AVA158: Should The Music's Date Of Composition Be Considered More Important Than It's Style When Choosing A Starting Place For The Touch?
Vidas: Hi guys, this is Vidas.
Ausra: And Ausra.
V: Let’s start episode 158 of #AskVidasAndAusra Podcast. And this question was sent by Steven. He writes:
Good morning Vidas,
Thank you for posting the explanations, guidance, and helpful suggestions in the "Ask Vidas and Ausra" series.
I would also like to submit a question to this series, if I may ...
Organists today know to use articulate legato (so-called "ordinary touch") in all the parts when performing early (pre-1800) organ music, such as the fugues of Bach and other polyphonic pieces, and to employ legato and all of its associated techniques for all organ music written during or after the 19th century, unless otherwise specified by the composer.
It's conceivable though, that in the course of our studies we may run across a polyphonic piece, such as a stand alone organ fugue, written pretty much in 18th century common practice style by a modern composer ... where the music is very busy and actually sounds in places like it could have been written in the last half of the 18th century by an acolyte of the Bach school ... and the score has no indications about the touch. All we know is, it was written in the 21st century.
In this situation, how do we determine a starting place for the touch? ... do we follow the rule that the date of composition in each and every case determines what kind of touch should be used and employ legato in all the parts as a starting place ... or should we take the polyphony of the piece into consideration and employ articulate legato from the beginning to keep all the moving parts clearly audible to the listener?
I was wondering how you and Ausra may feel about this ... whether the music's date of composition should be considered more important than it's style when choosing a starting place for the touch.
Thank you once again for all the help, aid, and assistance, it's much appreciated.
V: As I understand, Steven asks about the situation when a person creates a modern composition but written in the old style, right Ausra?
A: Yes, and that’s what I understand from the question.
V: And what should the touch be? What’s your opinion today?
A: Well, you know, if it’s written in baroque style, let’s say a fugue in baroque style, I would use ordinary touch. That’s my opinion. What about you?
V: It’s the same as improvisation, I would say. Whenever we improvise in the historical styles, we use the touch of those styles, even though it’s improvised today, in the 21st century. Right? Somebody could even record this improvisation and transcribe it into musical notation and make it a finished, polished piece, and it would sound like more or less early composition but created today.
A: Yes, because I think the style is more important the the date that the piece is written. Because nowadays all those styles mixed up together and you can create whatever you want. And if you feel that sort of style is more close to you, or you are more related to it and you create compositions like this then they definitely have to be performed with ordinary touch. That’s my opinion because otherwise it might just sound muddy and unclear.
V: I’m just trying to think of any recordings that I heard recently when improvisation was done in the old style by living of course performer. But none come to mind, right, because every good improviser knows the difference of touch in historical styles and tries to emulate that touch. Although, in the past might have been some people who played baroque style polyphonic pieces like that. But that’s because everyone else was playing legato at the same time, baroque pieces. Right, Ausra?
A: Yes. I think so because just tendencies are like this in those days and everything changes and we have talked about in earlier podcasts.
V: Yeah. I just remember now, one instance I wrote seven chorale improvisations very early in my career. I think just after graduating from UNL, and those were based on my improvisations. I recorded them and transcribed them into musical notations, and then I thought maybe somebody could publish them, right? That was before the days of this blog of course, because today I would just post it from the internet to myself, and send it to Wayne Leupold Editions, and after while I receive and answer, a very nice polite answer, that, ‘it’s wonderful that you are interested in submitted for possible publication’. And those pieces could be considered in the stye of Crebbs I would say, not Bach, but a student of Bach, let’s say. So when Leupold wrote that, however nobody can really compete with Heir Bach, Master Bach, right? So he doesn’t see or didn’t see the point of publishing early sounding pieces today where there are thousands of original music written. So I stopped doing this, of course on paper. Maybe on the instrument is a another story, when you improvise. What do you think about that Ausra?
A: Yes, actually, you know, it’s better probably to leave that early style for improvisation already, instead of composing in that kind of style, but of course we have free will to choose for ourselves.
V: Exactly. Let’s say Bach would have thought the same and would try, would have tried to imitate styles of early composers who came before him. And he did actually.
A: He did, actually, yes.
V: But while doing that, he did this very creatively and combined several styles in one piece; Italian, German and French.
A: And actually yes, you can hear in his compositions and see and hear the early styles Stile Antico, so called, and you know the baroque, high baroque style. That was his contemporary style, and then you know, you can already get the tendencies of actually that period that came after baroque and between the classical style.
V: Gallant Style.
A: Gallant Style, that his sons used when composing and creating compositions. So basically Bach observed all those tendencies and used them in his compositions.
V: I would say today, if you want to be original, you have to combine several sources, sources of inspiration, not one.
A: Yes, because so, so many things are already written and composed and sent, so you probably just have to mix things together.
V: Exactly. Take one realistic approach from one composer that you like, another from a another school, right? Maybe if you like polyphonic you can keep that but add special specific modal writing style that you like from the later schools, right? Something that is rarely combined, and that will make your music more unique.
A: Yes, it’s like Paul Hindemith created Ludus Tonalis, and of course I think, the inspiration for him to compose probably was from Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier.
A: Or like Shostakovich also played relative too. But still we have to have our own unique style, but of course we know that they studied Bach too, so that’s the way how things should be done.
V: I think our final word of advice besides articulating early style of music whether written or improvised today, should be, I think, be very open minded and look broadly at your influences, right? And then you can mix things up, creating different order. And you don’t know what will come out. Maybe the result will not be something you like. Maybe that will be another level of training that you do. But maybe the next step will lead to something with more interest, right Ausra?
A: Yes, because I think you need to mix the elements of early and modern even if you are creating in that early style. Because if you would just create in that early style it would be like copying that style, and if you will not add anything new, then, I don’t know if it is worth doing. What do you think?
V: In music, musical world today, there isn’t much success with this, I think. I think only in improvisation, yes, but if it’s written piece, people will not be too impressed if you just imitate somebody’s style, right? That’s in music, but let’s say in art, in art visual art, if you imitate style of dutch Renaissance or Baroque or something, if you can do this, people somehow will be very impressed and could pay a lot of money for just observing the pictures or photos of your paintings today. That’s a very weird situation, right, to create something old fashioned and people will be very happy. Because, you see, people like to look at stuff they could recognize, right?
A: Yes, that’s true. The things that are familiar to them.
V: That’s why people keep drawing pictures of Superman and Batman and other superheroes, right, characters. They are not inventing their own. Sometimes they do, but not always. They recreate them from the past movies, let’s say, or stories. Because their audience loves to look at stuff or read stuff that is familiar, right?
A: Yes, that’s true.
V: That’s why we keep playing masterpieces of 17th, 18th and 19th century in the concerts of organ music, right? Instead of constantly creating something original in 21st Century style. Right, Ausra?
A: Yes, that’s right.
V: We do sometimes create and incorporate but not always. There are people who do exclusively unique stuff, but they are, I think, in the minority.
A: Mmm, hmm, that’s true. I think it’s hard to be always original.
V: Yes. So with that optimistic note, we could end this discussion, and we hope to get more of your questions and feedback. Please send us. We love helping you grow as an organist in various spheres in organ playing. Thank you guys. This was Vidas.
A: And Ausra.
V: And remember, when you practice…
A: 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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