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Registration of Bach


Martin Cooke
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I suppose I've been playing long enough to know pretty well what I'm doing in Bach Preludes and Fugues - I suspect I picked up habits from my Novello scores - but I am more and more keen to know that what I do is sound scholastically and although I listen carefully to different interpretations by downloading to my ipod, I wonder what there is in print these days that points in the right direction. Is it Peter Williams' book that I want, or is there something else out there?

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Dear Martin,

 

At the point we are now, that is, mid-2010, I think an interesting

way to question Bach's registration would be a tour in Saxe and Thuringia,

plus the Brandenburg (because of the Joachim Wagner organs) with your

pile of music scores.

And play the organs, the village's ones included: the Trosts, the Wagners,

but also the others, less well-known ones.

(I suggested just that to some belgian organists, the result was a change

in their practice. I already wrote here about that matter, but nothing can replace

one's own discoveries).

And finally, to make your own religion with it.

 

Pierre

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I suppose I've been playing long enough to know pretty well what I'm doing in Bach Preludes and Fugues - I suspect I picked up habits from my Novello scores - but I am more and more keen to know that what I do is sound scholastically and although I listen carefully to different interpretations by downloading to my ipod, I wonder what there is in print these days that points in the right direction. Is it Peter Williams' book that I want, or is there something else out there?

If there was a "right direction" we might as well all give up and hand over to a computer. Surely the essence of artistic performance is that you bring something of your own character to the work and show your interpretation of the notes on the page?

JC

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A starting point (not prescription) is the section Hints on the Registration of Bach, his Contemporaries, and his Immediate Predecessors from Peter Hurford's book Making Music on the Organ (OUP 1988). A footnote in the Hurford says, "See 'Registration, general rules of' in [Peter] Williams, The European Organ (1450-1850) (Batsford 1966)."

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A starting point (not prescription) is the section Hints on the Registration of Bach, his Contemporaries, and his Immediate Predecessors from Peter Hurford's book Making Music on the Organ (OUP 1988). A footnote in the Hurford says, "See 'Registration, general rules of' in [Peter] Williams, The European Organ (1450-1850) (Batsford 1966)."

For a while I've been thinking of starting a thread about "independent" pedal departments. When I began to learn the organ in the 1970s I had no access to any instrument where an independent pedal was possible; it is still relatively rare for me to be in the presence of a Pedal Mixture. How important for, say, a Bach Prelude and Fugue would Hurford and Williams (I don't have the books you mention) and people here think a Pedal Mixture is? I've noticed that our hosts and many other "enlightened" builders from all parts of the world rarely include them on small or medium-sized organs.

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Ah, the Pedal Mixture Mantra ! :lol:

 

Some hints:

 

-The independant Pedal Mixtures were a northern feature.

In the area where Bach lived 90% of his lifetime, save in the biggest

Silbermanns (the little Silbermann had often just a few stops, 16-8 flues + 16 reed),

there were either no Pedal Mixture, or it was borrowed from the great (this is

the case with Scheibe and Trost).

 

As an example, here is the Specifications of the Pedal in the Leipzig Scheibe

organ Bach praised so much:

 

PEDAL

 

Gross Principal-Bass 16' (Borrowed from HPTW)

Gross Quinta-Tön-bass 16'(HPTW)

Sub-bass 16'

Octav-bass 8' (HPTW)

Jubal-Bass 8'

Nacht-Horn-Bass 8'

Gross-Hell-Quintbass 6'

Octav Bass 4' (HPTW)

Quint-Bass 3' (HPTW)

Octav-Bass 2'

Holl-Flöten-Bass 1'

Mixtur-Bass 6r (HPTW)

Posaunen-Bass 16'

Trompeten-Bass 8'

 

It is interesting to note we have here the "new style" Pedal, with a bias towards

deep tones, and the "old style" as well (Cantus firmus, also with high-pitched stops),

togheter. As Bach belonged to both styles, we may suppose this scheme might

be interesting...)

