I have learnt over the years that it is of the highest importance for me to be crystal clear about the fingerings I am using. For years and years I have been practicing pieces from the WTC, and in general, and did not retain the pieces in what pianists call ‘finger memory.’ This has changed only recently, about a year ago. Suddenly I became aware that the culprit here for the ‘forgetfulness’ was wrong fingerings, while they might be right for other people.
Let me give a recent example. I am now studying again WTC1, Prelude 17, BWV 802. On the photo of the score you see my fingerings. They are definitive now, but were not before, or they were so awkward before that my body somehow refused to memorize them. Let me be very clear about this point, there are only very few fingerings that I leave intact from the HENLE URTEXT edition I am using. Most of the fingerings I have radically changed, and now they are perfectly adapted to my hands.
Now let me be honest, pianists are rather divided about this subject. While most pianists would agree that the working out of fingerings belongs to the first approach to a new piece, Svjatoslav Richter, in the before-mentioned interview in German language with Johannes Schaaf in Tours, replied to Schaaf’s question if he noted all the fingerings, with: ‘Das mache ich nicht.’ (I do not do this). Then he talks about the importance of repetition, but I believe that repetition makes it only worse when the fingerings are wrong for you.
Other Examples of Complex Fingerings
There is a brilliant example of purposeful fingerings, which is Bach’s Inventio 14. I was never aware of this and used fingerings that employ the middle fingers, thereby making the passage easy to play. I had tried with what I would consider as purposeful or ‘pedagogical’ fingers (using the three weaker fingers, 3-4-5) and found it too difficult.
That went on for years. It was really in a flash of insight this morning that I became aware that the purpose of this piece is to train the weaker fingers, thus the fingering 3-4-5 should be used for these critical passages.
The ‘trick’ was then to slightly modify the sequence and play 3-4-5-3-2 instead of 3-4-5-4-3. The latter was what I tried before, over so many years, without succeeding in a smooth rendering of these passages in the left hand. But by ending the sequence on 3-2, two goals are reached. The weaker fingers do not fatigue so easily then, and the hand is prepared for playing the upper register with 3-2-1-2-3. This is the ultimate solution of this difficulty in my opinion, recognizing the pedagogical value of this composition by Bach.