Vidas: Hi guys, this is Vidas.
Ausra: And Ausra.
V: Let’s start episode 373, of Secrets of Organ Playing Podcast. This question was sent by Emese. And, Emese writes:
Dear Ausra and Vidas!
Today I've played Das Alte Jahr... as well. It's so nice. Have you known that it has 12 measures and 365 notes. The genius of Bach.
I started playing the organ aged 53 (earlier I played the viola)—this means 5 years ago, but we had no proper instrument.
This year the renewal of our church came to an end and at last I've got a real organ. It's not a big instrument—it has got 8 stops=two manuals and pedal, made for our church. It was ready a week before Pentecost.
So a real exercise started then. From September I have less time for exercise—but at least once or twice a week I try in the evenings.
In these few months, I've learned mainly Bach works, pedal playing was new for me, but I enjoy practicing it a lot.
So I have learned: three Schubler chorales as BWV 645, 646, 649. I am still practicing BWV 655—it's one of my favorites. I can play it already by heart, but there is still a lot of work.
My next aim is Cesar Franck—Prelude in h moll op. 18
Instead of a postcard—my beloved organ.
Happy New Year!
Many thanks for the pieces of advice.
V: Ausra, don’t you think that Emese is lucky to have a new organ installed in her church?
A: Sure, it’s wonderful. Because although it’s not a big instrument, remember still, it’s a real organ, so it’s very exciting.
V: Two manuals and pedals and 8 stops is plenty for a little church, I think, and for practice purposes.
A: Sure. Because I think the worse thing is that you have sometimes too large instrument in a given room and then you cannot use more than half of the stops.
V: Exactly, and…
A: Remember we had that experience at Eastern Michigan University, where we had that large tracker organ in organ loft…
A: Studio. But that studio room itself wasn’t large but instrument was good size, three manual instrument.
V: It was by Canadian organ builder Gabriel Kney. And did you like by the way, the touch?
A; I liked it, yes.
A: I liked that instrument but it had to be in a room maybe ten times larger than it was.
V: Yeah. It was too loud.
V: But it’s a tracker instrument so it’s kind of rare to have trackers in the states. Of course, this situation changes, little by little because people understand that, obvious, probably called this of tracker organs more and more.
A: Yes it’s like eating healthy food and eating fast food.
V: Mmm-hmm. But of course electro–pneumatical action has it’s own advantages.
V: So it’s kind of… You have to choose, I think organist has to choose.
A: Well it depends on what kind of repertoire do you like to play.
A: But of course if you like J.S. Bach then tracker is your first choice.
V: So, Emese seems to be very fond of Bach’s works, and Emese studied Schubler Chorales—so far three of them, BWV 645 is "Wachet auf".
A: Yes, it’s one of everybody’s favorites, I believe.
V: Wonderful choice! It’s not an easy piece to start with but if Emese is practicing five years, since five years ago, so maybe it’s about time to take a trio texture.
A: Yes. I think its fascinating that people realize and want to play the organ, to start to learn organ, at such an age. It shows it’s never too late to learn something new.
V: Do you think, Ausra, that it’s too late for you to start something new?
A: Well, as Emese wrote, the main instrument was viola.
A: We are so, I guess, maybe I need to start to learn to play viola. I don’t think I would be so successful.
A: I don’t think I would be so successful. I don’t think I would be able to play something as hard as Schubler chorale in such a short time.
V: Right. Organ playing is like a second nature to us now, but it took twenty plus years, twenty five maybe years now. And...
A: And don’t forget all that piano background that we had as a children.
V: Exactly. We started playing since the year of six or seven, I think.
A: Or five.
V: Or five, as you. It doesn’t mean that everybody has to start so early or if it’s, if they start at age 53 or later, that it’s too late. It just means that you have to figure out the path for yourself and not compare too much yourself with others, especially prodigies. Sometimes we see on Youtube, children playing virtuoso pieces, not necessarily the organ though…
A: Especially Chinese children.
V: But piano for example, or violin.
A: Like five years old, lad sits at piano and plays Rachmaninoff or Chopin.
A: It really amazes me, all the time. Although I’m not sort of fond of youth like this.
V: And then, if you’d ask that kid, ‘what are you playing?’ Probably…
A: Probably he or she probably wouldn’t know.
V: Wouldn’t know even the composers name.
A: That’s right.
V: Or what else he has written. But anyway, I think Schubler chorales are very nice because they develop your coordination, hand and feet coordination, very well, because they are written in three parts, and each part is so independent. It’s written in a trio texture. It’s not like a trio sonata, where left hand imitates right hand, and vice-versa.
A: Have you played them all?
V: I have. Not necessarily in a concert setting but I have.
A: I have played three of them.
V: But they are good as an introduction to trio sonatas I think, if you would play like Emese did, three or four of them, or entire collection. Then after that, you might pick up a slow movement of trio sonata quite easily.
A: Yes, that’s right. And let’s talk a little bit about symbols in Bach’s music because as Emese wrote, there are twelve measures in that chorale, ‘ Das alte Jahr vergangen ist’, and 365 notes, so it resembles a year, entire year.
V: So you think it’s a coincidence?
A: No! It’s not coincidence, and it’s twelve measures long because the year has twelve months. I believe that there are so many symbols in Bach’s music that we cannot grasp them all.
A: But I think it meant for people in that time, something more than for us because we simply don’t see these things anymore.
V: And it means that this piece was also created as a kind of study, right? If you just play this chorale prelude, first of all, if you just copy it by hand, as his students might have done, and then if you practice it and then play it for your church service as an introduction for example, of the hymn at the end of year service, obviously, you wouldn’t notice any of it while playing. But while writing it out and maybe discovering clues like that, you would get a glimpse into the mind of the great composer.
A: That’s right! And just think how many other symbols there are in his music, such as his signature and his name signature and sign of cross, and all those other Baroque time rhetorical figures. Because usually the decision what key to use, already can tell a lot about the music.
V: Mmm-hmm. It is said that Bach’s music is like musical sermon—sacred music, I mean cantatas. In some sense also chorale preludes served this purpose as a commentary of the text of the chorales. And since those chorales were sung in Lutheran mass, then it’s really easy to see how composer created the musical commentary, I think for an intelligent audience, or even for himself to elaborate on the meaning of text.
A: Yes, that’s what I’m thinking too. But probably his music was intended first of all for himself. Because not everybody, even advanced musicians can comprehend his music so easily.
V: Right. And his contemporaries created much more, simpler compositions. Which means they knew the symbols but to some degree, not all of them probably. And, plus if you just add the polyphonic complexities that he’s writing, then this compositional style is well beyond the normal musician of the day.
A: I’m just wonder, if such a great mind as Bach’s would have chosen another subject for his research, not music, for example, science, what could he have achieved?
V: Well, it’s not a coincidence that Cristoph Wolff compares the great Johann Sebastian Bach with philosophers and scientists of the time, right?
A: Because surely, I think his works are equal with those great minds of the world.
V: Mmm-mmm. His musical discoveries are equal to those of Sir Isaac Newton, for example. And Bach’s influence for future generations also could be compared to those of great scientists.
A: And I guess we all are very lucky that we can touch Bach’s genius through his music.
V: And we continue to carry on this tradition to future generations, right? Because this lineage can be traced back to Bach directly, if we count, right?
A: So we are all somehow related.
V: To Bach. And through Bach to Sweelinck too. Okay, guys. We hope this was useful to you. Please send us more of your questions. We love helping you grow. 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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