Vidas: Let’s start Episode 109 of #AskVidasAndAusra podcast. Today’s question was sent by Barbara, and she writes:
Dear Vidas and Ausra,
You are very welcome. Your emails have already answered many questions -- some I didn't even know I had -- everything from why some of your fingerings are so different to how to hear inner voices to how to deal with injuries. Thank you!
And thank you very much for the Boellmann toccata. I actually learned it many years ago when I was still taking organ lessons (I started lessons 18 years ago at age 48). I played it for a Halloween postlude one year at my church, and they brought the Sunday school in to listen, so I really pulled out all the stops at the end. But I'm very glad to have your fingering. I've been on retirement "vacation" for many months because of numbness in my hands, so I've been trying new fingerings as I ease back into things (long story, but I think I've been using too much piano technique on the organ all these years and it's taken its toll, especially as my muscles and joints age).
Thinking of a question for you is a little like having to choose one wish for a fairy godmother. But here goes. One of my current struggles is being a better listener at concerts and recitals where the music is unfamiliar. I've learned a lot about baroque/classical/romantic music, but I don't know how to fully appreciate early music, especially music written before tempering. Do you have any suggestions for how to approach this? Recommendations for good listening collections of music using specific modes or styles? I this will also help me to better appreciate organ improvisations and modern music.
Many, many thanks again for all you do. Best wishes to you both,
What do you think, Ausra?
Ausra: Very nice letter. And a very interesting question, actually. Well you know, in order to be better able to understand early music, you would probably need to listen to some recordings of this music performed on original instruments, on historical instruments. Because this makes all the difference in the world. On the modern instruments, performing early music doesn’t sound good enough--or not as good as it should sound on the original instruments. What do you think about that, Vidas?
Vidas: With a few exceptions. If music is more familiar to modern ears--let’s say the style is more familiar, like one of Johann Sebastian Bach’s--then it sounds good on almost any type of instrument, right?
Ausra: Yes, that’s true. But I’m talking about even earlier music.
Ausra: Like Robertsbridge Codex and that kind of music.
Vidas: Yes, we have to understand here that people who wrote similar pieces 700 years ago were living in times that the mentality was closer to pagans in the ages before Christ than to our modern days. Because they were basically completely, as they say, world-conscious; they believed in higher powers. And today’s people still do believe, but they also believe in technology, in science. So...it was a very different world. And the function of music was very different back then. It wasn’t for entertainment, like it is mostly today.
Ausra: Yes, but still, I often think about people in those times--imagine you live in sort of like a village somewhere; you work hard to make a living for yourself possible, and you go to church on Sunday. And it’s a nice building, with gold everywhere and nice stained-glass windows and a beautiful altar, and organ, and it plays music. And you know, otherwise it was probably the only chance for people to hear some music. And it should sound for them just like a miracle. I believe so.
Vidas: And in general, to experience art, the church was probably the only--or one of the very very few--opportunities in those days.
Ausra: And you know, in churches you don’t have, like, places to sit--no benches; so you would just have to stand up or kneel.
Vidas: For a long time.
Ausra: For a long time, yes.
Vidas: Because services were very long. Three hours.
Ausra: That’s right. And I’m just thinking this organ music must have sounded to them like something from heaven.
Vidas: Definitely, especially if the organ is high in the balcony. People are facing the altar at all times; they don’t see the music coming from the balcony, they only hear this roar of this magnificent instrument. And they think it’s the voice of angels, sometimes, or even God.
Ausra: Yes. Yes, that’s right. So I would suggest some recordings, actually, some historical recordings to listen to. And in general, you know, the more you listen to a particular piece--the better you get acquainted with it--the better you can appreciate it.
Vidas: Do you think that listening is enough, or should people play it?
Ausra: Well, it would be excellent if you could play it, too. Then you could know the piece from the inside out.
Vidas: Play it and think about it, right? Like, deeply think about what’s happening in this music. Not on the emotional level, where you would think, “I like it,” or “I don’t like it,” but think about what is actually happening, in musical terms.
Ausra: Yes, that’s right. And you know, on modern instruments, you don’t have such a big difference between consonances and dissonances; but if you listen to that music played on historical instruments--or you know, listen to recordings--you can actually very well define consonances and dissonances. And there’s such a difference between them that it just astonishes you!
Vidas: For most people, they don’t really have experience with historical temperaments, right?
Ausra: Yes, that’s right.
Vidas: Sometimes they have recordings, but they practice on modern-day instruments. Like maybe practice organs, maybe electronic organs; they could have some samples of historical temperaments on virtual organs, I believe.
Vidas: It’s getting close, the experiments. Of course, the touch is not there at all. It’s not the same as playing clavichord, or historical Italian or French or German or Spanish or Dutch organs. They are all very very different, right? So what people could do is, they could sometimes try to go on tours.
Ausra: Yes, that’s a good idea.
Vidas: If they could save enough money once in awhile, and go with an organist group. Or not even organists; some people are just lovers of organ music there, and it’s like organ tourism, I think.
Ausra: That’s right. So for going to concerts, if you could get the program in advance, that would be a great deal. You could listen to those pieces before going to the actual recital--maybe play them, sight-read them through.
Vidas: Exactly. Do some research about the composers and about the music. A lot of early music is online, available for free.
Vidas: On Petrucci Music Library, which is available at imslp.org. So you can do lots of findings there. And they even have manuscripts, facsimiles of autographs.
Vidas: So enjoy deciphering old tablatures and notations that are unfamiliar to modern eyes. What else? Can we point out a few of the excellent performers, of course, who recorded some fantastic early music?
Vidas: What’s your favorite?
Ausra: Harald Vogel, probably.
Vidas: You know, there are many, but some organists and performers you should not miss. Harald Vogel is one.
Ausra: In the States it would be Kimberley Marshall.
Vidas: Definitely. Then...Bill Porter.
Vidas: What about Peter Dirksen?
Ausra: He’s wonderful too.
Vidas: What about Pieter van Dijk?
Ausra: I love him!
Vidas: Hahahaha! What about Pamela Ruiter-Feenstra?
Ausra: Yes, she’s excellent, especially in Tunder’s work.
Vidas: What else? We could go on for hours…
Vidas: And it’s very risky, because while mentioning some of our favorites, we don’t want to neglect…
Ausra: We don’t want to offend the others, yeah!
Vidas: So guys, what you should do is check out a few organ academies in Europe. In Sweden Gothenburg, International Organ Academy; then there is Smarano Organ Academy in Italy; and there is in the Netherlands Organ Festival Holland in Alkmaar, So check out all those teachers and organists who are presenting themselves and their teaching in masterclasses. Everyone there is worth your attention and will expand your musical horizons.
Ausra: That’s right.
Vidas: Ton Koopman and Edoardo Bellotti of course.
Ausra: Sure. So there are so many.
Vidas: The late Gustav Leonhardt. And we could go on and on, but of course, you can find your own favorites yourself.
Vidas: Okay guys! We hope this was helpful to you. Please send us more of your questions; we love helping you grow. And most importantly, apply our tips in your practice, because when you practice…
Ausra: Miracles happen.
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Drs. Vidas Pinkevicius and Ausra Motuzaite-Pinkeviciene
Organists of Vilnius University , creators of Secrets of Organ Playing.
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