SOPP285: How should I play Bach on smaller church organs in buildings that have flat acoustics?
Vidas: Hi guys, this is Vidas.
Ausra: And Ausra.
V: Let’s start Episode 285 of #Secrets of Organ Playing podcast. This question was sent by John, and he writes:
I’ve almost learnt In dulci jubilo by Bach, your training videos have been so helpful thank you! It seemed a really daunting piece to learn, but its coming together quicker than I expected, all the sight reading has helped me and your teaching has really helped me improve.
My question is how should I play this piece on smaller church organs in buildings that have flat acoustics. When I played my recital on St Johns organ in Vilnius, it was an incredible eye opening experience to play on a large mechanical organ in a huge acoustic. I came to realize how articulate legato suddenly made sense playing on an instrument closer to Bach’s time in a resonant acoustic.
When I listen to other professionals play this piece in large churches or cathedrals, I can hear some parts get lost in the blend of legato.
But when I play it in our church, I’m worried it sounds a bit too staccato and the gaps between the longer notes sounds a little disjointed.
Can you give some advice about playing Bach in flat acoustics? Should I try to play more legato? Did Bach ever use finger substitutions? Would I have to play it faster in flat acoustics?
So Ausra, what do you think?
A: Well, yes, you need to adjust articulation depending on the acoustics where you are playing in. But even if you are playing in dead acoustics, you don’t have to play Bach legato; that’s a basic rule. And of course, if you will play it staccato it sounds funny and unnatural.
V: Remember, Ausra, by the way, that I’ve been the one who would play early music works too detached in our student days.
A: Yes, I remember that.
V: Many people made fun of me!
A: Yes, I remember that. But as I told a few days ago in one of our podcasts: usually first of all, you play everything legato, then you play everything too detached, too staccato; and then finally you realize how it should be played, and you play in the right way.
V: Mhm. Do you think that John is progressing to the second stage?
A: Yes, I think so.
V: Where he’s playing too detached?
A: But anyway, you don’t have to play legato. To answer his question if Bach ever used finger substitutions...so, I think that he didn’t use finger substitutions, because obviously he didn’t play legato, so he didn’t need to use finger substitutions.
V: But we shouldn’t be 110% certain about that, because there are some very thick textures at the end of, let’s say, the 3rd Kyrie from Clavierubung by J.S. Bach.
A: Well I’ve played it, and I didn’t use finger substitutions. You don’t need it. But...well, and even if you would do it, very rarely, occasionally…
V: As an exception.
A: As an exception only, and not as a basic rule.
V: For example, if the top note is held throughout let’s say 4 measures, right, and beneath that you have three or four other notes in chordal texture, changing...what do you do? Sometimes with this top note you sometimes have to change from 4 to 5.
A: Well, yes, there are places like this.
V: That’s what I’m talking about.
A: But what John I think meant about finger substitutions wasn’t about places like this. And another thing that he writes, that he heard some recording of, you know, a cathedral’s organ, where he could hear the blend of legato. Well, that’s an acoustical trick, because I’m pretty sure that organist didn’t play legato.
V: Depending on where the microphones are positioned, right?
V: And depending on what kind of an organist is playing, too. You would hear different sounds. Of course, an organist might play legato. There are probably hundreds of people who still play legato--
A: But if you would play legato in a large acoustics Bach’s music, then you wouldn't hear a legato, but you would hear a mess!
A: And if you hear legato, it meant that the organist articulated.
V: Right. So when you listen to the recording, try to see if you hear the beginning and ending of each note. Or just the beginning. If the beginning and ending are blended, then it’s a little bit too much--too legato. But if it’s almost together, then it’s okay.
A: Yes. And as you know, about tempo, that’s right, as John mentioned himself: in a dry acoustic, you need to play faster.
A: That’s obvious. You need to do it, because otherwise, if you will play too staccato and in a slow tempo, everybody will get bored.
V: Mhm, right. John later asked another question about speeding up the tempo--how to get better at playing at a faster tempo. But maybe we could talk about that in later podcast episode.
A: Sure, sure.
V: Thank you guys, this was Vidas!
A: And Ausra.
V: Please send us more of your 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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