Vidas: Hi guys, this is Vidas.
Ausra: And Ausra.
V: Let’s start episode 434 of Secrets ff Organ Playing Podcast. This question was sent by Alan. And he’s a member of the team who transcribes fingering and pedaling from the videos, and prepares nicely done fingering and pedaling practice scores. So Alan writes:
Vidas and Ausra, I enjoyed this episode, thanks. You mention Sauer’s crescendo roller. We saw one of these demonstrated by Andreas Sieling when we toured the Berliner Dom last year. I didn’t quite understand this unique device ; perhaps you could explain exactly how it works in a future episode. Is it selectable to specific manuals? Does it change wind pressure or add/subtract from registrations?
Thanks and regards,
V: Well this is an easy question, right? Because those early crescendo pedals would work in a certain way that they add and substract from registration, nothing fancy.
A: True, yes. Simply, instead of adding stops by hand, you would use this pedal, and it would do it for you.
V: And it would work for all the manuals and pedals, in a predetermined manner by the organ builder.
A: And I think it’s very well suited for certain musics, like Max Reger for example. Because sometimes in his music you don’t have time to add or subtract anything, but you need to change dynamic most of the time, it moves going up and down in terms of dynamics, you know?
V: And other late romantic composers, sometime Brahms writes like this, Schumann obviously writes like this in his canons.
A: Then of course some pieces like Reubke Sonata.
V: Right. Not forgetting Liszt, obviously.
A: Yes, he does it sometimes in "Ad nos, ad salutarem undam" and other pieces.
V: Also Liszt lived a little bit earlier and he played Ladegast organs.
A: And you could tell sometimes that terrace dynamic is more used by Liszt than other composers.
V: Terrace dynamic means that you jump from manual to manual and that’s how you create crescendos. You prepare the first manual with one registration, the second with a second registration, the third with a third registration and you make dynamic changes like that. But of course with Sauer, they have not only crescendo roller but also those pistons with pianissimo, piano, mezzo piano, mezzo forte, forte, fortissimo, tutti, those pistons can be done with hands and they really facilitate the crescendo.
A: Yes, sometimes they’re easier to use because sometimes it’s hard to control your foot to open or close the roll pedal smoothly. And then if you can’t do that you might get too sudden crescendo or diminuendo.
V: What to do now for people who are living in the XXI century and don’t have the chance to play on an historical organ? Adjust, right?
A: Yes, you need to adjust.
V: Perhaps if your organ does have crescendo pedal, perhaps compare this pedal with historical pedal, listening or watching videos of people playing the Sauer or Walker organ and thinking about how it ideally should sound. And then when you have this image in your mind, then you transfer this image in your target instrument, which might be modern, and the capabilities of the crescendo might be different. If it’s pre-programmed in advance and you don’t like this sound, maybe don’t use it and use combination action, toe pistons and things like that to adjust the level of the dynamic. Some modern organs have the possibility of programming your crescendo pedal for your own use, which is really nice.
A: I remember myself as a young student, it was quite hard for me to register smoothly, to make my crescendo smoothly. Sometimes, instead of coming up gradually, it would come jumpy, suddenly into louder or softer registration.
V: Ok guys, always experimenting, use your taste. We hope this was useful to you and please try sending your questions, we love helping you grow. And remember, when you practice...
A: Miracles happen!
I always liked crescendo pedal. It's my ultimate registration saver. It reminds me of the accelerator pedal in the car and I use it similarly.
When I drive a car, I slow down before a turn and speed up afterwards. So in a piece of organ music I step on a pedal right at the start of the episode and release the foot at the end of it.
Last time I did it on Vierne's Berceuse. I began with the string stops, of course, but at about measure 3 I really started to push.
First came in the flutes, then the principals, then the reeds and finally the mutations. 'Cause it's a French piece, you know. Everyone knows that in a French style the reeds come in before the mutations. The Germans do it in reverse.
I never understood, though, why my priest told me never to return to that church again. He was so uneducated...
A perfect sound for the Communion.
Today's question was posted by Dan. Over the last couple of years he's been interested in practicing Handel's Largo, perfecting his pedal technique, learning some basics of organ registration, and mastering BWV 549.
Here's what he writes:
Hi Vidas, and Ausra as well, just want to say, I’m loving the new podcast you two are doing. It’s quick, short and to the point. When I had initially found your stuff online at first Vidas, it was back in 2014 or so, and you hadn’t started the podcast as of yet then, but you were blogging at the time, it was great. The stuff that you are doing with the podcasts and site, is really awesome. I don’t think there are any other podcasters out there, at least that I could find, podcasting on the topic of the pipe organ.
Crescendo pedals. Are they worth using or not? Many organists have widely differing opinions on this aspect of organ playing, and running an organ. For example, I heard Peter Richard Conte, the Wanamaker organist, in an interview with American Public Media’s Michael Barone for a pipe dreams episode, say that his opinion of these devices was that they’re clunky, and not very useful. ON the other hand, Great and well-known American organist Virgil Fox, made a fair bit of use out of this device in his time.
Listen to the full answer at #AskVidasAndAusra
Please send us your questions. We love helping you grow.
Vidas: Hi guys. This is Vidas ...
Ausra: And Ausra.
Vidas: ... and we're starting episode 16 of #AskVidasAndAusra podcast. And today's question was sent by Dan. So he asks about crescendo pedals:
“Are they worth using or not? Many organists have widely different opinions on this aspect of organ playing and running an organ. For example, I heard Peter Richard Conte, the Wanamaker organist in an interview with American Public Media’s Michael Barone for a Pipedreams episode say that his opinion of these devices was that they’re clunky and not very useful. On the other hand, great and well-known American organist Virgil Fox made a fair bit of use out of this device in his time.”
