SOPP467: At the opening of Franck's First Chorale where it is written in the manuals, do you take some of the large stretches by putting the bass note in the pedals?
Vidas: Hi, guys, this is Vidas.
Ausra: And Ausra.
V: Let’s start episode 467, of Secrets of Organ Playing Podcast. This question was sent by Jeremy, who is on the team of transcribing our videos into scores with fingering and pedaling. And he writes:
It seems I forgot the Rep I was going to work on at the church yesterday. So, read through some of Guilmant's Practical Organist and started work on Franck's First Chorale.
Question: At the opening where it is written in the manuals, do you take some of the large stretches by putting the bass note in the pedals? Or do you play all of the bass notes in the pedals coupled only to the Great? Or just simply wince at the pain of the stretched 11th interval....? I was able to redistribute some of it between the left and right hand, but there is at least one stretch on the first two pages that seems to be physically impossible (I believe it is a E, B, G-sharp in the left hand with a wide stretch in the right. I don't have the music here in front of me.)
V: Do you remember this E Major Choral with Franck, right?
A: Of course. Uh-huh.
V: This is the famous opening and a lot of organists struggle with this.
A: It’s one of the most beautiful organ pieces, I think. And that’s definitely, it has really wide stretches, especially in the opening section. As does Franck’s Prière, which is very beautiful piece too.
A: And if you remember his picture on the Dover edition—Franck’s picture, I mean—you could see how wide his, how big his arms are. And his hand is just huge with these long fingers. I don’t think it was, he had technical difficulty to play his music.
V: Yes. Some musicians had enormous palms. For example, Liszt. People saw his, I think print of his palm, and basically it was very, very wide. I think he could reach not even eleventh, but twelfth, interval of the twelfth, which is an octave plus a fifth.
A: Yes. It’s an enormous stretch.
V: Mmm-hmm. So on the piano, he writes various passages that require wide intervals. On the organ when you have such an opening like Franck's E Major Chorale, there are two opinions, I think.
A: Yes. One is to play it with the pedal to help yourself.
V: But do not use pedal stops, just couple…
A: Sure, of course.
V: couple with the manual.
A: And what would be another option?
V: To train your left hand, stretch it and then try to do like it’s written.
A: And remember once we attended Cavaillé-Coll conference.
A: In Oberlin Conservatory, when we were back in the states. And there were very many famous French music experts from all over the world. And there was I believe Jean Boyer from France, and he plays French music so well. He played, because you know, he is no longer with us, and his performance of Widor, I don’t think I have ever heard anybody playing Widor so nice. So actually he talked about this chorale and this opening section. And he wasn’t a big man. He was really [a] tiny man, I would say, and really didn’t have huge hands like Franck or Liszt. But he would suggest to do it all by hands and not to use pedal.
A: And he demonstrated that because on example, he went up to the organ loft and played this opening section of this chorale and it worked pretty well for him. So I guess it’s possible to stretch arm.
V: But that’s advanced level.
A: It is. It is.
A: So I would guess if, let’s say, your palm is really narrow then don’t do that. Don’t hurt yourself. Just use the pedalboard to help yourself.
A: But if you feel like after playing for sometimes you might be able to do it, then yes—you can try and play it manually.
V: Sure. I think those two options, either playing with the pedal coupler, or stretching your hand without the coupler, would be the only options, I think.
A: Sure. Because what else? Could you sing those missing notes?
V: Maybe you could skip some of the notes, but I’m not sure if the harmony…
A: I think that’s the worst probably, solution...
A: to skip some of the notes. At least not in this piece. Sometimes maybe in other pieces by other composers where the texture is so thick. Maybe it’s possible to skip couple notes.
V: You mean Reger.
A: Well, some of Reger’s scholars would kill me for this phrase. But I don’t think that in large acoustics and very thick textures, somebody would miss, let’s say, couple notes of, I don’t know, one page.
V: Don’t worry! I will protect you from those Reger scholars.
A: Okay. Thank you.
V: Your welcome! So guys, try both versions out and see what works for you, for your hand, for your physique. But whatever you do, don’t hurt yourself. Stop practicing before you feel pain.
A: Yes, that’s a very good advice, Vidas.
V: Thank you! So please send us more of 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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