Vidas: Hi guys, this is Vidas.
Ausra: And Ausra.
Vidas: Let’s start Episode 163 of #AskVidasAndAusra podcast. This question was sent by Anne. She writes:
Good Morning Vidas and Ausra – I have a question for you.
I am working on Bach’s Christ Lag In Todesbanden from the Orgelbuchlein (Riemenschneider Edition). The Key Signature for the Chorale is D minor (B flat) but there is no B flat in the key signature for the Prelude. However the piece is apparently written in D minor. I’m assuming it’s modal. My question is how do I determine which mode it is written in?
BTW, I am working on your pedal exercise from the Bach BWV 540 in all Major keys and the Cadence transposed to 24 keys. I really like them to get warmed up on before my daily practice. Thank you so much for taking the time to do that!
Anne Kimball (Total Organist subscriber)
So that’s great, that Anne is practicing all kinds of exercises from the collection that we have in the Total Organist training system, right?
V: So, going back, Ausra, to the question about modal pieces and their key signatures--do you think that--Do you know this piece? It’s in d minor, but there is no B♭ next to the clef. But it starts and ends on a d minor chord.
A: I know; and actually, this is not the only case that composers in the Baroque period did that. But it just means that the piece is written in Dorian mode, D Dorian mode.
V: D Dorian. So this system, of course, is much older than the major/minor system?
A: Yes, it is. And although I’m telling that this piece is written in D Dorian mode, it’s yes and no, because it already has that tonal system--major/minor system--but also preserves some features of that modal system as well.
V: You know what would be modal? I think the chorale melody is modal.
A: Yes, yes.
V: But their harmonization--harmony, chords, and polyphony--I think it’s quite normally minor. D minor.
A: So...and you know, she asks about how to determine which mode it is. So this is sort of simple: for example, like in this case, it starts and finishes on D. Not on A, as it should be if the key were a minor. So if it finishes on a different note, then you can suspect that the mode is in D.
V: Mhm. And, is it a major or a minor mode?
A: It’s a minor mode.
A: In this case. Because if you would take a piano--all the white keys--and start playing from each of the keys, you could get a different mode each time.
V: Like from C, would be one mode…
A: Yes. Maybe let’s start from A. Maybe we could talk about all of them.
V: Alright. So, what kind of mode would you get if you started playing a scale with white keys starting from A?
A: This would be Aeolian mode.
V: And it doesn’t differ from any normal, natural minor, right?
A: Yes. It’s like natural minor. And because it’s natural minor, it doesn’t have that raised seventh scale degree and sixth scale degree; it sounds modal.
V: Mhm. And then, if you start with B with white keys only, it’s not b minor then.
A: Yes, it’s not b minor. It’s Locrian mode.
V: Locrian. I don’t think we teach that in school very much.
A: Well, we don’t teach that in school. But I think it’s crazy, because actually, the head of our department, he is crazy about math. Actually, I believe that he’s a true mathematician, but not musician!
A: Because he teaches kids that there are 3 major modes and 3 minor modes; and if he adds Locrian mode, then there are 7 modes, and it’s not right for him mathematically. But actually Locrian is a minor mode. So in that case, if you would teach it, you would have 4 minor keys and 3 major modes. 3 major, 4 minor.
V: It’s not symmetrical.
A: I know, and it doesn’t suit him. So...well, I teach my kids...at least I say that there is a seventh mode, too.
V: Exactly. I think that you have to understand that from the B note, when you start playing the scale, it’s more minor than major, because B Major has 5 sharps from B, and b minor has only 2 sharps.
A: Yes, and you can sort of imagine that it’s a minor-minor-minor key: compared to natural minor, it has a lower second scale degree and fifth scale degree.
V: Aha, so even tonic triad or tonic chord is not minor there; it’s diminished.
A: It’s sort of the most awkward mode of all.
A: Of those seven modes.
V: Very sad mode, right?
A: Yes, it is.
V: Saddest of them all. What about if you start from C?
A: Well, you have Ionian.
V: Ionian. Okay. What about...Is it different from C Major or not?
A: No, it’s actually the same.
V: Natural major.
A: Yes, natural major.
V: I see. And then from D would be our beloved Dorian mode.
A: Yes, and it’s very common. Many composers actually use this D Dorian mode in their compositions.
V: Why is it related to minor and not to major?
A: Well, because it’s based on the d minor scale--you could say that. Only, it has the sixth scale degree raised.
V: B natural.
A: Yes, yes. And if you would look at the tetrachords, there are 2 tetrachords each in this mode. You have a minor tetrachord at the bottom, and then again you have a minor at the top; so 2 minor tetrachords.
A: That’s why it’s minor mode.
V: I see. And D Major should have 2 sharps.
A: Yes. F sharp and C sharp.
V: It’s more distant from all-white-keys then.
A: That’s right.
V: Alright, how about from E? What happens?
A: You would have Phrygian mode. It’s a minor mode too; but compared to e minor key, it doesn’t have the F♯. So it has a lower second scale degree.
V: Mhm. And about the F mode--it would be, what? Lydian.
A: Lydian, yes. Comparing with major, that’s a major mode. It wouldn’t have the B♭, so you would have the 4th scale degree raised.
V: So the last would be from G.
V: And it is Mixolydian.
A: Yes. It’s also a major mode, and you could compare it with G Major key, but it wouldn’t have F♯. So it has the seventh scale degree lowered.
V: Mhm. So all those early Baroque pieces, even Renaissance pieces, were written in a modal system, right?
V: And only later composers adopted a major/minor system. And as late as Bach, sometimes he adhered to the rules of modal writing, even though he clearly wrote in major or minor mode.
A: Yes, but also, not only Baroque composers--like later composers, especially French composers, they liked to use modes, too.
