Jump to content
Mander Organ Builders Forum

Bach & Mendelssohn


Recommended Posts

Imagine this scenario. I want u to imagine u are attending a Organ Recital which I do quite a lot. The Bach great B Minor Prelude & Fugue is been played BWV 544 . The player quite rightly commences on the Great for the prelude but then to my horror does something it seems very common amongst Organist 's ! He changes direction in the rapid demi-semi quaver passages Why ? No where in any score I have purchased does it say that this has to happen. Dosen't neccesarily make it historically correct. So the only reason why I think certain players do this is only other then for contrast. If you begin something on a typical Bach Registration then why change direction half way through the performance ? This alters the listeners perception of what you are trying to communicate to them in the performance. The same argument could be apply to the Fugue which I have heard played on some really riddiculous registrations !

 

 

Another vexed question I have is the use of the Swell Pedal in Mendelssohn. No where in any of his scores does he indicate something to be swelled at. Yet I have heard Orgainst's using it in the slow movement of Sonata no. 5 Why ? Where did this style of Organ playing come from or is this something new ? So please fellow Organist's any thoughts on this topic ?

Link to post
Share on other sites
  • Replies 86
  • Created
  • Last Reply
Another  vexed question I have is the use of the Swell Pedal in Mendelssohn. No where in any of his scores does he indicate something to be swelled at.  Yet  I have heard Orgainst's using  it in the slow movement of Sonata no. 5  Why ?  Where did this  style of Organ playing come from or is this something new ?  So please fellow Organist's  any thoughts on this topic ?

 

While travelling in England, Mendelssohn must have seen and played organs with some sort of swell mechanism. Maybe he even used it when playing recitals, many of which he was forced to improvise because of the pre-German-system organs, with G compass, no pedals, short-compass secondary divisions etc. To play Bach on organs like that was nigh impossible.

 

But in his organ works he apparently did not take into account any such device; see the foreword to his sonatas, in which he specifies some sort of terraced dynamics.

 

But on the other hand, if it makes sense with the organ, with the music and with your interpretation, why not use the shutters a little, or even a lot? I have heard it done to very good effect.

 

Best,

Friedrich

 

P. S. What exactly do you mean by "changing direction in the rapid demi-semiquaver passages"? A change of pace, of registration, or of the actual direction the notes are running?

Link to post
Share on other sites

By "changing direction" I take it you mean changing manuals or registration. Back in the neo-baroque euphoria of the 50s and 60s we were taught to play the (pedal-less) episodes of Bach fugues on a different manual in order 1) to provide some variety and 2) to demarcate the formal sections of the fugue more clearly - the unspoken law here, of course, was that every fugue had to be straightjacketed as best you could into the academic fugue form as expounded by the likes of Ebenezer Prout. Personally I think it's all tosh and most of the time you can't effect manual changes without doing a violence to the music. As everyone knows, it's easy enough to get off the Great, but it's rarely easy to get back. But my real objection is that, on British organs at any rate, it completely destroys the continuity and architecture of the music - though the contrast might be less violent on Baroque-type instruments.

 

Of course, you can't assume that absence of manual directions in Bach's autographs (where they exist) and contemporary copies menas that changes were not made. It may or it may not: you can't argue from an absence of evidence. Nevertheless, if you take the view that only one manual and registration is ever needed unless the source says otherwise, it actually works perfectly satisfactily.

 

Bach's autograph of the concerto in d minor is suggestive. The first movement actually has the registration specified (I'm quoting this from memory, so may have got the odd detail wrong): RH on one manual, LH on another manual, each played on a 4ft Octave, Pedal on an 8ft. Then in the middle of the movement, while everything is still going full tilt, Bach instructs the 8ft Prinzipal to be added to the LH (not the right, apparently) and the 32ft Subbass in the Pedal - these additions could have been done only by a registrant. The link to the next movement is marked organo pleno. The last movement also has the use of two manuals marked very carefully. In view of this careful marking, it may well be significant that the second movement - a fugue - has no manual changes marked at all.

 

In short, no manual changes for me. Bach's method of providing variety in a fugue was to drop the pedal part - and that's all that's necessary.

Link to post
Share on other sites
By "changing direction" I take it you mean changing manuals or registration.......

 

Personally I think it's all tosh .......

 

 

Of course...........you can't argue from an absence of evidence.

 

In short, no manual changes for me.

 

 

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

 

There IS evidence on a grand scale!

 

Why on earth would they go to all the trouble of having two, three and sometimes four manual divisions, each perfectly balanced to the other in a true baroque organ?

 

Is a concerto style movement destroyed by its own concertedness? I doubt it!

