SOPP283: When there is a melody separated from left hand and pedal, do you articulate all of the parts?
Vidas: Hi guys, this is Vidas.
Ausra: And Ausra.
V: Let’s start episode 283 of Secrets of Organ Playing Podcast. This question was sent by William. He wrote:
Hello again! Question. I am working on some choral preludes from the Orgelbuchlen. When there is a melody separated from left hand and pedal, do you articulate all of the parts? Thank you. William
V: Let’s imagine if I understand this question correctly. What’s your idea, Ausra about this situation?
A: Well of course you have to articulate all parts because that’s what baroque music does. You need to play them articulated.
V: When then is a melody separated from left hand and pedal. Ah, he means…
A: He means like for example chorale like Wenn wir in höchsten Nöten sein.
V: With ornamented cantus firmus.
A: Yes, when you have ornamented cantus firmus most often in the right hand. Sometimes you could have it in the left hand in the tenor in more advanced chorales and yes, you need to articulate all parts.
V: And I see why he has this question, right? Because if the top voice is so important and melodically ornate and beautiful maybe he thinks that this is the voice he needs to articulate and other parts are not that important like accompaniment. What I’m thinking is more of playing with four different instruments. How about cantus firmus playing with oboe, then maybe alto with violin, tenor with viola, and then the bass with bassoon or cello or even doubled with double bass. So all those different instruments should do some articulation Ausra, right?
A: Yes, that’s right.
V: Because they are doing dialog and duets with each other and commenting on each others musical ideas.
A: And to give you more ideas how baroque music should sound, how it should be articulated, I think you need to listen to some recordings of Bach cantatas and his instrumental music. There are so many nice recordings on YouTube that could give you a clearer idea of how things worked in baroque times. And then you will see that each voice is important.
V: When violin plays for example a passage, unless it indicated legato, they would make an articulation with bowing. Down, up, down, up. And this short instance when the bow is changed is an articulation.
A: That’s right. You know especially when you have ornamented chorales like William mentioned in his question. It’s only a question of how much you need to articulate and it depends on what kind of instrument you are playing, what kind of acoustics it is in, and you need also to vary articulation between your hands and your feet.
A: Because if it’s cantus firmus or solo voice it’s very ornamented you probably will articulate it a little bit less because you have many diminished notes with small note values and of course you will play that voice a little bit more legato but not legato still, quasi-legato.
V: People downstairs will think it is legato but upstairs you will make articulation.
A: That’s right. And then probably the bass line and your left hand you will have to articulate a little bit more.
V: Umm-hmm. Because they are moving in longer note values.
A: Sure, and especially bass line because obviously you will be using 16’ stop in the pedal.
V: And the bass usually moves in eighth notes that way. Imagine cello playing different bowing, right, left, right, left. That’s also articulation for each and every eighth note. And then for example if you are imitating a wind instrument like oboe, it’s done with tonguing too. Takka, takka, takka, takka. With trumpets, I don’t know. Or with oboe or something similar. Baroque articulation was called “ordinary touch” and it was so common that people or composers didn’t even notate it on the score.
A: Sure, because it was the common tradition and everybody knew it.
V: Umm-hmm. What they did notate is when articulation was different like legato or staccato.
A: Yes, those few places where you have to play legato they will be indicated in the score.
V: But checking the score is original, not edited in modern times.
A: Well I think that in modern times many editors use legato in baroque music. I think this was common in the period of late 19th century and early 20th century. So those are the most dangerous editions to look at.
V: Umm-hmm. Excellent question that William has sent, right Ausra?
A: Yes. I would never even think about it myself that these kind of questions could arise but it’s fascinating, it’s truly fascinating.
V: You know what is self understandable for us, like second nature. For a lot of people who haven’t played for 25 or 30 years like we are doing. It’s really a mystery sometimes, a secret. So secrets of organ playing, that’s what we are revealing.
A: Yes and actually this kind of question makes you to look at the various issues in a different angle, in a different light and a different perspective, and it’s fascinating.
V: You know this organ technique book by George Ritchie and George Stauffer that we so often recommend and use in our teaching, George Ritchie writes about early music articulation and has some exercises there. He writes that if you want to achieve articulate legato with five fingers, first try to play the same passage with one finger, second or third finger and do it as legato as possible. It should not sound too detached. Instead aim for a singing manner, cantabile manner, as legato as possible with one finger and then try to repeat the same thing with five fingers. Normal fingering. That’s articulate legato.
A: That’s a good exercise that you are telling. Everybody needs to try it. From my experience with my students and probably with myself a long time ago, I could see that when you are starting to learn baroque articulation first of all you are playing everything too legato because it’s hard for you to articulate each note. And after that it comes the second step where you are playing everything separately but your articulation is too short, everything sounds almost staccato and soft of almost un-musical and very unnatural. And after this one you sort of start beginning to regulate everything. And then it becomes as it should be, neither too short nor too long.
V: So the first step is to play too legato, the second step is too detached, and the third step is sort of in the middle.
A: And it’s sort of very hard to overcome each step. You cannot jump right away to the last one.
V: What’s the next level after you have mastered this?
A: Well, I don’t know.
V: Now, today you are not even thinking about that when you are sight-reading even, right?
V: What do you think about instead?
A: Well I think in general more about the meaning of the piece, about structure, about all those things.
V: About how the piece is put together.
A: Yes, and if it’s choral based work you think more about text painting, about all those baroque rhetoric figures.
A: About instruments that piece was originally composed on.
V: Interesting. So each level of advancement has its own advantages and disadvantages and short-comings and also benefits. Remember we also have to go to a beginners mind in order to understand how other people feel and sometimes we forget how we started, right? I remember that articulation was a mystery to me for I don’t know how many years. At least probably five years. At least probably until we met Pamela in Michigan.
A: Yes, for me it was really a mystery until I tried a pedal clavichord. I think that the pedal clavichord finally taught me to articulate.
V: And that was in Sweden in 2000.
A: Yes. Sometimes you can cheat on the organ actually, and cover things up about playing the organ but you cannot do it when you play a clavichord. You will not hide anything.
V: And knowing that the clavichord was regular practice instrument for organists back in the day then it reveals you all those secrets. So Ausra, final advice for everybody listening wouldn’t it be wise to travel a little bit more and try out as many historical instruments as possible.
A: Yes, if you have possibility of travel. If you don’t, then try to listen more to historical recordings, made on historical instruments. It will give you a pretty clear idea.
V: Wonderful. Thank you guys for sending those thoughtful questions that we sometimes don’t think people encounter those problems. Apparently they do and we’re so glad to help you out. And keep sending them more and we will try to help you advance in the future. This was Vidas.
A: And Ausra.
V: 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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