Vidas: Hi guys, this is Vidas.
Ausra: And Ausra.
V: Let’s start episode 397 of Secrets of Organ Playing Podcast. This question was sent by Rob and he writes:
Dear Vidas and Ausra,
I have purchased several of your fingerings of old music and find them extremely useful. When I learned to play the organ in the 60s, I was taught a legato style that, for example, discouraged using the same finger consecutively for different notes. It’s liberating to see you doing this all the time, and your method makes my playing feel more natural and more musical.
I have two questions. First, is your fingering method standard for 16th-18th c. organ music or is it to some extent personal? Would you and Ausra, for example, come up with essentially the same fingering for any given early piece? Second, following on from that, how important do you think it is for a student to stick closely to your fingerings? Right now I’m learning Bach’s Passacaglia with your fingerings and I like them a lot. But occasionally they lead to my making mistakes that I wouldn't ordinarily make using a more modern style. For example, in mm. 204-7 during the fugue, the left hand has a pattern of arpeggiated 16th notes at intervals of a third, with three descending groups per measure. You finger all three groups 4-2, 4-2, 4-2, which I find hard to play without hitting wrong notes and becoming choppy. It’s much easier for me to use 2-1, 4-2, 5-3. In a case like this, would you recommend that someone try to master your fingerings, as being more authentic and conducive to a better interpretation in the long run, or is it legitimate to adapt them to one’s personal comfort?
With thanks and best wishes to you both,
V: That’s a very thoughtful response Rob gave us right Ausra?
A: Yes, it’s a very nice letter. Answering Rob’s question this fingering that we create, Rob asked if Vidas fingering and my fingering would be exactly the same for the same piece.
V: You say it would be exactly the same.
A: Well, it would be very similar. That’s what I want to say, that it would be very similar. Maybe they could be different in some particular spots. There might be slight differences but in general I think it would be almost the same or very similar.
V: Even though our personalities are different our fingerings are similar.
A: Yes, because that’s what baroque music requires and yes, this type of fingering is suited for pieces written between the sixteenth through eighteenth century. Of course you know the more complex music is, Bach for example, the more new ways you have to introduce into your fingering.
V: Modern fingering.
V: But still avoid finger substitution I think.
A: Yes and sometimes if you find a spot which is completely difficult for you to play you might do slight adjustments. About that particular spot in the Passacaglia I think what Vidas meant by making those groups 4-2, 4-2, 4-2 it is that the same intervals are played with the same fingers. In that time it was sort of like a general knowledge because it helps you to articulate because why we need this fingering in order to make Baroque music sound like Baroque music it’s just all based on articulating each note and you could get exactly the same effect with playing and using modern fingering but then you would really have to control yourself very hardly in each measure, in each note.
A: When you are using early fingering then it helps you to do articulation without so much thinking about it. It becomes more natural.
A: I don’t know if it makes sense. You can continue my talk. Do you agree?
V: I’m looking at this passage in Passacaglia where there are sixteenth note triplets and I write 2-3-4, 2-3-4, 2-3-4. I think this is the spot that Rob refers to because we don’t have measure numbers.
A: But it seems like that spot, yes.
V: Umm-hmm. The reason I do 2-3-4 is to avoid using the thumb on the sharp keys of the flat keys but in fast tempo you need to be very precise and it’s not very easy.
A: And also because you start each triplet with the same finger you have of course to articulate there too.
V: Maybe Rob could try the trick that I think is applicable to all organ music in general. Not to lift the fingers off the keyboard. Basically keep them in contact with the keys at all times and therefore the movements will be more economical and maybe more precise, right? What do you think Ausra here?
A: Yes, I couldn’t agree more but actually in this spot, yes I would exactly the same fingering that you wrote in.
V: Umm-hmm. 2-3-4, 2-3-4, 2-3-4 for the right hand ascending or for the left-hand descending and vice versa. 4-3-2, 4-3-2, 4-3-2 for the right hand descending and left hand ascending. That’s kind of natural to me but if Rob has trouble I think it’s appropriate to change some things to their own hand position but try to avoid finger substitutions, that’s my point. As you said with Bach you can add more modern fingering because he using modern keys and modern figures but still…
A: And textures, you need to use almost all fingers at the same time.
V: But most of the time you could get away without finger substitutions, most of the time.
A: That’s right. Finger substitution in general is not a good thing in Baroque music.
V: I have encountered a few places even in Bach where you had to use finger substitution because the texture as you say was like maybe five voices in the hands at the end of the piece you know, not in the middle…
A: In cadences where he adds extra voices.
V: Then yes but that’s an exception I would think.
A: Sure, that’s not a rule.
V: Excellent, so that’s the second part of Rob’s question. The first part of his question asks us about if we would use the same fingering for any early piece. I would just add that it depends on the school of composition. The geographical area basically. If it’s Spanish it’s one way, German it’s a little bit different, Italian different, French also should be different because ornaments are different and strong fingers are different. In one area they used 2 and 3 as the stronger fingers and in the left hand they also used 2 and 3.
A: But sometimes 2 and 1.
V: 2 and 1.
A: And actually if you are interested you could study some of iconography related to portative organ. It was very common to paint either Saint Cecelia or angels playing portative organs and sometimes you can see hands very closely and you can even figure out what fingers angel or Saint Cecelia used and it’s a bizarre looking thing.
V: I wonder how come there is no iconography of piglets and hedgehogs playing
A: Probably we never did.
V: Maybe they don’t have enough fingers.
A: Yes, if you are a pig you only have two fingers so not much of a choice. So natural pair fingering.
V: Right. 2 and 3 or 2 and 4. Wonderful guys, please send us your wonderful questions in the future. 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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