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Radical Reinterpretations...


Contrabombarde
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Last Sunday during the Comunion service I realised I'd forgotton to bring any appropriate music with me, but had recently been practising the famous Lemmens Fanfare in D (from his Organ Method - I'm sure you know the one I mean, just about the only piece he wrote that seems to get played these days.) I quite like it, it has the sort of catchy tune I find hard to get out of my head. But playing it during Communion? It's a toccata that was written for full organ isn't it?

 

I went for a radical overhaul. Right hand as solo semiquavers on flutes 8 and 2, left hand accompanying on 8+4 flutes. And played at maybe a third to a half of the "correct" speed. I wasn't particularly concious of what I was playing, by memory, except it passed the time nicely as the congregation came up to the altar.

 

But afterwards several people asked me what it was that I'd played as they liked it so much - that's pretty abnormal for my congregation to do. So it got me wondering - what other pieces have people on this forum tried, in public or in private, where you've played the notes the composer wrote, but changed the tempo or registration so radically that you've ended up with what was to all intents and purposes a completely different piece - and found that it actually worked quite well? For starters I heard there's one concert recitalist, but don't recall whom, that has been known to play the Bach Toc, Ad and Fugue throughout on an 8 foot flute.

 

Other suggestions?

 

Contrabombarde

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Last Sunday during the Comunion service I realised I'd forgotton to bring any appropriate music with me, but had recently been practising the famous Lemmens Fanfare in D (from his Organ Method - I'm sure you know the one I mean, just about the only piece he wrote that seems to get played these days.) I quite like it, it has the sort of catchy tune I find hard to get out of my head. But playing it during Communion? It's a toccata that was written for full organ isn't it?

 

I went for a radical overhaul. Right hand as solo semiquavers on flutes 8 and 2, left hand accompanying on 8+4 flutes. And played at maybe a third to a half of the "correct" speed. I wasn't particularly concious of what I was playing, by memory, except it passed the time nicely as the congregation came up to the altar.

 

But afterwards several people asked me what it was that I'd played as they liked it so much - that's pretty abnormal for my congregation to do. So it got me wondering - what other pieces have people on this forum tried, in public or in private, where you've played the notes the composer wrote, but changed the tempo or registration so radically that you've ended up with what was to all intents and purposes a completely different piece - and found that it actually worked quite well? For starters I heard there's one concert recitalist, but don't recall whom, that has been known to play the Bach Toc, Ad and Fugue throughout on an 8 foot flute.

 

Other suggestions?

 

Contrabombarde

 

Just a quick response to get your topic started; I once (in an all-Bach recital) played the little E minor P&F on a Grand Jeu combination with everything dotted as ifnotes inegal (or, indeed 'jazz quavers'). It was strange but fun - a folly of youth.

 

Where a composer has been specific about registration, dynamics etc. I generally think it is a discourtesy to ignore this - I remember Richard Popplewell telling me about a performance of one of his pieces where the player had decided to play the whole work on a couple of soft 8' stops throughout (ignoring the fact that it was supposed to grow towards full organ and then subside). He was horrified, and was in the rather difficult position of being expected to praise the performance despite the fact that he clearly thought the player had missed the point by a mile.

 

I can imagine your Lemmens, and think it could have been quite a nice experience. I'd rather hear a fast piece played slowly for a change rather than a slow piece played excessively fast.

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A friend of mine plays the JSB Dorian Toccata on a minimal 8' registration - he has in fact recorded it on this. It sounds refreshingly different - the 'forward propulsion' feel is there still but without the 'grind' that one can get on too large a registration.

 

Alastair

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I did once try something with the Bach Passacaglia and Fugue. I'm quite a fan of the two orchestrations (Stokowski and Respighi), both very commendable in different ways. I treid a sort of keyboard reduction of an orchestral score (albeit a score of a keyboard piece, if you get my drift). I experimented with a number of the orchestrations (the Schoenberg 'St Anne', and the Elgar C minor, to name a couple of others), but the P and F seemed to be better suited to this experimental treatment than those.

 

The registration was fiddly, but worked, but what took some getting used to was not phrasing and articulating as I would normally. The orchestral versions are full of longer legato lines, hairpins in the dynamics and some judicious rubato in places.

 

I'd like to think it works. There was no booing from purists, and the applause didn't seem any warmer than normal. I was pleased with the result, but I think the experiment was wasted on the audience.

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Sorry, as a PS. I remembered I went to an organ recital in my youth. I can't remember who it was, or at the moment, even where, presumably somewhere in Yorkshire. Anyway, I remember the recitalist did something rather odd with a Bach Trio Sonata, involving 4' stops and playing manual parts an octave down.

