Would you like to learn Vom Himmel hoch, da komm' ich her, BWV 606 by J.S. Bach from the Orgelbüchlein?
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Thanks to Paul Rosas for meticulous transcription of fingering and pedaling from the slow motion video.
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Bellow is my practice video in slow motion:
Vidas: Hi guys, this is Vidas.
Ausra: And Ausra.
V: Let’s start Episode 196 of Ask Vidas and Ausra podcast. This question was sent by Howard:
Vidas and Ausra: I have recently begun working on chorales and variations and partitas by Pachelbel and I am very interested in the style he used to create these works. I have also found similar styles composed by Walther and Krebs. What other composers use this style and are there any contemporary composers that use this style?
V: Ausra do you love partitas and chorale variations by Pachelbel?
A: Yes I like them they are easy and pretty pieces.
V: They are very suitable not only for concerts but for liturgy too.
A: Yes, that’s right. I think Pachelbel is one of the most composers for liturgy.
V: Yes, I remember you have played plenty of Pachelbel works.
A: Yes, because I had that volume of his music.
V: Published by Dover, right?
A: Yes, yes, and I used a lot because you know I needed new music each week to play at church.
V: I used this collection too. I loved not only his variations but also his chorale settings. Four part settings. They were like expanded versions of chorale harmonizations.
V: With short interludes it seemed to me. What is the basis of the style. I think people should get a better feeling how those pieces are constructed. Probably continuo feeling, basso continuo.
A: Yes, but I think you know the main thing is the subject, the theme and if it’s you know free composition then composer you know just composes the theme and variates it. But if it’s chorale based work then you know the theme is chorale based melody which you know composer harmonizes first and then you know creates different settings based on that theme.
V: Let’s talk a little bit about the structure of those variations. Variations could be done just for manuals only or it could be done with pedals like passacaglia or chaconne.
V: And we have those famous two chaconnes by Pachelbel in D Minor and F Minor.
A: Yes. And you know why it’s not so hard you know to learn partitas or variations as separate pieces because the harmonic chords they are the same all the time although the figuration is different in each variation.
V: Usually they start slower and they speed up variation with smaller note values toward the end.
A: Yes, so for example you would take like traditional variation, you could expect that you know that theme will be exposed to you, presented to you by quarter-notes, let’s say yes, and maybe some half-notes in the cadences. Then in the first variation you will get like eighth notes and then later you will have sixteenth notes, maybe some triplets, and you know you could even achieve thirty-second notes.
V: To make the whole process more interesting somewhere in the middle Pachelbel might change the mode to the minor and add chromaticisms.
A: Yes, that’s true. And do you know if he uses parallel minor or just you know same name key but minor key. Like C Major versus C Minor.
V: Yeah, same name key. Otherwise these variations stay in the same key. And that’s what’s magical about those variations because you always can recognize the theme and always have the same color throughout the cycle and your listeners would appreciate everything very well. They would understand how the piece is constructed so well. And you know Johann Sebastian Bach when he was young and tried to study foreign composer works he a lot of times chose Pachelbel’s chorales and expanded them.
A: Yes, I think Pachelbel was one of his main influences in life. He’s very important actually, composer.
V: Because Pachelbel was the teacher of his brother who was the first teacher of Johann Sebastian too.
A: Yes. And you know as in our question there mentioned other composers. For example, Krebs, yes?
V: Um-hmm. And Walther.
A: So basically you know Walther was basically almost contemporary of Pachelbel, maybe just a little bit younger but you know…
V: Krebs was also not too far removed from Bach because he was a student.
A: So basically this style of variation settings of partitas was very common in baroque time and not only in Germany. J. S. Bach composed partitas as well.
V: But he also lived in Germany.
V: But in various parts of Germany. Bohm lived in Luneborg and that’s not Germany. And Walther lived in central Germany and Krebs also in central Germany. And Johann Sebastian Bach wrote partitas I think fairly early in his life influenced by those composers previously mentioned. So...
A: And I think if we are talking about influence we need to mention Dieterich Buxtehude as well. Because he composed partitas as well and he influenced Bach as well.
V: Well exactly. And those partitas are not too far removed from variation cycles like they call Verses by maybe Sweelinck, Scheidt and their contemporaries too. They are more polyphonically created of course than Pachelbel but they also have the same structure. The themes go throughout sometimes have more imitations. But they are very beautiful to play.
A: And if you like variations and partitas you definitely have to see french noels too because these I know typical french type of music that are you know based on Christmas Carols and are also composed in variation styles. Such composers are Daquin for example or …
A: They all composed variations.
V: Even more romantic composer like Guilmant wrote cycles of noels too.
A: Yes, that’s a French tradition.
V: Um-hmm. So talking about more modern times I think Hugo Distler wrote some variations too. But then that style might be more contemporary. The language of musical composition might be more contemporary.
A: You know if you really like that Pachelbel style you have to improvise yourself. This will be sort of you know already modern composition but in style. Because I think that Pachelbel’s partitas and variations are wonderful models for improvisation.
V: In the old style you mean.
V: A lot of improvisors who love early music they started with his style, not with Bach’s style, not with Buxtehude, not with Sweelinck…
A: Yes, because his style is not a complicated.
V: But nevertheless very beautiful.
A: That’s true.
V: So where to start if a person loves to improvise. Maybe pick a hymn tune from your hymnal and do what Pachelbel did. Maybe analyze what he did in his partitas. See how many variations move in eighth notes, how many in triplets, where does he change the mode and chromaticism. How does he transfer to sixteenth note values, maybe even sextuplets too at the end. Um-hmm. And then do the same on your chorale tune, on your hymn.
A: Yes. And you know if your talking back to liturgy I think it’s excellent for those places in the liturgy where you don’t know how much music you will need in advance because you can you know end up in any of those variations.
V: You mean you can stop, right?
V: Thanks guys, we hope this was useful to you. Pachelbel is an amazing source to explore and experience with your musical adventures and we hope they will lead you to more musical discoveries, right Ausra?
A: Yes, we hope so.
V: And send us more of your questions. These are wonderful situations. We would love to help you grow. And remember when you practice…
A: Miracles happen.
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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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