SOPP337: If you have a recommendation on where to start with French Classical repertoire, I'd be happy to take it
Vidas: Hi guys, this is Vidas.
Ausra: And Ausra.
V: Let’s start episode 337 of Secrets of Organ Playing Podcast. This question was sent by Barbara, and she writes:
Dear Vidas and Ausra,
Thank you so much for your wisdom and advice! I have De Grigny's Premier Livre, but haven't learned any of the pieces. If you have a recommendation on where to start, I'd be happy to take it. I love Dandrieu (know a couple of his Noels), and will use your fingerings for Couperin. First, I'll learn how to interpret all the ornament markings -- and read about the composers, so I know who they are.
My practice organ is electronic (not as thrilling as real pipes), but I can get pairs of reedy sounds for conversations among the voices. This will be fun!
I'll see what I can find in the way of exercise classes, too. Love walking. Will work on taking breaks and breathing (one of my singer friends is helping me learn how to sing/breathe better, too).
p.s. I sat in on an Olivier Latry master class two summers ago at the AGO/RCCO convention in Montreal. He recommended that one student study Chopin -- for touch, phrasing, breathing, rubato. It was unexpected and memorable!
V: So, Ausra, Barbara loves De Grigny and walking. Do you like walking?
A: Yes, I like it.
V: And De Grigny, too!
A: Yes, I like De Grigny, too.
V: You have two things in common, at least, with Barbara.
V: That’s nice.
A: But, you too like De Grigny and like walking.
V: He’s called the French Bach, right?
A: Yes, because his music is probably the most polyphonic out of French Classical repertoire.
V: What was the last piece by De Grigny that you played? Do you remember? For me, it was, I think, Verbum Supernum.
A: I also have played Verbum Supernum, and I also played Veni Creator, which is my favorite piece. So, if Barbara decides to do only one piece from that book, I would recommend her to do Veni Creator. It’s the nicest, for me. But of course, when you are picking up a piece to play, you have to look for what kind of occasion you will perform it.
V: Right, because these were liturgical pieces at the time.
A: True. So, for example, of course I did these both, actually, in a concert, but as an alternatim. Remember in Šiauliai, where you and three other guys sang and I played these two.
V: Yes! Very nice! We were like Schola Cantorum.
A: Yes. But in general, Veni Creator was actually very good for Pentecost, and of course for a wedding, too.
V: Right. For the first movement, especially, and the last one, if you’re tired of Mendelssohn and Wagner,
A: Yes, you could do these two movements from Veni Creator for a wedding, at the beginning and at the end.
V: You know, a lot of people sometimes complain about the popularity of those famous wedding marches, and they want something fresh. So, then the organists have to either improvise or find any other suitable marches or processionals. So, Veni Creator, I think, it’s called Kyrie en Taille, right? Because, the chorale tune is in the tenor voice.
A: That’s right.
V: Played with the trumpet stop in the pedals, 8’ level. It’s quite suitable, because in the hands you have the Plein Jeu sound, which is Principle Chorus, so to say, and it’s very refreshing after hearing Wagner’s March for so many times.
A: True, plus if you look deeper in a liturgical way of Veni Creator, Veni Creator means Come Holy Spirit, or Holy Ghost. And, at least in Catholic churches, when you have a wedding ceremony, one of the most important songs, hymns, sung at a wedding is the hymn to the Holy Ghost.
V: Right, and it is sung right at the beginning of the ceremony, after the opening processional.
A: Sure, because it is believed that it’s not the priest who gives the sacrament to a couple, but God Himself gives that sacrament, and in order to do that, the Holy Ghost has to come down and to do it. So, if you think of it in such a way, it’s very meaningful.
V: And De Grigny starts in the mode of F Mixolydian, I believe, two flats, and ends on the note F, and if you sing this Veni Creator yourself in your own language, perhaps, to start on the note F is quite convenient!
A: Yes, it’s very convenient, I would say.