 

Pierre

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As an example, here is the Specifications of the Pedal in the Leipzig Scheibe

organ Bach praised so much:

 

PEDAL

 

Gross Principal-Bass 16' (Borrowed from HPTW)

Gross Quinta-Tön-bass 16'(HPTW)

Sub-bass 16'

Octav-bass 8' (HPTW)

Jubal-Bass 8'

Nacht-Horn-Bass 8'

Gross-Hell-Quintbass 6'

Octav Bass 4' (HPTW)

Quint-Bass 3' (HPTW)

Octav-Bass 2'

Holl-Flöten-Bass 1'

Mixtur-Bass 6r (HPTW)

Posaunen-Bass 16'

Trompeten-Bass 8'

 

It is interesting to note we have here the "new style" Pedal, with a bias towards

deep tones, and the "old style" as well (Cantus firmus, also with high-pitched stops),

togheter. As Bach belonged to both styles, we may suppose this scheme might

be interesting...)

 

Pierre

 

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

 

 

Hardly a bias towards deep tones, with but a single independent 16ft flue and probably a quite full-toned Posaune at 16ft.

 

The rest of the stops are either unison from 8ft to 1ft, with a 2.2/3 ft Quint and then a 6 rank Mixtur.

 

There are distinct limits as to how much deep sonority can be obtained from low pressure pipes, without increasing the scale so much that the pipes are slow to speak.

 

In the "North," Schnitger had used 24ft quints and 10.2/3 Quints to great effect, and I doubt that anyone would accuse the Martinikerk, Groningen, neo-Schnitger of lacking bass.

 

Just what evidence is there that Bach preferred this or that sound for his OWN music?

 

Approval is not some sort of annunciation, and there are lots of organs I approve of for different reasons. It doesn't mean that I would necessarily like playing Bach on a Skinner, a Wurlitzer or an Arthur Harrison instrument; yet I approve of them as variants on an original theme, and for quite different kinds of music.

 

Bach was reasonably well-travelled considering the problems of mobility. He went north, he obviously knew Thurnigia and he went to the Czech region at least once.

 

Unofrtunately, whilst there are a very few manual change directions in Bach's music, there is no indication of what constituted "correct" registration, so far as I know, and this was typical of the day. The performer was part of the musical recipe, and it was only in the 19th century that the composer assumed a greater degree of control over the precise sounds required.

 

Surely the whole point of contrapuntal music is the concept of "concerted" musical dialogue, which is why so many of the "northern" instruments are so good for Bach. It is also true that much of Bach's music works perfectly well on a pedal harpsichord, a decent synthesiser, a piano, and, of course, an organ. It is perfectly possible to play Bach extremely musically on a Wurlitzer, using what may seem like bizzare combinations. So I have to suggest that any sort of historical or stylistic straight-jacket may well be counter productive and possibly inartistic, because once the performer is compelled to do this or that, we take the music out of one era and place it in another.

 

MM

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"So I have to suggest that any sort of historical or stylistic straight-jacket may well be counter productive and possibly inartistic, because once the performer is compelled to do this or that, we take the music out of one era and place it in another."

(Quote)

 

What I understand from this:

 

1)- It is uninteresting to study the organs Bach actually played;

 

2)- The organs Bach played were not the "good" ones, because we think

he belonged to another era and place than his own one. Which one ?

We decide.

 

Am I wrong ?

 

Pierre

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THE REGISTRATION OF J.S.BACH'S ORGAN WORKS - Queentin Faulkner (Wayne Leupold Editions) - a good collection of primary sourced material though at £50 plus it is not cheap!

 

Allegro Music in Worcestershire can get it.

 

A

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"So I have to suggest that any sort of historical or stylistic straight-jacket may well be counter productive and possibly inartistic, because once the performer is compelled to do this or that, we take the music out of one era and place it in another."

(Quote)

 

What I understand from this:

 

1)- It is uninteresting to study the organs Bach actually played;

 

2)- The organs Bach played were not the "good" ones, because we think

he belonged to another era and place than his own one. Which one ?

We decide.

 

Am I wrong ?

 

Pierre

Would Alfred Brendel choose to play Beethoven on a piano with the sound of one from 1800, or would he choose the best sounding instrument available in 2010?

 

Surely there is a difference between understanding how the music sounded to the composer and imitating that sound?

JC

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Surely the essence of artistic performance is that you bring something of your own character to the work and show your interpretation of the notes on the page?

