SOPP327: I recently purchased your fingering for BWV 553, and I stopped dead at the transition from the first page to the second
Vidas: Hi guys, this is Vidas.
Ausra: And Ausra.
V: Let’s start episode 327 of Secrets of Organ Playing Podcast. This question was sent by Timothy and he wrote:
“I recently purchased your fingering for BWV 553, and I stopped dead at the transition from the first page to the second. The last right-hand note on the first page specifies finger 3, and the first note on the second page is also 3. Is that a misprint? Am I missing something important? How can the third finger jump like that in the middle of a fast 16th note passage?
V: So Ausra, here we go. Let me find the score. You don’t know exactly what he’s talking about but you can imagine.
A: I can imagine that we will look at that complete spot but in general usually you use the same finger between measures when you want to articulate.
A: And that’s a perfectly normal thing to do in baroque music.
V: Even though the tempo fast, even though there is like sixteenth notes. We’re looking at this measure and it ends on the third finger and the next is also three.
A: Show me the next measure.
V: I don’t have the next measure but you can imagine there is G. So there is a leap upward a perfect fourth from D to G. You know why I wrote this? Because this figure at the end of the measure, F#, D, C#, and D has to be played by has to be played by 5, 3, 2, 3. This is really fitting the hand; it’s in one position, right?
And the next position starts with the next measure, G, F#, G, and D. Also starting with the third finger, it’s also the next position. What you have to do is just shift the hand a little bit to the right.
A: Yes, you know when a question arises like this like in Timothy’s letter I think he is probably not comprehending deeply enough what the baroque articulation is.
A: That it’s perfectly normal because between measures you do a slight break actually. So usually the last note in each measure is a little bit shorter in order to have more space between a strong beat.
V: And that’s especially true when you have to emphasize the beginning of the next section and that’s the exact case here at the end of the first page going to the next page it’s like a break between two sections.
A: Yes. And I don’t know what organ Timothy is playing, if it’s mechanical or electronic organ.
V: He didn’t say.
A: But if he would play on mechanical organ I think he would get a better understanding of what we are talking about.
V: Umm-hmm. And it doesn’t have to be in time with metronome like a robot.
A: True, true.
V: Because it’s changing the section, you have to even slow down a little bit like going with a car and you suddenly have a turn, what you do is slow down and then after the turn you speed up a little bit. You do it so naturally of course on the organ, not too much, not over exaggerated, but naturally with breathing, with phrasing, it’s very natural, right?
V: So Timothy needs to understand the basics of baroque articulation and fingering too, right?
A: True, and on this C Major Prelude it’s fast but its allegro, it’s not presto so you would have enough time to move your hand.
V: It’s not a gigue.
V: Definitely. You play the same figure with the same finger sometimes, the same intervals with the same fingers; you play with the same fingers before the strong beat sometimes in order to make a rest, right?
A: Sure, and if you really don’t trust us and don’t want to play baroque music in historical style you can do your own fingering and play whatever you want even you can play legato.
V: With finger substitutions too.
A: Yes, it’s a free world.
A: But definitely if you would come to a historical instrument you could not play legato. The instrument would not allow you to do that.
V: There is a counter-argument to this because sometimes in Lithuania people say that “Oh when I play historical organs then I will use historical fingerings. But now I’m only playing Allen digital organ, why do I need to jump from three to three of the perfect fourth?” To this question what would you answer Ausra?
A: Well you never know when opportunity might appear for you to play on historical instrument plus if you will learn it in stylistically right way right from the beginning it will be easier for you to go from one instrument to another and it will be really hard to re-learn something. I find it’s easier for me for example to learn a new piece than to correct something that I already have learned and to play differently.
V: Because it’s hard to teach an old dog new tricks.
A: Yes and I think it’s also because our muscles have their own memory.
V: Umm-hmm. So your muscles are like dogs, old dogs, because they are trained one way and you suddenly say “No, no, no, this was wrong and now you have to learn the other way.” They’re confused.
A: Yes, true, because it’s connected to your brain so it’s very hard to learn. It’s possible but you just be wasting your time.
V: Life is short, right? We have to learn the pieces the most efficient way so that when opportunity arises you could play with historically informed fingering and articulation too.
A: But even on the electronic organ it will sound better if you will articulate.
V: Obviously, yes. Even though the keys are longer and you have to work a little bit harder. The same goes with pedaling too on the modern pedalboard, it’s not so convenient to play with historical pedaling, but…
A: So you know what I wouldn’t do if I want to articulate?
A: And would want just to play legato or whatever?
V: Say it.
A: I wouldn’t play baroque music then.
A: There is so much music written so play something else.
V: Umm-hmm. And if your person loves baroque music?
A: (laughs.) If person really loves baroque music I suggest that person wouldn’t hurt baroque music by offensive playing legato.
V: If a person loves baroque music he wants to know more about it, not only play, but dig deeper and when you dig deeper you find out so many new things.
A: Listen to Bach’s cantatas, there are so many wonderful recordings.
A: Historically so nice recordings that reconstructed the playing manner of Bach’s time. Listen to them.
V: Just simply observe how violinists are playing, their bowing techniques, they remind of historical articulation too.
A: Flute or oboe, they articulate.
V: Up and down, up and down the bow or tonguing.
A: Tonguing, yes. That articulation was not just common for organ or harpsichord at that time, it was common for every instrument and everybody articulated.
V: So, I guess you know that Timothy is not criticizing the choice of articulation probably here, but doesn’t seem to understand that when you play with historical fingering this articulation comes natural, you don’t have to think about it.
A: True, true. That’s why it’s important how you choose fingering.
V: And in that score that he has of C Major Prelude and Fugue, BWV 553, there is no articulation written, so we don’t know if he is playing with articulation or not. Maybe he is not always articulating before the strong beats, right?
A: You have to do that.
A: I have two students who are really beginners at the organ and they are adults and what I’m suggesting them to do that if it’s too hard for them to articulate every note as I would like them to do, at least that they would articulate before each measure and emphasize the strong beat.
V: Oh, you are so forgiving.
A: And then I would insist that we would articulate each figure, each beat of the measure, and then we would try to articulate each note.
V: Did you tell them that they could play the passage with one finger.
A: Yes, I told them, it works actually very well and they got it. It’s very helpful.
V: Just play the passage with one finger and once you achieve as legato as possible with one finger try to imitate with all the fingers and that would be ideal articulation.
V: And if you use our fingerings this ideal articulation will come naturally without you even thinking about it.
A: Well, but you still have to listen to what you are doing. You have to control yourself while learning.
V: Right. OK, I think Timothy can try an experiment and he will find out for himself what works for him. Thank you guys, for listening, for sending us your wonderful questions, we love helping you grow. And remember when you practice…
A: Miracles happen.
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BWV 553 is the 1st of the 8 Short Preludes and Fugues. This Prelude and Fugue is in C major, formerly thought to have been composed by J.S.Bach but now believed to have been created by one of his best students, Johann Ludwig Krebs.
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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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