Vidas: Hi guys, this is Vidas!
Ausra: And Ausra!
V: Let’s start episode 499 of Secrets of Organ Playing Podcast. This question was sent by Joanna, and she writes:
I bought a copy of Vieux Noel by Cesar Franck from your website. I wanted to ask you something which I do not understand. What are the numbers at the beginning of the piece...number 1, number 4 and number 0 in a circle?
Regards and thanks
V: First of all, Ausra, we’re approaching soon episode 500! This is exciting!
A: True, it is exciting.
V: The next will be 500.
A: I didn’t think we would survive for such a long time with our podcast.
V: It’s a small milestone to celebrate. How will we celebrate?
A: I don’t know, maybe practice something on the organ!
V: No! I already practiced on the organ something today.
A: You can’t practice too much!
V: Maybe I’ll eat a cookie.
A: That’s a good idea.
V: And you?
A: Then I’ll eat a cookie, too.
V: My cookie?
A: No, another cookie!
V: We have enough cookies for both of us.
V: Okay. So Joanna bought a copy of one piece by Cesar Franck from his cycle “L’Organiste.” This collection is created to be played on either pipe organ or harmonium—French harmonium. In other countries, they are called “reed organ,” or in German, “Phisharmonium.” Basically, they’re a little bit different, but the idea is the same. You pump the two pedals, and therefore your two feet are busy. You cannot play with your feet as with pipe organs on the pedal board. But, I have seen, actually, an electric harmonium which has an electric blower, and then you have a pedal board. You have seen this, too!
A: So, how is this different from the organ then?
V: Because it doesn’t have pipes, it only has free reeds vibrating, like in a harmonium.
A: Harmonium actually reminds me of an accordion.
V: Yeah, it has those bellows, and the same type of reeds. You know where we saw this instrument… I’m not sure if you were there… in the house of the priest/organist, Gracijus Sakalauskas.
A: No, I haven’t seen it.
V: You haven’t been there?
V: He was, for a long time an advisor, I think, for an organ building company from Marijampolė, and he also is a priest, but he is, or was, trained as an organist as well. So, I think during one concert of our organ studio of professor Leopoldas Digrys, a few of us went to perform at some church in that region, and we had a dinner, and we visited this priest’s house, and he had this electric harmonium. This was nice.
A: So, what do you think about the collection?
V: So the collection… before last summer, I started sight-reading these pieces and recording them on videos, and putting the cameras above the keyboards, so that the hands would be clearly visible, with the hope that people would find the fingering useful that later, our team has transcribed from those videos. And apparently, Joanna wants to learn a piece from the suite suitable to be played for Christmas time. It’s, I think, in the middle of this collection, and this Noël is just one part of this suite. It’s a very interesting collection. It has, I think, seven suites in seven keys, major and minor keys. So the first is C, the second is C-sharp, the third is D, and the fourth is E-flat, and so on. It goes up chromatically. And in each suite, you have, I think, seven pieces suitable to be played for liturgy. Six pieces, plus either offertorium or the Sortie.
A: I think it’s a wonderful collection for church musicians, because the pieces are easily done, quite easily done, but they sound like solid pieces of music.
V: Yes, they are not crappy compositions at all.
A: They are really aesthetically pleasing, and you know, it’s worth it to have this collection if you are a church musician—a church organist.
V: And you could be a highly strained organist, but you can still sight-read them, and your congregation would definitely enjoy them.
A: So now, could you explain about those numbers, what they mean?
V: The numbers refer to the stops on the French Harmonium. In this particular Vieux Noël, there is #1, #4, and 0. So, I copied those numbers, indications of those stops, on the French harmonium from the collection, and one is Cor Anglais 8’. Cor Anglais is a reed sort of similar to the oboe, maybe, but only in the bass register. Right? Because French Harmonium has a divided keyboard: Bass from C to E1, and then treble from F1 to C4. So basically, #1 is Cor Anglais 8’, and #4 is Basson 8’ level. So here you have two stops of 8’ level. And then 0 means “Forté.” 0 means “Forté”, which basically I adapted to pipe organ and wrote my own registration suggestions using only 8’ stops. You obviously have to adapt. You don’t have to play everything with reeds here. What do you think, Ausra?
A: Sure, of course! Not every organ has reeds at all, so…
V: Maybe I should just mention other numbers. #2 is in the bass. #2 is Bourdon 16’, #3 is Clairon 4’, #4 is Basson, as I said, #5 Harp Aeolean 2’, and then is Forté. In the treble, #1 is Flute 8’, #2 Clarinet 16’, #3 Flageolet 4’, #4 is Hautbois 8’, #5 is Musette 16’, and 0 is Forté again.
A: So what if you don’t have a divided keyboard as it is on the Harmonium?
V: Then sometimes you need two keyboards.
A: Two manuals.
V: Two manuals, yeah. But not on this piece. Probably not on this piece. I have to double check, though, but not all of them required separate stops for the solo voice. So yes, having those markings in your head, you can adapt to any pipe organ that you want, even on an electronic organ. You just have to be mindful of the pitch levels: 16’, 8’, and 4’, and dynamic levels. If it’s 0, then it’s forté, and you can also sometimes find the letter G in the score, and G means Grand Orgue. Grand Orgue means like Tutti.
A: That’s right.
V: So most of the stops together. Okay, so that’s the idea of playing this piece. Alright, guys, please send us more of your questions; we love helping you grow. 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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