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.
V: So now let’s jump in and get started with the podcast for today.
A: We hope you’ll enjoy it!
Vidas: Hi guys! This is Vidas.
Ausra: And Ausra.
V: Let’s start episode 653 of Secrets of Organ Playing Podcast. This question was sent by Jeremy. He’s our member of Total Organist Community, and helps us with fingering and pedaling scores. And he writes,
Today I did a variety of different things on the organ. The past couple of weeks I have been working through the New Oxford Organ Method just to see what it did (I really am enjoying it). It acts kind of like an organ teacher for those who have basic piano skills. It walks you through how to break the piece down into technical and musical bits. So I recorded the last piece in the "ordinary touch" section of the book today--Rising Passacaglia by Frederick Stocken, and practiced the next piece in the book (which is evading my memory at the moment). I began week three of the Pedal Virtuoso course and was inspired by Vidas to start the first Trio of J.S. Bach (learned four measures of the notes). Then I started working on Walther’s Komm Der Heilige Geist and made sure Buxtehude's Lobt Gott ihr Christen Allzugleich was still in my fingers. Practiced BWV 536 (which is Prelude and Fugue in A Major) for Sunday's service and worked on Hindemith second sonata, first movement. Here's the Stocken:
V: It’s very nice that Jeremy was practicing from my Pedal Virtuoso Course. I wonder if he was inspired by my Trio Sonata recording?
A: Yes, that’s what I thought as I read.
V: Yeah, it’s good to know that other people watch these videos too. But today I want to talk about his work through the New Oxford Organ Method and specifically about the touch in the Rising Passacaglia, the ordinary touch. Should we remind, Ausra, to our listeners what the ordinary touch means?
A: Yes, I think that would be very helpful.
V: Go ahead.
A: Why me?
V: Because I’ve been talking too much.
A: (laughs) But I got my second shot of AstraZeneca yesterday, so I need to be careful not to overstrain myself.
V: Not to use your, not to move your left arm.
A: Sure. Well but okay, the ordinary touch was known as Baroque articulation style. Basically, all the music written in the Baroque style had to be played with articulate legato, or every note has to be detached.
V: Mm hm.
A: Unless it’s indicated otherwise.
V: Yeah, it’s sort of detached but not too much, not too choppy.
A: Sure, and that’s usually a mistake made by many beginners, that when you tell them detach each note, they start sort of to play staccato almost.
V: And I asked Jeremy in this conversation, “Does it say why Rising Passacaglia is listed in the ordinary touch section?” And he answered probably that the reasoning is that the ordinary touch helps provide clarity and can be used in music of later times, especially in music inspired by Baroque models. Would you agree, Ausra?
A: Well yes, but not 100%. It depends on the complete piece, I would say.
V: You mean specific piece?
A: Yes, specific piece.
V: Probably it’s interesting to look at what organists of other countries do with modern pieces. And sometimes they do play with ordinary touch. I’ve heard Sietze de Vries from the Netherlands improvise in modern styles, or even play a piece by Mendelssohn, right - this is legato sort of style - but he would articulate. And a few other of his Dutch colleagues would do that. And I was always wondering why.
A: Yes, and I don’t think that’s approach that I really like. I’m not talking about contemporary music, about modern music. Usually with modern music, if not the guidance is included how to play it, I guess you could do whatever you want with it, because it’s so eclectic and...
V: Don’t you mean composer?
A: Yes, yes, yes.
V: Composer can do whatever they want.
A: Well no. I mean if composer haven’t included specific performance instruction for his or her piece, then I think you could do whatever you want with it. But if we are talking about Romantic period, like Mendelssohn, Liszt, Reger, and all these wonderful composers, I’m even not talking about French composers but in general about the Romantic period could find many many pieces that have titles like Passacaglia for example - I’m talking about Max Reger…
V: Mm hm.
A: It really doesn’t mean that you need to do it and to play it with ordinary touch. I think that’s a big mistake.
V: If it’s very very chromatic you mean.
V: If it’s very late Romantic style.
A: Yes. But even in Mendelssohn and Liszt, I think you should play legato unless there are other performance suggestions.
V: What if composer imitates old style? Then you could probably use ordinary touch, right?
A: Are you talking about composers that lived in 19th century?
V: No...well, in a sense sometimes yes. Grieg for example, would write neo-classical style too.
A: But then he would indicate specific articulation marks.
V: Would he?
V: And that will be probably arrangements for organ, not original.
A: That’s right.
V: Mm hm.
A: But otherwise really I wouldn’t suggest to use the ordinary touch in Mendelssohn. Of course, like your god Sietze de Vries does that, but I mean it’s up to him. Of course I respect his opinion and his way of playing, but I wouldn’t do that myself. And if I were to teach organ, I wouldn’t suggest my students to do that.
V: But it helps to understand his reasoning, you know? He is probably doing this out of some deeper understanding, not just incidental.
A: But still, you know, we need to talk then on what type of instrument he had performed that piece.
V: Exactly. I was going to…
A: Well, and if we are talking about historical performance practice it’s better, it’s really better not like a general rule for 100%, but if you perform Romantic music on instruments built in Romantic period. I think you would agree on that.
V: Of course. And these instruments differ from country to country.
A: Sure. For example, recently I tried so many of them, all kinds of sample sets made by Piotr Grabowski. It mainly featured organs built in Poland. And many of them, most of them I would say were built in the Romantic period.
A: Or Post-Romantic period, but still holds that great Romantic tradition. And basically, if I would start to articulate on instruments like that, it would really sound like a big mistake.
V: And this is probably because those instruments, most of them, are not tracker action. Right?
A: Yes, of course.
V: And what happens in the Netherlands, look, even in the middle of the 19th century they still had those Baroque stop handles, and everything drawn by hand. So it was fully tracker, slider chest organs. And I would suspect that Sietze de Vries uses that touch for later music because he plays that type of instrument. And if he had an opportunity to play a different type of instrument, let’s say a pneumatic instrument, Sauer organ from late 19th century or beginning of 20th century, he would probably adjust his touch as well.
A: I think so because he is a great musician, and he knows what to do and how to do. But I just think it would be bad if some inexperienced organist listened to his recordings and started to imitate his playing on different type of instrument. Then it wouldn’t sound really good.
V: Yeah, there is so much to these things to consider. So much depth and it requires so much knowledge. And little bit of knowledge is actually dangerous, right? Because you only see the surface and not entire thing, entire context.
A: That’s right. So I think the deep knowledge is always good.
A: But of course, if you are, or if we are talking about early Romantics, then I think more articulation is appropriate. And in general, you need to look at the structure of the piece. You need to listen what works and what not. Because of course if you will play everything just complete legato, then of course it will be a real mess too. Even on great Romantic instruments. Because you still need to look at the phrases, at the structure of entire composition.
V: And repeated notes?
A: Of course. That gives so much pain while playing Franck, for example.
V: Yeah, and playing Franck’s music is not the same as Mendelssohn’s music.
V: That’s the big difference. All right 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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