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Jonathan Thorne

Vierne - Use Of Phrase Marks In His Organ Music

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I would like to know what people's thoughts are about the interpretation on Vierne's organ music as I am dong a part of my final exam about him. It is obvious that Vierne's scores was littered with phrase marks and if one looks at Symphony 4 then fingerings too. With all this to mind I have heard many different approaches to his music including the composers own and I would be interested to hear any (intelligent) responses from you people out there.....

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To my mind the prime question is: how far can you trust what you see in the published scores? Vierne was largely, but not quite, blind. It might have been better for us if he had been totally so. As it was, he copied his music as best he could with a magnifying glass, his publishers set it as best they could and Vierne proof-read what came back as best he could. And the end result is patchy. Quite a lot of inaccuracies made it through to the final copies.

 

You probably know this, but there was an article by David Titterington in The Musical Times many years ago exposing the misprints in the Carillon de Westminster and the Hymne au Soleil. As an example from the former, at the point where the theme transfers to the pedals and both hands resort to semiquavers, the right hand is marked "R" (for Récit) and the left hand "RP". This "RP" is a misprint. It does not mean "Récit and Positif coupled" (for which the conventional abbreviation is "PR"). According to Titterington, Vierne's manuscript shows that he meant "Récit piano". Therefore both hands are to be played on the Récit. Titterington also pointed out some misprinted notes and chords, though I have to say that some of them look to me more like deliberate alterations by Vierne at the proof stage - a possibility Titterington does not discuss.

 

All of which is a long-winded way of saying that oddities in Vierne's music can really only be resolved by going back to his manuscripts. Since that's beyond my means, I am fairly relaxed about treating what is printed with a certain amount of scepticism. If it doesn't make sense to me I opt for a pragmatic solution.

 

The one that really bugs me is the tempo mark for Étoile du Soir. I just can't get the marked speed to make musical sense. The printed crotchet = 50 seems ponderously slow, but assuming a dot has been omitted from the crotchet (the piece is in 6/8 time) gives rather too frantic a speed. I'd bet the "50" is wrong. But who knows?

 

I'm ashamed to say I've never heard any of Vierne's own performances. Maybe I'd be less confused if I had.

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I would like to know what people's thoughts are about the interpretation on Vierne's organ music as I am dong a part of my final exam about him.  It is obvious that Vierne's scores was littered with phrase marks and if one looks at Symphony 4 then fingerings too.  With all this to mind I have heard many different approaches to his music including the composers own and I would be interested to hear any (intelligent) responses from you people out there.....

 

 

 

Vierne's Organ Music is litter with so many inaccurate phrasing it's impossible to follow what the composer has intended. I still remember the excellent master class given by Daniel Roth at st Chad's Cathedral Birmingam. Might i suggest to some of you Organist's try to imagine your conducting the piece and see if the tempo is what you think it should be. As for any phrase marks or fingerings by any composer this isn't sacrosanct !

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Has anyone heard the CD of Hans Otto Jakob playing Vierne at Frankfurt Cathedral? It's full phrase brakes which is not common in Viernes music. And the regestrations are not quite right. It's a good organ though for a Klais.

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I strongly recommend that you purchase a copy of Rollin Smith's book Louis Vierne Organist of Nôtre-Dame Cathedral. It is published by Pendragon Press, Hillsdale, NY. ISBN 1-57647-004-0.

 

Aside from the fact that it includes an english translation of his own memoirs, it also has extensive notes on inaccuracies contained in the printed scores.

 

Just a few points:

 

Metronome marks - Vierne insisted on reading from the underside of the counter-balance. It is thus possible that many, if not all of his metronome markings do not give a true idea of the speed at which he intended his pieces to be performed.

 

Phrasing - take, for example, the phrasing in the Final of the 1er Symphonie; according to pupils of Vierne, he did not intend that clean breaks should be made after each short phrase-mark; rather, that these were seen as parts of a longer phrase. In which case, quite how they were supposed to be played, I am unsure. Did he therefore mean that one should make the smallest of breaks - or are the short phrase-marks aurally redundant?

 

Having said that, apparently Vierne (according to witnesses) observed every last marking of articulation, dynamic and gradation of tone when performing his own works. For instance, the crescendi and diminuendi in the last movement of his 3me Symphonie sounded 'like the slamming of a door', to one auditor.

 

As I previously mentioned, there is an extensive (though not exhaustive) list of textual corrections contained in the book. I have also found further errors, notably in the Final from the 1er Symphonie. I suspect that other contributors here have either noticed them too - or have subconsciously played the correct notes, unwittingly mis-reading what are in fact inaccuracies, simply because experience and their ears dictated subliminally such a course of action.

 

Insofar as fingering is concerned (in the 4me Symphonie), this may well be editorial.

 

Vierne was, as others have said, almost blind. He was able to see colours and shapes and to register movement. When he wrote his compositions, he did so on large sheets of manuscript paper, with just two or three bars to a page. There is a photograph (the link for which was posted on this board several months ago), which depicts Vierne in a long white coat sitting at a large easel whilst writing out part of one of his scores.

