SOPP344: When you have a sustained note, and an adjacent voice that sounds the same note, how do you articulate it?
Vidas: Hi guys, this is Vidas.
Ausra: And Ausra.
V: Let’s start episode 344, of Secrets of Organ Playing Podcast. This question was sent by Glenn. And he writes:
Hi Vidas and Ausra!
I love your podcast, especially that I can read the transcript when I am in a place where I can't listen.
I have a question about articulation.
When you have a sustained note, like in the first partial measure of BWV 603 right hand, and an adjacent voice that sounds the same note, how do you articulate it?
Do you just hold the sustained note—then it seems like the adjacent voice just goes away! Or do you break the sustained note, to sort of make room for the converging voice? Then it seems you don't hear the sustained note like you should. Similar problem in the fourth measure.
Am I missing something? Thank you.
V: This is really common, I think, situation when two voices are very close together and then they form a unison at some point. And what you do, Ausra?
A: True. Actually it’s a very complex issue. It should be a simple one but I don’t think I found a right answer to it. And sometimes it depends on situation. Sometimes I just leave that note for a short while, while another voice hits the same key again, and then I keep holding it, and sometimes not.
V: Marcel Dupré once wrote, that in this situation, it’s better to repeat, right, to lift up the sustained note, and to make a rest with exact break of a unit value. I mean the shortest most common rhythmical value in the piece. Let’s say it’s eight note, right?
A: I think it’s a very good advice. But sometimes when the texture is very thick…
A: I don’t follow it, because it takes too much pain to do it.
V: And also sometimes, you don’t necessarily have the same situation or equal situation. Because sometimes this second voice is important and sometimes really not important.
A: But the thing is that interests me the most was why, especially, it’s very often the case in Bach’s music, why he does that.
A: Why he composes like that. And I understood it thoroughly when I started to teach harmony.
A: Yes. Because he is very particular about voice leading. And usually in places like this, if he would do something else then the voice leading would sort of suffer.
V: Mmm-hmm. So if you are really particular about that, and want to be very precise, then probably lifting up and making a break in the sustained note is a good idea. Especially if you are playing in a[n] acoustical environment when the echo is great.
V: But then you need to be very meticulous about that. Are you very meticulous, Ausra? Are you perfectionist?
A: Well, I would say yes.
V: More than me?
A: Especially now when I am teaching harmony for so many years.
A: Voice leading is very important for me.
A: That they always analyze how each voice goes and why it goes like that, and it’s important for me what I have to sustain and what I have to release and then to do it.
V: Mmm-mmm. And in practice, this is one of the things that separates amateurs from professionals too. This professional attitude—attention to details.
A: And I think when learning, especially Bach’s music, because it’s so complex, it’s very wise to start with the very slow tempo and you need to listen to what is happening.
A: Because if you will learn it in a wrong way, with the wrong voice leading, then you will have a real hard time to fixing it. Sometimes it’s much easier to learn a new piece than to fix something that you have learned incorrectly.
A: And sometimes it’s quite easy to miss things with thick polyphonic texture.
V: Exactly. You know, when I’m playing modern pieces sometimes, I get carried away and forget to look at the middle voices and lift them at that precise time. Maybe not because of sloppiness but maybe lack of time. Remember last time I played this recital with organ works by Teisutis Makačinas, and there was a reason I didn’t play extremely precisely. You know what? Because composer didn’t write extremely precisely. Because every time something repeats, he writes something differently. And he likes that, so I thought to myself, maybe I should also play some, in a different way every time.
A: Don’t remind me about it. When I remember that second part of that second sonata, I just feel really bad.
V: You were my assistant.
A: True. And everything just sounds the same, and the same, and the same. And then you have to add stops or to turn page, and if you just miss a few measures by accident, then you cannot find this spot you are on because everything looks and sounds the same. Or almost the same.
V: What would you rather do, teach harmony or assist a piece like that?
A: Well I better teach harmony.
V: It’s so, I presume that, compensation, financial reward for you, has to be bigger, right, when you assist in registering this piece, than teaching harmony.
A: Well, I never thought about it. But maybe you really have to pay me for all that work that I did for you.
V: Okay. Let’s make a deal. I will pay you when they pay me, okay?
A: (Laughs). Deal.
V: Because it was actually surprise—I was going to play it for free, just because composer asked me and he was our former harmony professor and polyphonic professor at Academy of Music in Vilnius. But, when he came to the rehearsal, he said that Lithuanian Composers Union is going to pay me for this performance. So, is it fair to say, Ausra, that I should give you half of what I receive?
A: Well, no I don’t think half would be a fair. I think you need to give me maybe like…
A: Ten percent.
V: Ten percent?
V: Oh, you are being modest. Let me give you sixty percent.
A: Okay. We will see. I think you will forget about it.
V: No, no, no. Let me give you sixty percent, but then you will buy me coffee.
A: Okay. I make for you coffee every morning, so…
V: And take me to the movies as well.
A: You asking too much.
V: (Laughs). Thank you guys for listening. We hope this was entertaining to you, and remember that you have to actually think in details, right? It’s very good. Unless you are really, really short of time and then you choose what is better to play with less perfection but complete musical texture and rhythmical drive, or with great precision but stuck every ten measures or so.
A: Well, don’t take me wrong—if you want playing with precision, it doesn’t mean that you play slowly…
A: And sloppy, and boringly. It’s not why I’m studying that voice leading in each piece that I am playing. Because now you put like fast and exciting and precise, slow and boring is not the right way I think to say things. You can do everything precisely but in a fast tempo too.
V: I’m saying from my perspective, because I had to choose.
A: But I’m not talking about your last recital. I’m talking more in general.
V: In general. I was talking about me. I always talk about me. I’m very egoistic.
A: Well I don’t think, or maybe if you would play, have played that recital very precisely, maybe it would be easier for me then to assist you. I don’t know.
V: But it would last maybe half as long. (Laughs)
A: Because honestly, at that recital, I thought maybe I just simply don’t have a pitch, and can’t hear and can’t see anything.
V: Could not follow the score.
A: Yes, in that particular one spot. Few pages in a row, yes. I felt lost and I’m almost certain that you didn’t play as it was written.
V: Was it almost as good as written?
A: I don’t know. Maybe it was even better. Who knows. You never know with contemporary music.
V: Uh-huh. And composer asked me to improvise at the end, too.
A: And I think that was the nicest part of your recital.
A: I’m always surprised how slow you can be at doing the domestic things that I’m asking you to do, let’s say to help me in the kitchen, or do something else, like cleaning, and how incredible you can be on your organ.
V: We all have our own challenges and handicaps, I think.
A: I know, because when I see you on the organ bench and hear your playing, oh, I’m thinking, this man can be be really fast, in doing things.
V: But see, you are much better at both things—in the kitchen and playing organ, than me.
A: Well, no. I couldn’t improvise like you.
V: Maybe, maybe, you don’t know, Because you didn’t play that recital, you see, I did. So maybe next year, composer asks you to play, and then you say ‘okay, professor, I will improvise’.
A: Thank you, thank you. No I have already my recitals planned for the next year, so...
V: Mmm-hmm. You will go to Paris, right? Notre Dame?
A: This will be in 2020, so…
A: Not be next year.
V: 2020, exactly.
A: Alright. Thank you guys again. And please keep sending us 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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