 

I know that perhaps doesn't qualify as 'radical reinterpretation', but it was a little odd.

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I think people's views on Bach interpretation are now quite free - especially if one looks at what we know about performance practices in other times and places than Bach's own. Guilmant's experiment with the Bach Passacaglia probably would work better on an English Romantic organ (especially a late one) than trying to play it according to what we know of the performance practices associated with Bach's sound world. Were he to do it in the Dom in Berlin, it would be almost 'normal', because playing Bach on German Romantic organs according to the edition of Straube (close to what he describes) is now quite commonplace.

 

The funny thing is that the dogmas of the first generation of the organ reform movement hang heavier in the UK than almost anywhere else in Europe, (hence Guilmant's reference to 'booing purists'). Bach alla Vierne (or at least Widor/Schweitzer) has been done in France, the Straube thing is very popular at the moment in Germany. Perhaps British organists should go back to their Novello editions, follow Mr West's marks closely - probably you'll find a far more enlightening aesthetic balance between organ and music (assuming your organ is late Victorian/Edwardian) than if you use your NBA. Its not as outrageously experimental as you might imagine.

 

"A friend of mine plays the JSB Dorian Toccata on a minimal 8' registration - he has in fact recorded it on this. It sounds refreshingly different - the 'forward propulsion' feel is there still but without the 'grind' that one can get on too large a registration."

 

The Dorian Toccata is VERY difficult to make work on a normal plenum registration because the balance is never optimal (especially at the bit where the parts cross over each other with the long a in the pedal). 8' and 4' Principals on 2 manuals usually works better I've found, (equally in Holland and Thuringia!)

 

Does anyone know Bill Porter's recording of the Prelude in e BWV 548/1 on a single 8' Principal? It works gorgeously because his expressive way of playing binds the sound and the affekt together. http://www.gothic-catalog.com/Bach_One_of_...p/lrcd-1025.htm

 

Greetings

 

Bazuin

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For starters I heard there's one concert recitalist, but don't recall whom, that has been known to play the Bach Toc, Ad and Fugue throughout on an 8 foot flute.

I've mentioned before that I have played the G major P&F BWV 541 on an 8' flute (though not like that in public - yet). I recall that some people here couldn't grasp the concept! :blink:

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Guest Stanley Monkhouse

Bach prelude in A major: very slowly on 4' flute with slow tremulant, 8' pedal. It sounds quite divine. fugue very brisk on 84 combinations.

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Guest Echo Gamba
I once (in an all-Bach recital) played the little E minor P&F on a Grand Jeu combination

 

I always play this with a Grand Jeu combination - the similarity of the start of the Prelude to the start of the "Gravement" section of the "Pièce d'Orgue" seems to demand this. I always get taken to task over this by my now-retired 93 year old deputy, who used to play it on a single 8' flute during Communion.

 

I find myself more and more using 4' flute alone in some smaller scale pieces and chorale preludes for the sake of the quite amazing clarity of parts that can be obtained.

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I once heard a recording of one of the Brandenburg Concertos in which, in the middle of the most energetic and buoyant allegro, was inserted a beautifully limpid cadenza for the recorder.

 

The change in affekt was wonderful with the contrast between the virtuosity of the style and the simplicity of the medium.

 

A similar performance that always makes me stop and think is Martha Argerich's recording of Gaspard de la Nuit, where she gives us real 'music of the night', full of darkness and shadows (even in Scarbo) rather than the carnival virtuosity we hear too often.

 

Finally, I remember John Scott remarking about how he played the Canzona in d minor on the Dome 8' Open Diapason alone when he performed the complete Bach series at St Paul's, and what a revelation this was.

 

I try for a similar effect in the cadenza of the Mozart Fantasia K608 ; having heard so many performances where Full Swell comes on with an angry bump at this point, before the recapitulation, I pause, and then play the first two phrases of the cadenza with all the time in the world on a 4' flute, before building up to a fuller registration for the recapitulation.

 

Well, I like it, and no - one has ever shot me down in flames over it.

 

M

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For starters I heard there's one concert recitalist, but don't recall whom, that has been known to play the Bach Toc, Ad and Fugue throughout on an 8 foot flute.

 

There was a story doing the rounds while I was at university that a very distinguished former member of staff (and world authority on the organ music of Bach), did an all Bach recital on this but only using the Choir division.

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I have an LP of Franck's A-Minor Chorale, played on a 1953 Ott in Bremen.

