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Mander Organs

Playing From Memory


Malcolm Kemp

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I was much intrigued by the various responses from forum members; several sub-threads spring to mind.

 

The story about the British organist who forgot to take the music with him to America and played it all from memory reminds me the story of another of our distinguished British recitalists (no names, etc.) who was due to play for a concert somewhere on the continent.

The article on memory in music in the old Percy Scholes Oxford Companion to Music is worth a read; mention is made, IIRC, of von Bulow playing a recital tour of the USA in which he played the "48", all the Beethoven Sonatas, and much else besides without ever consulting a score. Also discussion of symphony orchestras playing whole programmes with no music on stage. The opposite experience is hearing a monotone Lord's Prayer almost grind to a halt as collective amnesia strikes all 12 Lay Clerks and Choral Scholars simultaneously.

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I wonder to what extent being able to play from memory is linked with the ability to "play by ear". Of course an accurate rendition from memory is not the same as an approximation by ear, however perhaps a strong aural ability helps the brain to fill in the gaps which might otherwise be problematic?

 

I also wonder if there is any merit in commiting a piece to memory for the sake of it as opposed to for a specific recital? It's always beneficial to have a piece "up your sleeve", should a playing opportunity arise unexpectedly when exploring unfamiliar churches. But does the time and effort involved produce any other benefits which would make this worthwhile at the expense of say increasing your repertiore by learning another piece?

 

Sq.

 

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

 

 

I can play quite well by ear, and I can even superficially simulate Bachian counterpoint on the fly, but it’s not the real thing I can assure you. The nearest I got to the complete smoke & mirrors thing, was an improvisation in the style of a Stanley Voluntary, which was so good, I’ve never been able to repeat it since! Call it an inspired moment if you will, but there is no truth in the story circulated, that it was found covering jars of chutney at Adlington Hall, by Noel Mander in the 1960’s.

The question has been raised as to whether there is any musical advantage in memorising works, and speaking personally, I believe that there is.

 

Very good music readers who possess a solid technique have the initial advantage, and I have always been in awe of Philip Tordoff’s abilities at Halifax PC. He can read almost anything at sight; playing it well enough to be musically convincing if not musically perfect.

 

For me, memorising music is the same as the famous quote. “Keep the score in your head, not your head in the score.”

I know that when I play a recital or get invited to accompany anything, I over-practice; perhaps to excess. What it means, is that I don’t really have to look at the music very much on the day, and I believe that to be a real advantage. After all, when accompanying something, it is necessary to listen and watch, in addition to pressing the notes down. Even a recital on a strange organ requires that concentration be diverted to the quirks of the instrument, the layout of it and the way the acoustic of the building shapes the sound.

 

Anything which facilitates that has to be a good thing, and memorising the dots is perhaps the best way of achieving this.

I have lost count of recitals which disappoint; often played by cathedral organists playing away from home, when they play instruments with which they are not familiar. They may get the notes right, but sometimes, the performances err on the side of caution, sometimes to the point of being lifeless. Others play superbly and get to grips with things perfectly, suggesting perhaps that they know the notes well enough without having to constantly bury their heads in the score.

There is no definitive answer I suspect. Francis Jackson always had the music in front of him, and I’ve never heard better organ-performances. Carlo Curley I enjoy, even if I don’t play things the way he does, and no matter what anyone says, he is incredibly consistent. I’ve never heard him play badly, or out of sync with an organ and the acoustic into which it speaks.

It would be interesting to compare those organists with a music college or academy training, with those who attended university. I’d like to bet that many more college and academy trained organists play from memory, than those who chose the more academic path, but I may be wrong.

 

MM

 

 

PS: I went to do a bit of organ practice to-day, and I was delighted to learn that I can play the entire BWV565 without the music in front of me. :)

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An interesting point is made by drd. If the proverbial gun was pointed at me I would have to say, unwillingly, that sight reading is one of my few stronger points; I have been playing parts of Gregory Murray’s setting of the Mass for over ten years now, but I always have to have the copy in front of me. Drd is probably quite right; the better reader one is the less is committed to memory.

 

David Harrison

 

 

I have a good friend, an organist, well qualified, with three highly respectable perfomers diplomas, who simply cannot play from memory. The complexities of Messiaen and Langlais, the counterpoint of Bach or the 19th century 'Romantic' school hold no fear for him - but ask him to play 'Crimond' from memory and he couldn't do it!

