Vidas: Hi guys, this is Vidas.
Ausra: And Ausra.
V: Let’s start episode 252 of Secrets of Organ Playing Podcast. Today’s question was sent by Steve. He writes:
Good morning Vidas,
Another very fine podcast topic, very helpful, and thank you for posting.
A couple of additional thoughts came to my mind as I listened to the podcast ...
When I pedal this piece, I keep in mind the type of organ for which it was written.
On French organs there's a stiffness in the pedals, because of linkage, that makes it a little more difficult to use the heels in rapid passages.
Using the toes allows you to lean into the pedal more.
So, with the opening theme, I keep the pedal legato with the right toe on D, stepping over it with the left toe taking C and Eb.
Same with the F and Gb, I use the toes only ... right toe on F and left toe on Gb.
The left heel could be used on the first note C, but if we use the right heel on D and F it's more difficult to get those 16th notes short enough, especially when the tempo is faster.
I don't play this Toccata extremely fast ... for many reasons, but one reason is so I can get those 16th notes in the theme just right.
It's hard to take in the countryside at 500 mph.
It's the same with music.
I've heard many organists using the heel on D with phrasing that isn't written into the score, who detach the C's and Eb's and hold those 16th notes on D too long.
This changes the character of the theme completely.
I also nuance the music at important places by inserting pull-outs (stretch-outs), with a slight slowing of the tempo when something else starts, like with the return of the theme in the pedal toward the end.
Those big pedal octaves have to come out clear and even, and can't be taken too fast to give those big pipes time to get on speech.
The ankles have to move very quickly here with both heels on D and be synchronized with each other, which automatically sets certain technical bounds to speed.
A slight slowing of the tempo also helps to get those arpeggios in the hands to come out clean and clear.
Speed is a wonderful gift to have, but speed is an illusion.
The instrument in its own acoustical setting will suggest its own tempo by the way it breathes and responds to the organist's touch.
Racing through this Toccata at tornado speed is something I avoid like the plague.
That's virtuosity, but not serving the music.
I'm a clarity guy, and it's just what sounds best to me.
V: So Ausra it seems that Steve is taking the suggestions about playing at a tempo that is clear for the listener not only for you and not for the sake of racing, right? Very seriously.
A: I think that’s a very healthy attitude towards music in general, not only just this toccata but you need to hear what you are playing, you need to control what you are doing otherwise it will be just a mess. Don’t you think so?
V: I agree with you Ausra and what was the last piece you played extremely fast.
A: (laughs) Well I think back in the year 2000 when I was working on Louis Vierne’s Toccata No. 3 and was playing it St. John’s Church, all five movements. At that time I think I played those pieces extremely fast and probably couldn't control everything so well as I could now.
V: So I gather you would slow down the tempo a little bit today.
A: Yes, yes.
A: Well because now I already have that ability, being capable while being upstairs to hear what is happening downstairs. Because what you hear on the organ and what you hear downstairs is completely different.
V: And when you hear the echo does it slow down your tempo or not?
A: Well not necessarily, it depends on what you are playing but if you think about that Vierne Symphony, especially about the 1st and the last movements, and especially about the 1st movement when you start to play everything in unison.
V: That’s the Third Symphony.
A: Yes, the Third Symphony. Well, if you play that extremely fast on huge mechanical organ at St. John’s Church you will get a mess. Now I don’t think I would play probably entire symphony on that organ because I think the second movement and the first movement works extremely well for that organ. The beautiful first movement and the beautiful Unda Maris stop at St. John’s is just perfect. Not the first movement and probably not the third movement, Scherzo or Intermezzo as Vierne calls it because I think it needs lighter action.
V: Right and usually french organs have barker machine.
A: True. So on the french organ I think it would work fine and such a tempo as well but not at St. John’s church.
V: What about me?
A: So you tell it. So what have you played very fast lately when you remember it.
V: Good question. Thank you. I remember practicing and performing Durufle Toccata back in Michigan I think. That was the time when I played it extremely fast I think. This way my audition piece for Doctoral studies in Rochester. Remember we went to Rochester, New York, Eastman School of Music to play there and also to Nebraska, to UNL so I remember playing also this piece in Detroit, St. Paul’s Anglican Cathedral and this was part of the student recital we both played.
A: We both played, I don’t think it was part of the student recital. We both I think did solo recitals, short ones, I think half an hour. I remember that I played Liszt’s Prelude and Fugue in BACH and you did Durufle. I think a couple of the movements from the Suite, Op. 5.
V: And I think I played the suite too fast there and in general because I was worried about the speed in general because it was a toccata and toccata is supposed to be played virtuosically and really fast.
A: And to be honest I think this is one of the hardest toccatas that have ever been written for the organ, don’t you think so?
V: Yes, it is one of the most difficult pieces I have ever played probably. Not necessarily the most, but one of the five maybe. Technically very challenging. So I think the tempo might have been a little bit too fast there, especially on a large instrument.
A: Because as Steve mentioned so nicely about how the pipes respond and how the organ responds to your touch. I think he is so right and I’m just very glad that he thinks about these things because they are very, very important.
V: And when we go hopefully to play at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London in a week and a half I think the acoustics, the echo there will be enormous, gigantic, right?
A: Yes, probably the largest we have encountered yet.
V: So I guess the tempi also will have to be adjusted a little bit too.
A: True, true. And articulation too.
V: It’s not like if you are playing at St. John’s church here in Vilnius where the echo is maybe five seconds.
A: Well, it’s larger if it’s in the church at night, it’s seven.
V: But we never play concerts at night. I played actually once for a group of friends. But in general it’s like more or less, five seconds and if you go to London, St. Paul’s Cathedral how long is the echo there?
V: So more than twice as long echo. Does that mean we have to slow down twice or more?
A: No, but we need to keep that in mind and to slow down a little bit.
V: To emphasize a little bit the texture, the harmony.
A: Because in order to show the structure you need to be able to hear it yourself so it means you need to take bigger breaks after phrases.
V: Let the instrument breathe more.
V: Well, we hope to record this recital too and maybe when we come back we can share it too.
A: Yes, that would be nice.
V: OK, and please guys, send us more of your questions, we love helping you grow. And remember when you practice…
A: Miracles happen.
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