SOPP606: I have no objection to the study of articulate legato touch for early music, but my question is, why MUST we use it?
Vidas: Hello and welcome to Secrets of Organ Playing Podcast!
Ausra: This is a show dedicated to helping you become a better organist.
V: We’re your hosts Vidas Pinkevicius...
A: ...and Ausra Motuzaite-Pinkeviciene.
V: We have over 25 years of experience of playing the organ
A: ...and we’ve been teaching thousands of organists online from 89 countries since 2011.
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V: Hi guys! This is Vidas.
A: And Ausra.
V: Let’s start episode 606 of Secrets of Organ Playing Podcast. This question was sent by Laurie, and she writes:
Be sure you are sitting down to read this. ? I have no objection to the study of articulate legato touch for early music, but my question is, why MUST we use it? I understand it was the practice in the time of Bach and early music, but wasn't that true because the tracker instruments lent themselves to that sort of touch? And the flat pedalboards could be navigated easier with all toes, rather than using heels. But if we have a modern instrument that does not have "tracker touch" and has a concave radiating pedalboard, why not lend new interpretations to these masterworks? It could give new life and new understandings to old music.
I'm sure you have heard Cameron Carpenter play. I'm not always a fan, but I learn something new about the construction of the music when I listen to his interpretations. For example, here he is playing the Bach B Minor Prelude and Fugue on a modern organ, making full use of colorful registrations and expression pedals. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jixCGS_AAG8
Isn't this improvisation in its own way? What do you say?”
V: And by the way, Laurie is on the team of people who are transcribing these podcast conversations, so she’s also, then, a member of the Total Organist community as well! So, Ausra, what comes to your mind when you’ve listened to this?
A: Well, of course you are free to choose. You live in a democratic country, and you can interpret music as freely as you want, but if you are thinking that this is something new, to play Bach legato and on a modern instrument, this is not a new way, because that ordinary touch about which Vidas and I are talking and advocating so much, actually it was sort of recreated and rediscovered, and only, I would say, 40 years ago, maybe, if I’m correct. And it all came with people like Harald Vogel, who advocated to play the Baroque music on the Baroque instrument and early music on the early instrument. And how I see things is that after you try to play it in the ordinary touch and using only toes for the pedalboard, you will never go back to playing otherwise. And the advantage of what we are advocating is this: If by chance in life you will get access to a historic instrument, you will be able to play it, and if you will only use only modern techniques and play Bach legato and use your heels while playing Bach, you will never be able to play on the historical instrument, because you will sit down at the organ bench, and you will see that it’s simply impossible. Okay, let’s hear what Vidas thinks about it!
V: I have a few things to say. I think if Bach lived today and played those modern instruments, he might have written a completely different kind of music, right? And not necessarily in his own Baroque style. He might not have been an organist at all in this day and age. Right? It’s very idiomatic to his period that he became what he became, actually, and not even talking about Bach, but any other master from the past. So, when we encounter masterpieces from those days and we try to recreate how they might have sounded today, we always make some compromises, because when we are on a modern instrument, we don’t have those sounds available, or even the intervals available. The tuning system is different, and then we’re hearing a little bit different harmonies—not as pure, for example, not as colorful. But then the advantage to the modern era is that composers can modulate to any key they want and each key sounds exactly the same. It’s from the color perspective, but it kind of ties to this performance practice, and in forming performing practice, we’re not advocating that you should necessarily play everything with toes only, but you should know how it’s done, and then you are free to choose, and not only know, but I think you could try and practice and spend some time, and when you master one, two, three, or five pieces this way, try to do an experiment; try to learn something else from this period but in a legato fashion, with heels, for example. Try your own pedaling and fingering with finger glissandi and everything, and then go back to this historically informed technique in the way you play it, and see if it sounds more convincing. You see? The style of music lends itself to this kind of articulations, and if you use modern pedaling, you have to think about articulations. But if you use early pedalling and fingering, then it works automatically. You can recreate it automatically. You don’t even think about it.
A: Well, and as I mentioned before, don’t think that what Carpenter does, that this is a new thing, because Marcel Dupré actually toured America many years ago during his lifetime, and he plays all Bach, complete works by Bach, and I believe he even played from memory, and of course, he used the legato techniques and toe and heel techniques on the pedalboard, so it’s nothing new, what you are talking about. Well, okay.
V: And so, just try different approaches and then choose the one that sort of works for you in your situation. We just don’t want you to relearn the same piece twice. If you ever have the chance to play a tracker instrument, which was inspired by Baroque techniques, or an actual Baroque organ if you go to some church which has… some organs in the United States have historically based organs… and you might have a chance to play them, and what would you do then? Would you play legato, or would you try to relearn it the second time? We advocate that you don’t have to relearn it. You can do the same thing the right way right away, and then it would sound convincing on any instrument. The last thing, Ausra, if we consider this. If you play with articulation on a modern instrument, does it sound bad?
A: Well, no, it doesn’t sound bad.
V: Does it sound bad if you play with toes-only technique on a modern pedalboard?
A: No, I have never noticed that.
V: But the other way around, if you play on a historical instrument and you play legato, does it sound less convincing?
A: Sure! Definitely.
V: You see? It’s kind of self explanatory. This technique doesn’t go both ways. You can play with articulation and with toes only on any instrument, not only with a Baroque instrument. But when you go to the Baroque instrument, legato technique doesn’t work so much. I mean, there are some instances and exceptions, but in general the rule is articulate legato like string players would articulate with their bows, or with their tongues for wind instument players. Flutists, for example.
A: Yes, I think that’s a very good insight you are talking about.
V: Alright, guys! We hope this was useful to you! 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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