Vidas: Let’s start Episode 169 of #AskVidasAndAusra podcast. Today’s question was sent by Mike. He writes,
Hello Vidas. Are there any YouTube examples of Bach's main fugues, toes only? Is there anybody in the world that can (properly) play the great 'g minor fugue' toes only? Can you? If not, i 'rest my case' - knowing 'pigs can't fly'. If there are - i will ask the pope for forgiveness.
Do you know, Ausra, what he’s talking about? It’s an excerpt of our correspondence via email. I decided to answer his question here publicly, too, because he thinks that Bach’s fugues cannot be really played with toes only, virtuosically enough.
A: On the pedal? In the pedal part?
V: Yeah. For example, the famous Gigue Fugue, BWV 577--especially in the upper register, where you have the theme in the tenor octave. So, he thinks that you need heel for that, not only toes; and I wrote to him that of course it can be done, but it doesn’t have to be played very fast, of course. A lot of people play it very fast. But when people observe, let’s say, Cameron Carpenter, right--and he plays virtuosically with heels also--then it really is difficult to prove the historical way of playing pedals, right?
A: Well, some people are just stubborn, I guess!
V: Or, you know...Cameron Carpenter in their mind is a demigod, right? Because he can do anything, right, and therefore what they see on YouTube is probably more convincing than what we tell them. Right? I don’t feel that we need to convince anybody here.
A: Me too. Whatever. Whatever he chooses--whatever suits him.
V: Mhm. We just share our experiences, how we do things, right?
A: Yes, yes, yes.
V: Would you play BWV 577 fugue extremely fast?
V: Even if it’s a gigue, right?
A: Yes. It shows just poor taste, in my opinion.
V: Is it a dance, or a race?
A: Well, it’s a dance!
V: Exactly. For people who are probably wondering about the tempos in dance-like fugues, they need to get familiar with the dance tempos, too...
V: And dance steps, and dance figures--how they are taught to dance, historically. Right? So we were, in those seminars, remember?
A: Yes. I think the most important thing for any musician is to learn to hear what you are playing, actually--to really listen to what you are playing. And if you would pick an extremely fast tempo, I don’t think you will be able to hear what you are playing.
A: And then, in my opinion, music loses its sense...its main purpose.
V: You said Mike is stubborn. But we are stubborn, too.
A: I didn’t say that Mike is stubborn! I think, you know, well...If somebody already knows our opinion about playing Bach with toes only, and still sends these questions, it means...you know…
V: They don’t believe us.
A: Yes. So, you know, I am not in a position to try to convince him to accept our opinion. It doesn’t matter what anybody will tell me, I will just stick to my opinion.
V: Mhm. We are also stubborn, right?
A: Yes. Yes, I’m stubborn. And I have tried enough historical instruments that were built during Bach’s lifetime, that I would know that it’s impossible on those instruments to use the heel. So...why do I have to play it with the heel, if I can play it perfectly with only my toes?
V: Exactly. And we were not always that way, right, Ausra? We were taught to play historical music with heels as well, in the beginning.
A: Yes, we had to relearn it.
V: Mhm. It wasn’t easy.
A: Yes, it was hard.
V: Who first introduced you to historical techniques?
A: Pamela Ruiter-Feenstra.
V: Right. And in Lithuania nobody really told you about that, or…?
A: No. Nobody. Nobody. Nobody! Absolutely nobody!
V: I see.
A: Because everybody at the Academy of Music in those days taught to play Bach combined--combining, you know, toes and heels.
V: You know, I feel that our former professors in Lithuania had their own version of historical techniques, right? Their own understanding, and how they applied it in their own playing, and it’s not necessarily historically accurate.
A: But let’s be, you know…
A: Honest, yes. That’s the word I was looking for. That nobody in Lithuania taught us historical fingering; nobody taught us historical pedaling. That’s it. They had, sort of, their own mixed version of what is historical and what is not. And I remember right now, when playing pieces, for example, by Buxtehude or Bach, and if there would be a suspension on the strong beat, I would be told sometimes, even, just…
V: Make a rest?
A: Make a rest. Instead of that suspension. Which is, I think, highly inappropriate.
V: To lean on dissonances.
A: Yes, you have to lean on dissonances. You have to even prolong them. And not make rests instead of them.
V: Mhm, mhm. Why?
A: Well...I think it’s because of the historical tunings, probably. One of the reasons. And another thing: I think dissonances are more important in music than consonances.
V: Obviously, because dissonances give music color.
V: Like your breakfast for today--it had some spices, right? It wasn’t a very boring breakfast--you put some...What did you put, by the way? What spice?
A: Crest salad.
V: Crest salad, right. Do you like to water it in the morning?
V: Do you like to talk to it in the morning?
V: What did you say to that Crest salad this morning?
A: “Good morning!”
V: “Good morning?”
A: “Grow up faster, and we will eat you!”
V: Was it happy?
V: That’s what they do, right?
V: They serve us. And actually, we have to be grateful that these little plants give their lives for us. Right?
A: They give us vitamins that we need, so…
V: Exactly. And we try to give our best experience to you guys. And we hope that it’s helpful to you. And even if it’s not, it’s okay, right? We don’t try to convince you to follow a historical way of playing. I think our understanding of the historical way of playing stems from our knowledge of historical instruments, right Ausra?
V: And what it means is that you guys probably need to try out as many historically built instruments--either real historical organs, or replicas built in modern times, right? So THEN you will have an informed opinion on what is possible or not.
A: That’s true.
V: Right? Right now, probably your opinion is limited to your current understanding of what you see on YouTube. But YouTube is not everything.
A: Hahaha! Yes.
V: So, any closing ideas, Ausra, for them? For our listeners?
A: Well, just try to expand your horizons.
V: And talk to your Crest salad. It’s good for plants. Thanks, 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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