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ACCURATE TO A FAULT?


MusingMuso
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I came across a fascinating historic recording of the Liszt “Ad Nos” recently, which flies in the face of accepted convention.

 

I have heard it said that pianists may take liberties to a degree, but organists are taught to be very accurate.

 

I have also heard music academics refer to the change which occurred in music between the 18th Century and the 19th Century, when composers took control of the finished product and dictated how pieces should be played, with very accurate tempi markings, dynamics and (in the case of organ music) specific registration details.

But what if a performer adds and embellishes the score, and allows imagination free reign?

 

What if the end result is rather better or more exciting artistically than what is actually written down?

 

The parameters of good taste obviously set certain limits, (whatever they may be), but is this sort of artistic re-working ever valid?

 

If so, to what extent and to what purpose?

 

Is a perfomer right to draw attention to their own skill as an interpreter and a creative free-spirit?

 

Here is the link to this spectacular interpretation:-

 

The organist is Alfred Sittard Recordings dating 1928-38.

 

The organ used for the recording, (now gone), was the 163 stop instrument Walcker organ of the Michaeliskirche in Hamburg. Understandably, the organ was heavily damaged during the Second World War and replaced in 1962 by Steinmeyer. Even though taken from old 78rpm records, the sound is unmistakably that of a fantastic organ.

 

http://ihorc.blogspot.com/search/label/Alfred%20Sittard

 

What has always fascinated me, is the link between the German virtuosic style of the early 20th century, and what happened in America, where the style seemed to find a willing and receptive school of similar thought; Virgil Fox being the best known of those who bent the notes to make very individual musical points.

 

It is fascinating to hear also the Bach D-Minor Toccata, and then compare the drama to the sort of thing Fox did; the changes in dynamic and tempi quite extraordinary.

 

MM

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If so, to what extent and to what purpose?

 

It seems to me that these are actually the performances which are truly "valid" - if the performer can bring them off. Liszt's many reworkings of his own pieces seem to bear this out.

 

 

What has always fascinated me, is the link between the German virtuosic style of the early 20th century, and what happened in America, where the style seemed to find a willing and receptive school of similar thought; Virgil Fox being the best known of those who bent the notes to make very individual musical points.

 

MM

 

I believe that Wilhelm Middelschulte bears the responsibility for this - he was Fox's teacher for 4 years.

 

B

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I have had occasion before to mention Dr Harry Moreton, organist of St Andrew's Plymouth from 1885 to 1958. His last assistant organist and successor recalls him accompanying Stanford's Magnificat in B flat in 1958 and at one point thumbing down an improvised counter melody that wasn't in the score. Apparently he used to do this sort of thing quite a lot. There was another occasion before the war when he was playing the big Bach G minor on the Willis/Hele in the Plymouth Guildhall. Moreton was no fan of Bach - he thought him dry - and towards the end of the fugue got fed up and went off on a tangent. He kept the general shape of the piece, but did his own thing, including introducing Tuba fanfares. Apparently he got more applause for that than he would have done had he kept to the score.

 

From the same source I have also heard an account of G D Cunningham playing the Bach D major BWV 532 at one of the Birmingham midday organ recitals. He enlivened the rather tedious prelude by soloing out parts liberally on all sorts of stops, of which the Orchestral Oboe was just one. Perhaps it was only a small step from this sort of treatment to supplementing the score with your own notes.

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It seems to me that these are actually the performances which are truly "valid" - if the performer can bring them off. Liszt's many reworkings of his own pieces seem to bear this out.

 

 

 

 

I believe that Wilhelm Middelschulte bears the responsibility for this - he was Fox's teacher for 4 years.

 

B

 

 

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

 

 

Indeed Barry, because Middelschulte was very much part of the Berlin school, and in his own music, there are distinct traces of Liszt as well as classical counterpoint. Indeed, Middelschulte was as much a contrapuntist as Reger, using clasasical forms such as heard in his "Passacaglia in D minor"....a slightly forbidding and intense work.

 

Middelschulte also re-worked Bach's Violin Chaconne as an organ transcrption, and further elaborated the counterpoint with his own.

 

Alfred Sittard, I suppose, was the German pupil to this style of playing and composition, and I also suppose that he just naturally followed on from the likes of Tausig and Liszt himself.

 

I must confess that I find this style of perfrmance quite compelling, if only because it allows artistic (or even inartistic) free-reign to the performer. I suppose the Reger re-working of Bach's Two Part Inventions as Three part inventions, (incrediby difficult to play on the organ), also adopts the same spirit of re-invention and artistic licence.

 

MM

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