Ausra: And Ausra.
Vidas: Let’s start Episode 172 of #AskVidasAndAusra podcast. This question was sent by Žiga and she writes:
Dear Dr. Vidas!
I have studied your most excellent Ultimate Guide to Organ Practice e-book. I just read it again.
Thank you so much for this wonderful gift! It has helped me immensely in my organ learning efforts. My playing and practice efficiency improved a lot by following your advice.
Although I am only an amateur, I really enjoy playing and I love Bach’s music immensely. Some years ago I got my hands on an awesome CD by the great Simon Preston, playing Bach/Vivaldi concertos and have ever since desired to be able to play them. It seemed completely impossible at the time, but now I believe I will actually be able to achieve this. But some more work is still needed!
I would like to share with you an interesting learning experience, which I have not seen mentioned around much; about two years ago I figured I should study Bach’s Applicatio from Wilhelm Friedemann piano book - one of the very few pieces fingered by Bach himself. A very short piece, only 8 bars, but what a marvel it is! Quite challenging, too, it required quite a bit of practice to play fluently! However this little gem has improved my hand posture and fingering tremendously!!! Figuring out good fingering is now much much easier for me, much more automatic, often I just do it. It is so incredibly clever! One of the most useful exercises I ever played.
Thank you again for sharing and the very best of luck and health to you!
So Ausra, do you know this Bach’s Applicatio?
A: Yes. Most organists know it, in general. People who study Bach.
V: I remember we studied it in eastern Michigan, I believe, with Pamela Ruiter-Feenstra.
A: Yes, yes.
V: She introduced us to this exercise, which includes 8 measures of 4-part music, fingered by Bach himself.
V: And at the time, didn’t it feel strange to you, this kind of fingering?
A: Yes, a little bit strange.
A: Well, because at that time I was not familiar, or not very familiar, with historical fingering.
V: Mhmm. And what’s the most striking feature of that fingering, that you noticed at the time? Probably the use of fingers without finger glissando and substitution, right? In order not to achieve legato?
A: Yes, that’s true.
V: What about...Was it easy for you to play? It wasn’t, for me.
A: Well, it was easy for me. I just felt that it was very natural, and that that’s how it should be played. It wasn’t hard to adjust, for me.
V: Now, when I look at it, it’s very simple and self-explanatory--the technique, right? Intervals of the same quality are played with the same fingers, right? And basically, it helps people achieve articulate legato probably automatically, almost without thinking.
A: Yes, that’s true, but you still have to think, at least a little bit.
V: It’s probably true for most of early music, but not necessarily the entire works of Bach, right? This kind of fingering.
A: Yes, yes. Because the harder the key is, the more sophisticated fingering you have to use.
V: And Applicatio, I think, was written in C Major, yes?
A: I believe so.
V: So it’s a relatively simple structure, although 4 parts in 2 hands is not easy to do. But if you transposed it into, let’s say, D Major, it would have been already a different story.
A: Yes, that’s true.
V: Or E♭ Major. Right? Then it becomes quite tricky to do with early fingering. And I believe you don’t necessarily have to use early fingering, with advanced keys.
A: You wouldn’t be able to do that. That’s for sure.
V: Or with advanced textures--very thick textures.
A: Yes, and because Bach’s texture is usually very thick, unless it’s a trio texture. So you have to use your own fingerings.
V: But what about--remember the 3rd Kyrie from Clavierübung by Bach, where the cantus firmus is in augmentation in the pedals, in the bass voice; the hands have 4-part texture, and it’s very thick, almost chordal texture; but it’s written in imitative style, with legato technique. So I’ve noticed--because I’ve been practicing it now, for our upcoming Bach’s Birthday recital--I’ve noticed that I still can apply early fingering there, although it’s in B♭ Major, with thick chords. Although I still can play those parallel 3rds or 6ths with the same kind of fingering. What about you?
A: Good for you.
V: Did you...Of course, you played it awhile ago, but--did you run into trouble there?
A: No; and actually, I never thought about fingering when playing that particular part, although it’s one of my favorite pieces by Bach.
A: This third Kyrie from Clavierübung.
V: Yeah. It has such a chromatic ending!
A: It does.
V: Such a haunting harmony at the end.
A: But I guess I have that early fingering so well managed by now, that I often don’t think about it.
A: I just think about meter, about articulation, and that’s it.
V: What about Fantasia Chromatica by Sweelinck? For me, I knew the principles of early fingering and everything; but it wasn’t easy, especially those runs, for me.
A: Well, it’s not an easy piece to play; but actually, this is a piece where you should use early fingering, and it will help you. It will help you to play those scales right, and not mess them up.
V: Right. So if anybody is looking for some principles and tips to finger their early music pieces--some of the things you have to avoid are probably finger substitution, glissando...what else? Placing the thumb on sharps, right? If possible.
A: Yes. But again, this applies only to certain keys, that have not so many accidentals.
V: Yeah. And trying to play the same intervals with the same fingers. For example, an interval of a third could be played with 2/4: 2/4, 2/4, 2/4, 2/4. That’s in ascending motion, or descending. Or a sixth could be played 1/5, 1/5, 1/5, 1/5. But not too detached, right? Try to be as legato as possible, right?
A: Yes. It sounds a little bit crazy; you use, let’s say, 2/4, 2/4, 2/4, 2/4, and you try to play legato.
V: Yeah, and you can achieve this cantabile style, then--articulate legato. This is in between legato and non-legato.
V: Any other ideas for Žiga, Ausra?
A: Well, I’m glad she liked that Applicatio, and she found it helpful. So I suggest for every beginner to try to play that Applicatio exercise from Wilhelm Friedemann’s book. Because it’s a good pedagogical tool, actually. Because Bach wrote it for his eldest son, so...because he wanted him to be an excellent musician, so I think he did his best.
V: If I’m not mistaken, it’s one of the first pieces in this book, right?
A: Yes. And it just means that Bach understood how important it is to have a good technique foundation. So very soon in a few years, he already wrote the Trio Sonatas for his son to play. So…
V: Yes, it’s just too bad that his health, Wilhelm Friedemann’s health, wasn’t strong enough to last, in the future; and he couldn’t stay in one organist position for a long time, right? He switched positions, and then later in life I think he even stopped being an organist altogether. Right?
A: I think so, yes. C. P. E. Bach actually, I think, did better with everything.
V: Yes. So guys, please keep up your health; it helps in the long run. And in order to be healthy, you have to sleep at least 8 hours, and then probably exercise--right, Ausra? And then, obviously, eat in moderation. Thank you, guys! This was Vidas.
A: And Ausra.
V: And remember, when you practice…
A: Miracles happen.