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The 8 Short Prelude & Fugues


Philip

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Lamentably perhaps I play very little Bach. BWV 729 I do every Christmas plus a few other preludes, and I have done the St Anne Fugue once but very little else. Inspired entirely by handsoff's post in this forum, the other day I hit upon the idea of using the 8 short P&Fs for my post-service voluntaries through Lent (picking six of them, one for each Sunday morning - our vicar has decided to have no pre-service music to try to stop them all from talking). After examining the music online and then buying a copy earlier (I decided having a properly laid out book was worth spending £8 on) I have just spent a very enjoyable half hour or so sight-reading through the set. There were several bits which will need some work such as some of the trickier pedalling and rapid manual phrases, but generally it was very successful.

 

I know they are not thought to be by Bach (making my opening to this post something of a contradiction), so what should I put down on the weekly notice sheet? I'm highly tempted to just attribute them to Bach (especially as they've all been assigned BWV numbers), and I doubt anyone will query it!

 

Is anyone on here planning to do anything in particular for voluntaries during Lent?

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We don't use the organ at all during Lent - all music is sung unaccompanied (we don't sing hymns at High Mass!) and there are no organ voluntaries. The only exception to that is on Laetare Sunday. Similarly during Holy week the organ is silent except for the Gloria on Maunday Thursday and then until the improvisation before the Gloria and the singing it at the Easter Vigil.

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I know they are not thought to be by Bach (making my opening to this post something of a contradiction), so what should I put down on the weekly notice sheet?

The best attribution would be "Anonymous", or, if you want to be a little more specific, "Anonymous 18th-century German".

 

Isn't it strange how we have to have a "peg" on which to hang pieces? It's as if a piece doesn't have any value unless we can put a composer's name to it, or that it somehow gains in quality if we attribute it to someone. Many misattributions, one or two of them ridiculous, persist because of this (and because of the perpetration of unreliable, old editions). People will bend over backwards to avoid letting an anonymous piece speak for itself. Old Anonymous certainly doesn't make good box office, that's for sure. Why? I can only suppose it's because we have been so conditioned into revering named composers that anything anonymous is automatically assumed to be of inferior quality. Of course it often is, but it's also worth pondering how much fine music by major composers would be anonymous if certain sources of it had been lost. A case in point is one of Tallis's finest works, his seven-part mass Puer natus est nobis, which is anonymous in the three sets of partbooks that transmit the bulk of the work. Were it not for the lucky survival of some extracts in a fourth related set, we would not know who wrote it (and we might well be foisting it on a continental composer like Gombert).

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Lamentably perhaps I play very little Bach. BWV 729 I do every Christmas plus a few other preludes, and I have done the St Anne Fugue once but very little else. Inspired entirely by handsoff's post in this forum, the other day I hit upon the idea of using the 8 short P&Fs for my post-service voluntaries through Lent (picking six of them, one for each Sunday morning - our vicar has decided to have no pre-service music to try to stop them all from talking). After examining the music online and then buying a copy earlier (I decided having a properly laid out book was worth spending £8 on) I have just spent a very enjoyable half hour or so sight-reading through the set. There were several bits which will need some work such as some of the trickier pedalling and rapid manual phrases, but generally it was very successful.

 

I know they are not thought to be by Bach (making my opening to this post something of a contradiction), so what should I put down on the weekly notice sheet? I'm highly tempted to just attribute them to Bach (especially as they've all been assigned BWV numbers), and I doubt anyone will query it!

 

Is anyone on here planning to do anything in particular for voluntaries during Lent?

 

Your comment regarding "no pre-service music to try to stop them all from talking" is a most pertinent observation about a sadly all too common problem in this country! Why does every congregation think that our playing is merely to act as a cover for their 'hen-house cacklings'. I wish I could yell at them, "I'm playing, SHUT UP!". As for afterwards, forget it unless it's something fff.

 

CP

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I don't know Philip's church, but I would be prepared to bet that nothing short of telling the congregation to shut up and be reverent is going to stop the hubbub. I have given up playing before services because of the noise and it has made no difference whatsoever as they couldn't care less about voluntaries. More likely, they're pleased not to have it interfering with their yakking. This goes on right up until the service starts, when as if a switch has been flicked they suddenly become "holy". It is, I think, one of the penalties of the direction in which modern Anglican services have gone.

