SOPP265: What do you think about the tempo to be kept in the Alla Breve section of BWV 532?
Vidas: Hi guys, this is Vidas.
Ausra: And Ausra.
V: Let’s start Episode 265 of Secrets of Organ Playing Podcast. This question was sent by Andrea. And Andrea writes:
Hello Ausra and Vidas,
Thanks for your hints and the talks you share with us!
I would like to know your opinion about the prelude in D, BWV 532, from JSB, a piece I run into a few days ago, after years of oblivion past the days I studied it... As we know, the piece is divided into three parts, the second of which is marked Alla breve. What do you think about the tempo to be kept in this section? Shall we keep "Alla breve" as an indication of style, i.e. the Stylus Phantasticus, so to be played fast and virtuoso, or shall we think of it as a tempo indication, so to played crotchets in the region of 60-66?
I would like to know your ideas about this...
Right now I'll go playing, because "when we practice, miracles happen"!!!
Have a nice summer!
So Ausra, we’re looking at the score now, right?
V: And what do you think, for starters?
A: I don’t think it’s related to stilus fantasticus--this particular episode. I think that the previous one was more in the stilus fantasticus style, and I think that in this particular spot, alla breve means that...At the beginning of this prelude, we had the meter...common meter, yes?
A: It meant that we have 2 strong beats in a measure: on the first beat and the third beat. But starting from the alla breve section, we have only 1 strong beat per measure. It means that from that particular spot, you have to play everything...double as fast as it was before.
V: Twice as fast.
A: Twice as fast, yes, twice as fast. It means that if previously you had 16ths, so now your…
V: 8th notes.
A: Your 8th notes have to be played as the 16ths were.
V: Mhm, that makes sense. And for people who want to be really virtuosic here and play really fast, they need to start really fast the Praeludium, the pedal scale in D Major. And then keep the same tempo in alla breve, but twice as...fast.
A: That’s right. So you really need to think carefully before taking the opening tempo.
V: Right. Umm...Those tempo relationships are very important in Baroque music, right Ausra, because in sectional pieces, if we play separate episodes in a variety of tempi, then what happens?
A: Well, the piece might lose unity.
V: Because it lacks unity anyway, and we need to keep at least something unified; so one of the elements is tempo.
A: That’s right; and I think it’s a question that raises so many questions and so many discussions. And think even about the Fugue, like in E♭ Major, yes? from part of Clavierübung by J. S. Bach. I have heard so many discussions about that, how to put all those 3 fugues together in terms of the right tempo, what their relationship between fugues should be. But obviously, this is...you know, the style of Bach, it’s just still young Bach; so you have that Northern German feeling in it.
V: Like Buxtehude, you mean?
A: That’s right. Like Buxtehude.
V: This is directly related to Buxtehude’s style, too. Probably he picked up this writing when he went to Lübeck.
A: Yes, I guess so.
V: On foot.
V: How many miles?
A: Well, many many miles!
V: 250. Somewhere...like 450km, I think. On foot.
A: No wonder his trip lasted longer than he expected! That he even lost his job!
V: Yeah, his church officials weren’t particularly pleased that the main organist of Arnstadt Church had left--for the holidays, for Christmas--the church to the substitute.
A: That’s right.
A: But anyway, this piece, this Praeludium and Fugue in D Major, is a very exciting piece. Especially Praeludium.
V: Right. And not particularly easy to play, in general, this cycle, Praeludium and Fugue. What are some of the difficult spots here?
A: Well, you know, I remember myself playing this piece, and I remember that I often messed up right at the beginning.
V: The pedal scale, you mean?
A: Yes. I don’t know, it gave me such nerves!
V: Did you play with toes only, or with heels?
A: No, I played with toes only.
V: I see.
A: Because I worked on this piece when I studied with Dr. Pamela Ruiter-Feenstra at Eastern Michigan University, and she would not allow me to use heels. Thanks for her!
V: We have prepared this score with pedaling and fingering here, and looking at the choices of D Major scale ascending version from the beginning here, it looks strange for many people, right? To play toe-toe, for the left foot; and then right-left, right-left, right-right. It’s really strange for people who never touched a historical pedalboard.
A: That’s right.
V: What’s the strangest feeling about this passage? What is different than people would normally pedal it?
A: Probably that you have to use the left foot right at the beginning, hit the D, and E.
V: And in the same manner as at the end, C♯ and D are right-right.
A: That’s right.
V: Why is it so important to do this? What do you think?
A: I think it’s important because it gives the right articulation. And in this case, you would be able to play it on the historical instruments, or replicas built in a historical style.
V: What would happen if people started to play left-right, left-right, left-right, left-right? Why can’t we play it like this?
A: Hahahahahaha! Well, I think you would just fall down on the pedal, if you would play like this! It’s possible, but--
V: It’s POSSIBLE…
A: But, but--Yes, it’s possible, but I wouldn’t do it.
V: But the grouping of notes is different, right?
A: Yes, because if you think about playing that F♯ with the left foot, and then you know, crossing legs...I don’t know.
A: I think it would be too hard.
V: Plus, in this grouping, you always play the stronger beat with the left foot, if goes upward.
A: That’s true.
V: So D should be stronger than E. But it’s the opposite, right? It’s E that is stronger than D. Therefore we reserved D and E for one foot. Right? Left-left. And from E we start to do alternate toe pedaling.
A: That’s right. Well, at least that passagio, you know, which goes down from the broken arpeggio--that is easier, at least. You know what to do: it’s left-right, left-right, and so on and so forth.
V: To me, alla breve seems kind of slippery to play, because it’s so rhythmically consistent, and there’s no way to slow down here and adjust the tempo.
A: That’s true, and that’s often the case with the stilus fantasticus pieces, because if you would look at Buxtehude’s Praeludium, he often mixes these strictly rhythmic episodes with those free episodes.
V: Fugal, plus free.
V: Fugal and improvisatory episodes.
A: Yes. And even in Bach’s other earlier pieces, you can find that like, in A Major Toccata, for example. And Fugue. It also has something there, you know, Northern German-ish. Don’t you think so?
V: Could be. So guys, approach this piece with caution; don’t play it too fast, because it’s risky!
A: It is. I never went back to this piece, and it’s just too bad, maybe. I need to repeat it at some point.
V: Maybe for the next Bach’s Birthday.
A: Hahaha! Could be. It would be fun.
V: Right. What would you recommend for me to play, then?
A: Well, I don’t know. Maybe 6 trio sonatas!
V: Too much!
A: Hahaha! I’m just joking. G Major, of course.
V: G Major! Let’s start from the last one! Not the last one. The last is--The last is G Major!
A: Yes! It’s G Major, yes.
V: Oh! So..
A: Well, my first was C Major, which is the fifth sonata, so…
V: Mhmm...We need to do pedaling and fingering for those remaining sonatas, because up till now we have E♭ Major prepared for people.
A: That’s right.
V: I guess that would be helpful. Thank you guys, you gave us a lot of ideas for the future. Please keep sending us those questions; we love helping 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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