SOPP642: With renewed energy I have heaped my attention on BWV 529, and various choral preludes, BWV 604 a favourite
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.
Vidas: Let’s start episode 642 of Secrets of Organ Playing Podcast. This question was sent by Rosemary, and she writes,:
“Happy New Year greetings to you all. This day dawned breathtakingly beautiful and we will all be glad of the shade in the garden as the heat rises. A new year ahead in which our prayers and hopes are with those frontline workers caring for victims of Covid 19, and discoveries for containment. May you all and your families stay safe. Your comments, goals and plans are incredibly inspirational for me, with renewed energy I have heaped my attention on BWV 529, and various choral preludes, BWV 604 a favourite. Studying your improvisation and trying out some variations. Thanks to you all and the very best of good wishes for a happy and productive year ahead sharing your wonderful talents.
Vidas: Obviously, this question was written just at the start of the new year, probably. Right, Ausra?
Ausra: Yes, and it’s more not like a question but as a New Years wish, which is very nice and kind. Thank you Rosemary!
Vidas: Maybe we could discuss a little bit what she’s talking about right now—Bach’s works 529 and 604. BWV 529 is one of the trio sonatas. I believe this is C Major Sonata.
Ausra: Yes, this one was the first trio Sonata that I learned by J. S. Bach.
Vidas: And 604 is a chorale from the “Orgel Buchlein,” “Gelobet seist du Jesu Christ.” Okay, so let’s start with the easier one, maybe—with the chorale prelude, “Gelobet seist du Jesu Christ, BWV 604. We have, of course, the score with fingering and pedaling available. Do you think it’s helpful?
Ausra: I think it’s very helpful.
Vidas: It’s written for two manuals and pedals, obviously. The right hand has the solo melody in soprano ornamented, and the lower three voices move in dialogs and duets with each other creating very nice harmonic and melodic, and polyphonic, and also rhythmic fabric.
Ausra: Yes, and although the “Orgel Buchlein” collection is not a really hard one, I think in this chorale, you have some things to do and to learn, because when I’m looking at the pedal part, it’s really quite a vivid part. Don’t you think so?
Vidas: It reminds me of some chorale preludes by Buxtehude. Right?
Ausra: Yes, yes! It resembles that.
Vidas: Except with Buxtehude, we usually have… What’s it called… Vorimitation technique. So before the cantus firmus in the soprano enters the chorale tune, we have three lower voices also presenting the same phrase in fugal imitation, but on a different registration and accompaniment. But with Bach here, he starts right away with the chorale phrase in the soprano.
Ausra: Yes. It’s like, “Schmücke dich,” for example, firmus, or “O Mensch, bewein…”
Vidas: No, not exactly. Right? Because in, “O Mensch, bewein…” yes, the melody starts right away, but in “Schmücke dich,” we have, I think, an introduction, first, and then a chorale tune…
Ausra: But anyway, it’s an ornamented chorale tune in the soprano voice. That’s what I meant ...
Ausra: ...comparing these two.
Vidas: Good point. Obviously, if you add the introduction or those interludes, polyphonic interludes, then the chorale becomes quite long.
Ausra: Well, that’s true, because “Schmücke dich” is from a different collection which is more sophisticated, and all those chorales are much longer.
Vidas: Right, and probably their purpose is different, too. And with each of the chorale preludes from the “Orgel Buchlein” collection, they could easily be played as a hymn introduction, at least in those days.
Ausra: Yes, sure. I’m not sure how well the congregation would respond nowadays to such an introduction. I think it depends on probably the congregation and priest.
Vidas: They would, probably today, sound more like a prelude before the service. Right? Or a communion piece instead of the hymn singing.
Ausra: Why get in trouble as Bach did in Arnstadt when he started to, upon returning from Lübeck hearing Buxtehude’s playing, he started to make all these elaborate interludes between hymn stanzas, and people were not very happy about it.
Vidas: Even before, between hymn phrases. Right? Imagine there are four phrases in a short hymn, so he would add interludes before the second, third, and fourth phrase. That would be very confusing, even though it would sound beautiful if done properly, but it would be confusing for people, when to start the next phrase. Right? Because they would sing with these big chords in the accompaniment, and then suddenly have to stop and wait for young Bach to play his flourish and then sing again.
Ausra: I wish I would have a time machine and could travel to that time and to listen at least once about what he did.
