SOPP264: What are the important aspects to know about liturgical music in order for the organist to select or improvise an appropriate piece of music for each?
Vidas: Hi guys, this is Vidas.
Ausra: And Ausra.
V: Let’s start episode 264, of Secrets of Organ Playing Podcast. This question was sent by David. And he writes:
Dear Vidas and Ausra.
It seems to me that there are basically 5 types of music that the organist has to be ready to play in church other than accompanying hymns and choir anthems. They are: Preludes, Postludes, offertories, introits, and interludes. Perhaps interludes aren't so common in most churches now.
What are the important aspects to know about each of those in order for the organist to select or improvise an appropriate piece of music for each? Are Preludes usually longer, more meditative? Of course we know that Postludes must be played as loud as possible to prevent idle and rude chatter while the organ is playing (I'm joking, of course). But what makes a piece more suited for a Prelude, and another piece more suited for postlude. Do offertories have special characteristics? When a church uses them, what is appropriate for an introit? Are there any special guidelines that generally can be applied?
Obviously every church and denomination is different, and differing themes and seasons will affect this, but I'm looking for general principals for the average service or Mass.
V: What do you think, Ausra?
A: Well it’s a very broad question and as David said himself at the end of his question that everything is different in different church. Yes, different denomination, and different tradition, and depending on the season. But if we could give sort of general outline; I think what preludes differs from the postludes. I think preludes must be probably a little bit more solemn in character. And sort of not maybe as fast in tempo as postlude, because prelude is sort of preparation for the service itself. So it should not distract probably as much as postlude.
A: What do you think about it?
V: I agree. And usually, we can take a look at introit and it’s text and it’s melodies. And David here mentions introits. But introits usually are sung, right? So,,,
A: That’s right.
V: So, if before the mass you sing an introit, it’s a good idea to play a prelude based on those ideas, and melodies and texts, and characters, too. So, sometimes if a Sunday is solemn and festive, introits will be also more festive and preludes therefore will be more festive with loud registration, that’s possible. And depending on occasion, it could be meditative character too.
A: What about length? Do you think that preludes should be shorter, or the same as postlude?
V: It could be as long as you want, but you have to end in time for the singers to sing. So you have to collaborate with whatever choir is singing at the church, or maybe you are leading your choir too, so you have to count those minutes, how many stanzas there are in your introit, or if you are in protestant denomination, then opening hymn, you have to count how many minutes do you need for opening hymn and then improvise or choose a prelude to fit that timing and end on time. What do you think, Ausra?
A: Yes, I think that’s a very good suggestion. Well, then let’s proceed further.
A: What about offertory?
V: Offertory in Catholic Mass, has it’s own text and melodies, so if the choir is not present, you can improvise something based on those Gregorian Chant melodies, suited for that particular mass and liturgical calendar.
A: What if you are in protestant church?
V: In Protestant churches, I think it could be longer. Because the offerings are usually collected during that time, right?
A: But what about character? Should the offertory be loud or quiet or soft or meditative?
V: Remember in Baroque times, 18th Century, Cuperin and French classical composers created offertories very long…
A: Yes. I think the offering was the longest part of organ composition for the mass.
V: So that meant that at that time, before probably Vatican II, you were allowed to play almost non-stop during the mass, except perhaps for the Elevation, and then shortly picking up after that. So offertories could have been much longer and louder that way. Today, it’s different, right? I think today could be, depending on the length of the offering itself, you have to choose probably quieter character. What you think?
A: Yes, I think so. I don’t think it would be suited in church to play offering loud.
V: What about Ausra, communion?
A: Well, communion, well, could be I think a little bit maybe louder than offering but also quiet, not too loud.
V: I see what you mean. Because people are walking in the church, right?
A: Yes. So you need to sort of cover that noise.
A: Step noise.
V: And usually they’re longer than offertories because it takes a while for everybody to take communion.
A: Well, and if choir sings during communion, that often happens. organist has to fill in after that.
V: Right. So choir could sing a hymn or two, and organist could gently continue in the same mood as the last hymn.
A: Yes, I think the selection of repertoire suited for service is nice if you play for your all the parts of the service something related to the hymns of that day. I think it’s very nice.
V: Right. Can you play Gregorian Chant melodies during the communion?
A: Of course you can do it. Why not?
V: Like Ubi Caritas.
V: Or something suitable for that occasion. And every Gregorian Chant collection for the, from the Gradual of the mass, it has the place for communion too and you can choose the melodies and text for the service and liturgical calendar. And then, you could improvise, right? I always tend to look what Charles Tournemire did with his l'Orgue Mystique collection. He composed organ masses for every Sunday of the year, basically.
A: So you could just take his collection and use it.
V: You could. And Introit, Gradual, Offertory, Communion, four pieces are shorter and easier to play. And the last one, Postlude is long and elaborate, like fantasia.
A: Don’t you think it’s sort of pity that the postlude is place where organist can show himself, what he’s capable of, and not so many people will hear it because so many people after service just want to quit the church as fast as possible.
V: It is. And you have to sometimes get used to that congregation. Sometimes, make them, or help them trust you. Maybe talk to them afterwards in general, basically. Keep in touch with them. So then they will react to your playing more personally and don’t neglect it.
A: Yes. Hopefully. So let’s then conclude that preludes should be not as loud maybe and not as fast as the postlude. And if it’s occasion is solemn you could play a march too, solemn character. And then of course the all middle service might be played softer and slower.
V: And the postlude of course, has to be quite probably joyful, right Ausra?
A: Yes. Definitely! Of course if it’s Lent, maybe not as joyful, but anyway, it’s character must be more vivid than communion and offering.
V: Thank you guys. Please send us more of your questions. We love helping you grow. And remember, when you practice...
A: Miracles happen!
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Organists of Vilnius University , creators of Secrets of Organ Playing.
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