 

............... and I don't understand it!

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I have a good friend, an organist, well qualified, with three highly respectable perfomers diplomas, who simply cannot play from memory. The complexities of Messiaen and Langlais, the counterpoint of Bach or the 19th century 'Romantic' school hold no fear for him - but ask him to play 'Crimond' from memory and he couldn't do it!

 

............... and I don't understand it!

 

 

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

 

 

That is extraordinary, what can one say? :)

 

I think most seasoned organists could play most well known hymns without the hymn book, and I suspect that many of us would know what key they were in from memory.

 

MM

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I am not an organist but I was rather surprised that Carlo Curley maintained that it was necessary to rehearse each day, as a concert organist.

Isn't it like riding a bike, ie that when you have learnt you never ever forget ?

Colin Richell.

 

Several years ago I heard Carlo give a recital at a church in Scotland which has a modest but very fine 2 manual Lewis.

He was dressed in very casual clothes and played the whole recital from memory, explaining that his suitcase containing all his clothes, shoes, music etc. had been stolen from the train during his journey.

Needless-to-say the recital of standard fare: Bach, Franck, Mendelssohn, Mozart and others; was immaculately performed, and as far as musicality was concerned it was one of the best recitals I have heard.

 

DT

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Nathan Laube played his entire recital from memory at All Souls Langham Place last month. It was very impressive. He included his own transcription of the Fledermaus overture, the Bach C minor Passacaglia and finished with Reubke's Sonata on the 94th Psalm. He used the 4 manual H&H console in full view at the front of the church - no visible nerves at all! There were perhaps 60 people there and one of the best performances I've heard for a while.

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Nathan Laube played his entire recital from memory at All Souls Langham Place last month. It was very impressive. He included his own transcription of the Fledermaus overture, the Bach C minor Passacaglia and finished with Reubke's Sonata on the 94th Psalm. He used the 4 manual H&H console in full view at the front of the church - no visible nerves at all! There were perhaps 60 people there and one of the best performances I've heard for a while.

 

 

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

 

 

 

I'm sure it would been technically very interesting if it was anything like these:-

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oXKXoEYPdv0...feature=related

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ggJbpMdMsSg :)

 

I think he needs to play a bit of Gershwin or Rachmaninov to discover how to handle a good tune.....sorry!

 

MM

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I arranged Nathan's UK tour and was with him for many of his long rehearsals, and can honestly say I have never encountered such a brilliant technique coupled with superb musicianship.

 

Perhaps Musing Muso should refrain from judging an organist from You Tube clips - which are often posted without the permission or even knowledge of the player.

 

Musing Muso should also try and attend one of Nathan's recitals in the UK - There will be more soon! The first of which is on November 29th At St Michael's Cornhill.

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I arranged Nathan's UK tour and was with him for many of his long rehearsals, and can honestly say I have never encountered such a brilliant technique coupled with superb musicianship.

 

Perhaps Musing Muso should refrain from judging an organist from You Tube clips - which are often posted without the permission or even knowledge of the player.

 

Musing Muso should also try and attend one of Nathan's recitals in the UK - There will be more soon! The first of which is on November 29th At St Michael's Cornhill.

 

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

 

 

Does one play differently in recital when the cameras are running?

 

Surely not?

 

My judgement was not just based on THAT performance, but on numerous others, and not all of them on YouTube.

 

THAT performance I merely found typical of what one might expect, and frankly, I would rather walk the 45 miles to Manchester to hear Jonathan Scott.

 

If musicians draw attention to themselves rather than the music, than I don't think it is unfair to say so. We almost hacked another celebrity organist to death a few weeks ago, and for many of the same reasons.

 

MM

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

 

 

Does one play differently in recital when the cameras are running?

 

Surely not?

 

My judgement was not just based on THAT performance, but on numerous others, and not all of them on YouTube.

 

THAT performance I merely found typical of what one might expect, and frankly, I would rather walk the 45 miles to Manchester to hear Jonathan Scott.

 

If musicians draw attention to themselves rather than the music, than I don't think it is unfair to say so. We almost hacked another celebrity organist to death a few weeks ago, and for many of the same reasons.