Vidas: We could obviously imagine, some of his chorale preludes have these flourishes. The one I’m thinking of is probably “In Dulci Jubilo,”, BWV 729. I will have to double-check. BWV 729 or even 751 there is one, too. But 729 is with big flourishes, I think. Great. So getting back to “Gelobet seist du Jesu Christ,” I think it’s important for people to start learning it right away, step by step, maybe phrase by phrase and also voice by voice. What do you think about that, Ausra?
Ausra: Yes, if you have time I would definitely do that.
Vidas: And if you don’t have time?
Ausra: Then don’t play Bach.
Vidas: Yeah, because you have to make time to play Bach properly. And obviously, in the original edition handwriting, the left hand part plays from the alto clef. This is fun to read.
Ausra: Yes, and some editions still preserve it. Some of the oldest ones.
Vidas: Yes, 19th century Bach Gesellschaft edition. I think we have the fingering and pedaling written on that edition, so people who like alto clefs can take advantage of that, too. I don’t know which edition Rosemary is practicing from, but nevertheless, it’s really fun. And then, once you do solo parts, you can practice two parts together—soprano-alto, soprano-tenor, soprano-bass. Right? What else? Alto-tenor, alto-bass, tenor-bass, and then three part texture. Soprano-alto-tenor, soprano-alto-bass, soprano-tenor-base, and alto-soprano-bass before playing all four parts together.
Ausra: I feel dizzy already only by listening to you.
Vidas: So how would you recommend learning it?
Ausra: Well, the same way you do.
Ausra: But I couldn’t name all these variations right away. I get confused.
Vidas: I know. Alright. And then, obviously she would want to play a very difficult piece! BWV 529, C Major…
Ausra: ...Trio Sonata…
Vidas: ...exactly. I wonder why she chose those pieces from different, actually, technical levels?
Ausra: Well, we don’t know if she is working on the entire trio sonata, or only on one movement, and which one out of those three. Because they are different in their difficulty level. For example, I don’t think the first movement is very hard. It’s quite comfortable when you manage the text, but it’s quite long. Then the second movement is easier because, of course, it’s a slow movement. But still, there are a lot of things to do, and it’s not easy to play it beautifully. But I guess the trickiest one is the third movement, although it’s really short comparing to the first one. But it has some tricky spots.
Vidas: Correct. But the technique to learn it would be the same as the Orgelbuchlein Chorales, except here are three voices, and only 7 voice combinations. Right-hand, left-hand and Pedals. Right-hand and left-hand together, right-hand and pedals, left-hand and pedals, and all voices together. You could argue that it’s best to practice in shorter segments, or the entire piece voice by voice. I don’t know. What do you think? Shorter segments or longer?
Ausra: I would always learn in longer segments, but that’s my way of learning. And I would always skip these three beginning things that you said, just to play a single line. I never play a single line.
Vidas: Because you already can play them well. Right?
Ausra: But even when I started to learn my first trio sonata, I would work on right-hand and pedals, and then left-hand and pedals… especially left-hand and pedals. That gave me much trouble.
Vidas: Would you learn pedals alone?
Ausra: Well, actually I didn’t, but it’s worth doing, probably.
Vidas: So yeah, for each their own, probably. By the time you were starting playing the organ, remember you were playing piano for 12 years. Right?
Vidas: So obviously on a professional level, so… each line didn’t make much trouble for you—didn’t present any difficulty, or too much, therefore you could concentrate on two lines right away.
Ausra: But I guess if you are learning “Trio Sonata,” you should be at least in the intermediate level, because it’s not a piece for beginners.
Vidas: Obviously. Not even a basic level piece. It’s obviously an intermediate level piece, or even an advanced level piece if you play the fast movements. And first of all, start with the Largo—with the slow movement—middle movement.
Ausra: Yes. I remember those repeated notes in the middle movement were not as easy for me to play well.
Vidas: Yes, this movement consists of two episodes alternating with each other, and the first one is okay, but then the second one is very difficult. The second half features the same thing in different keys.
Ausra: And in general, sometimes I think that it’s easier to play the fast movements comparing to the slow ones, because the fast movements, if you have a good technique, everything is pretty straight forward and simple. But the slow tempo, you have to take more time and you have to know what to do with that kind of music, because it’s difficult to pick up the right tempo, because if you play it too slow it will be boring, if you take a tempo that is too fast, it might sound unmusical. So, you really have a lot to think about while playing slow movements.
Vidas: My final advice would be keep counting. Keep subdividing the beats, but keep counting out loud. This will help you feel the pulse, the correct pulse, and stay in the pulse throughout the piece. When without pulse, there is no liveliness in the music.
Ausra: Yes, good advice!
Vidas: Okay 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,
Ausra: 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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