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Bevington

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I wonder if anyone can shed some light on a peculiar mental glitch that happens when learning certain styles of repertoire - I don't think I am alone in experiencing this. Currently I am a learning a number of new pieces for general repertoire, postludes, concerts etc. Soon I am also playing a concert at a small church in a small town on a two manual organ of 14 stops. For this concert I decided to learn - as it requires user friendly music - a Handel organ concerto. This is the first Handel concerto I have ever learnt. So I have chosen the Concerto in F from Bk 1 of the Bornemanne / Dupre series. Looks straigthforward enough. (An organist friend of mine desribes this sort of thing as 'two finger grade three music'!). I am also learning Viernes Toccata in B flat Minor, from the Pieces de Fantaisie. Guess which one is giving me the most trouble - yes: the Handel. Smudged notes, misjudged leaps, scrappy scale passages, bung pedal notes, and so on. Yet the Vierne is simmering along nicely. The Vierne will be ready as a postlude sooner than the handel will be a 'clean' concert performance . . . but why? Any observations welcome on this frustrating aspect of practice.

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I wonder if anyone can shed some light on a peculiar mental glitch that happens when learning certain styles of repertoire - I don't think I am alone in experiencing this. Currently I am a learning a number of new pieces for general repertoire, postludes, concerts etc. Soon I am also playing a concert at a small church in a small town on a two manual organ of 14 stops. For this concert I decided to learn - as it requires user friendly music - a Handel organ concerto. This is the first Handel concerto I have ever learnt. So I have chosen the Concerto in F from Bk 1 of the Bornemanne / Dupre series. Looks straigthforward enough. (An organist friend of mine desribes this sort of thing as 'two finger grade three music'!). I am also learning Viernes Toccata in B flat Minor, from the Pieces de Fantaisie. Guess which one is giving me the most trouble - yes: the Handel. Smudged notes, misjudged leaps, scrappy scale passages, bung pedal notes, and so on. Yet the Vierne is simmering along nicely. The Vierne will be ready as a postlude sooner than the handel will be a 'clean' concert performance . . . but why? Any observations welcome on this frustrating aspect of practice.

 

I have had similar experienmces but I have two observations - don't assume that the Handel is "easier" than the Vierne. A technically less demanding work needs as much skill as a harder one to bring off convincingly - it as as question of approach which leads me to point 2: if I read you correctly you may have thought yourself into a situation in which you think the Handel will never be ready for a public performance. It might worth it to have a couple a lessons if for nothing else to get a different perspective. If you hold an appointment your church could be asked for payment for this on grounds of professional development. I am considering doing this for a piece I have been learning on my own for about 6 months (Dupre Cortege et Litanie).

 

Best wishes for both pieces!

 

Peter

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Thanks, Peter.

One point did occur to me - the Handel copy has of course the extensive fingering inserted by Dupre, which I am using, having decided that it suited me and would save time. The Vierne however has nothing in the way of fingering suggestions, and had to be worked out from scratch, requiring careful planning and revision along the way. I wonder if using someone elses fingering actually slows down the note learning slightly . . . because you are using something that you have not had to think about or decide on for yourself. Both works require clean, precise, accurate (!!) playing but at present my Handel is subject to far more tipped notes and clumsy slips than the Vierne.

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I wonder if using someone elses fingering actually slows down the note learning slightly . . . because you are using something that you have not had to think about or decide on for yourself.

 

Definitely. Fingering is such a personal thing. The choice of fingering is affected by the player's hand span, technique, and interpretation.

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Dupre had enormous hands; not everybody is so blessed. As has already been stated, fingering is a personal thing and what works for one person doesn't necessarily work for someon else. Dupre's fingering, generally, is much like dy some people, but is widely regarded as over fussy and nbot necessarily always helping historically informed peformance.

 

If you find the Vierne Toccata in B flat minor easy you are lucky. Most people find it comparatively difficult because it doesn't fall comfortably under the hands. Personally I find Handel concerti easier than the Vierne Toccata any day of the week, but then we are all physically and temperamentally different - thank goodness!

 

Malcolm

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Dupre had enormous hands; not everybody is so blessed. As has already been stated, fingering is a personal thing and what works for one person doesn't necessarily work for someon else. Dupre's fingering, generally, is much like dy some people, but is widely regarded as over fussy and nbot necessarily always helping historically informed peformance.

 

If you find the Vierne Toccata in B flat minor easy you are lucky. Most people find it comparatively difficult because it doesn't fall comfortably under the hands. Personally I find Handel concerti easier than the Vierne Toccata any day of the week, but then we are all physically and temperamentally different - thank goodness!

