By Ausra Motuzaite-Pinkeviciene (get free updates of new posts here)
Vidas and I are preparing to perform in Sweden this summer. We will be playing an instrument from Sweelinck's time.
It stands in Stockholm's German St Gertrude church (the Duben organ) and has all kinds of features of old organs: mean-tone temperament, split keys, high-pitched tuning, and short octave.
A short octave in this case are the 3 diatonical keys in the bass octave - C, D, and E. This means music with C# and D# in this octave cannot be played.
So we chose our repertoire very carefully, avoiding pieces with more than 1 accidental.
But it's still a challenge to master the new layout of this type of keyboard. In the above picture you can see how a similar keyboard with CDE short octave looks like.
It works this way:
The lowest note which looks like E is actually C.
D looks like F#.
E looks like G#.
F looks like F. Great!
F# is the additional semitone on top of the 1st sharp.
G is G. Great!
G# is the additional semitone on top of the 2nd sharp.
From A everything looks normal again.
You might already feel that adjusting to this short octave will take some time and will require some special fingering.
It takes more than that. We will be circling with pencil all our notes in the bass octave of our scores which would require re-positioning. And then we will be practicing on the modern organ or piano the way it would work on the old organ in Stockholm.
The result will not be pleasant (when we need C, we'll play E; when we need D, we'll play F# etc.).
But this is the only way to get used to the short octave on the target organ and shorten the time needed to adjust.
Peter Jones: The first and most important thing to arrange before even starting your organ practice is ... a practice organ! And if you can have one at home, how much better it will be for your progress. Home practice organs are not cheap, but you only buy them once, unlike a new car (which costs about the same) and they don't deteriorate over your lifetime. If you are serious about learning to play the organ, you must buy a home practice-organ as soon as possible, and it must be one with PIPES and not some awful simulator. This small organ was built for a client about 20 years ago. The cost has been forgotten long ago, but the benefit to his playing is on-going. (And it's so much warmer in the winter, when you can just step into the next room to continue your playing!) Would you expect a violinist or a pianist to make much progress, if their instrument was kept in another building miles away? Face up to the fact that you need a practice-organ more than the next new car, more than the next holiday, more than the expensive wedding, and DO something about it.
When I wrote recently about sight-reading Intonation Primi Toni by Andrea Gabrieli, I've received a request to create an example of a few lines of music with Italian Paired Fingering on the score for beginners. In order to help such organists, I thought I would share with you today my version of this Intonation with fingering. I hope your fingers and your patience last until the end of the page...
How did Italian late Renaissance and early Baroque organ composers play scales? Certainly not using modern fingering, like 1-2-3-1-2-3-4-5. They applied a system today known as Paired Fingering. In various European Baroque organ schools it was different from country to country.
In Italy it basically meant, that accented notes on the beat should be played with the "good" fingers 2 and 4 in each hand. This way the scale could look like 2-3-4-3-4-3-4-3-4 (r.h. ascending or l. h. descending) or 4-3-2-3-2-3-2-3-2 (r.h. descending or l. h ascending).
Such a piece is for today's sight-reading: Intonazione del Primo Tono (p. 3) by the Venetian organist and composer Andrea Gabrieli (1532-1585) from the collection of various Italian, German, Dutch and English authors of the day "Liber Fratrum Cruciferorum Leodiensium" (1617 or before).
Intonations were used to introduce the mode prior to the choral composition. The piece in the first tone basically consists of the mode of D (Dorian) with the excursions to the mode of a (3-2-2), F (3-3-4), and d (3-5-1). As usual, there is a plagal extension at the end (line 6).
Play this piece with paired fingering as described above using articulate legato touch. Notice how the alternation of "good" and "bad" fingers create gentle accents on the stronger notes. Keep your fingers in contact with the keys at all times and play on the edge of the keys.
Everyone knows that the keys on the keyboard are arranged in the groups of two and three. Therefore, the octave has 7 white keys and 5 black (or the other way around). But can the sharps be arranged in the groups of 3?
It turns out that it's exactly the case with certain old historical organs. Watch this video with the oldest organ of Holland in Oosthuizen and notice that the bottom octave (called the short octave) is different. It's not complete and some of the rarely used accidentals are missing. That's why the black keys are arranged in threes there.
By the way, the top octave of this instrument is also not complete. I had a privilege to play the music of Sweelinck on a similar organ from 1511 in Alkmaar, Holland. It's not easy at first. You have to apply early keyboard fingering and get used to different arrangement of keys in order to play successfully.
Such an organ in a way is a real time machine. By playing it you can feel that you traveled about 400 or more years into the past. To the time when every citizen had to carry a dagger, when the liturgy lasted 3 hours, when a book was a luxury item, and the organ bellows had to be pumped by foot (or by hand).
The yellowish keys in this video remember these times. The instrument is so old, that you can almost smell the history (everyone who has been in an old church at an old organ will know what I mean).
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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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