V: The highest note is, I think D. So, everybody can sing D. I think.
V: Nice. We are a little bit off track, because Barbara asks for recommendations where to start playing French music, Classical, French Classical repertoire. Do you think that Dandrieu Noëls are easier than De Grigny’s?
A: Well, I think they are a little bit easier because of the texture, but in terms of the ornaments, all French Noels are so highly ornamented, that in that sense, it won’t be easier. What do you think?
V: For Barbara and others who are interested in Ornament interpretations, please look at the table given by D'Anglebert, I think. It was copied by Johann Sebastian Bach, and some things were added to it, but basically, Bach used the French table of ornaments, especially later in life. So, if you know how to interpret French ornaments, you will know how to interpret Bach, too!
A: Sure. Do you really think that the organist has to play all of those ornaments that are written in, or not necessarily?
V: I believe even more, maybe, because French music is… it generally lacks the interest of polyphonic writing. It’s more interesting in a harmonic way—a more interesting chordal progressions, more interesting modulations, but the German way of writing, not touching Johann Sebastian Bach here, but people who came before him—let’s say Buxtehude or Pachelbel, for example, or others, they tend to write more polyphonically-oriented textures. Don’t you agree, Ausra?
V: And, therefore this kind of texture is more suited for linear thinking in organ playing, and with Baroque organs, it sounds more interesting, even if played without ornaments. If you play French music without ornaments and it lacks polyphonic interest, there is something really deeply missing, I think.
A: Yes, it might sound dull.
V: You need also colorful French stops, probably a French type of temperament, and lots and lots of ornaments. It doesn’t really hurt. Well, you will see when too much is too much, but it’s fun adding them.
A: But, of course, I think Dandrieu would be easier in the beginning comparing to De Grigny.
V: Especially, not all of his variations on Noëls are very virtuosic. The ending is very virtuosic, but the beginnings are generally very simple.
A: Do you think it would be suitable to play, let’s say, a few of those variations, not an entire setting?
V: Definitely! I think Dandrieu devised his sets of variations on purpose, so that you could stop whenever you feel like it, and liturgically speaking, it’s also nice, because you never know when you are supposed to stop in liturgy, although I don’t think his music was played not in the mass itself. Maybe it was played after the mass during Christmas time. I’m not sure, I have to check. But, today, maybe it would be too light, too joyful, too entertaining to be played in offertory, let’s say, or communion.
A: But, because it’s Christmas time, then maybe it’s ok, I think.
V: Oh, yeah, right. It’s a special occasion. Yeah! Experiment with your congregation and see how it reacts—how people are responding. One note about practicing on an electronic keyboard, of course, it’s not as thrilling as it might be with real pipes and real touch. Aren’t you happy, Ausra, that we have just two stops, but a real organ?
A: Yes, I am happy. Definitely!
V: When we first came back from the States to Lithuania, we were looking for many options, which kind of keyboard to buy, and there were some options for electronic keyboard, maybe digital organ, but we said it’s better to have a real thing with two sets of pipes than maybe artificially sounding three manual instrument or two manual instrument with 30 stops for the same price, of course.
A: That’s right.
V: But that’s us! We are kind of used to the real sounds. Other people might have different experiences.
A: But of course, when you have a mechanical organ, you are sort of bound to that particular place, because it wouldn’t be very easy to take it away and put it in some other place.
V: Too move it!
A: Yes, to move it. Yes, because it really would take time and money to do it. But with an electronic organ, I think it’s easier.
V: Mhm! And she writes that she loves walking and breathing, right? I also love walking and I’m going to walk today a lot. Yesterday, I walked not that much, because I drove your car to the shop to change the oil.
A: So now you have to tell the story to everybody?
V: It’s not something I have to hide.
V: But now, your car is prepared for the Winter.
A: That’s right. Thank you.
V: Ok, thank you guys for listening. Please keep sending your wonderful 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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