were paint spots on my spectacles. It's been pretty much downhill since then. Oct 25, 2017 at 20:49
  • (-1) Knowing that somebody, even an authority, has or has not played all staccato does not help the OP understand why they should or shouldn’t play all staccato. Referring to previous recordings is very necessary indeed, but not sufficient for building a well-rounded personal musical taste.
    – giobrach
    Dec 30, 2017 at 17:17

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.