Russ Bonser: This photo was taken when I was 17 years of age at a theatre in Melbourne Australia. It was a restored Wurlitzer organ built in 1928. It used to elevate out of the floor and was played before and at theatre intervals. It was also used in the occasional concert. This was my first introduction to pipe organs.
Composers who lived after Johann Sebastian Bach sometimes wanted to pay tribute to the great Master and used his ideas (harmonic, melodic, rhythmical or polyphonic) in their pieces. Another way to imprint his legacy for future generations is to use his name directly in composition. It all started with Bach himself, of course, most notably in the last Contrapunctus of the Art of Fugue, among other cases.
The thing is, that these four letters B-A-C-H (in German B means Bb and H - the note B) could serve very well as a subject for a fugue. They form chromatic ascending sequence, they can be inverted, diminished, augmented, played in canon, harmonized in multiple ways and put into various voices in various keys.
Such a piece for today's sight-reading exercise is the Chromatic Fugue on BACH by Johann Christian Bach (1735-1782) who was the youngest son of Johann Sebastian. It could be performed equally well on the piano or the organ since it doesn't have any pedal part.
Play this fugue very slowly because it is extremely chromatic. Aim for articulate legato touch. Interestingly, the piece is written in F major, but the cadence on page 3 is in C minor (half authentic cadence). This fugue will challenge your harmonic skills as well because these sequences will take you to some wild keys.
How difficult it is to play works that include frequent leaps, syncopations, and hand divisions?
Today I've been sight-reading No. 6 of 8 Fugues Without Pedals, F. 31 by Wilhelm Friedemann Bach (1710-1784), the eldest son of Johann Sebastian Bach. This fugue has 3 voices and is written in E minor (6/8 meter).
The subject of this fugue is rather long (6 measures). The rhythmical unit is eighth-note and the melody consists of several arpeggio figures.
There are total of 6 subject entrances in this fugue:
1. E minor, tonic, the middle voice (1-1-1). Note: since the measures are not numbered in this edition, the first number refers to the page of this fugue, the second - to the system in this page, and the third - to the measure number within this system.
2. B minor, dominant, the top voice (1-2-1).
3. E minor, tonic, the bottom voice (1-3-5).
4. B minor, dominant, the middle voice (1-5-5).
5. A minor, subdominant, the top voice (2-2-3).
6. E minor, tonic, the bottom voice (2-6-5).
For me, the main difficulties were:
1. Remembering to prepare for the 3rd subject entrance in the bottom voice in advance.
2. Deciding which hand has to play the middle voice in certain passages.
3. Playing rhythmically the grace note - it should become a sixteenth-note played on the beat (1-2-6, and also in other places).
4. Making sure that syncopations and tied notes in various voices are rhythmically precise.
5. Playing without hesitations the outer voices in places where there are larger leaps at times.
If you want to play this fugue, click here (pages 10-11). Before playing, make sure you first locate all 6 subject entrances and understand the keys used (tonal plan).
Take a really slow tempo because it will make it easier for you to sight-read fluently and pay attention to the above 5 points because I suspect they might present difficulties to other people as well. Use articulate legato touch except where you see the legato sign. If three-part texture is too difficult for you, play separate voices or two-voice combinations.
Share your playing experience of this colorful fugue in the comments.
A fughetta is nothing more than an exposition of the fugue. Usually it is written in three parts or voices and normally is a manualiter work.
A fughetta opens with a theme or a subject in any voice after which enters an answer (a theme in the key of the dominant) in another voice.
While the second voice plays the subject, the first one has a counter-subject - a contrasting melody with different rhythms than the subject. Counter-subject usually plays intervals of the thirds, sixths and suspensions with the subject.
The same happens during the last subject entrance. Here all three voices are sounding. The second voice has a counter-subject (the same or a new one). The trick with the third voice is to make it as stationary as possible.
The subjects of the fughettas can be taken from the chorale tunes (usually the first line), or they can be freely composed. The usual order of the subject entries is one of these four: 1-2-3, 2-1-3, 2-3-1, and 3-2-1.
After the last subject entry there is a closing cadence which wraps up the piece. Except of this cadence, there is a continuous flow without any full stop in all voices at the same time.
If you want to get more information about the fughettas and see how they are constructed, one of the best sources is the Weimarer Tabulatur by Johann Pachelbel, a master of fughettas.
There you will find many beautiful examples of this charming genre which you can imitate in your own improvisations or compositions.
By the way, do you want to learn my special powerful techniques which help me to master any piece of organ music up to 10 times faster? If so, download my video Organ Practice Guide.
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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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