By the time you guys read this, Ausra and I should have traveled to the French Alps - to play an organ duet recital in Alpe d'Huez at Notre Dame des Neiges on the organ designed by the late Jean Guillou (the notorious palm-shaped organ facade) next Thursday.
We are flying from Vilnius to Lyon and going by bus to Grenoble and from there to Alpe d'Huez. This place is a famous ski resort which has organ concert series all year round every Thursday. We will try to report from the location how we are doing 1880 meters above sea level...
By the way, support might be limited until next Saturday because we don't know what kind of Internet connection we will get in the mountains...
Vidas: Hi guys, this is Vidas!
Ausra: And Ausra!
V: Let’s start episode 414 of Secrets of Organ Playing Podcast. This question was sent by Jeremy, and he is on the team who transcribes our fingering and pedaling videos. So, he writes:
I have been struggling with the Bach Dorian Fugue. The notes for the most part are there at half speed, but getting it up to speed has been… difficult. This being said, I did have a bright moment today that I will verify tomorrow by phone. I am learning the Dorian's Toccata and fugue for the AAGO exam in June. As I filled out the paperwork for I thought today, I realized only the Toccata is on the list of pieces. Huzzah! I can almost play that part of it up to speed already!
V: So Ausra, I wrote to Jeremy that even though the fugue is not required for the Associates AGO exam, I hope he will still be practicing it, and he said yes, he fell in love with the fugue, and he will be trying to master it in time.
A: Actually, I also like the Fugue of this Dorian Toccata, even better than the Toccata itself.
V: I agree. Somehow, this fugue is so polyphonically complex, that it could be like a compendium of Bach’s canonic techniques. It has all kinds of subject entrances in all kinds of intervals, and especially canonic subjects, where one subject is following another at certain distances—at a certain interval—and these intervals and distances, they vary between each other, and that’s the most beautiful part of it.
A: So, it’s a very good example to study if you want to explore a fugue, and how might be composed. What do you think about Toccata?
V: Well, Toccata… it’s a tricky piece to play, actually, because of the motoric motion. You have to have a decent finger technique, and quite a good coordination between hands and feet.
A: Well, true, but don’t you think that that motoric motion throughout the piece makes it a little bit boring comparing to others of Bach’s Toccatas for organ? Because none of the other toccatas are so mechanically even.
V: I know what you mean, and this Dorian Toccata might be one of the earlier examples of modern toccatas, where we have examples of Widor Toccata or Böelmann Toccata, or Gigout Toccata, or Dubois Toccata, where the same pattern is repeated over and over again. Having said that, Dorian Toccata is still composed from a couple of different episodes, which are presented interchangeably in different keys. But as you say, 16th notes, those rhythms dominate the piece.
A: True, and of course, all toccatas have some mechanical motion. That’s what it is for, but I think in this toccata, it’s the most prominent.
V: Do you remember the origins of the toccata with the Italians?
A: Yes, I remember it. It comes from the Italian word “toccare,” which means “to touch.”
V: And it doesn’t say to touch fast, or motorically, or virtuosically at all. Right? In those days, if we talk about Frescobaldi or earlier composers such as Diruta, Merula, they wrote sectional toccatas, sort of like ricercars, but maybe more passages and runs throughout the piece, I would say, but they really resemble the ricercare in nature.
A: True! So, I think that Italian toccatas, especially, are well suited for church services, because they are sectional.
V: And why do people need sectional toccatas today?
A: Well, because sometimes in the liturgy, you don’t know how long you will have to play, so if you know the piece is sectional, you can finish at the end of any section, basically, or you could repeat some of the sections if you need more music.
V: I think Frescobaldi wrote, in his “Fiori Musicali,” that this is the reason he created sectional pieces—for various Mass parts, that organists could stop at the end of any episode.
A: Well, and that’s especially true with the Catholic churches, because you never know how much attendance you will have, and how long it will last—one or another section of the Mass.
V: Right, and for this reason, of course, improvisation is very useful—in earlier days, and today as well, because you can end on your own timing.
A: True, but if you don’t want to improvise, then play Italian music.
V: So guys, we hope this was useful to you. If you are studying pieces like Dorian Toccata and Fugue, don’t give up just yet, and work on gradually expanding your fragments. I found this technique very beneficial in reaching the concert tempo. 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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