SOPP298: I am quite confused about how one should register Bach's Trio Sonata in E flat (BWV 525)
Vidas: Hello guys, this is Vidas.
Ausra: And Ausra.
V: Let’s start episode 298 of Secrets of Organ Playing Podcast. This question was sent by Anne, and she writes:
Could you help me out a little with registration? I am quite confused about how one should register for many compositions by Bach, in particular his Trio Sonata in E flat (BWV 525). I understand that it was not common practice in his time to list out particular stops one should pull for each piece, and that it depended rather on the organist himself and the place he was in. But I don’t know where to start. If it doesn’t trouble you too much, I’d definitely appreciate your help.
V: So, Ausra, how could we help Anne for starters?
A: That’s a very good question! Actually, a very deep question, and this question actually was discussed a lot in the past, and I think will be discussed in the future, because there are so many possibilities and so many ways how people register Bach’s Trio Sonata. Well, I remember myself as being a student at the Academy of Music in Lithuania, and I and other students often registered Trio Sonatas without a 16’ stop in the pedal, and I think that was the first mistake that we did.
V: Why is that?
A: Well, when thinking about Trio Sonata, I always think about Baroque ensembles.
V: Like instruments—instrumental ensembles.
A: Yes. Especially those string ensembles. And usually, for lowest voice, you have a low instrument.
V: Like Double Bass.
V: Or in baroque times it was called Violone.
A: That’s right. Or Bassoon, too. So I think you need to have a 16’ stop in the pedal. Although, then it provides sort of a problem, because when you add 16’ in the pedal, you need to articulate and to be very precise with how you press the pedals down, because otherwise, they might drag you down. And another think that I did then that I wouldn’t do now, I used actually gap registration a lot for my hands. And by gap registration, I mean adding 8’ and 2’ stop for the right hand without 4’. Now I probably wouldn’t do that, either.
V: Or 4’ and 1’ but playing one octave lower.
A: Yes, that’s right.
V: I think gap registration came into fashion a lot with Neo-Baroque style after the 1960s, maybe. But if we compare all treatises and performance editions from the 18th century, obviously, gap registrations were not prominent at all. One of the nice places to look is this collection of chorale preludes by Kauffmann, “Harmonische Seelenlust,” and every piece there has a registration, which is quite rare.
A: That’s a very rare case that we have real compositions with real registration suggestions.
V: So there, you can find all kinds of interesting elements: doubling the same pitch level stops, a lot of flue registrations, reed registrations, too. You can be quite creative then, and to our ears, that sounds quite strange.
A: Yes, because I remember in my youth playing a Trio Sonata, I would never double stops. I would never use, lets say, two 8’ in one hand.
V: It’s completely acceptable, I think, especially in a slow movement.
A: Another good source to look at would be, probably, the book by Barbara Owen about baroque registration in general. It’s a thick book, and it’s very thorough, and you can find very good suggestions in it.
V: If you were playing E♭ Major Sonata today, for example, how would you register the right hand?
A: Well, probably 4’ and 2’, but it depends on the organ, truly.
V: You have so many options there. If the organ is nice and each stop is so characteristic, you can build, maybe, ten versions of the same registrations.
A: That’s true, but let’s say, for example, you could do, maybe, principle 8’, and then flute 4’ and 2’. Because if you would take all the three principals, that might be too loud. Or, if you don’t have principal 8’, maybe add flute 8’ and then principal 4’ and flute 2’. So, you need to experiment and to find out what suits you. Maybe you don’t want to have a 2’. Maybe it’s too high pitched for you.
V: Maybe 2’ pitch is just for the third part.
A: That’s right. Maybe then just use a couple of 8’ stops and one 4’. And then, for the last hand, of course, I wouldn’t put, probably, the 2’ for the left hand. I would only limit myself to 8’ and 4’.
V: I like, very much, if the organ is nice, and those sounds can be quite colorful, I like to play with 8’ and 4’ stops quite often. That can be two flutes, 8’ and 4’, in both hands, but different characters. One of them can be principal either 8’ or 4’. Do you think two principals, 8’ and 4’ would sound good?
A: Well, it depends on how skilled they are. They might be just fine.
V: In a small organ.
A: True, true. And then in the pedal, I would add 16’, 8’, would you add a 4’, too?
A: Me, too. I think it would be just too much. So probably, principal 16’ and principal or flute 8’, I think should work.
V: Yes. Sometimes Subbass 16’ works well.
A: That’s right.
V: In our Saint John’s Church organ, I can put two 16’ stops, too. That reinforces the bass. I like heavy bass sometimes.
A: I know. I like it, too. And I remember that Dr. George Ritchie always...the only adjustment he would make to my registration, he sometimes omits some of my pedal stops, because I also like heavy bass.
V: It’s because the bass is the foundation of harmony, and listeners should hear it quite clearly.
A: True. And, because if they are thinking about larger church acoustics, if you would listen to the choir singing, the higher voice it is, the better it sounds—the louder it sounds. And, with the low voice, it’s very hard to project them in a big room with large acoustics.
V: And low voices sound good when they sing softly.
A: That’s right.
V: What about the reeds? Would you use reeds in Trio Sonatas?
A: Well, that’s also a good question for discussions.
V: Nice. If you imagine Trio Ensemble playing the Sonata, maybe an oboe would play one part,
A: Oboe. I think in some cases Oboe or Krummhorn would probably work quite well. Probably maybe for the right hand, then.
V: What about mutations?
A: Well, I don’t know. I probably wouldn’t use them. What about you?
V: Maybe in one hand, it could sound colorful, like 2 2/3’
A: But you really need to listen to what mutation you have, because some of them sound quite unnatural and sort of squeaky.
V: Maybe in one hand you could have 8’, 4’, and 5th (2 2/3’) and in another hand, you could have 8’, 4’, and 3rd (1 3/5’) or a high pitched 3rd (1 1/3’). Both hands would play with mutations of different pitch levels. That could work.
A: What about strings?
V: But that’s my second choice. With strings, I especially like them for probably a slow movement.
A: Yes, for the middle movement, I think, it would work just fine.
V: Because they need a slow tempo to be able to speak.
A: Yes, and then for the solo in the middle movement, of course, you would have to use strings, flutes—soft stops. And then, of course, for the last movement, I would play it a little bit louder than the last movement.
V: Yes, something similar, but maybe with 2’.
A: That’s right.
V: Or even 1’.
A: Sometimes it might work.
V: If the organ is nice, you can have so many colors, right? If it’s not nice, you’re limited. Sometimes, you could use just one principal: 8’ in one hand and 4’ in another hand but an octave lower.
A: That’s a possibility, too, but you need to check the Diapason, if it will fit.
A: Compass, yes.
V: If the left hand part doesn’t go below tenor C, then you can play one octave lower.
A: Yes, then it should work.
V: You have to check. And since, I think, both upper parts are triple parts, I think that should work, playing an octave lower.
A: I think, yes, in the E♭ major Sonata.
V: Alright, so that’s, I think, enough to Anne for starters, to think about.
V: Thanks, guys, for sending us these questions. Please send us more; 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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