Jump to content
Mander Organs
mrbouffant

Bach: Which Are "harder" ?...

Recommended Posts

I've just had an exam programme rejected because I wanted to do BWV 552 (the E flat 'St Anne' one) and it was considered not comparable to the benchmark work the D major BWV 532.

 

My questions are:

 

1. What do you think of this comparison? Fair or no?

2. Do you think the Toccata and Fugue in F BWV 540 (an alternative I was musing upon) is of comparable difficulty to 532?

3. Can you recommend anything else Bach-wise of a similar standard and about 12-15 mins

 

Thanks!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Well... I would certainly agree that the D major is trickier than the St Ann. I'd go for E minor or A minor and certainly the F major to compare difficulty-wise with D major but I am little more than an amateur in these matters and will be very interested to hear what the pros in this group feel.

Martin.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I would agree that the "Wedge" is on a par with the D major, difficulty-wise. Possibly the A minor, yes. I would rate the "great" G major (BWV 542?) up there as well - at least it always scares the hell out of me. The F major Toccata has two or three very awkward corners, but most of it is actually rather straightforward. I would agree that the "St Anne" is a quite a bit easier.

 

Others: the Vivaldi concerto arrangements in A minor (especially the last movement) and D minor are surely just as tricky as the D major - probably more so in fact. Actually I reckon the D minor is just about the most difficult organ piece Bach wrote. Then there are the trio sonatas, of course. And the Canonic Variations on Vom Himmel hoch.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Guest Cynic

Once again, exam boards seem to ignore interpretation and treat pieces as just a chance to show how many (clean) dots you can cram into a minute. How very short-sighted of them! In interpretation terms, I would have said that the 'St.Anne' was an equal challenge (musically speaking). Indeed, I think it is a far better fugue. Oh, and Bach very probably thought so himself (since he published one and not the other)!

 

You've had several suggestions of replacement items already - I would particularly support the Trio Sonata suggestion: these are all of an unquestioned difficulty and are such rewarding music to practice. They also come in pretty close to your 12-15 minute target duration.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
I've just had an exam programme rejected because I wanted to do BWV 552 (the E flat 'St Anne' one) and it was considered not comparable to the benchmark work the D major BWV 532.

 

Well, you could always learn BWV 532. It's a great show piece (especially if you're playing in full view of an audience!). :mellow:

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
I've just had an exam programme rejected because I wanted to do BWV 552 (the E flat 'St Anne' one) and it was considered not comparable to the benchmark work the D major BWV 532.

 

My questions are:

 

1. What do you think of this comparison? Fair or no?

2. Do you think the Toccata and Fugue in F BWV 540 (an alternative I was musing upon) is of comparable difficulty to 532?

3. Can you recommend anything else Bach-wise of a similar standard and about 12-15 mins

 

Thanks!

 

 

=====================

 

Examiners should be shot!

 

I've only ever heard two good performances of the St.Anne in the UK; most being out of control from the off.

 

Oddly enough, the D mjor was the FIRST big work of Bach I learned, so it can't be all that difficult if, as a kid, you could run across a cattle-grid without falling through the gaps.

 

I'd go with the BWV540, which has those little "Trio" moments, which always come as a surprise. Examiners are always impressed by trio moments. For God's sake don't play it too fast though.....it needs grandeur! Don't go full tilt, but discover the lilt.

 

 

MM

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
=====================

 

I've only ever heard two good performances of the St.Anne in the UK; most being out of control from the off.

 

You must be very unlucky then!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Once again, exam boards seem to ignore interpretation and treat pieces as just a chance to show how many (clean) dots you can cram into a minute. How very short-sighted of them!

Perhaps I'm on the wrong track entirely (again), but, for the standard of exam that lets you choose your own pieces, isn't it likely that the examiners will be concentrating just as much on interpretation as on technique?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

At the St Albans Organ Festival this year the Fantasia and Fugue in g min was an alternative choice to the D maj P&F for the Finals - I would have thought there was more music in the g min compared to the (boring) sequences in the the D maj....

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Once again, exam boards seem to ignore interpretation and treat pieces as just a chance to show how many (clean) dots you can cram into a minute. How very short-sighted of them! In interpretation terms, I would have said that the 'St.Anne' was an equal challenge (musically speaking). Indeed, I think it is a far better fugue. Oh, and Bach very probably thought so himself (since he published one and not the other)!

 

You've had several suggestions of replacement items already - I would particularly support the Trio Sonata suggestion: these are all of an unquestioned difficulty and are such rewarding music to practice. They also come in pretty close to your 12-15 minute target duration.

 

 

Yes, for me the St Anne is possibly his finest fugue. That final A flat pedal entry certainly takes some beating! As to the D major - is it really a fugue at all? OK it has a subject which enters at various points in various keys but there is none of the complexity or interweaving of the St Anne (or many other fugues of JSB's). But perhaps this is another thread....