 

Paul Ott was one of the earliest, and most radical, proponents of the Orgelbewegung. This organ he planned when being held in a POW camp with Harald Wolff, the organist of the church. It represented the cutting-edge ideas of the day – low pressures, big mixtures, the Great Principal hoarse and spitting, with a very dry Quintaton underneath and a richly equipped, but lean souding pedal. The flutes are exquisite, sweet and colourful; the soft reeds sound quite thin, the chorus reeds often harsh, but never loud. Everything mechanical, no shutters anywhere. Just how radical such an organ sounds is hardly imaginable if you have never heard one.

 

The organist of the recording in question starts the Franck with the full Great chorus, which remains her choice for the fast sections; just before the slow section, she manages an ecxiting crescendo from principal 8 to full, sparkling chorus. The Chorale bits are played on the Vox humana, and as the solo for the slow section serves the noble horizontal trumpet, accompanied by the Rückpositiv. The end, then again, is a dramatic chorus crescendo, in which the pedal Posaune is the only reed that does anything to the sound, the chorus being the dominant power in this instrument.

 

The result is astonishingly musical and dramatic. Besides the flawless playing and beautiful timing, the organist recognised that the organ had neither the fonds nor the anches Franck had in mind, and apparently found out the sound that gave the backbone to this type of instrument – the chorus. With this, she worked out a structurally sound concept of the piece.

 

The organist, by the way, was Lucienne Antonini, a student of the Duruflés and organiste titulaire of Notre-Dame des Doms in Avignon.

 

Friedrich

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I've mentioned before that I have played the G major P&F BWV 541 on an 8' flute (though not like that in public - yet). I recall that some people here couldn't grasp the concept! :P

 

I remember Paul Hale playing that piece on the large Copeman Hart hire organ at Rochester c.20 years ago (while the pipe organ was being rebuilt by our hosts). He just used the Harpsichord stop!

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Guest Roffensis
Last Sunday during the Comunion service I realised I'd forgotton to bring any appropriate music with me, but had recently been practising the famous Lemmens Fanfare in D (from his Organ Method - I'm sure you know the one I mean, just about the only piece he wrote that seems to get played these days.) I quite like it, it has the sort of catchy tune I find hard to get out of my head. But playing it during Communion? It's a toccata that was written for full organ isn't it?

 

I went for a radical overhaul. Right hand as solo semiquavers on flutes 8 and 2, left hand accompanying on 8+4 flutes. And played at maybe a third to a half of the "correct" speed. I wasn't particularly concious of what I was playing, by memory, except it passed the time nicely as the congregation came up to the altar.

 

But afterwards several people asked me what it was that I'd played as they liked it so much - that's pretty abnormal for my congregation to do. So it got me wondering - what other pieces have people on this forum tried, in public or in private, where you've played the notes the composer wrote, but changed the tempo or registration so radically that you've ended up with what was to all intents and purposes a completely different piece - and found that it actually worked quite well? For starters I heard there's one concert recitalist, but don't recall whom, that has been known to play the Bach Toc, Ad and Fugue throughout on an 8 foot flute.

 

Other suggestions?

 

Contrabombarde

I did a dramatisation of "Feed the Birds" from Mary Poppins (full Swell half way through where the Saints and Apostles look down as she sells her wares) during one Holy Communion service at a very low, very very low, Evangelical church where I suffered in my younger ignorance. I used a nice banging tremulant and 8 foot flute for "although she can't see them she knows they are smiling each time someone shows her they care" or whatever the words are. It blended perfectly with the other music, and the congregation loved it. Bless. One girl asked for it the next week. She thought it was lovely. I thought it went well with the Malt Loaf. :P

 

R

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Although I had not been told in advance, the priest at one Mass preached on recent convert's devotion to the Virgin Mary, and that the only words that this new Christian could think of was the Gershwin song "Lady be Good". I therefore played a variation on this during the offertory procession. Afterwards the priest asked to have a word with me. Fearing the worst, I engaged him in small talk and them he congratulated me on what he called "creative liturgy".

 

Peter

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One Vicar of mine (now an RC layman) once preached between Evensong and Benediction about the song "Pretty woman walking down the street" so he could hardly complain when I played it as he brought the montrance to the altar a few minutes later.

 

Another priest preached on the significance of the long melodies previously used for the "Ite Missa Est", emphasing the importance of going out into the world &c., He was most amused when my offertory improvisation combined as many of those melodies as I could remember. The case for his reading glasses always matched the colour of the vestments!

 

Malcolm

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