Vidas: Hi guys, this is Vidas.
Ausra: And Ausra.
V: Let’s start Episode 184 of #AskVidasAndAusra podcast. Today’s question was sent by Tony. And he writes:
Thanks for your very helpful guidance on organ playing. I've played for 55 years, and am still learning!
Perhaps some of your web-followers might appreciate a list of Bach chorale preludes suitable for Holy Week? I'd be very grateful for this, as they seem to be scattered over many books and collections.
With much appreciation,
I think, Ausra, this is a great question to discuss Orgelbüchlein Chorales, don’t you think?
A: Yes, because Orgelbüchlein has quite a few that suit us for Holy Week.
V: For example, “O Lamm Gottes, unschuldig”--we’re looking at the score right now, and it says it’s a canon, right?
V: Where is the canon, do you know?
A: Well, you can see it right away. It starts in the LH, and then goes to the RH.
V: The canon...What about--where is the cantus firmus, here?
A: It’s in the bass.
V: In the bass.
A: In the pedal.
V: And in the alto.
V: But the interval between the bass and the alto is not an octave, but a fifth.
A: It’s a fifth.
V: So it’s a canon of the fifth.
A: But also, you can see that the same--actually, the accompaniment that starts right away in the LH is repeated then a half measure later in the RH.
A: So you not only have a canon between cantus firmus, but you have it in 2 other voices, as well.
V: Mhmm. How would you register it? Reed, probably, in the pedals, or not?
A: Well, yes, something more audible. You need to hear the bass.
A: But also, you know…
V: Which descends lower--the LH or the pedals, here?
A: Hmm, it depends on how you’re registering. If you’re registering pedal with a 16’, then the bass goes lower.
V: I mean, which voice has the bass? LH, or the pedals, here?
V: Does it mean that the pedal part should not have a 16’ stop here?
A: Yes, I think so. I think it should be based on an 8’ stop.
V: And then probably the rest of the voices can be played on a single manual, right? Or not?
A: Probably, yes.
V: Because look--the span between the hands is sometimes too big for one hand, right?
A: That’s right, yes; you have to help sometimes, to play some music from the treble clef from your LH.
V: Mhmm. The next chorale, “Christe, du Lamm Gottes”--is it also suitable for Holy Week, or not?
A: Yes, I think so, because you know, “Lamb of God”--definitely I think it’s sort of a little bit similar in his meaning with the first one.
V: Mhmm. And if I’m counting voices correctly, here are 5 voices, now.
V: And the canon is at the 15--basically, an octave plus a fifth. Where is this canon? I have to find it...Oh, between the soprano, right, and the tenor in the LH.
A: But then it starts in the bass, too.
V: And then, probably, you need 2 manuals for that, right?
A: Yes, I think so, yes--definitely.
V: Mhm. But 2 voices would be played on each manual, so basically, not necessarily a reed--not necessarily a solo registration, but kind of a combination of stops.
A: I think this chorale might sound good on the soft stops. Because look at all the descending melodies--all the time going down.
A: So you probably wouldn’t want to add mixtures or something--louder reeds, for this chorale.
V: And you’re right--pedals could have 16’ stop, right?
A: Yes, yes.
V: Because it’s not a solo stop.
A: That’s right.
V: In the tenor range. It’s real bass. Maybe--how about 8’ and 4’ flute combinations in each hand?
A: I think that’s what I do. And 16’ and 8’ in the pedal.
V: Mhm. The next chorale is also a canon--“Christus, der uns selig macht.”
V: Between the soprano and bass, right?
A: That’s right.
V: Do you think that it could be played louder?
A: Could be, although we are talking about Holy Week, so I would not suggest to play very loudly during Holy Week.
V: Mm, I see.
A: What about you? What do you think?
V: Depends on your congregation--how conservative it is. Right?
A: But I think all that waiting, you know, for the drama that happens on Good Friday...
A: Or...Good Friday--what is it called in English?
V: Good Friday.
A: Good Friday, yes.
V: The next is “Da Jesus an dem Kreuze stund.” That’s definitely the chorale suitable for Holy Week.
A: Yes, because it means, you know, “When Christ was on the cross.”
V: Mhm. And the texture here is very simple, right? Soprano has the cantus firmus, and the rest of the voices have figurations and imitate each other. Am I right?
A: Yes, that’s right, yes.
V: Would you play it on one manual, or on two manuals?
A: I would play it on one manual. What about you?
V: On one manual, because, let’s say, in the sixth measure, between the alto and the tenor, you have intervals of more than an octave. So there’s no way you could play it on one manual--the 2 inner voices. So therefore, you need all 3 parts together on one manual, and sometimes playing alto in the LH, sometimes in the RH.
A: Yes, that’s right.
V: Most of the time in the RH. Mhm. And now we come to the most famous chorale from the Orgelbüchlein suitable for Holy Week: “O Mensch, bewein dein Sünde groß.” And this is an extremely slow tempo, right Ausra?
A: Well, yes--yes and no. It’s a slow tempo, but it doesn’t feel like so slow, because it has that ornamented cantus firmus in the soprano, which has many ornaments and 32nd notes. So sort of despite the Adagio assai tempo, which is really so...it still...the music still flows.
V: Mhm. It’s in a beautiful E♭ Major key. And for that, you probably need some solo registration in the RH.
A: Oh, yes, definitely, you have to have it.
V: What kind of options do we have here?
A: Well, you could have some sort of reed…
A: It would be one of the options. Also you could use a cornet.
V: Maybe principal.
A: Yes, maybe principal too. It depends what you will put in the accompaniment, LH, and the pedals.
A: And of course, you know, you need to find out which stop is the nicest on the organ, too.
V: Mhm. To have a singing quality.
V: Don’t forget to play adagissimo at the end--to slow down extremely.
A: Yes. At that last cadence.
V: Mhm. And the last choice from Orgelbüchlein for Lent and probably for Holy Week would probably be, “Wir danken dir, Herr Jesu Christ, dass du für uns gestorben bist.” What does it mean?
A: “We thank you, Lord Jesus Christ, that you have died for us.”
V: Uh-huh. It’s a little bit joyful, right? This texture, and faster tempo, I see.
A: It feels like in this chorale, you already have that feeling of what will soon happen, you know--that the Resurrection will happen soon.
V: Mhm. Excellent. And it also has 4 voices--3 lower parts imitate each other, and the cantus firmus is in the soprano.
A: That’s right.
V: So guys, that will be a great place to start, right Ausra?
V: It’s not terribly difficult; some of them are, but doable. Of course, it depends on your level of advancement.
A: Yes. I’m just wondering why Bach wrote so many of those Holy Week chorales based on canon technique. Don’t you find that it’s odd?. Maybe he was exploring canon technique at that time?
V: Yeah, he was probably creating this collection as a compendium of all possible techniques and textures suitable for chorale development.
A: That’s right.
V: And then later he stopped, because, as we think--or, not only we, but common scholarship--thinks that he got carried away with larger projects.
A: Yes, that’s true.
V: Okay! Thank you so much, guys, for listening. We hope you can apply our advice in your practice. Please send us more of your questions; we love helping you grow. 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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