JC

The essence, yes, but the be-all and end-all, most certainly not. I'm sorry, but, intentionally or not, what I'm picking up here is an implication that the dots on the page contain all there is to say about a musical composition and form a template for an "artist" to invent his/her own creation. I have argued before that this sort of approach, while producing results that may be very musical on their own terms and even highly enjoyable, have precious little to do with the compositions they purport to present and are an insult to the composer. It is obvious that this is of no consequence whatever to many, but I'm afraid it is to me.

 

For me a truly artistic performance is one that has the stamp of individuality (surely there always was and is room for this) while at the same time respecting the composer's wishes with as honest an approximation as feasible. There is actually more to this than a slavish adherence to period registration, which, depending on the acoustical circumstances to hand, may actually need to be ignored, or historical fingering/footing. Projecting a piece of Bach, or any other early music, is a more complex issue than just a question of period practice and I wonder whether even the HIP fans (in early music at large) have really begun to address the issues properly. I know I haven't, but one does one's best according to one's understanding.

 

On the question of Baroque registration, I did once read, maybe around ten years ago now, that Andrew Benson-Wilson had produced a little booklet summarising the then current knowledge, which was obtainable from him personally for a very reasonable price. I'm ashamed to say I never got around to getting a copy, but if you can trace him it might be worth asking whether this is still obtainable.

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Would Alfred Brendel choose to play Beethoven on a piano with the sound of one from 1800, or would he choose the best sounding instrument available in 2010?

 

Surely there is a difference between understanding how the music sounded to the composer and imitating that sound?

JC

 

 

1)- What means "best" ?

 

2)- So we should know how it sounded, an then do whatever ?

 

The end result can only be: all electronic.

 

Nein, Danke !

 

Pierre

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"So I have to suggest that any sort of historical or stylistic straight-jacket may well be counter productive and possibly inartistic, because once the performer is compelled to do this or that, we take the music out of one era and place it in another."

(Quote)

 

What I understand from this:

 

1)- It is uninteresting to study the organs Bach actually played;

 

2)- The organs Bach played were not the "good" ones, because we think

he belonged to another era and place than his own one. Which one ?

We decide.

 

Am I wrong ?

 

Pierre

 

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

 

 

Now this is the perfect example of interpretation and artistic licence. I write one thing, and someone else thinks it means something completely different to that intended.

 

The more serious question musically, is to ask WHY Bach's music translates so well to such a wide variety of instruments, and indeed, to such a wide variety of organs.

 

I like to hear historically informed performances, even on "wrong" instruments in the Netherlands, but I am equally happy to listen to Straube editions, Stokowski transcriptions, Ton Koopman doing what Ton Koopman does best and Bach played on the old "Moog" synthesiser by Wendy Carlos.

 

To ask another question, WHY does Bach work better on a Father Willis organ, than Herbert Howells, (God forbid), works on a Trost or Silbermann instrument?

 

I have said this before, but Bach was the dullest of innovators. He did absolutely nothing new at all, and this is exactly why his music was considered "old hat," "academic" and "dusty" by the early classical composers and the younger generation.

 

I think, (hope) that John Carter would agree with me when I suggest that the interpretation of Bach is as important as the written notes, because the whole ethos of baroque musical performance relies on certain well-known practices which few saw need to write down and codify. Musicians were craft-trained rather than academically trained; often working as apprentices and copyists before going on to more ambitious things. Some may have started as boy choristers, and worked their way through the system, just as many of the "old school" cathedral organists did in the UK.

 

How informed is "historically informed?"

 

It doesn't begin to compare with being there, at the right time and in the right place; knowing how the master thought, breathed and what type of tobacco he liked to smoke in his pipe.

 

All we have are reports from the likes of Mattheson and C P E Bach, for example, as well as the various treatise on ornamentation from other regional "schools."

 

You can read all these as an "academic" study, but let us not delude ourselves, because they are not the same as being there and "breathing the ether."

 

So it comes down to one thing.......interpretation within the context of contemporary thoughts, expectations and beliefs, which may be affected by the type of instruments we play or are confronted with.

 

So in a way, as a musical experience, what Stokowski or Straube did to Bach, were every bit as valid as what the current crop of "historically informed" performers do to-day, and in the process of doing what they did, they open our eyes and ears to new things. I forgot who mentioned it, but even the inner parts and counter-subjects in Bach are often so beautiful and lyrical, it is worth hearing them soloed out from time to time. That may be contrary to the ethic of concerted-music, but it's awfully interesting, if a little on the expressionist side of things.