 

Malcolm

Oh how I wish I found the Vierne B flat minor Toccata easy! However, as I work through it, I have discovered how logical and 'patterned' most of it is - a bit like having a set of strange building blocks whose main challenge is to have them welded smoothly together. When I began learning it, a friend who has played it for years confirmed that keeping the thumb on white keys is important for giving your hand/s some 'grip' on the keys and around the notes and maintaining a useful hand position. But there are some bars . . . . My own (now deceased) teacher had smallish hands (smaller than mine) but was able to make them release and spread in a way that I did not discover how to do until some yeras later, avoiding strain and tension being a key point.

I have an old LP of Dupre playing Bach - also, as you say, not really an historically informed performance. However, his fingering does suit my hands and for the purposes of the concert for which I am preparing the piece, I will aim for an overall 'musical' perfromance, hoping that the Baroque Boys are not hiding up the back in this tiny church in a small town!

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I wonder if anyone can shed some light on a peculiar mental glitch that happens when learning certain styles of repertoire - I don't think I am alone in experiencing this. Currently I am a learning a number of new pieces for general repertoire, postludes, concerts etc. Soon I am also playing a concert at a small church in a small town on a two manual organ of 14 stops. For this concert I decided to learn - as it requires user friendly music - a Handel organ concerto. This is the first Handel concerto I have ever learnt. So I have chosen the Concerto in F from Bk 1 of the Bornemanne / Dupre series. Looks straigthforward enough. (An organist friend of mine desribes this sort of thing as 'two finger grade three music'!). I am also learning Viernes Toccata in B flat Minor, from the Pieces de Fantaisie. Guess which one is giving me the most trouble - yes: the Handel. Smudged notes, misjudged leaps, scrappy scale passages, bung pedal notes, and so on. Yet the Vierne is simmering along nicely. The Vierne will be ready as a postlude sooner than the handel will be a 'clean' concert performance . . . but why? Any observations welcome on this frustrating aspect of practice.

 

 

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Would I be right in thinking that the F major Handel Organ Concerto referred to is the Opus 4 No.4?

 

Although not technically very difficult on paper, I think that many people struggle with “naked” music like this, possibly because it requires not only a certain precision in the finger, but also, because it does not provide the usual “anchor points” of denser writing.

 

I don’t play much Vierne, but I have been known to play Dupre, and what strikes me about the essential difference between Handel and Dupre, is not so much the obvious, but the less obvious.

 

Where there are lots of notes, ALL the fingers may act as “anchors” which secure the hand, and conversely, where there are only one, two or three parts, those basic anchors are lost: one of the reasons why Trio Sonatas are so tricky.

This is further compounded by light or shallow key-action devoid of “pluck,” which can lead to all sorts of insecurities.

 

I wonder if this may be at the heart of the problem?

 

If it is, the way around it is to go right back to basic hand position, by keeping the wrists low and the fingers well curved like claws; keeping all movement within the fingers and with a controlled degree of deliberate tension within the hand itself. This way, the “anchor” points are contained within the muscles of the hand.

 

That basic hand tension is useful when playing arpeggios on very light harpsichord keys, and especially clavichords devoid of any “pluck.”

 

If it IS the Opus 4 no.4, than arpeggios play a significant part, (especially in the opening movement), and I know from past experience that getting it all under control is far from easy, where the action is less than ideal for this type of music. I seem to recall struggling myself, when I first played this with an orchestra, and yet the notes seemed so easy on paper.

 

MM

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Perhaps in certain situations the overall speed of learning the music is actually being hampered by using someone else's fingerings. I can see that for relatively straightforward pieces then using the fingering already provided would speed things along. But for more complex pieces, perhaps the painful process of working out your own fingering yields not just a comfortable set of fingerings, but also contributes something significant to the learning process.

 

Sq.

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

 

 

Would I be right in thinking that the F major Handel Organ Concerto referred to is the Opus 4 No.4?

 

Although not technically very difficult on paper, I think that many people struggle with “naked” music like this, possibly because it requires not only a certain precision in the finger, but also, because it does not provide the usual “anchor points” of denser writing.

 

I don’t play much Vierne, but I have been known to play Dupre, and what strikes me about the essential difference between Handel and Dupre, is not so much the obvious, but the less obvious.

 

Where there are lots of notes, ALL the fingers may act as “anchors” which secure the hand, and conversely, where there are only one, two or three parts, those basic anchors are lost: one of the reasons why Trio Sonatas are so tricky.