 

Why all those stops? Somewhere to hang one's coat?

 

Bach LOVED registration....we know that...and he loved to experiment with different sound....we know that as well.

 

Why on earth should Bach require boring, monochrome performances, when his writing was so multi-faceted and technicolour in other works?

 

I play a neo-baroque organ par excellence, when it's not in bits, and it sounds fine to me when I change manuals in the B-minor Prelude.

 

Of course, if one plays an Arthur Harrison....well.......

 

MM

Link to post
Share on other sites
=========================

 

There IS evidence on a grand scale!

 

Why on earth would they go to all the trouble of having two, three and sometimes four manual divisions, each perfectly balanced to the other in a true baroque organ?

 

Is a concerto style movement destroyed by its own concertedness?  I doubt it!

 

Why all those stops?   Somewhere to hang one's coat?

 

Bach LOVED registration....we know that...and he loved to experiment with different sound....we know that as well.

 

Why on earth should Bach require boring, monochrome performances, when his writing was so multi-faceted and technicolour in other works?

 

I play a neo-baroque organ par excellence, when it's not in bits, and it sounds fine to me when I change manuals in the B-minor Prelude.

 

Of course, if one plays an Arthur Harrison....well.......

 

MM

 

I agree, MM. Particularly in the case of the B minor - the Prelude is comparatively long. I once played it on fonds 8p and 4p on the GO (as: GPR) and got seriously bored. The next time I played it, I tried it (arguably more conventionally) on choruses up to and including mixtures - again with no changes of clavier. I was still slightly bored. I prefer it best when I change claviers for the pedal-less episodes. I took the trouble carefully to work-out exactly where I should return to playing on the GO before I started. In fact, there are places where it is possible to return to the GO without disruption - often one hand returns before another, but I found that this actually enhanced the effect.

 

There is a further point, along the lines of those already mentioned by MM - since registration changes were, if not impossible, then extremely awkward without a friend, I am happy to believe that JSB would have prepared contrasting choruses, or ensembles, in order to introduce variety. Whilst I would not pretend to be an expert on JS Bach, I am fairly certain that the last thing which he would have been was boring. Just a change in texture does not really do it for me.

Link to post
Share on other sites
Listening to you play Bach must be a very boring and tedious affair... :unsure:
If you think all the interest in Bach is in the registration then, yes, you'd find it tedious. Obviously it's for others to judge, but I don't think my Bach is any more boring than the average harpsichodist's. My Effar examiners didn't mind too much: it seems they preferred my Bach to my Franck! :D
Link to post
Share on other sites
Why on earth would they go to all the trouble of having two, three and sometimes four manual divisions, each perfectly balanced to the other in a true baroque organ?

 

Is a concerto style movement destroyed by its own concertedness?  I doubt it!

 

Why all those stops?   Somewhere to hang one's coat?

And the evidence for changing manuals within a piece is...?

 

Bach LOVED registration....we know that...and he loved to experiment with different sound....we know that as well.
And the evidence for changing manuals within a piece is...?

 

Why on earth should Bach require boring, monochrome performances, when his writing was so multi-faceted and technicolour in other works?
Because it's a different instrument? Because of practicalities? Because the music is quite capable of speaking for itself? This isn't evidence (and nor are the points I've just posed): it's no more than how we'd like to envisage the music.

 

I play a neo-baroque organ par excellence, when it's not in bits, and it sounds fine to me when I change manuals in the B-minor Prelude.
Ditto.

 

Of course, if one plays an Arthur Harrison....well.......
Quite. But I don't.

 

Sorry. I'm not getting at you. We all make Bach in our own image and I would go so far as to say that if you don't play music in the way you feel it should go your performance is doomed (and I wish some teachers would recognise that). But, genuinely, organists who hop manuals destroy the music for me.

 

To change the medium, there are choral works - for example Tallis's Spem in alium, one of Palestrina's Litanies of the BVM - whose architecture relies on sustaining a mood over a long timespan. They are ruined if you try to be fussy or clever. Wagner's operas work in a similar - though obviously less monochrome - way (though personally I agree with Rossini: "Wagner's operas have some wonderful moments. And some awfully boring quarter hours.") Similarly I like my Bach in a broad sweep - a panorama if you like. I don't want the camera zooming in on every tree and bush. Just my view.

Link to post
Share on other sites
While travelling in England, Mendelssohn must have seen and played organs with some sort of swell mechanism. Maybe he even used it when playing recitals, many of which he was forced to improvise because of the pre-German-system organs, with G compass, no pedals, short-compass secondary divisions etc. To play Bach on organs like that was nigh impossible.

