Robert Estrin - piano expert

Tips for Bach's Italian Concerto - Part 2

Part two of useful instructions to approach a very well-known piece for piano

In this second video, Robert approaches the second movement of the concerto.

Released on March 19, 2014

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DISCLAIMER: The views and the opinions expressed in this video are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Virtual Sheet Music and its employees.

Video Transcription

Welcome to and I'm Robert Estrin, with the second part of a series on the Bach Italian Concerto, "Tips for playing the Bach Italian Concerto." Last week, we talked about the clarity, the fact that this is a concerto but it's written for a solo instrument. And Bach, in very unusual compositional indications, put dynamics for both hands throughout the entire concerto. Also, he never visited Italy. That's right. He just listened to Italian music with visiting artists and produced a spectacular work.

The second movement is really, absolutely, luscious, gorgeous, improvisational sounding melody in the right hand. The entire left hand is to be played quietly, and the right hand has a flourishing, a lot of ornamentation. It gives you a glimpse as to what Bach might have improvised, because you know that most of the classical composers were great improvisers. We only have their written music today but, believe me, they were playing music all the time, right off the top of their head. And in this composition, much like some of his fantasies and such, you can get an idea of what he may have improvised.

So, the left hand has a repeated, regular pattern of eighth notes, and there's a couple of ways you can approach this. I'm going to play just the very beginning, both hands together, so you can get a taste of what this beautiful second movement is about.


And it goes on from there, absolutely brilliant composition, by the way. So, in the left hand... I'm going to start with the left hand, of course you want to have a nice, steady beat like a heartbeat, that you can just rest into. Now, there are ways you can approach the left hand. I'm going to play it now without the pedal. I used a little bit of pedal. Sometimes I play this entire work on the piano with no pedal at all. This time, I played with little touches of pedal, just for color. But I'm going to play it without the pedal so you can hear that one way you can approach this, with the thirds, that is, the top lines where you're playing the thirds on the top, to hold the top notes and play those legato, and detach the bottom notes, to bring out the clarity of the lines. And, in doing so, it's imperative that you have a fingering that can accomplish that. So that's one of the having good fingering so you can make legato thirds with the top notes. And measure the detached bottom notes. Listen what I'm talking about.


It's a beautiful sound. And you get the illusion of two instruments playing together, rather than one sound. Because after all the baroque music is all about counterpoint, separate lines. Now, the right hand, ornamentation, must not affect the rhythm. They should be expressively played as well. Sometimes people see a trill or a turn and think it has to be fast, like it's a show piece. Quite the contrary, ornamentation is a way to add expressiveness to your music. So when you have a mordent, for example at the very beginning, it doesn't have to be fast. You want to make it musical. All the ornamentation should be beautiful. Play the melody as connected and beautifully as possible. Use an arm weight, so the melody... The whole right hand, once again, is written forte and the left hand is all written piano. By utilizing the weight of the arm and supporting that weight, you can get a smooth line in the right hand, while controlling the counterbalance of the left hand which, incidentally, has three components: The repeated notes on the bottom, and the thirds where you're holding the top notes and releasing the bottom notes, and then let that right hand sing. And this is without the pedal.


So those are some tips for approaching the second movement of this masterful work, Bach's Italian Concerto. Thanks for joining me, Robert Estrin, here at and
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Comments, Questions, Requests:

paul.plak * VSM MEMBER * on January 2, 2018 @1:29 pm PST
Such a beautiful phrasé, very musical and poetic. You are redefining piano teaching.
Could you think again about the location of the speech microphone ? The sound is now very distant, requiring to raise the volume just to hear your words well, previous videos had better voice presence. Thanks a lot. Paul
Robert - host, on January 2, 2018 @4:47 pm PST
No worries - that video was produced in 2015. You may prefer the production we are doing now.
Carol Ebert * VSM MEMBER * on March 20, 2014 @11:56 am PST
Beautifully played, Mr. Estrin, and wonderfully taught. Thank you so much!
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