 

Each age has its musical heroes and villains, and it is reassuring to know that Bach was seen as the latter towards the end of his life.

 

MM

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Would Alfred Brendel choose to play Beethoven on a piano with the sound of one from 1800, or would he choose the best sounding instrument available in 2010?

 

Surely there is a difference between understanding how the music sounded to the composer and imitating that sound?

JC

 

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

 

A past "friend," (the American one), had a Longman & Brodrip square piano. I tried Beethoven on it and it sounded bloody awful! :lol:

 

Out of curiosity and under the heading of "Oh! That's interesting," I have a couple of volumes of Beethoven piano transcriptions of the Symphonies dating from 1840 or so, published in lithograph form by Cox. (They're probaby valuable).

 

I should learn them, dig out a square-piano and supply schnaps....I'm sure I could fill a small room.

 

MM

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1)- What means "best" ?

 

2)- So we should know how it sounded, an then do whatever ?

 

The end result can only be: all electronic.

 

Nein, Danke !

 

Pierre

 

 

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

 

 

Don't worry Pierre, similar arguments rage about Shakespeare. There's nothing more comical than a group of "luvvies" scratching each other's eyes out over a single word.

 

"It's Coriola®nus, not Coriola(y)nus," I'm telling you.

 

"Yes dear, and the difference is what you're talking out of"

 

"Bitch!"

 

MM

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Kein Problem, MM, any contradictions & discussions are welcome !

 

"The more serious question musically, is to ask WHY Bach's music translates so well to such a wide variety of instruments, and indeed, to such a wide variety of organs."

(Quote)

 

My two Cents: Besides the huge value of the music itself, which will percolate

through any instrumental means because of its quality:

 

-The central and southern german baroque organs became the models to be followed towards

the end of the 18th century. It "took the north over", and became the basis upon which

the romantic organ evolved. (Central: Jehmlich, Ladegast, Schulze... Southern: Walcker).

 

-And as all romantic organs worldwide were deeply influenced by this german development

(Where do you think Cavaillé-Coll's "Viole de Gambe" came from ?), it is not surprising

Bach's music can cope with them, and, to a certain degree, what followed, though I personnaly

believe the neo-baroque organs do not fit that music.

 

Here is an interesting example of how Bach goes upon an early Walcker organ,

that is, like a hand in a glove -up to tierce Mixture-:

 

 

.....It is interesting to compare that with a crude, "village" thuringian organ (built byVolkland):

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CV8qfMJew1I

 

.....As for the "romantic foundation stops", here are authentic baroque ones to be heard:

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ovFjxHj7PxE...feature=related

 

Sorry, but this is genuine "Bach sound", and it is still available....

 

As for why Bach "goes better" on a romantic organ than Howells on a Trost, the half of the question

is answered above, while it is evident it is easier to leave a swell pedal and a Crescendo Pedal

alone than to have to imitate them with mechanical, heavy stop handles....

 

Pierre

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Would Alfred Brendel choose to play Beethoven on a piano with the sound of one from 1800, or would he choose the best sounding instrument available in 2010?

 

And would his choice be the right one?

 

The aim of modern piano builders is to make an instrument in which there is a single steady gradation of tone from the bottom to the top, whereas early pianos often had three distinct regions, and composers exploited those differences.

 

As for Bach, there are some instruments (and not just organs) from which the separate contrapuntal lines can be heard clearly and distinctly, and others which simply produce a blur of sound.

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

 

I think, (hope) that John Carter would agree with me when I suggest that the interpretation of Bach is as important as the written notes, because the whole ethos of baroque musical performance relies on certain well-known practices which few saw need to write down and codify. Musicians were craft-trained rather than academically trained; often working as apprentices and copyists before going on to more ambitious things. Some may have started as boy choristers, and worked their way through the system, just as many of the "old school" cathedral organists did in the UK.

 

MM

 

I agree completely MM.

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I'm sorry, but, intentionally or not, what I'm picking up here is an implication that the dots on the page contain all there is to say about a musical composition and form a template for an "artist" to invent his/her own creation. I have argued before that this sort of approach, while producing results that may be very musical on their own terms and even highly enjoyable, have precious little to do with the compositions they purport to present and are an insult to the composer. It is obvious that this is of no consequence whatever to many, but I'm afraid it is to me.