 

But in his organ works he apparently did not take into account any such device; see the foreword to his sonatas, in which he specifies some sort of terraced dynamics.

 

But on the other hand, if it makes sense with the organ, with the music and with your interpretation, why not use the shutters a little, or even a lot? I have heard it done to very good effect.

 

Best,

Friedrich

 

P. S. What exactly do you mean by "changing direction in the rapid demi-semiquaver passages"? A change of pace, of registration, or of the actual direction the notes are running?

 

 

Yes I am specifically reffering to the change of manuals in the Prelude. Some of you I see think that it would be boring if you didn't do this. My argument is that continuity and clarity is lost by such a change of direction. You have a similar problem in the St anne Prelude & Fugue . The average english Organ which may just be two or three manuals does not always have the right stops of equal power to give justice to this piece. My own organ which is a two manual with 30 stops does not have a choir. So how could I possibly play the second part of the Fugue on the Swell when really it's meant to be the positiv division of brightly coloured stops ? The balance is not right as is the case in organs that don't have a secondary Great division as is really asked for in the three sections of the Fugue. So you really have to trust your ears as stops with names do not always produce the desire effect as every organ has it's idiosyncracies. Maybe what the issue is here is the extent to how far one's performance faithfully reproduces what the composers intends ?

Link to post
Share on other sites
So how could I possibly play the second part of the Fugue on the Swell when really it's meant to be the positiv division of brightly coloured stops ?
Funnily enough, this is a piece where, given some semblance of a balancing chorus, I would play the second fugue on a different manual. I'm also extremely naughty in the prelude and play the accompaniment to the arabesque melody on the subsidiary manual, returning both hands to the Great at the dotted chords just before the return to the main theme - which is definitely contrary to the indications in the print where the forte mark definitely looks as if it is meant to apply to both hands. However, everything does depend on the organ. I don't know yours, but it sounds as though you're right not to change. At any rate, I'm sure your right to trust your instincts.

 

(You see, I'm not so dogmatic after all! :unsure: )

Link to post
Share on other sites
I've got less up top. Hair, I mean! (Stop sniggering in the back row there!)

 

.... and presumably you do not look as if you have recently begun experimenting with hallucinogenic chemicals....

 

.... quite why Wolfgang Rubsam should have concluded that the 'Gay U-Boat Captain Look' is currently in vogue, God alone knows....

Link to post
Share on other sites
.... and presumably you do not look as if you have recently begun experimenting with hallucinogenic chemicals....

 

.... quite why Wolfgang Rubsam should have concluded that the 'Gay U-Boat Captain Look' is currently in vogue, God alone knows....

Well there is a photograph of me somewhere on the web. It's very old, but I haven't the heart to update it - I look so handsome and dashing... :lol: But as it won't mean anything to anyone I won't bother to elucidate further.
Link to post
Share on other sites
I agree, MM. Particularly in the case of the B minor - the Prelude is comparatively long. I once played it on fonds 8p and 4p on the GO (as: GPR) and got seriously bored. The next time I played it, I tried it (arguably more conventionally) on choruses up to and including mixtures - again with no changes of clavier. I was still slightly bored. I prefer it best when I change claviers for the pedal-less episodes. I took the trouble carefully to work-out exactly where I should return to playing on the GO beofre I started. In fact, there are places where it is possible to return to the GO without disruption - often one hand returns before another, but I found that this actually enhanced the effect.

 

There is a further point, along the lines of those already mentioned by MM - since registration changes were, if not impossible, then extremely awkward without a friend, I am happy to believe that JSB would have prepared contrasting choruses, or ensembles, in order to introduce variety. Whilst I would not pretend to be an expert on JS Bach, I am fairly certain that the last thing which he would have been was boring. Just a change in texture does not really do it for me.

 

I also incline to this opinion. The evidence may be circumstantial but there is quite a lot of it, especially his reputation as a player, and particularly as an examiner of organs. One would not anticipate that he would have obtained his formidable reputation in this sphere if his examinations were perfunctory and undemanding, or simply focussed on one area viz ensuring the wind supply was adequate to support the tutti.A thorough examination covering all aspects of the instrument would have taken a not inconsiderable amount of time if each test piece was confined to a single registration.

 

Bach fathered 20 children at least three of whom were fairly celebrated keyboard players in their own right. It is hardly all that fanciful to imagine one or other of the boys being pressed into service to help Dad by pulling out/pushing in the odd stop while he was playing over something. This would certainly have augmented the possibilities available through judicious pre-preparation of registrations for each division of the instrument.

