AVA241: How one knows to play on the manuals or pedals if the notation is not the usual 3 staves?
Vidas: Hi guys, this is Vidas.
Ausra: And Ausra.
V: Let’s start Episode 241 of #AskVidasAndAusra Podcast. This question was sent by Jan, and She writes:
Thanks for answering my question. I was just wondering how one knows to play on the manuals or pedals if the notation is not the usual 3 staves. Now I know! Last question...does that then mean that organists also have the discretion of playing other early Baroque pieces (such as Titelouze) on manuals and pedals. I always wondered how my teacher knew what to play when there were only 2 staves and I was asked to play with pedals.
V: It’s a complex question, right Ausra?
A: Yes, it’s very complex.
V: Remember in the 19th Century, Guilmant and other publishers at the time issued lots of early music editions, and many of them were with pedals…. Of early music, right?
V: And today, when we look at that music with fresh eyes, it doesn’t necessarily mean they should be played with pedals.
A: That’s right. But, you know, it’s a very complex question as to thought. You need to look at your complete piece of music, actually, and then to decide to play it with the pedal or not.
V: And to look at the examples of the instruments of that time and of that period and of that area.
A: That’s right, because the best thing would be to know for which organ the piece was intended, actually.
V: Let’s say Titelouze, right? It was not like traditional French classic organ, right? Like Cliquot and Dom Bédos wrote about—it’s not like that. It was earlier examples, and of course, fewer capabilities.
V: Especially with pedals.
A: Sure! And then it depends on the piece. If you see that the bottom voice has many notes, so to say it’s virtuosic, then you will know it is definitely not suited for pedal.
V: In general, long notes, such as cantus firmus or chorale melody could be played with pedals to make it more prominent in any voice. This means that if it’s in the bass, you could use a 16’ reed or an 8’ reed, such as a trumpet. If it’s in the tenor you could use an 8’ reed in the pedals. If it’s in the alto, what could you do then?
A: Probably still would use 8’.
V: But then the range…
A: But yes, the range is…
V: Maybe 4’
A: Maybe 4’, yes.
V: Clairon, right? Or, not necessarily even reed, maybe super octave 4’.
A: Yes, that could work, too.
V: Or maybe for the soprano, cornet 2’ would work. It was rather common practice to play any voice in the pedal as long as it is a theme, like chorale melody, cantus firmus, and remember who wrote about that? Samuel Scheidt.
A: Yes, in his Tabulatura Nova. The preface to his Tabulatura Nova, which comes in three volumes, I believe. So if, for example, we are talking about north German composers, baroque composers, then, of course, you have play the bottom line in the pedal. Because, if you would just look at the north German organs, and also organs in the Netherlands, they have such huge developed pedal towers, that it leaves you no doubt that pedal part was very important in that repertoire.
V: Sometimes I even think that this practice could be applied in hymn playing, too. For example, if you have a four part hymn where the melody is in the soprano, you could actually learn the hymn setting in the way that this soprano part could be played with the cornet stop on the pedals.
A: But isn’t it hard for you know, let’s say…
V: Who said that it has to be easy?
A: So now I’m talking about you are making life harder.
V: I’m not making it harder for harder’s sake, I’m making it more interesting.
A: True. But do you necessarily have to play soprano in the pedal? Is there no other way?
V: It’s like transposing a piece in 12 different keys. Isn’t it fun?
A: But couldn’t you play on the solo manual with the right hand to make that soprano line, and then alto and tenor in your left hand and the bass line with the pedal? Wouldn’t it be the same effect, but a little bit easier for you?
V: Of course, you are right here, unless you want to use a specific stop in the pedals. Maybe you have a beautiful cornet in the pedals of 2’ pitch level, and you want to switch to a more colorful registration. That would be one of the possibilities.
A: But don’t you think this cornet stop in the pedal is a very rare case, in general?
V: Yes, of course it is very rare. But, maybe you will travel to Germany and play with the instruments there, you know? Maybe you will meet a local organist and he will invite, or she will invite you to try out the Schnitger organ, and what will you play then?
A: Well, there are lots of repertoires suited to play on the Schnitger instruments. You could do any piece of Buxtehude, for example.
V: Nobody likes my ideas—my crazy ideas. I see! Ok, let’s make it more simple, then. What about playing hymns in four parts, but with double pedals, yes? Yes, I like double pedals. The bass would be played with the left foot, chorale melody would be played with the right foot, and then you would need to add four more parts in the manuals. That would be a six part setting.
A: Yes, but when I just imagine that to prepare for a service, it would take forever. I doubt that people have so much time to invest in one hymn. You could do it as an experiment.
V: Yes, of course. Whenever I played this… I played some things like that, but I didn’t play for an entire month. I just practiced and see if it’s possible for one service. It was very challenging. But afterwards, my understanding of what’s possible really dramatically changed.
A: True, but you know, if we are talking in general about for example Italian music or French music, I mean early music, you can almost avoid the pedal, or to do as little with them as possible. Don’t you agree?
V: That’s what Samuel Scheidt wrote, also, in his Tabulatura Nova. Remember, all those pieces are written in two staves, so basically, it could be played with hands only.
A: Yes, and it’s very handy, because then you could play them on the harpsichord, too, or only on the positiv organ that doesn’t have pedal. But if you have an organ with pedal, then why not use it as well?
V: Right. And the only caveat is to look at the examples from the earlier times that that particular composer perhaps played, so that it wouldn’t sound strange in a modern setting with a modern organ. Thank you guys! We hope this was useful to you. 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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