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!
V: Hi guys! This is Vidas.
A: And Ausra.
V: Let’s start episode 699 of Secrets of Organ Playing Podcast. This question was sent by Rien Schalkwijk, our friend from YouTube, and he wants to know how Rorate caeli, ornamented chorale prelude by Jeanne Demessieux is constructed. Have you played this piece, Ausra?
A: Oh yes, I think everybody has played it. Here's my video.
V: Wonderful piece, wonderful composer who lived too-short life and left some amazing works, and one of them is a collection of twelve chorale preludes on Gregorian chant themes, Opus 8 from 1947. And the first one is Rorate caeli, ornamented chorale. What can you say about it, Ausra, from the first glance?
A: Well, that it’s very easy and very beautiful.
V: The easiest from the collection.
A: Oh yes, sure.
V: Anything else?
A: (laughs) Am I in exam room? Okay, well I see the hymn tune on the right hand, in the right hand, played on the…
A: …cornet, yes. If you don’t have cornet, single cornet stop, you can make up cornet of your own. It can be the full cornet or just a few stops from the cornet. Or if you don’t like cornet sound, you could replace it with some kind of soft reed, for example oboe or krummhorn.
V: Although when composer has explicitly asked for cornet, I think it’s better to use it than to switch it to something else, right?
A: (laughs) Do you think she would let’s say come back from the dead and would start to avenge you for not following her registration closely?
V: I wouldn’t dare to find out! Basically, what else is interesting going on? I noted that she treats the right hand part as sort of ornamented chorale, but it’s like a cantilena style - sometimes the French composers liked to interpret Gregorian chant tunes like this playing left hand accompaniment with pedals, and the right hand moving faster with solo registration. So that’s what happens in the right hand part. It’s I think almost totally diatonic, almost without any accidentals, written in D minor key, the first mode basically, it doesn't have to be in D minor, but in the mode of D with one flat, but all the chromatics happen in the accompaniment parts, in the left hand parts and sometimes even in the pedal part, right? And that’s what makes this chorale prelude so French-like: chromatics.
A: Yes, and also modes - that you know it’s not like clear major or minor, but it’s modal. Because you mentioned that it’s written in D.
V: The right hand part.
A: The right hand part. But you could also add that it’s in F, too.
V: The beginning in F, and then of course ending in D.
A: And that’s what you can very often find in modal music, that major and minor sort of interchanges all the time in the piece.
V: Mm hm. And it has like ABA form, because in the middle, we have something else after this opening phrase, middle section, and then the beginning repeats with that cornet registration at the end, reminding us of that beautiful antiphon. It’s like the structure of the chant itself: the antiphon, then there is the psalm, then there is antiphon again, right?
V: But the psalm is not exactly identically written as it’s in the chant. It’s more or less freely interpreted.
A: And what I like in general about Demessieux tune about this composition is she has very improvisatory compositional style. Basically, playing her music is like improvising.
V: Yes, she was excellent improviser student of Marcel Dupré.
A: And she avoids direct repetitions of musical material. If she repeats something, it’s a little bit different each time, so
it gives such a liveliness to her music.
V: And probably the impression of a surprise, unpredictability, right?
A: Yes, true. For example, at the end, she finishes on this D major chord.
V: Which you wouldn’t expect.
A: Sure. Because it’s not like Bach’s fugue, where often the minor key changes with the major key at the end.
V: And in general, you wouldn’t expect the piece to end in D, because it’s always in F, in F, in F - just the ending of the antiphon is in D, right?
V: So, I think we could draw a useful lesson from this chorale prelude and try to improvise on any other chant that we want. Something similar with the cornet registration and using chromatics in the left hand part and the pedals.
A: Yes. And another feature of her music that often it’s, it sounds sort of easy, like this piece, but it’s really complex. And if you are thinking you could improvise to do something similar, well, maybe you could do, but it would be difficult.
V: Right. If we would stop at every given measure, and maybe at every half note, that’s where the harmonic rhythm is, every half note you see a different chord. You could actually analyze each chord. And they would be very complex chords. Even when there are three notes, like at the beginning without pedals, you could see they are seventh chords and diminished chords, and augmented chords, even without pedals. Basically so to say it’s like a four-note chord with one part omitted. It’s still a dissonant chord, right?
A: Yes, but you know, I don’t think it would make much sense of doing a Roman numeral analysis of a piece like this…
V: No, no.
A: Because you always need to keep in mind, it’s not Mozart, it’s not Bach, it’s all modal. So you need to keep the modes in mind while analyzing music like this.
V: Very good.
A: And of course, add more like you said, chromaticism and accidentals, because it’s not like medieval modal music, but it’s like 20th century modal French music.
V: Yes. So guys, try your hand at improvising like Jeanne Demessieux, and this modal of Rorate caeli is probably the best way to start. And I’m looking forward, Ausra is also looking forward to hearing how your improvisations go. Upload it to YouTube and send us a link.
A: Yes, we would be glad to listen to it.
V: Wonderful, and 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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