 

Quite apart from that there is the pragmatic consideration that ,on many English organs at any rate, seven or eight minutes of full great, even without reeds, would be somewhat more than the average listener might wish to hear. Scaling back to more modest power output might obviate this problem but the registrations employed to achieve it will not look much like those in the textbooks of baroque registrational practices.

Link to post
Share on other sites
Another  vexed question I have is the use of the Swell Pedal in Mendelssohn. No where in any of his scores does he indicate something to be swelled at.  Yet  I have heard Orgainst's using  it in the slow movement of Sonata no. 5  Why ?  Where did this  style of Organ playing come from or is this something new ?  So please fellow Organist's  any thoughts on this topic ?

 

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

 

 

I thought the individual movements of the various Mendelssohn Sonatas were originally comissioned as voluntaries by an English publisher?

 

 

If that be the case, then the use of the Swell would have been entirely expected.

 

I personally hate the things anyway!

 

:lol:

 

MM

Link to post
Share on other sites
... You have a similar problem in the St anne Prelude & Fugue .  The average english Organ which may just be two or three manuals does not always have the right stops of equal power to give justice to this piece.   My own organ which is a two manual with 30 stops does not have a choir.  So how could I possibly play the second part of the Fugue on the Swell when really it's meant to be the positiv division of brightly coloured stops ?  The balance is not right as is the case in organs that don't have a secondary Great division as is really asked for in the three sections of the Fugue.  So you really have to trust your ears as stops with names do not always produce the desire effect as every organ has it's idiosyncracies.  Maybe what the issue is here is the extent to how far one's performance faithfully reproduces what the composers intends ?

 

I am fortunate in that I play an 'eclectic/classical/really musical' organ - it has just that: a Positive division with a chorus up to Cymbal (29-33-36) - it sounds perfectly right for the central section of the Trinity Fugue (BWV 552). Incidentally, I also make a complete break after the first section, as opposed to running through - which is as it is printed in the Novello edition. (I am just too mean to go out and purchase a new edition, so I have no idea how this section is laid-out by other editors.)

 

This is how I recorded it on my CD, and I am very happy with the result. Since JSB actually had contrasting choruses on at least some of the instruments which he played, surely it would also have been appropriate for him to have changed claviers?

 

As another contributor has said, it all boils down to how one prefers to play (and hear) Bach's music.

 

From the tone of certain of the above posts, I expect that some of you would have a cow if you heard how Pierre Cochereau often chose to interpret Bach at Nôtre-Dame. For my part, I find his performances some of the most thrilling and insipring which I have ever heard.

 

But then, I probably have strange tastes....

Link to post
Share on other sites
But on the other hand, if it makes sense with the organ, with the music and with your interpretation, why not use the shutters a little, or even a lot? I have heard it done to very good effect.
I recently heard Mendelssohn's 6th played with a wealth of Romantic colour. Flutes + célestes here, a Clarinet solo brought out there. Very orchestral it was, and very musically done. A fine performance in fact. But it sounded almost Brucknerian and not a bit like Mendelsohn.
Link to post
Share on other sites
=============================

I thought the individual movements of the various Mendelssohn Sonatas were originally comissioned as voluntaries by an English publisher?

If that be the case, then the use of the Swell would have been entirely expected.

 

I personally hate the things anyway!

 

:lol:

 

MM

 

Well, I believe that this was before they turned into Sonati - I think that the original intention of the publisher was that Mendelssohn wrote shorter pieces, which were complete in themselves.

 

Personally, I like them! I would say that Mendelssohn had a particular gift for writing beautiful melodies. He was also no mean contrapuntist, either, in my opinion.

 

Sorry, MM, but if you wish to delve amongst obscure Eastern Bloc composers - or to resurrect forgotten western ones, that is fine by me, but, as they say: "One man's meat..."

 

Which reminds me - I was hanging around by the meat counter in the local supermarket the other day and I noticed an extraordinary thing - a label on a pack of dead cow, which read: 'Prime rump steak - straight from the seat of the Earl of Harewood'. Oddly enough, no-one appeared to be purchasing any....

Link to post
Share on other sites
Which reminds me - I was hanging around by the meat counter in the local supermarket the other day and I noticed an extraordinary thing - a label on a pack of dead cow, which read: 'Prime rump steak - straight from the seat of the Earl of Harewood'. Oddly enough, no-one appeared to be purchasing any of it....
Sounds like a load of bull to me. Sorry, someone had to say it. :lol:
Link to post
Share on other sites
And the evidence for changing manuals within a piece is...?

 

And the evidence for changing manuals within a piece is...?

 

my Bach in a broad sweep - a panorama if you like. I don't want the camera zooming in on every tree and bush. Just my view.