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I don't know Philip's church, but I would be prepared to bet that nothing short of telling the congregation to shut up and be reverent is going to stop the hubbub. I have given up playing before services because of the noise and it has made no difference whatsoever as they couldn't care less about voluntaries. More likely, they're pleased not to have it interfering with their yakking. This goes on right up until the service starts, when as if a switch has been flicked they suddenly become "holy". It is, I think, one of the penalties of the direction in which modern Anglican services have gone.

I don't think that's necessarily true, Vox. I first heard the story about the cathedral organist's improvising before evensong gradually becoming louder until a sudden stop, mid-full organ, left the Dean's wife shrieking to her neighbour "in the clear" about 40 years ago, so the problem existed in the "good old days".

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I know they are not thought to be by Bach (making my opening to this post something of a contradiction), so what should I put down on the weekly notice sheet? I'm highly tempted to just attribute them to Bach (especially as they've all been assigned BWV numbers), and I doubt anyone will query it!

 

Is anyone on here planning to do anything in particular for voluntaries during Lent?

 

For me, "attrib. Bach" always works. They're good pieces, and they may as well have someone's name attached, even if we can't be 100% sure it's the right name!

 

And as for voluntaries during Lent - well, we get chatter before the service even if there's no music. We have a tradition of Middle Voluntaries at Kendal during BCP services of the word, so there's always scope for something quiet and reflective and penitential (although Matins is about to bite the dust, except on 5th Sundays, so Evensong and Funerals will be the only remaining "Middle Voluntary" services) BUT since Sundays don't count as part of Lent, I'll probably let rip at the end of services all the same.

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I don't know Philip's church, but I would be prepared to bet that nothing short of telling the congregation to shut up and be reverent is going to stop the hubbub. I have given up playing before services because of the noise and it has made no difference whatsoever as they couldn't care less about voluntaries. More likely, they're pleased not to have it interfering with their yakking. This goes on right up until the service starts, when as if a switch has been flicked they suddenly become "holy". It is, I think, one of the penalties of the direction in which modern Anglican services have gone.

 

The comments about the talking are interesting. I wouldn't say the pre-service talking is loud, but it is there. Unfortunately music does seem to provide an excuse for them to talk - if there isn't any then their talking becomes more conspicuous. The vicar did say that we would try it without music in Lent and see how it goes. At communion, we now have silence until something like a third to a half of the congregation have been up before we start the communion hymn and then its straight into the anthem (by the time that has finished the servers should have about finished doing all their clearing up). We used to have a hymn then me improvising up to the anthem, but I do think that we underestimate the value of silence sometimes and the change has definitely worked.

 

I don't think this is a plan to get rid of pre-service music altogether (I must say I don't normally prepare something 'special' - I tend to take out something I know and sight-read mostly before improvising on the first hymn if time remains) but an exercise of Lenten penitence (or similar!).

 

As for post-service voluntaries, I always say that I would love to play some more quiet stuff, but I wouldn't be able to hear myself playing pp as the speakers are at the back where everyone gathers for coffee. I can just about get away with it in the Widor but it just about disappears from earshot in the middle of that. The vicar says that the louder I play the louder they talk (perhaps true) - but at the end of the day they make a choice to jump out of their seats and rush to the back or out through the door. Therefore from my perspective any 'toning down' during Lent would be tricky, so I thought playing the 8 short P&Fs would be a happy medium in that respect.

 

I am fortunate that the voluntaries are appreciated and do draw comments. I try to give them a variety of pieces (transcriptions included) and I do get positive comments about them. I am also always trying to add new pieces to my repertoire while cycling round ones I have previously done so it remains fresh. The only negative comments recently were on Ascension Day when I played some Messiaen (movements 1&4) which the Vicar didn't like, but several others said they did enjoy them.

 

Thanks for all the replies, anyway!

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I don't think that's necessarily true, Vox. I first heard the story about the cathedral organist's improvising before evensong gradually becoming louder until a sudden stop, mid-full organ, left the Dean's wife shrieking to her neighbour "in the clear" about 40 years ago, so the problem existed in the "good old days".

Well, it is entirely possible that my specs are rose-tinted, so I expect you are right.

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And as for voluntaries during Lent - well, we get chatter before the service even if there's no music. We have a tradition of Middle Voluntaries at Kendal during BCP services of the word, so there's always scope for something quiet and reflective and penitential (although Matins is about to bite the dust, except on 5th Sundays, so Evensong and Funerals will be the only remaining "Middle Voluntary" services) BUT since Sundays don't count as part of Lent, I'll probably let rip at the end of services all the same.