 

MM

I have no idea who "Musing Muso" is, so I cannot say how valuable is his criticism of Nathan Laube's playing. (Why do people use pseudonyms? To me this is a little bit like wearing a balaclava, so as not to be recognised.)

 

I can only speak from personal experience of two recitals this summer. I heard Mr Laube play at Exeter and Truro cathedrals a short while ago and cannot think of enough superlatives to describe his performances. I have been attending (and giving) organ recitals for more than half a century and would unhesitatingly put Mr Laube's playing right at the top of my list for programme-planning, virtuosic technique, musicianship and organ-management. Not only does he perform entirely from memory, but somehow he also remembers his kaleidoscopic changes of registration too. Anyone hearing his own transcription of the Die Fledermaus Overture would realise immediately that Mr Laube certainly knows how to "handle a good tune"! (What on earth is "Musing Muso" talking about here?)

 

All this is combined with a personal modesty which is not always found in those with such talent. It is difficult to imagine anyone less inclined to "draw attention to themselves".

 

A standing ovation at an organ recital in this country is almost unknown, but on all three occasions that I have heard this young man play live (he is still only 22) the audiences have spontaneously risen to their feet after the final item.

 

I agree with Mr Goodman in that "Musing Muso" should go to hear Mr Laube at Cornhill.

 

Geoffrey Morgan (my real name...)

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Last summer, I drove from London to Christchurch Priory to hear Nathan Laube's recital there, and taking technical facility as a given, I was immediately drawn by his ability to make and communicate music on the organ. I have no time for showmanship and lack of musical depth which is found in certain virtuosi today, and Mr Laube's playing sets him apart from these prestidigital performers. From my experience at Christchurch, Mr Laube's performance of a transcription of Rossini's William Tell Overture provided ample evidence that he has already discovered "how to handle a good tune".

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I have no idea who "Musing Muso" is, so I cannot say how valuable is his criticism of Nathan Laube's playing. (Why do people use pseudonyms? To me this is a little bit like wearing a balaclava, so as not to be recognised.)

 

I can only speak from personal experience of two recitals this summer. I heard Mr Laube play at Exeter and Truro cathedrals a short while ago and cannot think of enough superlatives to describe his performances. I have been attending (and giving) organ recitals for more than half a century and would unhesitatingly put Mr Laube's playing right at the top of my list for programme-planning, virtuosic technique, musicianship and organ-management. Not only does he perform entirely from memory, but somehow he also remembers his kaleidoscopic changes of registration too. Anyone hearing his own transcription of the Die Fledermaus Overture would realise immediately that Mr Laube certainly knows how to "handle a good tune"! (What on earth is "Musing Muso" talking about here?)

 

All this is combined with a personal modesty which is not always found in those with such talent. It is difficult to imagine anyone less inclined to "draw attention to themselves".

 

A standing ovation at an organ recital in this country is almost unknown, but on all three occasions that I have heard this young man play live (he is still only 22) the audiences have spontaneously risen to their feet after the final item.

 

I agree with Mr Goodman in that "Musing Muso" should go to hear Mr Laube at Cornhill.

 

Geoffrey Morgan (my real name...)

 

 

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

 

 

My criticism is of no value whatsoever: critcisms never do have much value.

 

I too have attended and given recitals for the better part of half a century; some of them on very large organs indeed.

 

So in this important respect, Geoffrey and myself can speak with some degree of authority on the matter, as two people who have put their heads on the musical block from time to time.

 

Now I will concede a point; which is that Nathan Laube plays a rather good "Sonata Eroica" by Jongen. I've heard two performances on internet radio, both recorded at different venues, and I like them. That stated, I wouldn't elevate them to top-rank status, because I've known better performances and I did study with THE Jongen expert for a while. (I have the music, but I've never actually learned the Jongen to be honest).

 

My criticism, such as it was, is really based on what I would regard as a thoroughly mechanical, rather contrived and somewhat shallow performance of the Reubke Sonata, which I too can play from memory.

 

I think that when I mentioned knowing how to handle a good tune, which I linked to Gershwin and Rachmaninov, I was making a fairly sophisticated point for the more discerning among us. The very tuneful melodies of both composers often run across great arching phrases. The slow section of the Reubke is similar, and it really should be treated as such.

Breaking it up into over-stylised and rather contrived fragments just kills it stone dead.

