#AskVidasAndAusra 43 - What practice methods do you suggest for simple fugal improvisation?
Vidas: Let's start episode 43 of #AskVidasAndAusra podcast. And this question was sent by Lilla, and she writes, “Dear Vidas, if you could accept my question, here it is. What practice methods do you suggest for simple fugal improvisation? It might be a good idea to practice it in your writing as well. A good source material method would be tremendous help and would be greatly appreciated. Thank you for all your work. Sincerely, Lilla.”
Interesting question right?
Vidas: Not many people ask us question about the improvising fugues.
Ausra: Sure, because not many organists improvise them.
Vidas: Not many people are brave enough even to try.
Ausra: Yes, sure. But as Lilla mentions in her question, that's a good way would be to write it down first of all, or basically start to analyzing other composer's fugues, just to know how they are constructed, then try to write some of them down, and then just go to the practical work.
Vidas: Yeah, exactly. What Ausra is mentioning is, before you had any treatises, before you had any method books, and exercise books, what did composers do? They studied other works, they studied a compositions of previous masters, who lived before them.
And they, of course, analyzed them and copied them note by note, and maybe arranged them for organ, for other instruments. Like, Johann Sebastian Bach arranged for harpsichord, I think Hortus Musicus by Johann Adam Reincken, these were for string quartets, also contrapuntal works and Bach studied this way. So, before somebody even wrote a treatise on the fugue, or even on contrapuntal imitation, improvisation, they worked practically, analyzing things and writing them down.
Ausra: Sure, and you know later you could take Weimar Tabulature by Johann Pachelbel, (not to be confused with Weimar Organ Tabulature) that's an excellent source for improvising. Easy fugues, fuguettes I would say. And then the next step would be, probably to take the Handel's book.
Vidas: Exactly, Continuo Exercises According to George Frideric Handel.
Ausra: At the beginning, he gives the number to exercises of basso continuo, and later on he gets to the fugues, to improvising fugues based on the basso continuo.
Vidas: What do you mean probably is like partimento fugue.
Vidas: Where you only have the bass line, and the entrance of the subject notated in the bass clef. Sometimes the clefs change, but they also notate which voice has to enter and according to the principals of polyphonic imitation you add other voices, based on intervals.
Ausra: Actually, yes. And after Handel you could proceed to the Langloz Manuscript. And actually this is much harder, much more complex than Handel's book. But after Handel you definitely can try to do it.
Vidas: It's a very interesting collection of contrapuntal fugues, which are also simplified in notation, just like Buxtehude would write in his organ praeludiums and toccatas. Those intricate fugal sections, but you could write them in one line, in bass line, they're very lively, fast moving instrumental type of fugues, just like Buxtehude and his friends. Therefore, they're more difficult to play than Handel's.
Ausra: Definitely. I remember doing them and that's very hard.
Ausra: Very hard.
Vidas: But if you practice them diligently (it's a big collection), if you do all of them, one by one, it gets easier.
Ausra: Yes, definitely, just don't practice them all in a given row. You just pick up the easiest first.
Vidas: Yeah, with slower note values.
Ausra: Yes, definitely.
Vidas: And also, these are primary sources, right?
Vidas: Composer's at the day, in the 18th century wrote them as exercises for their students.
What about a little bit later collections and exercises that people could practice? You know there's a student of Bach, Friedrich Wilhelm Marpurg I think wrote-
Ausra: A big treatise, yes, I remember that.
Vidas: Treatise on the Fugue.
Vidas: That’s in English and in German it's Abhandlung von die Fuge. It is like an analysis of many, many, Bach's fugues, basically Well Tempered Clavier and even Art of Fugue contrapuntal pieces, it's like a predecessor of modern Treatise on the Fugue, and many modern Treatises on the Fugue method books, are based on this, right?
Ausra: They are based on Marpurg. And because Bach hasn't left any written sources, Marpurg's book is actually about Bach's legacy.
Vidas: Now based on Marpurg is a collection of exercises, which were practiced at the Paris Conservatory in the 19th Century and into 20th century too by Andre Gedalge. It's called Treatise on the Fugue, it has 11 or 12 chapters, and each chapter is based on one particular aspect of the fugue. Like the theme, the counter subject, an answer, episodes, stretto, things like that. It's indispensable for any serious student of fugal improvisation.
Ausra: Yes, and good luck with that.
Vidas: Now, do you think that people could benefit from practicing Marcel Dupre's Treatise on Improvisation Vol. 2, where he has an entire chapter on the Fugue?
Ausra: Definitely, yes.
Vidas: But it's for later, because Marcel Dupre himself advises people to go back to Andre Gedalge’s Treatise on the Fugue first, and write down exercises, on the paper with pencil first, and only then try to improvise on the organ from Dupre's treatise.
Ausra: So basically, there are three steps. Analyze other composer's work, then try to write Fuges down by yourself. You can compose your own subject or you can pick up some subjects from real fugues and then try to improvise it.
Vidas: Three steps. Very good, Ausra, I hope people can take advantage of this, and let us know what specific step is your favorite from this podcast conversation, what would you apply this week, and let us know how it works.
And please send us more of your questions, and you can do this easily by subscribing to our blog at www.organduo.lt and replying to any of our messages, we'll be glad to help you out.
This was Vidas.
Ausra: And Ausra.
Vidas: And remember, 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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