AVA237: I’m trying to speed up the Toccata from the Suite Gothique by Leon Boellmann
Vidas: Hi guys, this is Vidas!
Ausra: And Ausra!
V: Let’s start Episode 237 of #AskVidasAndAusra Podcast. This question was sent by Jeremy, and he writes:
I’m trying to speed up the Toccata from the Suite Gothique by Leon Boellmann. I am planning on playing the entire work for church in two or three weeks: Chorale and Minuet for Prelude, Prayer for Offertory, and Toccata as Postlude. I've played the Prayer a couple times as preludes or offertories over the past year.
I've got the Toccata up to 100 to the quarter note. Any tips on speeding it up?
V: So, this is one of the most popular toccatas for organ, right Ausra?
A: It is! And probably one of the least complicated.
V: People who want to start paying French toccatas probably would need to practice this, first.
A: Yes, this is a good good piece for starters. So, how would you speed it up?
V: My classical method of learning the piece, or any type of organ composition, up to speed is this: At first, I learn the music, if I cannot do this all parts together, then I do parts separately and then do combinations of 2 lines, and then three parts all together. How does it sound so far?
A: Yes, it sounds good! The other thing that I’m thinking, is that because as was mentioned in the question, that there is not so much time left, actually. I don’t know if he will be able to push up the tempo a lot. But I’m thinking about the theme of this toccata, and for me, it seems that if he would compare various toccatas, this one is not as fast as some others, I would say. Definitely not as fast as, for example, Duruflé’s toccata from the suite.
V: Right. I remember playing this piece when I was a student in the early stages at the academy of music in Vilnius. So, I presume that Jeremy, by now, can play the piece with all parts together. And he writes that he can do that about 100 beats per minute. So that’s good. So, if you can do, let’s say slowly, but all parts together, then the next stage that I suggest is to start playing at the concert tempo, whatever it is in your opinion, maybe 120, maybe not too fast, I think 120 is probably maximum, I would suggest, for people who have not played for decades, and many many instruments before—with not too much experience.
V: So, play this piece in a concert tempo, but only a shortest fragment imaginable. Maybe one quarter note, one beat, at the concert tempo, and then stop. And then, you have to look and imagine what’s ahead one beat further. And then you prepare for that beat, and then play it also, very very fast. And then stop again at the next beat. And so you do, several times, the entire piece, but while stopping every beat. What do you think, Ausra?
A: Yes! This is exactly your method, how you work. Not exactly my method, but it could work, I think, very well.
V: What would you have suggested, Ausra?
A: As I always have taught, a hundred times, I would work in combinations, I would find the places where I would place accents, correctly, and definitely I would sing the melody in the bass. This would help me.
V: My method is for very patient people, right?
A: True. And I don’t have such patience.
V: Then, I would play a longer fragment—maybe two beats, and then stop. And then four beats, so basically one measure. Then two measures at a time. Then maybe an entire line, then two lines. Then one page, then two pages, then four pages, and then the entire piece, I believe.
A: True. I think that’s also nice if you don’t have access to the organ all the time. If you have access to the piano. For this particular Toccata, it’s nice to play the hand parts, manual part on the piano, and then really to sing that bass.
V: Hmm. Right.
A: It would work, I think, Nicely.
V: What’s the reason people cannot play fast.
A: Well, lack of, probably, muscle strength in the fingers.
V: Finger independence?
A: Finger independence, coordination problem between hand and feet. It could also be some inner problems, like being afraid of a fast tempo, too. Some people are afraid of fast tempos. So, it could also be a little bit psychological. Because a fast tempo, we often think that it’s something very hard, and I think that this thought gives us more of a struggle.
V: I see.
A: Don’t you think so?
V: Right. I agree with you, because speed is a very relative thing.
A: True. And also, I think if you would listen to YouTube recordings, in many of those, there is such a fast tempo, if we are talking about toccatas or some other virtuosic pieces. But not everybody has to play at the same tempo, because if you are technically very capable, then yes, play it very fast—as fast as you can. But if you are making mistakes, if you are not ready yet, then you would sound comic, and you will just make people laugh at you.
V: So, I think Jeremy can play 100 beats per minute in a stable tempo without making too many mistakes.
A: Because, you know, sometimes when an organist is not ready to play in as fast a tempo as he or she wants, and he or she tries to do it, it sounds comic.
A: So, you need to take such a tempo that you could still be able to control things.
V: Also, people who can’t play fast usually don’t practice much on the piano. Maybe I’m wrong, but it could be that Jeremy has an electronic organ at home.
A: Could be also. You know, electronic organ doesn’t help so much.
V: Unless they have some keyboard with resistance, Right?
V: Which is quite rare. A recent innovation, I think.
A: Because it’s hard to develop your finger muscles while playing electronic keyboard.
V: Remember our friend Paulus, who works in St. Joseph’s parish, here in Vilnius? He actually complains sometimes that he has to play an Allen digital organ.
A: Isn’t this Johannus?
V: Yeah, Johannus, Yeah. But still, digital and very easy to depress keys, and then he has to play sometimes on mechanical action organs like at Saint John’s church or the cathedral. And whenever he comes over, he is very much stressed out about the strength needed. Right? So a real organ with real resistance is, I think, a beautiful thing. So I think people should spend as much time as possible playing on real instruments plus piano, too, because it’s a real thing.
A: Yes. I agree.
V: And then their technique will develop much faster, and getting up to speed will not be that big of a problem. Yeah?
V: So, guys, please apply our tips in your practice. We certainly know they work for us, and we hope it will work for you, too. And please send 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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