Vidas: Hi guys, this is Vidas!
Ausra: And Ausra!
V: Let’s start episode 517 of Secrets of Organ Playing Podcast. This question was sent by Lee, and Lee commented on the YouTube video of mine where I talk about articulate legato touch in early organ music. I demonstrate how it sounds vs. normal legato. Normal legato is when notes are connected, and articulate legato are where there is some detachment between the notes. Right? So he asks:
“"How would "articulate legato" be notated in a score vs. normal legato? Thanks."
A: Well, this question makes me smile a little bit, because articulate legato is supposed to be played for… it’s intended for Baroque music, for early music. So, if you are playing, let’s say, a piece by J. S. Bach, or Dieter Buxtehude, or other early masters, you simply know that everything that is written, and it’s written in a normal score without any articulation marks should be played in articulate legato.
V: Right. But…
A: But…. You only play legato whose parts are specifically written in.
V: Ah, I see…
A: Plus, you need to find a good edition. It means, if you will pick up, for example, an edition made by Marcel Dupré, you can simply just throw it away, because it’s all marked in legato and other articulation marks, but these are not original. These are added later by Marcel Dupré.
V: Yeah, and Marcel Dupré legato fingering and pedaling are dated. They are basically not used in historically informed early performance practice style. We don’t, of course, have CD recordings from the Baroque times.
A: From the 17th and 18th century!
V: Yeah. But remember, Ausra, we do have, for example, several pieces recorded on a mechanical clock from the 18th century—Handel’s Concerto, for example—with multiple virtuosic embellishment.
A: Yes. That’s right. Plus, you know, the greatest evidence that we have are surviving instruments. Simply, if you would play legato on the Baroque instrument, it wouldn’t work.
V: And we just have to look at other instruments which share the same articulation. Strings, winds…
A: Yes, and you know, we have also many treatises from that time survived about playing various instruments, not necessarily the organ, but let me just mention, probably, the few famous ones such as C. P. E. Bach’s “The True Art of Playing Klavier,” then the big book of Joachim Quantz on playing a flute, then Leopold Mozart on playing violin, and basically, if you would read all these books, you would find the sections talking about articulation, and you will see that baroque music was all about articulation.
V: And similar to keyboard, string music, like violin music, also had a similar articulation done with bowing.
A: Yes, and the bow itself was shorter than it is in a modern violin or other stringed instrument, so obviously, you had to articulate much more.
V: Exactly. And you know, when you change the direction of the bow, there is a slight break between those two notes, and that’s what creates this ideal articulation!
A: Yes, but for many beginners, when they start to articulate baroque music, they simply start to play it too detached. It sounds just like staccato, and it makes me laugh, because it really sounds like a comedy.
A: Artificial. It’s not like it needs to sound.
V: The principle is that you sort of play with one finger but as legato as possible.
A: So basically, to master this ordinary touch, it takes time. It takes time, and it takes effort, and it takes to listen carefully to what you are doing. You cannot do it in one night, or in one year, I would say, too, unless you are really sufficient in your practice.
V: What about the wind instrument, tonguing? Is it also similar, too?
A: Yes, it’s very similar.
V: ...to what we do?
A: Practically, they had to tongue each single note in most of the cases.
V: Unless it’s written “legato.”
A: Yes, that’s right.
V: or staccato. Then it would be shorter.
A: And wind instruments and organ have so much in common, because they both have pipes. So, I guess this also suggests to us that the correct way to play Baroque music is to articulate it.
V: So guys, if you want to find out more about articulation of early music, check out those three treatises. We will link them in our description of our conversation—the one with the treatise by C. P. E. Bach about playing keyboard instruments, basically Klavier, as he says, and the next is by Joachim Quantz about playing the flute, and the last one is by Leopold Mozart (Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s father) on playing violin.
V: And those three treatises, will give you a great, great introduction, not only to this idea of ordinary touch, or as we call it today, articulate legato, but also to all kinds of performance practice issues including fingering, ornamentation, for example, diminutions—all those details that make your Baroque piece sound like it might have been performed back in the day.
A: Yes, and the biggest counter argument that I heard about why we need to do it nowadays, they most simply are the modern instrument and so on and so forth, but even if you play articulate legato on a modern instrument, it still sounds better in this kind of music, at least for my ear.
V: Obviously, yes! It’s more difficult to articulate on a modern instrument, because the keys are wider and longer, and the feeling of the keyboard is different. Right? But if you apply this ordinary touch right away, you don’t have to relearn it if you ever have a chance to practice on an historical instrument, or a copy of the historical instrument.
A: True, and that’s what I think it is that separates just an ordinary musician from an excellent musician, is that you learn in time. Because, for example, the older generation, for example our professors, Quentin Faulkner and George Ritchie, they had to relearn it, because as young people, they were taught to play legato, and to do only some articulation in Baroque music. But later on, all this big discovery basically based on German organists such as Harold Vogel or Ludger Lohmann became famous throughout the organist world, and some of the older generation didn’t want to accept it. I have met some of them personally, and they would be complaining, “Oh, there are these youth that nowadays play all Bach non-legato, and they call it ordinary touch, and they say that this is the way that Bach played...”
V: And this youth was over 50 years old!
A: Yes, but that guy who told me that, I think at that time he was more than 80 years old already. He was a pupil of a famous German organist, Karl Straube.
A: And Straube was the same in Germany at the time as Marcel Dupré in France, so really a leading figure. And of course, he taught this guy that I knew to play legato, and he trusted him because he was such a renowned organist who worked widely in his days. But life is changing, and new discoveries are made. So our professors, Ritchie and Faulkner simply relearned everything.
V: Yeah, and as long as you keep learning, you postpone the aging process, which is really good news.
A: And anyway, when you hear one performance and another one and you compare them, then you know right away which is the right one, because your intuition tells you that. And after trying that ordinary touch, you will never go back to playing Bach legato.
V: Thank you guys, 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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