Vidas: Hi guys, this is Vidas.
Ausra: And Ausra.
V: Let’s start Episode 177 of #AskVidasAndAusra podcast. This question was sent by Mark.
I have a very quick question - does one need to fill out the harmonies in baroque organ two part works (melodie and bass)? Is this a practice that was expected at the time especially with Italian and English organ music? Thank you for an amazing blog!
V: Do you know what he is talking about?
A: Well, I’m not quite sure if he means like Bicinium technique or...
V: Chorale harmonizations.
A: Chorale harmonizations like in Krebs’ Clavierubung.
V: So there are two types of two voice texture, right? If you have a bicinium maybe let’s say chorale prelude where the right hand plays the melody and the left hand plays the accompaniment, but this accompaniment is rather fast and with figuration, arpeggios, and leaps and scales. Then I don’t think it’s appropriate to add alto and tenor.
A: I think so too. Because you know sometimes two voices are plenty. For example two part inventions and some dance suites.
V: That’s because when you have very thin texture like one voice or even two part texture then composer tends to create or fill in the harmonies with these two parts only so he needs to basically make a lot of arpeggios and produce imitation of the chords, right?
A: True. And think for example about string instruments like cello. We have so many nice suites written by Bach where it’s only one voice and it’s fills out space completely.
V: So the rule is the more voices you have the less movement between the voices you can supply. Basically if you have let’s say six part chorale prelude with right hand playing two parts, left hand playing two parts and two parts in the pedals can you have a very fast moving independent motion?
A: Probably not.
V: No, very thick texture. But if you have let’s say one voice or two voice texture then you have all kinds of leaps and arpeggios and runs and flourishes.
A: Yes, but if we are talking about chorales, hymns, and you have two voices based on soprano usually no. If it’s intended for harmonization it will have numbers underneath of the bass.
V: Or above the bass.
A: Or above the bass staff. So and that way it will mean that you have to harmonize and to add two more voices.
V: Exactly. So look at the numbers. If you see the numbers above the bass line then presumably you could add, fill in the harmonies or even make a complex version of the chorale prelude by creating four part texture but not necessarily in chordal motion but making figurations and even imitations between the voices like in the Orgelbuchlein.
A: Yes, that’s right.
V: But that’s the next level, right? The first level should be to add the chordal texture always to simplify things. Wonderful. Do you think that Mark is referring to Italian music as the choral music? I don’t think so. Italians didn’t write that.
A: Yes, I don’t think so either.
V: So probably he played some Italian biciniums, right? Where figuration and filling in the harmonies is not necessarily a part.
A: Sure, that’s true. Bicinium technique was rather important technique in Baroque time. Even you know J.S. Bach included it in his Clavierubung Part III where we have four wonderful duets.
V: Exactly. And sometimes biciniums have one voice stationary like a chorale melody in the right hand or in the left hand too. Or you could have imitation and dialogs between each part like in those duets in the Clavierubung Part III. I think we could make fingering for those too. People would enjoy them.
V: Because they are not easy. They are like full-blown two part fugues.
A: Yes, they are not easy. Definitely I agree with you.
V: But they have curious structure because they have repeated sections “A” and repeated sections “B” like ancient two-part forms.
A: But I think, you know, that Bach wanted to leave this to us you know, as part of his legacy because this was one of those rare collections which was actually printed out during his lifetime and it means it is very important. All those pieces that he included in these printed out collections.
V: Is it more important that Orgelbuchlein?
A: I think so, I think so. Because you know, I am still not quite sure about Orgelbuchlein. It seems for me that Bach got bored at some point because he didn’t finish it and because it was not the end of his life, actually. But you know sort of middle I believe, or even earlier age. So I don’t think that it has the same weight as Clavierubung Part III, for example.
V: Definitely. Clavierubung Part III.
A: Or other parts of Clavierubung.
V: It’s a complete collection, right? Part I is partitas, Part II is French Overture and Italian Concerto.
A: So you have sort of all these various styles, you know, in Clavierubung.
V: Part III is what, organ chorales and E flat Major and Prelude and Fugue and those four duets. And what is in part IV?
A: It’s Goldberg Variations I believe.
V: Ah ha. So Bach really wrote a compendium of every imaginable keyboard technique that he used at the time.
A: So I believe that these four parts of Clavierubung and his Art of Fugue is you know our most important pieces to study in order to understand Bach and baroque music.
V: Do you think Ausra that if a person, like any of our listeners would master those four parts, some of them are for the harpsichord or course, some of them for the organ, would they be able to play just about anything from the baroque times?
A: Sure, definitely, yes. I know when praising these four parts of Clavierubung and Art of Fugue I don’t want to sort of diminish the Orgelbuchlein. It’s also very important collection especially for beginners when you are just learning the baroque language because it has all those important baroque figures. Like each chorale is you know, devoted to some type of technique, some type of baroque figure.
V: Yah, one figure basically goes throughout entire chorale prelude in imitation. It’s basically the second level of choral writing. The first level would be harmonization of the chorale. The second level would be like Orgelbuchlein type of chorale prelude. The third would be with added ritornellos in between the phrases. The next level would be already very advanced.
A: Yes, and to some of his chorales from Orgelbuchlein actually, he took one later on in his life and even I think on his deathbed he took the chorale “Wenn wir in hochsten Noten sein” and you know recomposed it with a different title “Vor Deinen Thron.”
V: Exactly. “Vor Deinen Thron Tret Ich Hiermit,” basically “Before Your Throne, Here I Come.”
A: Yes, so it’s like a final stage of his life.
V: Although it was an early version, right? From Orgelbuchlein. Wonderful guys. Please explore more of Bach’s works, Bach chorale preludes, they are wonderful. And biciniums are wonderful too. You can learn so much. In fact, if you just master fifteen two part inventions, and then fifteen three part sinfonias you will be able to play a lot of baroque music too.
A: Yes. It’s like you know, baroque ABC.
V: Thank you guys. This was wonderful question. We love helping you grow so please send us more questions like that. We will discuss that on the show. And now we are going to play some Bach music because Bach’s birthday is approaching soon and we’ll be celebrating it and hopefully you will be celebrating it as well. 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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