Vidas: Hi guys! This is Vidas.
Ausra: And Ausra.
V: Let’s start episode 488 of Secrets of Organ Playing Podcast. This question was sent by Jeremy. And he wrote on Basecamp, when he received a question, What was he working on today? He wrote:
Went to an organ recital tonight. First time I had heard Tournemire played. Will be looking into his work.
V: It’s not a question, but an observation, right? A feedback. What do you think about Tournemire, and it’s interesting how your perception of Tournemire changed over the years
A: Well, let’s say that, to tell the truth, that I encountered Tournemire quite late in my life, as a professional organist.
V: Mm hm.
A: Because you know, now, late, back in our lives when we were very young, not many organists in Lithuania knew Tournemire or played Tournemire. That’s even, we studied at the Academy of Music. Have you encountered Tournemire?
V: Maybe your teacher Balys Vaitkus might have known it.
A: Well, yes, but he never gave me Tournemire’s works to play or said anything about him, so I don’t know.
V: I’m sure some of the teachers might have heard his name, but never really played his music.
A: In general, I would say that Lithuanian understanding of organ repertoire is quite narrow.
V: But it’s changing now…
A: It’s changing…
V: Because of new possibilities to download free scores from the internet.
A: Yes, I guess getting access to the scores was a big problem 20 years ago, but it’s not now.
V: Do you think people in Lithuania are more downloading free scores, or sometimes buying them?
A: Well, I think through downloading. I don’t think people have much money for scores. We don’t understand importance of supporting, you know, the music…
A: And too bad, it’s just too bad.
V: All right. I think I maybe got introduced to Tournemire also later in life, but my first encounter with him was through Dupre’s, I think, memoirs. I also read Tournemire’s memoirs, too. Or at least, an excerpt from it, like a shortened passage. I remember Tournemire being a very great proponent of organ improvisation, and saying an organist who cannot improvise is only a half organist. And that really hurt me. So I started to improvise.
A: So I guess 99% of Lithuanian organists are not real organists, because we can’t improvise.
V: According to Tournemire.
A: Yeah. I guess, you know, it’s a great French tradition of improvisation. But we were raised in a different environment, because somehow in Lithuania, improvisation was always associated with jazz, and jazz was associated with United States of America, and it was an ultimate evil, in those times. So basically, while being professional musician, you didn’t get much chance to learn how to improvise unless you would do it on your own. And even in that case, it was more like jazz improvisation, not like classical improvisation.
V: Do you think jazz was illegal in Soviet Union?
A: Well, I will not speculate about it, because I’m not sure, but of course, it wasn’t supported.
V: Uh huh. Jazz musicians had a much harder time to get attention from concert organizers.
A: And since church music wasn’t developing during the Soviet era, so that you could not learn organ improvisation as well. Even now, I don’t think anybody is teaching seriously.
V: Yeah, just from time to time they have courses. But maybe with time, something will change. Of course now, people are not limited to physical courses that they take in Academy of Music. They can do self-study from textbooks, from videos, studying masterworks of other composers, taking as a model, sightreading. That’s how I learned. And I’m still learning. The learning process never finishes. And I hope to improve, too.
A: So what do you think now about Tournemire’s music? Do you find it very improvisatory, or not?
V: Yeah. At first, it was very difficult to understand what’s going on, because it was so spontaneous, so free and rhapsodic in nature, and it seemed like, besides those Gregorian chant melodies which you could see on the page, anything else was written sort of, a little bit by chance. To me, a little bit at that time, I thought so. And then I understood one thing about genius. That it’s very difficult to analyze genius work. Sometimes genius, simple music is very, is genius too, like simplicity, in Mozart music, you could feel the genius like that in simplicity, elegant, poetic simplicity. But sometimes, it takes genius to analyze a work which is very spontaneous and hard to predict what’s going on. So I think Tournemire is like that.
A: So do you think his music is easily comprehended to amateurs?
V: No, no.
A: What about general audiences? Would you suggest if you know that you are playing an organ recital for a completely uneducated musically people, would you play Tournemire for them, or not?
V: It would be the same rule as with any modern composition, modern organ composition. I would probably need to add some well-known pieces from classical repertoire in between of modern and unfamiliar pieces. So the same goes with Tournemire. If I wanted to add something from his cycle L’Orgue Mystique, which involves organ masses from every Sunday of the liturgical year, I would need to add some classical baroque piece, Bach chorale, before that, or maybe some romantic work afterward, or even some lighthearted scherzo, for the audience to understand and appreciate Tournemire also. But in general, I would say Tournemire sounds sweet enough to my ears, because they are developed, and I think it depends on how much a person is used to the dissonances. And we can surely find many more composers in French tradition who created more dissonant music that Tournemire. Definitely. Vierne’s later symphonies are more dissonant Than Tournemire’s, I would think. But it doesn’t mean that dissonant music cannot be played and appreciated.
A: Yes, I agree with that. Although when talking about Vierne, I think it’s easier to understand him easier than Tournemire, because he has clear forms. Because in terms of compositional, his pieces are very well-shaped. So I guess that makes them easier to comprehend.
V: So anyway, guys, if anybody is interested in the French tradition, or learning improvisation in that model system, you would do very well in researching more about Tournemire’s work. Maybe sight-reading some of his L’Orgue Mystique pieces. You will find a lot of inspiration from there. I know I have. And actually, some of my own organ masses have been created based on his own models. Rhapsodic nature and improvisatory style like that, and based on Gregorian chant. Thank you, guys. This was Vidas,
A: And Ausra.
V: 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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