How to Interpret Registration Indications in the Works of Mendelssohn and Other German Romantic Organ Music?
Are you struggling with finding the best registration when playing German Romantic organ music, such as works by Mendelssohn, Brahms, Reger, Liszt, Reubke, Rheinberger, and others? Read this article which will clarify some of the most common registration indications.
The following guidelines are taken from the Preface to the 6 Organ Sonatas, Op. 65 by Felix Mendelssohn which is written by the composer himself.
FF (Fortissimo) – Full Organ. With this indication you can use most of the stops on your instrument, including principals, flutes, and chorus reeds of various pitch levels. Add couplers if you want a bigger sound. However when in doubt, omit certain stops or couplers because there is the danger for the organ to sound too loud. In other words, listen how the instrument sounds in the room and make appropriate adjustments.
pp (Pianissimo) – Soft 8’ stop alone. Such register might be a soft sounding flute or a string stop. If you have many such stops available on your organ, try to find the one which has an original character.
F(Forte) – Great organ without some of the loudest stops. In this case you should probably omit the loudest reeds, such as Trumpets of 16’ and 8’ pitch level. A full principal chorus based on the 16’ (if available) with flutes of different pitch levels will do.
p (Piano) – Several soft 8’ stops combined. Two or more flutes and strings will usually sound nice. In some cases you can also use manual couplers.
Registration in the pedals. Use 16’ and 8’ stops together in the pedal, except where expressly stated otherwise. The composer specifically refers to the variation part of the 6th Organ Sonata, where you can find indication that a chorale tune (cantus firmus) “Vater unser im Himmelreich” should be played on the 8’ stop (perhaps the reed).
2 manuals – different tone color, without too great contrast. When registering pieces for two different keyboards, aim to use stops which are not too different in terms of volume level. Instead, choose the ones which produce a different sound character.
Suitable for other German Romantic music. It is interesting to note that Mendelssohn’s suggestions are valid not only for his music, but also for the works of other German Romantic Composers. This is based on the fact that the organs which were built at that time in the German lands share many similar concepts.
Follow these guidelines when registering organ music by German Romantic composers in general or pieces by Felix Mendelssohn in particular. As always, when adapting original registration indications to modern organs, have in mind the ideal sound that you want to produce and make necessary changes. If in doubt – choose the solution which is the simplest.
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Are you struggling in learning one of the best known organ works by Felix Mendelssohn, Sonata No. 6 in D Minor, Op. 65? In this article, I will give you 5 tips which will help you learn this composition.
1. Repeated notes. One of the most important elements in the performance of the Romantic organ music is the issue of the repeated notes. Whenever you see the repeated notes in this composition, you have to shorten them by the unit value.
For example, if the most common rhythmic value (the unit value) in the last movement is an eight note, try to shorten the repeated notes exactly by an eighth note. If the eighth notes are repeated, it is best to shorten them by half and playing a sixteenth note with a sixteenth note rest.
2. Registration. Mendelssohn wrote in the preface of his 6 sonatas that for him fortissimo means a full organ, pianissimo - soft 8' stop alone, forte - great organ without some of the loudest stops, piano - several soft 8' stops combined and so forth. In the pedal you should always use 16' and 8' stops together unless indicated otherwise.
3. Tempo in the toccata (the last variation of movement I). Although many organists love to play this toccata very fast, I recommend avoiding extremes in tempo. This is because in such a tempo you will lose the important details in articulation, phrasing and so on.
When you practice this toccata, take a slow and comfortable tempo which would allow you to avoid mistakes. If you make a mistake, go back a few measures and play that episode several times in a row correctly.
4. Practice in fragments, in separate parts and in combinations. For best results, I recommend you practice in shorter fragments of about 4 measures each. Then you will be able to correct your mistakes very quickly. As you start making progress in your playing, you can make the fragments longer.
It is also a good idea not to play both hands and feet together right from the beginning. Instead, practice right hand alone, left hand alone, and pedals alone. Then take both hands together, right hand and pedals, and left hand and pedals. Only then master all parts together.
5. Practice on the piano. Since the basis of the Romantic legato organ technique is based on the piano technique, you will improve your keyboard technique by practicing this composition on the piano extensively.
If you want, you can play the pedals on the floor while sitting on the higher chair. However, be very careful not to play this piece on the piano using the piano touch with intense dynamics and lifting your fingers high up in the air.
Instead, play everything mezzo piano with an even sound and try to keep your fingers in contact with the keys at all times. Playing this way will ensure you will get the most benefit out of the piano practice.
Use these tips as you practice the Sonata No. 6 in D Minor, Op. 65 by Mendelssohn on the organ today. If you are precise and consistent in your practice, in time you will learn to play it well.
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 FREE Organ Practice Guide.
Or if you really want to learn to play any organ composition at sight fluently and without mistakes while working only 15 minutes a day, check out my systematic master course in Organ Sight-Reading.
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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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