Take a look at the above picture (it's an opening of Bach's Dorian Toccata and Fugue, BWV 538). Is everything the way we would write today? If this is a piece in D minor (and it is), why is one flat missing next to the clef?
It turns out that this composition is a remnant of what we call today the Dorian mode - it's constructed like natural minor but with raised 6th scale degree - hence no Bb.
So Bach really remembered the tradition and times when major and minor keys were not invented yet. Instead composers at that time used modal system of sometimes 8, sometimes 12 modes. This was before the Baroque period (although this example indicates that modes were still significant factor for Baroque composers, too).
The Dorian Toccata and Fugue is not the only piece Bach wrote using ancient modes, of course. In the above picture of Das alte Jahr vergangen ist, BWV 614 we can see that it appears this chorale is in A minor but ends with the half cadence, which is weird. More likely, it's written in E Frygian mode (like natural minor but with flattened 2nd scale degree - hence no F#.
You are probably wondering why the ending chord is E major? It's called Picardy Third: a technique to end Baroque minor pieces in major. This is because keyboard instruments back in the day were tuned with at least several major thirds. Hence a major third E-G# in this chord sounds more pure and stable that a minor third E-G.
Are you playing any Baroque piece that is written in a minor key? Chances are that it may also be modal. Share your ideas in the comments.
What I'm working on:
Writing "A young rascal". Recording SOP Podcast No. 2 with George Ritchie. Continue writing fingering and pedaling for the Toccata by Charles-Marie Widor. Editing Part 3 of Sonata No. 2 by Teisutis Makačinas. Transposing hymn setting "He Was Not Willing". Practicing "Virtuoso Pianist" by Hanon in C Frygian mode (from C with 4 flats). Playing Office No. 35 from “L’Orgue Mystique” by Charles Tournemire. Improvising in Frygian mode. Composing "A Storm". Reading "The Accidental Creative".
Organ Improvisation Recitals
It's hard to create and perform a good organ improvisation recital. You've got to make it worth people's time to engage with it.
I've often been asked to appear in public in various venues. I approach it by making it fun and interesting - worthy of the 30-60 minutes of time I'm asking for to participate.
On Friday, I will be performing a private recital for a group of tourists for Germany and on Saturday - a musical poem based on the story of The Little Mermaid.
Improvisation recitals are amazing ways to tell stories that resonate with people. It's a great way for your organization to make compelling connection with many people.
Email me if you want to chat about an organ improvisation recital for your organization.
This blog doesn't remember the times when major or minor keys weren't invented yet . Forward it to someone who still composes using ancient modes.
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Organists of Vilnius University , creators of Secrets of Organ Playing.
Don't have an organ at home?
Download paper manuals and pedals, print them out, cut the white spaces, tape the sheets together and you'll be ready to practice anywhere where is a desk and floor. Make sure you have a higher chair.