 

I have not heard the CD which Jonathan Thorne mentions. However, I do have a copy of a five-CD set (Orgues et organistes français du XXè siècle: EMI classics 7243 5 74866 2 0), which contains digitally re-mastered recordings, transferred from wax rolls and extremely old vinyl. The performers, for the most part, are recorded playing on the instruments over which they presided as titulaires. In addition to Vierne, there is at least one track of Duruflé playing - surprisingly inaccurately.

 

However, the tracks featuring Vierne include two movements from his Trois Improvisations (subsequently transcribed from the original recording by Maurice Duruflé). They are an interesting experience - although the sound quality is not particularly good, they give a fair impression of the old organ at Nôtre-Dame. Perhaps a more accurate impression may be gained by listening to the early (1955) recording made by Pierre Cochereau, before the work undertaken by either Jean Hermann or Robert Boisseau. Interestingly, to my ears, the organ in its present 'restored' incarnation does not sound like either of these recordings - even allowing for the possibility that a recording can be deceptive.

 

Notwithstanding, it is instructive to listen to Vierne playing on these recordings; it is both expressive, fluid and, where appropriate, full of vigour and grandeur.

 

I hope to perform the whole of Vierne's 1er Symphonie later this year at a recital in London. I am currently studying the list of textual corrections and have annotated my score accordingly. Most of these are straightforward; however, there are one or two instances (particularly with regard to changes in registration) where it is necessary to exercise 'informed judgement' in the interpretation of the relevant passages.

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IMetronome marks - Vierne insisted on reading from the underside of the counter-balance. It is thus possible that many, if not all of his metronome markings do not give a true idea of the speed at which he intended his pieces to be performed.
Most interesting. What should we be doing with Étoile du soir then? The published metronome mark of crotchet = 50 has never made sense to me, not least because the piece is in 6/8 time. Even dotted crotchet = 50 seems to me a bit on the fast side, though workable. But surely he can't have read this one off the bottom of the counterbalance? On my metronome, at least, if I try to set the bottom of the weight on 50 the whole thing comes off the top of the arm!

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I have also wondered about this. However, Vierne's argument with a pupil concerning how to 'read' a metrononme is reproduced verbatim in Rollin Smith's book.

 

Personally, I think that your idea of a pragmatic approach is the most sensible. I distrust metronome marks, generally. I cannot remember the last time that I sent a pupil in for any grade examination (piano or organ) playing his or her pieces at a speed faithful to the metronome markings. I find them generally too fast - the result often being unmusical.

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A bit off-topic, but Vierne players may find this worth reading.

 

Look just below 'Selected Articles' for textual corrections by O. Latry on Viernes 24 Pièces de fantaisies in pdf.

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Yes, thank you, Heva.

 

These corrections, in addition to those for the six symphonies and the 24 Pieces in Free-style are also given in the Rollin Smith book.

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These corrections, in addition to those for the six symphonies and the 24 Pieces in Free-style are also given in the Rollin Smith book.
I really must get this book.

 

Given that the Berceuse gets played so much, is there any chance you could post the corrections for this one here?

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I really must get this book.

 

Given that the Berceuse gets played so much, is there any chance you could post the corrections for this one here?

 

 

OK - I will do it on my return from school - I finish early to-day. (YAY!)

 

B)

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OK VH, some further details.

 

My apologies, I was incorrect in thinking that there were textual corrections for the Vingt-quatre Pièces dans le Style Libre. The book gives corrections for the six symphonies in addition to the four Pièces de Fantasie suites.

 

However, it does give some details of how Vierne performed his Berceuse (which was, as you may know, dedicated to his daughter - although his wife rather spoiled the moment, since she pointed-out that Ch. Mutin was almost certainly the father of Colette).

 

Having seen a facsimile of the M.S. for part of this piece, I have to say that the second left-hand interval looks different. In Vierne's hand, it looks far closer to Tenor C# and G# above, than it does to Tenor D and A above, which is how it is printed in the Durand edition.

 

There is (possibly) an engraving omission in the score between b. 37 and b. 61. According to French registration practice, the indication 'Péd.' would not occur unless 'Man.' had not somewhere interrupted the continuous Pedal part. However, in the recording made by Vierne, this was not the case; the 'Péd.' at b. 61 simply indicated that the Récit was still coupled to the Pédale, while the Tirasse GO had been removed.

 

There are a great number of dynamic indications. However, I include one or two, since they seem to be interesting.

 

At a recital in Westminster Cathedral in 1924, Vierne included a performance of his Berceuse and made the following changes:

 

b. 71 Swell-box suddenly closed, the next two chords making an echo effect. At b. 73, the box was opened for the high D, and the same treatment accorded the next two pairs of chords; apparently, it was very effective.

 

Vierne also habitually drew the Tremblant with the Récit Bourdon (actually a Quintatön) from b. 69 to the end.

 

I hope that this helps, VH.

 

I have to confess that I was somewhat surprised to find that the Twenty-four Pieces in Free-style were not included in the textual corrections - I could have sworn that they were.

 

There are some other details which I can let you have if you wish - just let me know.

 

I am sorry that I am unable to be more helpful.

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