This is further compounded by light or shallow key-action devoid of “pluck,” which can lead to all sorts of insecurities.

 

I wonder if this may be at the heart of the problem?

 

If it is, the way around it is to go right back to basic hand position, by keeping the wrists low and the fingers well curved like claws; keeping all movement within the fingers and with a controlled degree of deliberate tension within the hand itself. This way, the “anchor” points are contained within the muscles of the hand.

 

That basic hand tension is useful when playing arpeggios on very light harpsichord keys, and especially clavichords devoid of any “pluck.”

 

If it IS the Opus 4 no.4, than arpeggios play a significant part, (especially in the opening movement), and I know from past experience that getting it all under control is far from easy, where the action is less than ideal for this type of music. I seem to recall struggling myself, when I first played this with an orchestra, and yet the notes seemed so easy on paper.

 

MM

Yes, it is the F major no 4. And I am practising it on a firm Kawai piano, and an electro-pneumatic Willis, whilst the organ for the concert is a worn out tracker that was poorly restored in the 1970s. What fun! I think your comment about "naked music" and having anchor points hits the nail on the head - it does feel exposed and somehow the Vierne, whilst technically demanding, seems to give more to comfort and hang onto. I tried your suggestion of lower hand position/claw like finger curve etc - assuming I did what you suggested correctly, it certainly gave a new approach. Like so many I suppose I was always told as a student to follow/read the music and not look at my hands when playing. But I find these days that I often tell my students to look at their hands occasionally, to avoid any false sensory perception that tells them that their fingers and wrists are doing the correct thing when their hand position is actually affecting their technique or fluency.

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Sometimes it helps if one can "get into the groove" with such music - you might also find it worth playing through some Stanley Voluntaries (or similar pieces by Handel contemporaries) in which many of the same snares crop up. And, should you find yourself faced with the marking "Organ ad lib." in Handel's concerti, one of the easiest ways to get around having to improvise / compose a movement in the style of Handel is to insert a Stanley Voluntary...

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Seconded. I once spent a Bank Holiday afternoon providing background noise on a C18th chamber organ at a (fairly) stately home open to the public, and, having dusted off my trusty set of Old English Organ Music for Manuals, discovered as I went, that about 70% of the pieces I was bookmarking were by him. They just seemed head and shoulders more interesting than the rest.

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Sometimes it helps if one can "get into the groove" with such music - you might also find it worth playing through some Stanley Voluntaries (or similar pieces by Handel contemporaries) in which many of the same snares crop up. And, should you find yourself faced with the marking "Organ ad lib." in Handel's concerti, one of the easiest ways to get around having to improvise / compose a movement in the style of Handel is to insert a Stanley Voluntary...

Now that's an interesting idea . . . insert a Stanley voluntary, or part thereof, for a cadenza. Probably more secure than risking an off-the-cuff-job. However, when I practise the Handel and reach the cadenza point, I recall an old LP recording of the late Jeanne Demessieux, who improvised Handel cadenzas that would have had the purists spinning in their graves - full symphonic French style. Very exciting! As for other manuals only composers of similar style, I am fortunate enough to have an 1845 single manual Bevingington mere metres from the Willis so the likes of Stanley, Bennet, Hook and the seasonally named John Christmas Beckwith get regular airings.

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Seconded. I once spent a Bank Holiday afternoon providing background noise on a C18th chamber organ at a (fairly) stately home open to the public, and, having dusted off my trusty set of Old English Organ Music for Manuals, discovered as I went, that about 70% of the pieces I was bookmarking were by him. They just seemed head and shoulders more interesting than the rest.

 

"Thirded", especially one or two of his Cornet voluntaries. I used to play a lot from those books and the Novello "Early Organ Music" series, and still do on the occasions that I play for my own amusement. Benjamin Rogers (b. 1614) wrote some good stuff too and is worth a look.

 

I think that manuals only music has a valuable part to play in the repertoire to get away from the seemingly omnipresent 16' tone and enjoy the times that such items are included in a recital programme. On one of the organs that I used to play, the Pedal Bourdon (the only pedal stop) was much too boomy for quiet music so tended not to use the pedals unless just coupled to the manuals.

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Seconded. I once spent a Bank Holiday afternoon providing background noise on a C18th chamber organ at a (fairly) stately home open to the public, and, having dusted off my trusty set of Old English Organ Music for Manuals, discovered as I went, that about 70% of the pieces I was bookmarking were by him. They just seemed head and shoulders more interesting than the rest.

 

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

 

 

What about Walond?

 

Rather good!

