#AskVidasAndAusra 85: I would like recommendations for some Bach pieces with interesting pedal parts that are accessible for pianists
Vidas: Let’s start Episode 85 of #AskVidasAndAusra podcast. And today’s question was sent by Bruce. He writes:
Thank you for your mailing list and your fine resources for organists.
I am a big fan of J.S. Bach, a fairly proficient pianist, pretty knowledgeable about theory and acoustics, conduct a community chorus and orchestra (focusing on Bach cantatas), and am a big fan of the organ.
I have recently been given access to a fine organ, and would like to give it a try. I know that finding a good teacher is important, but before I do that I would like to look at a few Bach pieces to get me started.
I know Klavier-Ubung 3 - is there something in there to try, or is there something more appropriate and possibly less intimidating for a beginning organist? I would like recommendations for some pieces with interesting pedal parts, that are accessible (either with cantus firmus in the pedal, or with something like what I naively believe pedal parts are like).
What would you start with if you were me? I've been starting with Bach chorales, but I would like something more like a chorale prelude or fugue, if possible. Cheers, Bruce.”
Interesting question, right, Ausra?
Ausra: Yes, very interesting.
Vidas: Not too many people would like to start playing the organ with Clavierübung Part III.
Ausra: Yes, that’s definitely not a good cycle for a beginner. Even though the short chorales have no pedal, some of them are very hard to manage; not talking even about the long chorales, and Prelude and Fugue in E♭ Major, which might be really challenging for even advanced organists. So I would suggest for Bruce to start with some other cycle, or some other pieces.
Vidas: Orgelbüchlein probably would be appropriate for him.
Vidas: Because he has, probably, fairly well developed finger technique already.
Vidas: What’s the easiest chorale prelude, from your experience, in Orgelbüchlein?
Ausra: I don’t remember now which is the easiest--which was the easiest for me--but definitely the nicest for me was “Wenn wir in höchsten Nöten sein”.
Vidas: Slow notes...
Ausra: Yes, very beautiful melody.
Vidas: Maybe ornamented chorale is not that easy to manage to play, for the beginner.
Ausra: But because of the slow tempo, I would say it probably wouldn’t be so hard to manage the pedal part.
Vidas: And “Ich ruf’ zu dir” of course--it only has 3 parts, and it might be a possibility to start with this too.
Ausra: Yes, it’s an F minor piece. I’ve done analysis of it.
Vidas: That’s right. And in general, you can basically take any chorale prelude from this collection you want, and it will not be that far away from your current abilities, right? If you are at the level that Bruce is.
Ausra: Yes. And for starters, I think that invention, like the one in C Major, BWV 772 would work well for the organ. Of course, you don’t have the pedal part; but if you have well-developed manual technique, I think inventions could be a good way to just get familiar with the organ and how it works.
Vidas: He says he’s practicing Bach chorales--4-part chorales, probably harmonizations.
Ausra: Yes, that’s what I understood.
Vidas: That’s not a bad thing, either.
Ausra: That’s a good way, yes.
Vidas: This is more complex than playing hymns in four parts.
Vidas: Because the inner parts are more moving--
Vidas: And the pedal part is more advanced; and therefore, basically, the voices are more independent.
Ausra: Yes. But as he mentioned, some of the chorale preludes, Orgelbüchlein; and later maybe like Great Eighteen, also called Leipzig Chorales.
Vidas: Or maybe, let’s try to recommend him Schubler chorales, too.
Ausra: Yes, but some of them have like, trio texture that might be challenging. Or I don’t know, maybe not.
Vidas: He will find out for himself, I think...
Vidas: Sooner or later. If he starts, let’s say, with “Wachet auf,” and discovers that it’s too difficult to add the tenor voice in the LH, then he can go back to the easier pieces.
Ausra: Sure. “Wachet auf” is not that bad, except for the cadences; the cadences are quite tricky.
Vidas: Yeah, somewhere in the middle.
Ausra: But the beginning of “Wachet auf” is very good for a beginner to learn the pedal part.
Ausra: Because there are only two voices, pedal and RH.
Vidas: The entire page is without the tenor line, and the tenor line doesn’t come in until after the initial Ritornello--after 12 measures or so. Wonderful. So, that’s a good start for him to undertake. And Ausra, in your opinion, how many pieces should he play from the easier collection, like Orgelbüchlein--to then be ready for the next stage: more advanced chorale preludes?
Ausra: Like, you mean, the third part of the Clavierübung?
Vidas: Yes, yes.
Ausra: Well, I would say to play the Clavierübung Part III, it would take, I would say, 4 years of very extensive practice, at least.
Vidas: So in this time, he will probably master the entire Orgelbuchlein…
Vidas: Or all the Schubler chorales, even Great Eighteen chorales--
Vidas: Some of them are much easier than Clavierübung Part III.
Ausra: Because when I think about some chorales from that collection, Part III--you know, like “Vater unser,” the long one, or “Jesus Christus, unser Heiland”--you know, it just makes me shiver. They are very complex, very difficult.
Vidas: Or the one with six-parts, double-pedals...
Ausra: Yes, “Aus tiefer Not.”
Vidas: Also very difficult and dense texture. Right. Good, guys, I think you have good tips now to get you started; and if you have more questions, please send them to us. We love helping you grow as an organist. Okay, this was Vidas.
Ausra: And Ausra.
Vidas: And remember, when you practice…
Ausra: Miracles happen.
One of my best organ students is a strong pianist too.
He almost doesn't have any technical problems
and he can play whatever he wants with pedals.
But the thing which is still underdeveloped
is his sense of organ touch.
Too often I find him lifting the fingers off the keyboard.
Too often he releases the chords not together.
This is especially obvious in middle voices.
In piano playing it's not so easy to notice
but the organ, especially the tracker instrument is unforgiving.
When I said to him that his pianistic habits are stalking him,
he agreed and promised me to keep an extra eye on it.
The thing is, he often practices organ pieces on the piano.
This is fine except when he forgets it's an organ, not a piano.
So here's my advice to all of the pianists who play the organ:
Try to imitate the organ touch you get on piano.
Avoid making dynamics and play mezzo piano.
Keep a contact with the keyboard at all times.
This will help you get rid of the pianistic habits
when you play the organ..
Ausra's Harmony Exercise:
Diatonic Sequence in E Minor: V6-i
We all have heard that piano technique is the basis of the modern legato organ technique. Having strong piano skills might be a great advantage. But did you know that not all of the things you do on the piano are equally transferable to the organ?
In particular, when you play piano, one of the key elements is making dynamics with your touch. If you want the piano to sound louder, you play with more force. If you want to play softer, you use less force. It’s as simple as that.
But on the organ, the dynamics are not achieved through the same techniques that pianists use. On the organ, in order to increase or decrease the volume, you can change the registration or manipulate the swell box.
Sure, you can make subtle accents with some clever use of articulation and touch (on the mechanical action organs) but what I want to stress here, is that you should not use that excess force.
There is simply no need to pound on the keys harder if you are playing a loud piece. On the contrary, the softer you depress the keys, the better you will be able to control the releases which are equally or more important than the depression of the keys.
So you have to be relaxed enough and play mezzo piano on the organ. Use only as much power as is needed to depress the keys.
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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