SOPP378: I find it quite challenging to bring out the melody of BWV 613 and other similar compositions by Bach in the Orgelbüchlein
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Vidas: Hi guys, this is Vidas.
Ausra: And Ausra.
V: Let’s start episode 378, of Secrets of Organ Playing Podcast. And this question was sent by May. And, May writes:
I was working on BWV 605 and BWV 613 yesterday. I find it quite challenging to bring out the melody of BWV 613 and other similar compositions by Bach in the Orgelbüchlein (for example, BWV 606, 623, 630 etc).
V: So Ausra, we have just checked what those pieces are, right? And it appears that they all have some things in common.
A: Sure! They all have quite a thick texture. Most of them are written for organo pleno registration, and are played on one manual with the pedals. And usually the cantus firmus or the choral tune is in the soprano, but it’s not alone on the soprano clef.
V: Mmm-hmm. Not to be played on a separate manual?
A: That’s right. It’s not like ornamented choral, for example, like Schmucke Dich or something like this. Well, since in organ, we doesn’t have the capability of playing louder and softer on the same manual at the same time, unless it’s divided keyboard but it’s another matter completely. It’s not a piano but you could sort of put more emphasis on that solo voice—upper voice. So what can we do actually to articulate everything as it should be? And since in most of these cases that the hymn melody is written in a longer note value, and in the upper voice, you will still be able to hear it. And there is no other way to project it, only to articulate everything and listen to that upper voice...
A: Maybe try to sing it. Because we listen from recording. Obviously it’s not so profound as in the, let’s say ornamented choral version, but you can still hear it quite clearly.
V: Mmm-mmm. And the way this constructed is that the lower three voices basically talk to each other, imitate themselves, based on one particular figure, and that figure could be based on some rhetorical symbol, or on the choral motive, from the choral, from the excerpt of the choral. And so the bottom three voices—sometimes the inner two voices, like alto and tenor—imitate themselves, and the pedals have something else because they usually are moving in slower note values. But not always. Sometimes all three parts in the bottom, they imitate themselves while soprano plays the tune in larger note values. And from time to time, joins in imitations with the lower three parts too.
A: So I guess that cantus firmus might not be heard as good as it should, if you will not articulate other voices, that have smaller note values.
A: This is very important. Because if you will play everything legato, or almost legato, then yes, definitely will not be able to hear the melody.
V: Mmm-hmm. So just observe the general rules of baroque articulation, which we call articulate legato…
A: Or ornamented touch, probably, too.
V: Yes. This is how it was called back in the day. And what we mean probably is to try to play the top notes with one finger—top melody with one finger—as legato as possible, but not connected, obviously, and not to choppy. Make it sing. And then, imitate the same thing, same articulation with normal fingering, with fingers that you use in the piece. And then you will have ideal articulation, and this is how you will bring out the melody.
A: Yes, and don’t forget that rules that you are applying for top voice, you need to apply for other voices as well.
V: Yes. Sometimes we observe our students make this mistake—that they pay attention to the soprano only, and middle voices and even the pedals get slurred to much.
A: And that way you will really lose the sense of the melody.
V: And the best way I know to solve this problem, is probably to start working on solo voices first, not jumping to four part texture right away. Start practicing soprano, alto, tenor and pedals separately, and then work on two part combinations, once you are ready. And then three part combinations after that. And after fourteen combinations you will have reached the level when you can play all four parts correctly with desired articulation and understanding what’s going on in the middle parts as well.
A: That’s right!
V: Great question, right, that May sends. And please send us more of your questions. We love helping you grow. This was Vidas.
A: And Ausra.
V: 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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