Today Buxtehude with Heinrich Schütz is considered as the most important German composer from the middle-Baroque period. In this article, I will give tips and advice on how to play and practice perhaps the most popular work by Buxtehude - Prelude in C Major, BuxWV 137.
The prelude (Praeludium, Praeambulum) is a genre of keybord music with no pre-existing choral melody which was refined by Buxtehude. Praeludium C-dur, BuxWV 137, a perfect example of this type of organ composition in Stylus fantasticus, begins with a imposing virtuoso passagio for pedal solo and imitative episode with dotted rhythms which leads to a fugue.
After the fugue folows the ciaccona, e.g. variations of basso ostinato (ground bass) type. This theme is placed in a pedal part upon which the hands play imitative variations. The Praeludium ends with final virtuoso passages.
The choice of pedaling for the opening pedal solo is alternate toe technique. Using this technique we avoid heels and play with toes only with right and left feet in alternation. Because this passage consists of solo melody, it is very appropriate to play it quite freely, emphasizing the highest notes of the line.
Allow enough time to listen to the echo during the rests and do not rush. On the contrary, a great way to play dramatically is to come in a little late after such rests. The next episode with dotted notes is supposed to be rhythmically strict and precise.
One common mistake organists do while performing the opening episode and the fugue is that they lose track of the pulse and play it in different tempos. Since only one meter is given at the beginning (C), everything up until the ciaccone should be played in one tempo.
Because this particular fugue is a polyphonic composition which has four highly independant parts, I recommend practicing in shorter fragments in a slow tempo.
First, practice each voice separately, then combine two voices, later add three voices, and finally, play all four voices. When you will know shorter fragments, combine them into longer episodes. By the way, I highly recommend to memorize at least this fugue for a true mastery.
Use the articulated manner of playing which means that there should be small distances between notes. Avoid using finger substitution, which is more appropriate for the legato technique.
However, make sure that the notes would not sound too detached or choppy. The correct articulation could be achieved if you will feel the alternation of strong (1 and 3) and week beats (2 and 4) in a measure.
Since Buxtehude was influenced by the Italian tradition, his ornaments usually start from the main note or from the note which is more dissonant. For instance, at the end of the theme of the fugue, you could add a mordent on the dotted G note starting from the main note.
The mordent could have three (GAG) or five (GAGAG) notes. Make the first note of the mordent a little longer. Additionally, you could play a mordent in each instance where the dotted note appears at the end of each theme.
Note the meter change (3/2) at the beginning of the Ciaccona. Here too, do not lose sense of pulse and play in the same tempo. The tempo relationship could be as follows: one quarter note of the fugue will be equal to one half note of the ciaccona.
In the last 5 measures of the piece returns the opening meter and the beginning tempo relationship. If you use such ratio of the tempo, you will achieve a great unity in movement.
The most common registration of this type of piece would be Organo Pleno, or Principal chorus with low reeds in the pedals. Feel free to use the Pleno sound on the secondary manual as well for the episode with the dotted notes or the fugue. I use the Breitkopf edition of Buxtehude's organ works which is solid and quite reliable.
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