Vidas: Hi guys, this is Vidas.
Ausra: And Ausra.
V: Let’s start Episode 234 of #AskVidasAndAusra podcast. This question was sent by Tomeu, and he writes,
Thanks a lot for your advice about how to improvise Prelude in Bach’s style. It is very interesting and useful how the information is organized. I keep following you. Kind Regards.
Ausra, I think he is talking about this 9-day or 10-day mini course about playing keyboard preludes in the style of Bach. Remember the time when we were studying in Lincoln University of Nebraska?
A: Yes, I remember that.
V: And in the last year, I wrote this dissertation about improvising preludes in Bach’s style.
A: I remember it, yes.
V: It was an experiment to take keyboard preludes out of Wilhelm Friedemann’s Klavierbüchlein that Bach created for his eldest son, and try to take them as models, as exercises to develop one’s skill in improvising a free type of keyboard-based compositions without the pedals in the Baroque style. And I did that; and then later, when I came back to Lithuania, and we started this internet online organ teaching activity, I thought maybe some of those chapters would fit into teaching, you know--not as a book, but maybe as a course.
And I converted the first chapter into the free 9-day mini course. And then, the rest of the dissertation came into a longer prelude improvisation formula. So that’s how it all started. Of course, I revised and expanded this dissertation a little bit, because at first it was my own experiment with little real-life application; but then I tried it out on other people, and got feedback, you know. So...I did it like that. So I think Tomeu is talking about this type of course.
A: I think you did a great job, and I’m glad that you went back to it, and revised it, and recycled it and refreshed it. Because I think it’s very valuable.
V: Even though it’s not, probably, something that will enable anyone to master the entire Bach style, right? It’s just one side of how to approach beginner’s improvisation until a certain point--until you master cadences, sequences, harmonic progressions, and put them together into a coherent structure to create maybe a 2-3 minute piece. But it doesn’t talk about fugues; it doesn’t talk about chorale preludes. Things like that are too complex for this intent.
A: But still, I think it’s a good beginning, you know; if you could master preludes like this to improvise a prelude like this, I think you would be ready to move forward to do other things, maybe to improvise a fugue or fughette.
V: That’s what I thought, because it’s all based on harmonic foundations. If you have knowledge of sequences, cadences, and how to put several chords together, how to modulate, and maybe to steal some ideas about figuration from Wilhelm Friedemann’s Klavierbüchlein...Sometimes you can even borrow from other sources, if you are curious and playing other repertoire. That’s why we say, analyze your own pieces that you’re playing, and maybe you’ll find something worth borrowing.
A: Yes, because if you take any piece, you’ll always find sequences, cadences...They will all have something similar.
V: Yes, and then, you can even transpose your piece to every single key. Remember, Ausra, how much fun you had?
A: Yes, transposing Handel.
V: Transposing Handel! Was it fun, really?
A: Yes, it was very fun.
V: Would you repeat it today? After this conversation let’s do it--to 24 keys!
A: Hahaha! Well you know, now, after teaching harmony and theory for so many years, I don’t think I would have trouble to transpose them in any given key.
V: Actually you were my first student of that method book.
V: In Lincoln. Of course, my first student was myself, but it doesn’t count, probably. But for other people I taught, you were my guinea pig. Right? Would you like to be my guinea pig again?
A: No. No, I wouldn’t.
V: Maybe I could be your guinea pig!
V: Why not?
A: I don’t like to torture others. Hahaha!
A: But that’s just a joke, really. His suggestions are really worth listening to, and trying, too.
V: That means a lot, to hear that kind of compliment from the closest person in the room.
V: Because she knows me inside out, right? And she knows my weaknesses and strengths...and maybe more weaknesses than strengths, right?
A: Well, I know both well enough, I think.
V: So, it really means a lot when you say this. So today, of course, you can choose to try out our mini course. And it’s not long; it’s just 9 days (or maybe an additional day at the end of it, for recapitulation); but it will give you a good overview of what could be done with any other keyboard prelude. This mini course is based on just 1 keyboard prelude from that Klavierbüchlein for Wilhelm Friedemann Bach. And Prelude improvisation formula, which naturally comes afterwards, deals with, I think, 15 or 16 more. 16 more--that’s why it’s a 16-week course. But you can, as we are saying, apply the same foundation you learn from those 9 beginning days to any other style, I would say--any other composer.
Even if you don’t like Bach, and you still try this mini course, you will learn that you can turn the page of your favorite organ composer...Let’s say your favorite is Guilmant, ok? Or Franck, or Mendelssohn, or something from the 20th century, could be. You open that book, and you will see patterns, which could be isolated and practiced and transposed and memorized, and they will become your own. And then you collect as many patterns from other pieces of the same composer, and then you use those patterns in a different order. Right Ausra?
A: Yes, that’s right.
V: And you will create something similar, but something different, as well. It will be like The Lost Piece of Franck, or Long-Forgotten Organ Sonata by Mendelssohn. Right? Or the Seventh Symphony by Vierne, you know?
A: True. And I think in general, while working with your improvisation course, it will teach you to study written compositions in a completely different way. I think you will be more skillful to recognize things in the real compositions--to see how the piece is put together, to see behind the composer’s mind.
V: Who taught you this phrase, “how the piece is put together”?
A: George Ritchie.
V: Ahh. I see. You like him?
A: Yes, he was a great teacher and mentor. And a friend.
A: And he still is.
V: They visited us in Vilnius many years ago.
A: Yes. Not so many--a few years ago.
V: A few years ago, yeah. Maybe we can visit them, too. But it’s a long flight.
A: True. Too bad that Atlantic Ocean exists. We need to bring America closer to Europe.
V: Yes. Maybe that legendary continent Atlantis, if it existed now, it would be much easier to cross!
V: Excellent, guys. So, be fearless today, and try out something new, and look at written organ compositions in a new way: what could you borrow? And you will actually see for yourself that you will gain, at the end of the day, much more than simply just playing the music, right?
V: You will probably start to feel a little hunger or thirst for your own creativity to develop, to flourish, little by little--in any field, not only in music. But you will want to make something which hasn’t been done before.
A: That’s right.
V: Thank you guys, this was Vidas.
A: And Ausra.
V: Please send us more of your questions; we love helping you grow. 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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