 

Of course, it's easy enough to improvise in the "Olde Englyfh Ftyle" if you keep it simple, and stick to closely related keys.

 

However, to expand (divert?) this subject slightly, does anyone recall a simply wonderful LP by E Power-Biggs, when he presented "Heroic Music" using organ, brass and percussions?

 

I have oft wondered the sources of these, and whether or not they were written as played, or just expanded.

 

The LP was an absolute delight from start to finish, and I've never heard anything comparable to this day.

 

Apart from English music by the likes of Wm.Croft, there was also "Heoric Music" by Telemann.

 

It says something about the quality of this LP and the programming, that it would have made a perfect evening concert.

 

MM

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Yes, and another composer of that era and well worth looking at is John Bennnett. I am currently working on his Voluntary X. No pedals of couse but a most satisfying piece.

 

Peter

Bennett definitely a cut above the average. All 10 of his voluntaries are available in a decent-looking, modern edition on the IMSLP site (though the print is a little small for my aging eyes).

 

IMSLP also has a facsimile of the original prints of John Keeble's three sets of voluntaries, which, though not of the same quality, are nevertheless worth a look. They are very up to date in taste, though not necessarily the better for it. (Given their dates I'd guess J. C. Bach is the influence rather than Haydn.)

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After reading this thread a couple of days ago, I did a slow "dotted" play through of the Vierne Toccata. What struck me is very close to what MusingMuso wrote about anchor points. I find that the Vierne often involves spreading the gap between two fingers in order to move to the next set of notes that fall under the hand, and that change in hand shape occurs at quite a slow rate and are rather small each time. There are also passages where chords just shift up or down making both reading and playing easier.

 

Having said that, I must confess to having had to work much harder to bring, initially, the Vierne to performance standard than I have had to for any of the Handel concertos or pieces of similar ilk, such as the obligato organ movements in Bach cantatas. Perhaps the relative time spent has something to do with the ease with which I can bring the Vierne back to performance standard, and then the surety with which I perform it.

 

I don't think this is a bad thing, though, as Handel and Bach obligato movements can sound better when they aren't so thoroughly learnt in that there is less spontaneity.

 

I shall now crawl back into my shell.

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After reading this thread a couple of days ago, I did a slow "dotted" play through of the Vierne Toccata. What struck me is very close to what MusingMuso wrote about anchor points. I find that the Vierne often involves spreading the gap between two fingers in order to move to the next set of notes that fall under the hand, and that change in hand shape occurs at quite a slow rate and are rather small each time. There are also passages where chords just shift up or down making both reading and playing easier.

 

Having said that, I must confess to having had to work much harder to bring, initially, the Vierne to performance standard than I have had to for any of the Handel concertos or pieces of similar ilk, such as the obligato organ movements in Bach cantatas. Perhaps the relative time spent has something to do with the ease with which I can bring the Vierne back to performance standard, and then the surety with which I perform it.

 

I don't think this is a bad thing, though, as Handel and Bach obligato movements can sound better when they aren't so thoroughly learnt in that there is less spontaneity.

 

I shall now crawl back into my shell.

 

Thank you "all and some" for your interesting comments. The anchor points idea is applicable to so much repertoire, and in terms of the Vierne, defining the anchor points and 'spots for the thumb' gives a necessary and firmer sense of "grip". Fiffaro's point about bits of the Vierne simply shifting up or down tie in with my earlier comment about it being a logical piece, despite its complexities. The Handel gets its concert airing this weekend and has benefited from the suggestions by MM (so thank you, that man!).

An amusing anecdote to finish with (and a disclaimer so as not to offend anyone - I told this to my deaf father who no longer plays the organ because of his hearing and even he thought it most amusing). The church where the Handel is being played has a smallish run down instrument, in poor condition. I played there a couple of years ago at the request of friends to help raise money for a local charity. They managed to fill the small church with people. This time it is to celebrate the church organist being 50 years in the position. The organ has tracker action to manuals and tubular pneumatic to pedals, and has not had major attention for 40 years. At my first concert there, some pedal notes were not working, unreliable or in fact stopped working altogether during the concert. Afterwards, at a supper, I was introduced to the aged organist and the following bizarre conversation ensued:

Me: I noticed some pedal notes are not working.

Church organist: What?

Me: I noticed some pedal notes not working at all, on some keys.

Church organist (cupping hand to ear): What? What did you say? I'm a bit deaf - you'll have to speak up!

Me: (trying not to shout too loudly in a crowded supper room) I said, I noticed that a number of pedal notes don't work!

Church Organist: Yes, some of them are a bit quiet!

Me: !!!

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