 

I also find the Fugue over-played and over registered, even at the off. The over-rapid tempo destroys the stupendous build-up of this fugue, which more or less disintegrates into a bravura finale of white-hot anger. I can think of no other single organ work which does this, but Reger can get close and Liszt just plain showy in the "Ad Nos;" especially if a performer adds additional notes and takes artisitic licence to the ultimate.

 

Of course I recognise that we all play some things better than others, and out understanding of things may fall short of what is required. I have absolutely no 'feel' for the music of Howells, which is why I never play it or even listen to it.

 

I don't suppose it's a great sin to play things with a lack of understanding: God knows, people have been murdering Bach for as long as I care to remember, but it does invite criticism.

 

Perhaps my biggest obstacle to enjoying any performance of the Reubke Sonata, is not that I know it rather well, but because I was at the Chester Congress when Roger Fisher played it to perfection, having recorded it on the Vista label the same year. I'd never seen a cathedral full of organists look scared until then, but the performance was just terrifying.

 

So I have no option but to conclude that Mr Laube just doesn't understand the work, and listening to it, I am not particularly reminded of the words of the 94th Psalm, which are absolutely critical to this great romantic tone-poem.

 

Perhaps I am just being too harsh on a 22 year old organist with a predigious technique and an oustanding memory, but if there is one thing lacking, it may well come with age and maturity, and that one thing is experiencing suffering. Without it, all art is immature, and perhaps expecting too much of someone so young is unfair.

 

I sincerely hope that someone will print off my criticisms and hand them to Mr Laube, with the express understanding that he should do the same with them that Reger did with the ones he read.

 

MM

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

 

 

My criticism is of no value whatsoever: critcisms never do have much value.

 

cut......

 

Perhaps I am just being too harsh on a 22 year old organist with a predigious technique and an oustanding memory, but if there is one thing lacking, it may well come with age and maturity, and that one thing is experiencing suffering. Without it, all art is immature, and perhaps expecting too much of someone so young is unfair.

 

I sincerely hope that someone will print off my criticisms and hand them to Mr Laube, with the express understanding that he should do the same with them that Reger did with the ones he read.

 

MM

 

I have rarely read such patronising clap trap.

 

David Wyld

 

(Real Name - as Geoffrey suggests)

(No particular knowledge of Nathan Laube - just stunned by the above).

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Oh what fun.

 

I'm reminded of a game where drunken men stand in a car park and see who can project their credentials farthest up the wall.

 

I can't play the organ and know precious little about it. I took Justamum and Justason on a mystery tour last summer which reached its objective at Canterbury Cathedral where Nathan Laube was recitaling.

 

We all enjoyed it greatly, but then none of us can even spell Reubke from memory, let alone play him.

 

The playing from memory was impressive - we all remarked on it.

 

I had goose-flesh on a couple of occasions, and that surprised me.

 

But what I found most impressive of all was the way the (I guess) 12 year old girl in the pew in front of me was bopping along to the Die Fledermaus Overture.

 

And as far as I could tell, Nathan seemed like a really nice guy.

 

Just my tuppence-worth.

 

J

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

 

 

My criticism is of no value whatsoever: critcisms never do have much value.

 

I too have attended and given recitals for the better part of half a century; some of them on very large organs indeed.

 

So in this important respect, Geoffrey and myself can speak with some degree of authority on the matter, as two people who have put their heads on the musical block from time to time.

 

Now I will concede a point; which is that Nathan Laube plays a rather good "Sonata Eroica" by Jongen. I've heard two performances on internet radio, both recorded at different venues, and I like them. That stated, I wouldn't elevate them to top-rank status, because I've known better performances and I did study with THE Jongen expert for a while. (I have the music, but I've never actually learned the Jongen to be honest).

 

My criticism, such as it was, is really based on what I would regard as a thoroughly mechanical, rather contrived and somewhat shallow performance of the Reubke Sonata, which I too can play from memory.

 

I think that when I mentioned knowing how to handle a good tune, which I linked to Gershwin and Rachmaninov, I was making a fairly sophisticated point for the more discerning among us. The very tuneful melodies of both composers often run across great arching phrases. The slow section of the Reubke is similar, and it really should be treated as such.

Breaking it up into over-stylised and rather contrived fragments just kills it stone dead.

