Vidas: Hi guys, this is Vidas!
Ausra: And Ausra!
V: Let’s start episode 478 of Secrets of Organ Playing Podcast. This question was sent by MaryLu, and she writes:
“I’ve been with you for only a few days, but what you say is right-on.
I'm 78 years old, and hold a Bachelor’s degree in Music Education, and advanced degrees in piano performance, organ performance and church music. At the moment I work full time at a large church where I direct 4 choirs and play all English and Latin Masses. I also play several organ recitals a year. Over the last few years I have found that I'm in a rut, replaying organ repertoire that I've been playing for years, so this year I'm breaking out of that rut and preparing new repertoire which I plan to use for the first time this November. And I would VERY MUCH like a bit of guidance.
Rheinberger Organ Sonata #17 in B Major (registration especially, though it seems straight-forward, I can't seem to get it just right.
Bach "Little" Fugue in g minor (Can't believe I'd never played that one!!) which you have already reviewed -- that's how I found you!
I know this doesn't answer your questions, but . . . . .
Thank you for being here!
V: Alright! First, Ausra, let’s congratulate MaryLu, that she is still practicing organ despite her age.
A: Yes, excellent, but that’s what she has to do, because she knows she’s a full time church organist.
V: And she wants to learn new repertoire. This is really exciting!
A: It is. I think it’s never too late to learn new stuff.
V: And as long as you are learning new stuff, you actually postpone the aging process.
A: True! I guess it’s very important in life to stay curious about something, and improve your skills, and learn new things.
V: That’s right, Ausra. And she needs guidance about registration, and to make it less specific to her, but more general to other people, because everybody is playing Rheinberger Organ Sonata #17 and the other pieces that she works on, maybe we should talk about the principles that she could also apply to other pieces of Rheinberger and other pieces of Bach, and other pieces by Alain, and so forth. Right?
A: Well, I would like probably to start to talk a little bit about Alain, because I don’t know which edition she uses, but I think most of Alain’s works are published by Alphonse Leduc, I believe, and they have specific registration marks written in the score, which you can get when you are playing Alain’s music, and if you are not well familiar with it, that some of his registration suggestions are very weird… weird looking. But you shouldn’t be afraid of that, because I guess Jehan Alain had a house organ which was a little bit weird, too. And I guess some of his organ compositions were registered based on that house organ.
V: Right. And we should add that a famous Swiss organist who actually tries to, so to say, protect and develop interest in Jehan Alain’s work….
A: Guy Bovet?
V: Guy Bovet, yes! He was in Lithuania back in 2007, I think, and recently, their association published facsimiles of Jehan Alain’s work. So, anybody who is interested in the original handwriting and orthography can actually have modern facsimiles of Jehan Alain’s work, and compare those things with published editions.
A: But, I guess if you just follow the directions given in the score, you should be just fine.
V: But do you know what a problem with the score… his sister sometimes has said that she edited her work,
A: Marie-Claire Alain.
V: Marie-Claire Alain, right, and she’s a great expert, of course, in his work everything, but she was very young, basically very little, when he died.
A: Yes, and I remember that Olivier Latry talked about it during his master classes when we were in Nebraska, studying at Lincoln University, getting our doctoral degrees, and we played for him. And I remember I played for him the second Fantasie by Jehan Alain, and he taught that I need to be careful about registering his piece, because he told me that these registration marks are not actually original, but made later by his sister, and that’s he said, that she was probably too young to remember it. So I guess that it’s a very good idea to look at the facsimiles.
V: And I would add that, yes, people need to look at the specification of the house organ of Jehan Alain that his father built, and then a lot of indications would fall into place. Obviously, people playing on modern organs and other instruments don’t have such an instrument at all, so they have to do some adjustments.
A: True, you will always have to adjust some things. What about Bach?
V: Bach Fugue, right?
V: It’s relatively simple and straight forward, I would say. The tradition of playing non-choral based works of the Baroque period in Germany indicated Organo Pleno, right?
V: Principal chorus with mixtures.
A: Could you tell us what stops belong to the principal chorus?
V: Depending on how big the organ is, it may have a 16’ Principal, or not, or even sometimes they don’t have an 8’ Principal. But in general, they have to have several Principals aligned of different pitch levels. So if you have 16’, 8’, 4’, that’s good. Then you continue with 2’, then go 2 2/3’ (this is a fifth) and go to a higher pitched fifth, maybe 1 1/3’ (if it’s a Principal), and basically, you could add a Mixture, and depending on if the Mixture is a lower Mixture, then you definitely need a Principal 16’, if it’s a higher Mixture you don’t necessarily need a 16’.