V: 20th century composers.
A: Yes, 20th century. Composers like Langlais, for example.
V: Organ music suits very well for the modal system. Somehow in my church, when I improvise, I use modes all the time.
A: Yes. And if you would look at any hymnal, you would find quite a few modal hymns, too.
V: Right. So guys, if you decide to check out some modes, practice them by playing just a single melody with one hand; and adapt and transpose to any other note system, starting from C or E♭, or B, or G♯--whatever starting point you can do, it’s okay. So then, your melody will have different modes. And you can transpose to major, also, related modes. Like Lydian, Mixolydian, and Ionian. Or minor related modes, as Ausra said, Dorian, Aeolian, and Phrygian.
A: And Locrian!
V: And Locrian, if you want to be complete. Thank you so much, guys, for listening to us. And send us more of your questions; we love helping you grow. This was Vidas.
A: And Ausra.
V: And remember, when you practice…
A: Miracles happen.
Welcome to Secrets of Organ Playing Podcast #117!
Today's guest is composer, organist and choir conductor from New Zealand, Nigel Williams. During his student days he was a chorister at Holy Trinity Cathedral in Auckland. In his eleven years in the choir he developed an interest in composing organ and choral music.
After graduating from the University of Auckland with a Master's Degree in composition he began a career as a music teacher. He was at the forefront of music education in New Zealand for almost 30 years having taught variously at Westlake Girls High School, St Paul's Collegiate School, Scots College, and Marsden School for Girls. He retired recently from the position of Director of Music at Mill Hill School in London (UK).
Currently Nigel is musical director of the Tauranga Civic Choir for whom he is composing a large scale cantata style work for performance in 2019.
He has always maintained an active life as a musician and composer in the community. In Hamilton NZ Nigel established a regional orchestra and jazz band festival for schools.
Taking advantage of St Paul's Collegiate new Letourneau organ he established an international organ festival to further promote the playing of the organ in New Zealand. He was Director of Music at Hamilton's St Peter's Cathedral for several years and established choral scholarships to ensure a quality of choral singing at the Cathedral and establish an enduring link with Hamilton's Waikato University's Music Department.
In Wellington NZ Nigel served as chair of the Wellington regional committee of the New Zealand Choral Federation. During his seven years as musical director of the Bach Choir of Wellington he enjoyed the opportunity of directing over twenty five concerts with an emphasis on the larger scale works of J.S. Bach. He was fortunate to forge a relationship with members of the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra which lead to the formation of the Chiesa Ensemble. Nigel's last concert with the Bach Choir was a complete performance of J.S. Bach’s Mass in B minor.
In this conversation, Nigel shares his insights about his love for twelve tone technique, modal music and of course, the polyphony.
Enjoy and share your comments below.
And don't forget to help spread the word about the SOP Podcast by sharing it with your organist friends.
And if you like it, please head over to iTunes and leave a rating and review. This helps to get this podcast in front of more organists who would find it helpful.
Thanks for caring.
Listen to the conversation
Nigel's music on Sheet Music Plus: http://www.sheetmusicplus.com/search?Ntt=nigel+williams&aff_id=454957
The Dorian Toccata and Fugue is not the only piece Bach wrote using ancient modes, of course. In the above picture of Das alte Jahr vergangen ist, BWV 614 we can see that it appears this chorale is in A minor but ends with the half cadence, which is weird. More likely, it's written in E Frygian mode (like natural minor but with flattened 2nd scale degree - hence no F#.
You are probably wondering why the ending chord is E major? It's called Picardy Third: a technique to end Baroque minor pieces in major. This is because keyboard instruments back in the day were tuned with at least several major thirds. Hence a major third E-G# in this chord sounds more pure and stable that a minor third E-G.
Are you playing any Baroque piece that is written in a minor key? Chances are that it may also be modal. Share your ideas in the comments.
Take a look at the above picture (it's an opening of Bach's Dorian Toccata and Fugue, BWV 538). Is everything the way we would write today? If this is a piece in D minor (and it is), why is one flat missing next to the clef?
It turns out that this composition is a remnant of what we call today the Dorian mode - it's constructed like natural minor but with raised 6th scale degree - hence no Bb.
So Bach really remembered the tradition and times when major and minor keys were not invented yet. Instead composers at that time used modal system of sometimes 8, sometimes 12 modes. This was before the Baroque period (although this example indicates that modes were still significant factor for Baroque composers, too).
What I'm working on:
Writing "A young rascal". Recording SOP Podcast No. 2 with George Ritchie. Continue writing fingering and pedaling for the Toccata by Charles-Marie Widor. Editing Part 3 of Sonata No. 2 by Teisutis Makačinas. Transposing hymn setting "He Was Not Willing". Practicing "Virtuoso Pianist" by Hanon in C Frygian mode (from C with 4 flats). Playing Office No. 35 from “L’Orgue Mystique” by Charles Tournemire. Improvising in Frygian mode. Composing "A Storm". Reading "The Accidental Creative".
Organ Improvisation Recitals
It's hard to create and perform a good organ improvisation recital. You've got to make it worth people's time to engage with it.
I've often been asked to appear in public in various venues. I approach it by making it fun and interesting - worthy of the 30-60 minutes of time I'm asking for to participate.
On Friday, I will be performing a private recital for a group of tourists for Germany and on Saturday - a musical poem based on the story of The Little Mermaid.
Improvisation recitals are amazing ways to tell stories that resonate with listeners. It's a great way for your organization to make compelling connection with many people.
Email me if you want to chat about an organ improvisation recital for your organization.
This blog doesn't remember the times when major or minor keys weren't invented yet . Forward it to someone who still composes using ancient modes.
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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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