 

I also find the Fugue over-played and over registered, even at the off. The over-rapid tempo destroys the stupendous build-up of this fugue, which more or less disintegrates into a bravura finale of white-hot anger. I can think of no other single organ work which does this, but Reger can get close and Liszt just plain showy in the "Ad Nos;" especially if a performer adds additional notes and takes artisitic licence to the ultimate.

 

Of course I recognise that we all play some things better than others, and out understanding of things may fall short of what is required. I have absolutely no 'feel' for the music of Howells, which is why I never play it or even listen to it.

 

I don't suppose it's a great sin to play things with a lack of understanding: God knows, people have been murdering Bach for as long as I care to remember, but it does invite criticism.

 

Perhaps my biggest obstacle to enjoying any performance of the Reubke Sonata, is not that I know it rather well, but because I was at the Chester Congress when Roger Fisher played it to perfection, having recorded it on the Vista label the same year. I'd never seen a cathedral full of organists look scared until then, but the performance was just terrifying.

 

So I have no option but to conclude that Mr Laube just doesn't understand the work, and listening to it, I am not particularly reminded of the words of the 94th Psalm, which are absolutely critical to this great romantic tone-poem.

 

Perhaps I am just being too harsh on a 22 year old organist with a predigious technique and an oustanding memory, but if there is one thing lacking, it may well come with age and maturity, and that one thing is experiencing suffering. Without it, all art is immature, and perhaps expecting too much of someone so young is unfair.

 

I sincerely hope that someone will print off my criticisms and hand them to Mr Laube, with the express understanding that he should do the same with them that Reger did with the ones he read.

 

MM

Mr "Musing Muso" has evidently studied the Reubke Sonata in some detail. Being able to play the work from memory is indeed an achievement. Please would he post his own performance on YouTube, so that we can all see how it should be done?

 

Geoffrey Morgan

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I have no idea who "Musing Muso" is, so I cannot say how valuable is his criticism of Nathan Laube's playing. (Why do people use pseudonyms? To me this is a little bit like wearing a balaclava, so as not to be recognised.)

 

Sorry, pressed the button once, two posts resulted. Hmmm.

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I have no idea who "Musing Muso" is, so I cannot say how valuable is his criticism of Nathan Laube's playing. (Why do people use pseudonyms? To me this is a little bit like wearing a balaclava, so as not to be recognised.)...

A standing ovation at an organ recital in this country is almost unknown, but on all three occasions that I have heard this young man play live (he is still only 22) the audiences have spontaneously risen to their feet after the final item.

 

People use pseudonyms because that is the culture of on-line forums. To criticise people for using pseudonyms is as useless as bemoaning the use of first names rather than surnames by strangers. The world has changed.

 

Besides, it doesn't take much to discover who Musing Muso is if you want to do so. Those of us that have frequented this forum for some time value MMs contributions and often find great enjoyment in reading them even if we don't always agree with everything that he says: I suspect that's the way he would like it.

 

As someone with not inconsiderable performance experience, and even more experience attending concerts, standing ovations are not a good indicator of good playing. It is possible to manipulate audiences. Think, for example, that David Helfgott has received standing ovations. I remember reading publicity for an Australian boys' choir saying that they received a standing ovation at the end of a particular concert. Well, yes, of course, they finished the program with an arrangement of the national anthem and people stood for that! People stand when someone slots a round ball through some metal - I never understood that.

 

Shame that the pseudonym 'cynic' is already taken on this forum, or I'd think about using it myself.

 

In any case, I hope that my first few posts didn't offend any long standing members of these forums that have helped make my visits here often enjoyable, entertaining, thought-provoking, enriching and have contributed to my knowledge of my specialist area in life.

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I have rarely read such patronising clap trap.

 

David Wyld

 

(Real Name - as Geoffrey suggests)

(No particular knowledge of Nathan Laube - just stunned by the above).

 

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

 

 

Surely David, there must be lots of it in the Willis archives?

 

 

MM

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I have read, with some amusement Mr Mitchell's comments and also found his biography very interesting, - incredible!

 

I look forward to hearing of his next recital, and hope it includes the Reubke, obviously played from memory! Perhaps it would not go so well at his home church of St Joseph's Ingrow - with only 11 stops at his disposal!

 

This type of forum is a wonderful place for people to parade all sorts of "cyber" talents, whilst hidden behind a shield of near anonymity.

 

My support will always go to those who are doing something worthwhile, and life enhancing in the real world.

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