A: Well, let’s say, what do you do if you don’t have Principal 16’ and Principal 8’, but you have, let’s say, Flute 16’ and Flute 8’? Could you replace the Principals with the Flute instead?
V: You see, I think if you have an organ with 16’ Bourdon in the manual, then you definitely have would have Principal 8’, so….
A: But my question is, for example, okay, you have Principal 8’ but you don’t have Principal 16’. Would you put the Bourdon 16’ instead of the Principal?
A: And let’s say your manuals don’t have 16’ stops at all. Would you then just start registering with 8’?
V: 8’. Mhm!
A: And what if you don’t have a Principal…
V: 8’… I would add the Flute 8’
A: And then Principal 4’, yes?
V: Principal 4’ and work my way upwards. What about you?
A: Yes, I guess I would do the same thing. And what about pedals? What kind of stops would you add to play them…
V: Well, with pedals, sometimes you have to check. Yes, you have 16’ Principal, 8’ Principal, 4’ Principal, and then you have Posaune and Trumpet and Mixture. You could add those things if they’re not too overpowering to the Organo Pleno sound in the manuals. But, in Bach’s day, he had a lot of Organs, especially in Saxony, that Silbermann built with only 3 stops! Sub Bass 16’, Octave Bass 8’ (or maybe it was called Principal Bass) and then Posaune. Those three stops would be enough to play with nice, not too big, Principal chorus in the manuals.
A: Do you think he might have used also the manual couplers to the pedal?
V: If there was one, yes, because lots of organs in his time didn’t have the pedal coupler, only the manual coupler, they call it Schiebekoppel, which is like a device where you mechanically move one keyboard on top of the other.
V: And they coincide, and then both keys of both keyboards can be played together. Alright!
A: What, now, about Rheinberger? How would you…?
V: Rheinberger! Rheinberger, Liszt, and...
V: … Mendelssohn, and what else… Reubke, and to some degree, maybe Karg-Elert and Reger, right? These composers have certain colors similar to German organs. So Rheinberger’s tradition might be possible to do on modern organs following suggestions by Felix Mendelssohn, I think. Right?
V: And Felix Mendelssohn, in the preface of his “Six Organ Sonatas” wrote that you could always have a 16’ stop in the pedals. Right? Always. Unless indicated otherwise by the composer. And then, he has, I think, 5 or 6 dynamic levels: pianissimo, piano, mezzo-piano, mezzo-forte, forte, and fortissimo. So pianissimo means what, Ausra?
A: Well, you need to use the softest organ stops. 8’.
V: 8’ Flute. Right? Or staying just one.
V: The softest of any manual. And then, if you have piano, you could have a couple of those together, but also very soft—Flutes, let’s say. And then mezzo-piano would have maybe Flutes 8’ and 4’. Mezzo-forte might have Principals 8’ and 4’ already, and then forte could have, as he says, all the stops of the great manual, but without some of the loudest stops, which means without, maybe, reeds, and maybe mixtures could work already, I think.
A: It depends on the mixture probably.
V: It depends. You’d have to check.
A: Some mixtures are so prominent, that you will save them for later.
V: And fortissimo means full organ. This is simple. And remember, Ausra, we last played Čiurlionis arrangement of his Symphonic Poem, “In the Forest” in Denmark.
A: And we did, I think, something similar, then,
V: Yes, yes!
A: ...because how many...
A: ...we had like 6 dynamic levels.
V: Exactly 6 combinations.
V: And we followed those…
A: Of course in spite of having only 6 dynamic levels, we worked pretty hard, because we change between these levels a lot.
V: Yes. Composers like to write those waves; louder and softer, so we always had to press pistons to adjust.
A: So, do you think it would be possible to play Rheinberger’s “Organ Sonata” by using the Crescendo pedal?
V: It should be, on a decent organ, yes. But you have to check, always, and if it’s not, if it’s not programmable, you have to then do it with pistons, I think; program by hand. And then you can be sure that these dynamic levels would work for your piece, I think. Agree?
V: So, this is our advice to MaryLu and anybody else who’s playing Bach’s music, and Alain’s music, and German romantic music. Right? Maybe you have to adjust things, but these are general suggestions. Alright? 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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