At my church, the congregation hardly make any noise before the services. Unfortunately they apply the same rule to hymns. We do Middle Voluntaries for Matins and Evensong during choir holidays, but my spies in the congregation tell me that certain congregants use the 'intermission' to conduct detailed inventories of their handbags and discuss their findings with neighbours. But not very loudly.

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Your comment regarding "no pre-service music to try to stop them all from talking" is a most pertinent observation about a sadly all too common problem in this country! Why does every congregation think that our playing is merely to act as a cover for their 'hen-house cacklings'.

I regularly meet a Muslim, and in the course of conversation we found that we were both great enthusiasts for organ music, although music has no place in the mosque, and as a Quaker I worship at Meeting in silence, where everyone who enters the room does so quietly. I don't say that they are silent until the meeting begins, because the worship begins at the time that the first person enters and sits in the silence.

 

I am fortunate enough to quite frequently worship in other congregations, and I find the chatter before and after the service quite distracting, especially when the organist is annoying the talkers by playing music.

 

It seems to me that either the organ music is mere entertainment, in which case it has no place in worship, or else it is a part of the worship and deserves to be treated as such. Few people (but not all) would consider holding private conversations during the prayers, the bible readings or the sermons.

 

If I were a member of the clergy (and I am sure many people are glad that I am not), I would certainly lay down the law on a lack of reverence in any part of the service.

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It seems to me that either the organ music is mere entertainment, in which case it has no place in worship, or else it is a part of the worship and deserves to be treated as such. Few people (but not all) would consider holding private conversations during the prayers, the bible readings or the sermons.

 

If I were a member of the clergy (and I am sure many people are glad that I am not), I would certainly lay down the law on a lack of reverence in any part of the service.

How absolutely I agree with this! Some (most) people communicate with God through words; others do so through music. In a church service the music is (or can/should be) a form of prayer, or at least a medium through which the devout can feel the presence of God and perhaps glimpse the eternal. Unfortunately, I know of no congregations that are taught to understand it this way and most do indeed see it as mere entertainment, or so it seems to me. This is not helped by not a few organists who also "play to the gallery". I don't particularly mind this at the end of the service where, by and large, one wants to help the devout out into the world in an uplifting manner, but before and during the service it is another matter entirely. Again it boils down to the usual British disdain for culture (with honourable exceptions, as always).

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How absolutely I agree with this! Some (most) people communicate with God through words; others do so through music. In a church service the music is (or can/should be) a form of prayer, or at least a medium through which the devout can feel the presence of God and perhaps glimpse the eternal. Unfortunately, I know of no congregations that are taught to understand it this way and most do indeed see it as mere entertainment, or so it seems to me. This is not helped by not a few organists who also "play to the gallery". I don't particularly mind this at the end of the service where, by and large, one wants to help the devout out into the world in an uplifting manner, but before and during the service it is another matter entirely. Again it boils down to the usual British disdain for culture (with honourable exceptions, as always).

 

I think from our vicar's perspective he is just trying to encourage some kind of reverence and worshipful atmosphere (both pre-service and at communion). There has been a note on our pew sheet for some while know reminding people not to talk before the service because they can do that afterwards...I think whether it is music in the background or silence, the important thing is that people are allowed the opportunity to reflect and pray as they wish and don't find this disrupted by someone nearby having a chin-wag.

 

Morning services can generally be rather noisy and busy anyway, and I wouldn't personally want to survive on a diet of morning Eucharists only....thankfully at Evensong (whether at my own church or elsewhere) you can usually find an atmosphere which is more conducive to personal reflection, because of the nature of the service and the fact that the congregation is smaller and there are usually less young children (I don't wish to discourage young children from being in church - far from it - but they can provide a distraction).

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  • 4 weeks later...
Your comment regarding "no pre-service music to try to stop them all from talking" is a most pertinent observation about a sadly all too common problem in this country! Why does every congregation think that our playing is merely to act as a cover for their 'hen-house cacklings'. I wish I could yell at them, "I'm playing, SHUT UP!". As for afterwards, forget it unless it's something fff.

 

CP

 

Getting way from the issue of chattering congegrations I would just like to comment on the choice of music for

pre-service playing. I too find that the choice of the 8 short Preludes and Fugues is a good one for such occasions. Irrespective of whether JSB wrote them or not, they are eminently digestible and tuneful and therefore suitable for people who may not normally appreciate organ classics; they seem to like these and you even get appreciative comments from individuals who otherwise regard the instrument merely as a psalm pump.

 

Graham Dukes

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