By Vidas Pinkevicius (get free updates of new posts here)
Could organists live without Bach's legacy?
It's like asking:
Could birds fly without wings?
Could fish swim without water?
Could you clap with one hand?
Could life survive in a vacuum?
Could light escape a black hole?
Bach is always on our mind, isn't he?
He is musical Alpha and Omega.
Karl asks about the way to perform ornaments in Bach's music. He likes to hold a note longer than it is marked in the score and he is wondering if this is appropriate?
If I understand Karl's situation correctly, he is holding the first note longer than the rest of them in a group.
I think this way is especially nice - in a trill and in certain other ornaments it sounds very natural to hold the first note a little longer and then speed up. Otherwise, if you play all notes evenly, it sounds a bit too automatic. And don't forget to start a trill from the upper note on the beat (not before the beat).
This tradition of starting the trills from the upper note comes from the French music and since Bach was heavily influenced by the French tradition in various ways, he himself advocated ornaments to be performed in the French way (however, certain pieces which were written after Italian fashion might have trills which could be started on the main note).
When Bach wrote the Klavierbuchlein for his nine-year-old son Wilhelm Friedemann, he included this table of ornaments (fashioned after the table by Jean-Henri d'Anglebert) which you might find useful to consult with. Note that the trill is shown to be executed rhythmically in 32 notes but in reality they would make the first note a little longer (like we do when we want to emphasize the downbeat of the measure in early music)..
What about you? How do you play trills and other ornaments in Bach's music?
Practice transposing the above excerpt from the Fantasia and Fugue in C minor, BWV 562 by J.S. Bach minor 2nd upward to the key of C# minor this way:
1. Right hand alone
2. Left hand alone
3. Pedals alone
4. Both hands together
5. Right hand and pedals together
6. Left hand and pedals together
7. All staves combined with both hands and pedals
Take a slow tempo, aim for detached articulate legato touch and 3 correct repetitions in a row in each step.
Post time and the number of repetitions to comments.
Bach can teach us about:
Curiosity, when he stuck his little hands into the cabinet of his older brother Johann Christoph to secretly copy his forbidden compilation of keyboard music of contemporary German, Italian, and French composers.
Dealing with personal tragedy, when his first wife Maria Barbara whom he dearly loved suddenly died of unknown causes, Bach was away with his Prince Leopold of Cothen on a trip. Bach found his wife already buried on July 7, 1720. But in 1721 he prepared 6 Brandenburg Concertos - Movement 1 from Concerto No. 2 is flying since 1977 in the Voyager Interstellar Mission with other specimens of the achievements of humanity and natural sounds and images.
Failure, when he applied unsuccessfully for the positions of musical director in 5 main churches in Hamburg but a more wealthier competitor was chosen for the job.
Fear, when organist Louis Marchand fled after hearing Bach's practice before the planned contest between the two masters.
Following the rules, when he advocated that in composition everything which is not forbidden, is allowed.
Generosity, when he played the entire cycle of the Well Tempered Clavier for his students when he was in no mood to teach.
Hard work, when he said that he worked hard. Anyone who works as hard as he did can achieve the same results. He was being serious.
Having a mission, when he walked all the way to Lubeck from Arnstadt on foot the distance of 250 miles to learn from Dieterich Buxtehude.
Having a point of view, when he called the-not-so-diligent bassoonist in his school ensemble "Zippel Fagottist" ("Nanny Goat Bassoonist") for which he got in trouble with the Arnstadt city council. This bassoonist with his friends have assaulted Bach one evening and only his ceremonial dagger and his female companion prevented the escalation of fight).
Ignoring the critics, when he was accused by Johann Adolph Scheibe to be the greatest of the Musikanten (insult to the learned musician) and that his church compositions are artificial and laborious.
Leading by example, when he wrote the Art of Fugue or Well Tempered Clavier as textbooks for polyphonic writing. Or when he harmonized chorales in his cantatas which literally became models and harmony textbooks for future generations.
Not waiting for inspiration, when he wrote one or two cantatas during his first 5 years in Leipzig on Monday and Tuesday (like this one - Jesu Joy of Man's Desiring starts on p. 16). On Wednesday the parts were copied, on Thursday the performers received the parts, on Friday was the rehearsal, and on Sunday - the performance during the liturgy. On Monday everything starts from scratch.
Not waiting to get picked, when he went to improvise in front of Johann Adam Reincken, a legendary master in Hamburg.
Persistence, when he offered this advice to one of his students: "Just practice diligently and you will do very well. You have five fingers on each hand just as healthy as mine."
Rejection, when he won the organist position of the Jacobi church in Sangerhausen but didn't get the job.
Shame, when he insulted his employer, the Duke in Weimar for which he was put in prison for a month.
Vulnerability, when he played his chorale harmonizations during church services in Arnstadt in a new and daring way which he learned from Buxtehude. His congregation didn't like it. It didn't take long for Bach to start looking for a new position.
It's our turn now.
PS Don't try to be another Bach. Because there already was one. But become the best at being yourself.
How do blind organists play organ music? They either use Braille notation or play by ear. Also they improvise.
A blind organist, Ulysses likes to play Jesu Joy of Man's Desiring, from cantata BWV 147 by J.S. Bach. He uses either Braille or his perfect pitch to pick up music from online videos. In order to help him master this beautiful piece, today I prepared a version of it in 7 combinations (right hand, left hand, pedals, right hand and left hand, right hand and pedals, left hand and pedals, and all three parts together) for him to listen to and practice.
Some people who are not blind also like watching my videos and practicing together with the recording in half speed. If you like practicing BWV 147/10 while listening to the sound file, you can join Ulysses in listening to this MIDI file of the score performed in a very slow practice tempo. Let me know if this helps.
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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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