 

Peter

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
I've just had an exam programme rejected because I wanted to do BWV 552 (the E flat 'St Anne' one) and it was considered not comparable to the benchmark work the D major BWV 532.

What precisely did you want to play? Just the Fugue (BWV552ii) - an Ass. Board grade 7 piece in the 1970s, or both Prelude and Fugue?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
What precisely did you want to play? Just the Fugue (BWV552ii) - an Ass. Board grade 7 piece in the 1970s, or both Prelude and Fugue?

Both.

 

552 is specified by other boards at the same level which is why I thought this particular board might allow it. Ah well, these boards make much that their diplomata are SQCF-accredited at levels X, Y and Z but just go to prove that inconsistency is rife!

 

I am still chewing it over. 532 is nice but a little on the short side to fill my programme - the suggestion of the 542 would fit nicely, I wonder if they will go for it...

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
You must be very unlucky then!

 

 

========================

 

 

Well, not really, because after hearing Francis Jackson play it at Leeds PC many years ago, when he was absolutely at the peak of his considerable abilities, it still remains the benchmark performance. The way he handled the Prelude, and welded the whole to the Fugue was not just outstanding, it was genius.

 

I think he finished the recital with a brilliant performance of the Dupre "Noel," but even that was overshadowed by the St.Anne.

 

I don't think here in the UK, I've ever seen people almost physically gasping with relief when that final pedal entry of the fugue began; such was the expectation of it. People were just....to use a word....."buzzin" afterwards.

 

Truly, a very rare moment.

 

MM

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
I would agree that the "Wedge" is on a par with the D major, difficulty-wise. Possibly the A minor, yes. I would rate the "great" G major (BWV 542?) up there as well - at least it always scares the hell out of me.

 

BWV 541 - 542 is the 'Great' G minor - this is also more difficult than the 'Trinity' Prelude and Fugue, in E-flat. The B minor (BWV 544) or the C minor BWV 546 are also worth considering - or even the 'Dorian' Toccata and Fugue, BWV 538. For, me, the fugues of the latter three pieces take some beating, particularly the 'Dorian'.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Some good points have been made and good suggestions given, but once you are into discussing subjective perception of "difficulty" there is potentially no end to the argument! It would seem the exam board are being a bit fickle. Exactly what guidelines/criteria have they given?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
It would seem the exam board are being a bit fickle. Exactly what guidelines/criteria have they given?

Only that own-choice repertoire must be of the "appropriate standard"...

Clearly 552 fell foul of that definition! I await their view on 542...

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Personally I think the fugue is easily as hard as 532. The Fantasia is a bit of a doddle though. But then, so is the D major prelude once you have negotiated the opening scale. The real difficulty with that prelude is how to make it sound interesting. I certainly can't do it and I've never heard anyone else manage it yet either.

 

I once heard of a recital by G D Cunningham - at the RAH, I think - which began with the D major. At the appointed hour, he suddenly ran into the hall and up the steps, lept onto the organ bench and without hesitation immediately dashed off the opening pedal scale. Quite a showman, by all accounts.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
For me, the fugues of the latter three pieces take some beating, particularly the 'Dorian'.

 

I agree. The Dorian is a really superb fugue.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

at the risk of venturing off topic, but does anyone have former organ AB-lists they would care to share (esp G6-8)

 

just out of curiosity at how the syllabus' have changed, and if they have gotten harder/easier

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I haven't got any old lists, but I think the standard has been reasonably consistent, hasn't it? There have probably always been odd aberrations. In the current syllabus I think putting down the Dupré G minor fugue for grade 8 was a bit optimistic (though, if you can play it, wy not?) Even worse in my view is putting down Walcha's Den die Hirten for grade 3. What on earth were the board thinking of? I know the pedal part is only a sustained F, but surely the dexterity required of the hands (not to mention all those extended left-hand trills) requires a technique a good deal above grade 3?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
just out of curiosity at how the syllabus' have changed, and if they have gotten harder/easier

Well, if St Anne was gr7 standard in 1975, how would you compare that to the current syllabus which has the B minor 'Corelli' fugue for gr8? I know which one I think is more difficult - by a marked amount!!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Guest Cynic
Well, if St Anne was gr7 standard in 1975, how would you compare that to the current syllabus which has the B minor 'Corelli' fugue for gr8? I know which one I think is more difficult - by a marked amount!!

 

 

I agree. Mind you, the ABRSM syllabi for organ have always been out of step with 'our' reality.

I remember that in the year when I prepared 'Wachet Auf' from Bach's Schubler Preludes for ARCO it was simultaneously down for Associated Board Grade VI!

 

How about the disparity of difficulty between Piano/Organ and orchestral instruments? A well-motivated Clarinet Student can still get an excellent pass at Grade III after only a year's work from a totally standing start. Imagine any child (bar a recognised prodigy) managing that on piano, let alone organ!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Please sign in to comment

You will be able to leave a comment after signing in



Sign In Now

×
×
  • Create New...