I am certainly not implying that one should throw the composer's intentions out of the window.

 

I am not a composer, never will be, but throughout my life I have led creative projects. Others have come along and, while working with my original plan, have incorporated extra elements that I had not considered, improving the end result. I'm not insulted, I'm delighted.

 

It is that synergy of creator and interpreter that brings out something special in a piece of work and we should never stop looking for something extra, even after 250 years.

JC

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I am certainly not implying that one should throw the composer's intentions out of the window.

 

I am not a composer, never will be, but throughout my life I have led creative projects. Others have come along and, while working with my original plan, have incorporated extra elements that I had not considered, improving the end result. I'm not insulted, I'm delighted.

 

It is that synergy of creator and interpreter that brings out something special in a piece of work and we should never stop looking for something extra, even after 250 years.

JC

 

 

 

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

 

This is interesting, and also has implications for ALL music.

 

Bach's music contains few performing indications....there were accepted ways of doing things, and he would have expected them to be utilised.

 

Invert the argument slightly, and consider the following.

 

When I pick up a piece of music I haven't learned, I do what Julian Bream said he did. I just ramble through it to get some idea of how it might sound and how much work it needs.

 

At that point, I NEVER look at tempi, gradiations, registration markings or anything else.....I just play through it as best I

can. The interesting thing is, the actual notes, the pattern of figurations, the style of writing, (all combined with previous knowledge of the repertoire), tell me far more than all the markings ever could do. A musician can do this, because they understand almost instinctively what creates what, and why things are written the way they are.

 

What often amazes me, is how right that instinct often is as time goes by, when more particular attention is paid to the composer's intentions.

 

That's what we need to have: knowledge of how things should be or are likely to be, which of course, the baroque performers of the day would have known.

 

It was only people like Lully who pounded a big stick on the floor, and where is he on the list of composers?

 

Music is not about conformity to this or that dictate of fashionable scholarship, but as John says, a synergy between composer and performer. That is the only thng which makes musical art a living, exciting entity.

 

MM

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So weit, so gut; here is the Specifications of an organ

which works extremely well in Bach's P&Fs with only 30 stops:

 

http://www.die-orgelseite.de/disp/D_Angermuende_StMarien.htm

 

There is a tierce rank in the Scharff (HPTW), while the Quinta and Tertia

of the OW can be added to the Principal chorus.

 

Video:

 

 

....But this registration does not tell us all: the organ presents a wide palette of alternatives

in those P&Fs. As absolutely all combinations work -you can draw blindly whatever stops and it works-,

you could try, for example, a mini-Grand jeu (Trompet+Kornett), a 8-8-4, a 8-8-4-2,

a Principal 8' + Flute 4' or a Bourdon 8' + Principal 4'...There is just enough chiff to get a fine

articulation so that all styles of playing are possible, Legato included; no "Tschack-tschack" to

be feared then.

This is one of the best organs I know for Bach -and per se-.

 

Pierre

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So weit, so gut; here is the Specifications of an organ

which works extremely well in Bach's P&Fs with only 30 stops:

 

http://www.die-orgelseite.de/disp/D_Angermuende_StMarien.htm

 

There is a tierce rank in the Scharff (HPTW), while the Quinta and Tertia

of the OW can be added to the Principal chorus.

 

Video:

 

 

....But this registration does not tell us all: the organ presents a wide palette of alternatives

in those P&Fs. As absolutely all combinations work -you can draw blindly whatever stops and it works-,

you could try, for example, a mini-Grand jeu (Trompet+Kornett), a 8-8-4, a 8-8-4-2,

a Principal 8' + Flute 4' or a Bourdon 8' + Principal 4'...There is just enough chiff to get a fine

articulation so that all styles of playing are possible, Legato included; no "Tschack-tschack" to

be feared then.

This is one of the best organs I know for Bach -and per se-.

 

Pierre

 

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

 

 

 

Neither of them come close to this for Bach.

 

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GmHqpNQaLj8&NR=1

 

 

Now THAT'S a proper organ.

 

 

MM

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

 

 

 

Neither of them come close to this for Bach.

 

MM

I have no disagreement about the sound, it's wonderful, but why is it so fast at the start? To me, it's just a jumble of notes. My copy has the direction très vitement, but this goes too far for my taste in that acoustic.

 

JC

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