So people say a lot of different things about crescendo pedals. Ausra, what do you think? What's your take on this for starters?
Ausra: I think that crescendo pedals might be really useful. Of course you don't have to use them when you are playing baroque music, Bach for example, but later, romantic and modern music, they can be quite a help, a big help. Especially when you don't have much time to rehearse, or you don't have time to rehearse at all and you need to change the dynamics so then I think crescendo pedal might be a great help.
Vidas: I remember playing Liszt's Ad nos Fantasy and Fugue. It’s a very long and sophisticated piece. He has a lot of dynamic changes, sometimes sudden, sometimes gradual. And yes, I did use this crescendo pedal system at First Presbyterian Church in Lincoln, Nebraska and also at First Plymouth Church there too. On two occasions basically. So it really saves time if the crescendo pedal is well balanced.
Ausra: Yes, I think so. Yes, if it's well balanced, then it's I think very well to use in such music, such as Reger, Liszt, and romantic composers if you are playing let's say a Sonata by Reubke. It might be a big help too.
Vidas: Would you say that for French music, crescendo pedals would work or not?
Ausra: It probably depends on the organ because I think it works better for German Romantic music but not maybe so much for French. But I think you could adapt probably on some organs.
Vidas: Because French system of making crescendo is different.
Ausra: Yes, yes that's right, yes.
Vidas: They use appel pedals and appel pedals are different than crescendo pedals. And they have a different way of adding stops, and the order of adding stops is different, right?
Ausra: Sure. But you know, when you are playing not on the French organ then you might adapt that thing as well the dynamic systems, the crescendos and diminuendos too. Because anyway if you know it's not a French organ, it doesn't have French stops. It will not sound like Cavaille-Coll anyway.
Vidas: Yeah, you're right probably. On most modern organs which are maybe symphonically conceived in conception, probably it's not a big difference to create dynamic changes with pistons, preset your own combinations that you designed yourself in advance, with pistons or with crescendo pedals because they are usually well balanced and still you add reeds from all divisions gradually. That's what's similar about French system anyway.
Ausra: Yes, that's right.
Vidas: So what kind of piece from French repertoire are you playing right now Ausra?
Ausra: Well actually I'm still repeating my 2nd Fantasie by Jehan Alain which I had played many years before.
Vidas: But that's another style, right? That's not necessarily Romantic.
Ausra: And actually I'm also repeating Franck’s Choral in B minor No. 2.
Vidas: Frank might be quite specific in saying here you should use Voix humaine registration right in those slow episodes. So with crescendo pedals it wouldn't work probably.
Ausra: I know. So my best advice would be with each you have to decide either to use it or to not use it. Just try it, check it and then you will see.
Vidas: But definitely for the late German Romantic music it would work, right?
Vidas: Even for Brahms’ Prelude and Fugue in G minor, would say. Probably you could find some use with the crescendo pedals there too.
Vidas: So this was Vidas.
Ausra: And Ausra.
Vidas: And remember, when you practice...
Ausra: Miracles happen.
Many modern and eclectic organs are equipped with a crescendo pedal which is sometimes a necessary tool in creating dynamics in certain type of organ music, especially from German Romantic period, such as music by Liszt, Reger, Rheinberger, Karg-Elert and others. Some pieces from the modern times also are suited for crescendo pedal. Although you can perform this music without the use of this pedal quite successfully, knowing how to employ it can be very beneficial to the organist. The crescendo pedal facilitates the registration changes that can be achieved by the organist alone. In this article, I will give you 8 tips on using crescendo pedal on the organ.
1) Prepare in advance. Because the use of crescendo pedal is a new skill that an organist has to learn, it is best to plan your practice and include the necessary drills in advance. I do not recommend taking it for granted during the recital or any other performance in public.
2) Practice repeatedly. Locate the place in your music score which requires the crescendo pedal and play it over and over in a slow tempo to gain automation and freedom.
3) Imagine crescendo pedal and practice. If your organ does not have this pedal, you can also pretend that it is there, put the right foot in place and push it back and forth when appropriate as if it was for real.
4) Practice using any foot. Although the right foot is the most often used foot for making crescendo, sometimes there is a need to manipulate a pedal with the left foot as well. It depends on which foot is busy at the moment.
5) Adjust the pedaling. If the pedal line allows, it is a good idea to write in your pedaling for the left foot so that the right foot would be free to use the crescendo pedal.
6) Avoid sudden movements of the foot. When you press this pedal, try to be sensitive and feel how much movement you have to use because the more force you use, the more dynamic contrast you will create.
7) Aim for gradual crescendo during a single passage. Very often there is a need to make gradual dynamic changes when there are no sudden changes in texture over the course of the piece. However, during section breaks, according to the wish of the composer, contrasts, such as FF-pp often are quite necessary.
8) Programmable crescendo pedal. Some organs with electro-pneumatical action are equipped with the pedal you can program in advance according to your taste. This means that you can even adjust the way and order this pedal adds the stops and make your crescendo and diminuendo even smoother.
If your organ music requires the use of crescendo pedal, use the above tips to incorporate it in your practice today. By learning how to manipulate this pedal you will gain the necessary freedom on the organ bench and there will be no need for an assistant to change the registration for you in many cases.
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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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