SOPP503: I would love to be able to play Widor’s Toccata, Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in D minor and to be a very good organ player for Mass including the Mass music and hymns
Vidas: Hi, guys, this is Vidas.
Ausra: And Ausra
V: Let’s start episode 503, of Secrets of Organ Playing Podcast. This question was sent by Maureen. And she writes:
Vidas and Ausra,
My three dreams are these.
I would love to be able to play Widor’s Toccata, Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in D minor and to be a very good organ player for Mass including the Mass music and hymns.
V: What’s the deal with Widor’s Toccata? Why people want to play Widor’s Toccata?
A: I guess this is probably the most known organ piece besides Bach’s D Minor Toccata and Fugue.
V: But she doesn’t want play Bach’s Toccata in D Minor. She wants to play Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in D Minor. Which one?
A: I don’t know. I guess she might mean Toccata...
V: Toccata, right?
A: and Fugue in D minor. Because there is really not such a famous D Minor Prelude and Fugue by J.S. Bach as his Toccata.
A: I guess what that might mean maybe people who like these two pieces, it’s okay. It’s sort of common way.
V: Imagine what would happen—she will learn to play Widor’s Toccata and Bach’s D Minor Toccata, and become a very good player for Mass including music for Mass and hymns, right? She can play the hymns and everything else that is required for Mass, plus Widor’s Toccata and Bach’s D Minor Prelude and Fugue. So imagine she will play Bach’s D Minor Prelude and Fugue for the beginning and then Widor’s Toccata at the end. And then hymns and other Mass music in the middle. How would that sound?
A: Well, after a few Sundays of these I think…
A: people will get tired. Because even the best piece doesn’t have to be played all the time, over and over again.
V: Yeah. I think there is such a variety of organ music, vast variety that people don’t even, not only know about but don’t even, are not aware of them, right? You cannot know if you like those pieces because you even don’t know they exists.
A: True, that’s true. And while talking about Widor’s Toccata, well, if you would listen other great French masters, and their toccata’s, such masters and Duruflé, Vierne, well, then might this Widor’s Toccata wouldn’t seem to nice to you. Because, honestly, what I think about for me, it sounds quite primitive.
A: And the same over and over again.
V: True. It’s the most popular organ toccata, obviously, besides D Minor Toccata by Bach, but not the most artistically interesting, I would say.
V: Mulet Carillon Sortie is much more interesting to me. As you say Dureflé’s Toccata is such a fantastic piece. But all of them require at least intermediate organ skills.
A: True, and you should know really one thing—when you are picking up and playing the piece that the whole world knows by heart, such as Widor’s Toccata and Bach’s Toccata, you need to be brilliant in it. Otherwise it will be just a filler.
V: Yeah, it will be a joke.
A: True. Because in our school we have all these, such concerts, its traditional concerts. It takes place each year before Christmas break. It’s called Viva La Musica. And we have big competition because everybody wants to participate in it, and what teachers do, they select very well-known pieces for various instruments.
A: And I stopped going to that concert because then you are picking up really popular repertoire that everybody knows. You need to do it on the highest level.
V: Yeah. I just remember this summer, I think, was one concert at the cathedral where one organist played something really recognizable to general audience, and there were two tourists from Russia. And Russian tourists are generally musically quite…
A: Advanced, you mean, yes?
V: Yes, advanced, and they have…
V: Yes, knowledgable, and they have good taste in music because of Russian music education obviously.
A: And organ recitals are very popular in Russia because we don’t have organs in churches, obviously…
A: because of the Orthodox of traditions. So they know that this concert repertoire.
V: So this organist played the D Minor Toccata, and…
A: And she was really sloppy.
V: and very, very sloppy. Was it a lady or a man, do you remember?
A: A lady.
V: Lady. Okay. So then those two tourists left in the middle of the recital.
V: Right? I’m not saying Maureen will play those pieces at the recital, perhaps not yet at least, but if you ever want to play them in church, then consider raising your skill level at least to the intermediate level. Basically before playing Widor’s Toccata, you need to be able to play in public, at the good level, easier toccata’s, like Gigout Toccata, Dubois Toccata, Boellmann’s Toccata.
A: That’s right, yes.
V: And before playing Bach’s D Minor Toccata and Fugue, consider playing in public at the good level, easier Bach’s free works, easier preludes and fugues. Maybe not even Bach’s, but maybe Eight Little Preludes and Fugues, and progressing through a little bit longer preludes and fugues, 533, 535, maybe Fugue in G minor 578, something like that. And then you might be ready for BWV 565, D Minor Toccata and Fugue. Right? But since Maureen has a dream besides those two big pieces to become a good, very good organ playing for Mass and play hymns, it means that she’s not there yet, right? So she needs to focus first on the hymns and easier organ music which could be played during Mass, as preludes, postludes, offertories and communions.
A: True. And by expanding that easier repertoire, she can start to practice some harder organ works. And another thing that struck me, always strikes when people mention Bach’s Toccata in D Minor—it’s so funny because it’s possible that it’s not a Bach’s piece.
V: Yes, it is possible.
A: Because it’s so bizarre…
V: It might be…
A: comparing to his other pieces, other toccatas.
V: It might be his youthful work, right? His student time work when he was maybe 16 years old. What kind of masterpiece is this?
A: I know, so even while comparing Bach with his other works, I don’t think D Minor Toccata is the greatest piece, that…
A: J.S. Bach has written.
V: It was made popular from 1940’s, Walt Disney Fantasia, when it was arranged for the organ and performed as a soundtrack of the movie. Hollywood made it famous, so it’s not Bach’s masterpiece that, not Bach’s genius that made it famous.
A: I know because when you are thinking about pieces like E Minor Prelude and Fugue which, or Eb Major Prelude and Fugue from Clavierubung Part 3 and other great works, I think it’s, you cannot even compare those. They are so different.
V: And Bach would have thought of this piece as a masterpiece. He would surely have...
A: Published it.
V: preserved and published for future generations, like Clavierubung. And we have Eb Major Prelude and Fugue from this collection. So. And the last thing that is missing from Maureen’s answer to me, I usually ask people about their dream in organ playing and challenges that they have to overcome in order to reach their dream. And she didn’t write anything about the challenges.
V: And that’s what is the most important thing. We might talk for hours, right, about what she needs to do, but we don’t know anything about her.
V: What’s stopping her? Why she cannot play hymns now? So, guys, please be more—I wouldn’t say more specific, but be more honest, right? And tell us everything that you want to, that you want to say. Tell us everything that you wouldn’t say to anybody else, because we might know your situation then better and be able to recommend some things for you. Otherwise it’s just theoretical talking which may or may not help. Okay. This was Vidas.
A: And Ausra.
V: 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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