 

 

It seems to me there is a danger of getting evidenceconfused with proof in the discussion here. There is no proof that changing manual within a piece was practised nor is there any that it was not. The conclusion one comes to therefore depends entirely on who has the burden of proof. Is it necessary for those who advocate the practice of manual changes to establish that this was done before it becomes appropriate to do this OR is it for those who oppose the practice to establish that it was not done in order to make it inappropriate ? This is not merely semantic quibbling. In situations where there is either no, or no reliable, evidence the allocation of the burden of proof will determine the outcome because the person who is required to establish the case will be unable to do so.

 

Evidence on the other hand is simply a fact, or set of facts, which may tend to prove or disprove a particular conclusion. Thus there is evidence for the practice of manual changes in the fact that it was possible (evidence of opportunity) and the fact that there are indications for manual changes in at least one autograph work (evidence of previous practice). Whether this evidence is sufficient to prove a conclusion is a different question.

 

Personally, I find the lack of directions with respect to manual changes less compelling than I otherwise would because registrational directions are likewise far from comprehensive though more instances exist. Yet Bach must have registered each piece. If he or his copyists did not always consider it necessary to specify registrations, why would they feel it necessary to specify manual changes. And if the answer is that the practice was to leave it to the discretion of the performer, then that provides a route out of the problem...

Link to post
Share on other sites
Guest Lee Blick
Well there is a photograph of me somewhere on the web. It's very old, but I haven't the heart to update it - I look so handsome and dashing...

 

Then all is forgiven. :lol:

Link to post
Share on other sites
It seems to me there is a danger of getting evidenceconfused with proof in the discussion here. There is no proof that changing manual within a piece was practised nor is there any that it was not.

 

Evidence on the other hand is simply a fact, or set of facts, which may tend to prove or disprove a particular conclusion. Thus there is evidence for the practice of manual changes in the fact that it was possible (evidence of opportunity) and the fact that there are indications for manual changes in at least one autograph work (evidence of previous practice). Whether this evidence is sufficient to prove a conclusion is a different question.

 

Personally, I find the lack of directions with respect to manual changes less compelling than I otherwise would because registrational directions are likewise far from comprehensive though more instances exist. Yet Bach must have registered each piece. If he or his copyists did not always consider it necessary to specify registrations, why would they feel it necessary to specify manual changes. And if the answer is that the practice was to leave it to the discretion of the performer, then that provides a route out of the problem...

 

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

 

 

I think Brian makes some very good points concerning "evidence."

 

My knowledge of Bach is perhaps somewhat disorganised, and I may make mistakes as I work from memory. However, let's give the "evidence" a bit of a whirl and see where it leads.

 

First of all "custom & practice" during the baroque period. Generally speaking, it seems that there was a tradition which everyone knew and didn't need to write down or particularly specify. It was just "the way things were done." C P E Bach alludes to ornamentation in some of his notes, but even that is open to considerable argument, yet it is the closest we get to his father's intentions.

 

More specifically, the "Dorian" has certain changes of manuals indicated, but I do not recall whether this was in the original autographed manuscript or whether it was the work of a copyist such as Krebs or some other. However, does it matter?

It was doubtless "within the meaning and spirit of the period" no matter who's hand it may be written in.

 

Similarly the "Gigue" Guge, which may not be by Bach, but which is certainly "of the period" and in the "style" Of JSB. (Who COULD have written it but Bach, I wonder?)

 

Bach's organ works are surely founded on Italian models and the concerted-style, and in BWV 596 (The D-minor Vivaldi Concerto transcribed by Bach to the organ) there are clear registrational directions. I believe he transcribed this work whilst at Weimar sometime between 1707 and 1718; the Vivaldi work being published in 1711 in Amsterdam.

 

In the first movement, there are specific indications of changing registration, with an 8ft Principal and a 32ft flue being added at some point which I cannot recall with any degree of accuracy without the music before me.

 

We therefore have EVIDENCE of variety and changing timbres, clearly concerned with the Italian concerted-style.

 

On the other hand, the final fugal movement has no indications at all, even though this is a movement which clearly utilises the contrasting "tutti" and "solo" dialogue of the original Vivaldi score. Should it therefore be played on one manual without reference to that division of resources, or was it simply "custom & practice" to play it as Vivaldi wrote it, irrespective of Bach's lack of clear indication one way or the other?

 

It could be argued that the change of musical texture is sufficient to satisfy the purpose, but somehow, this doesn't seem quite right to me.

 

By some complete miracle of metamorphic trascendence, the music of Bach can be played in so many different way and still survive the ordeal. It can be played fast or slow, with or without changes of registration/manuals and sometimes even chopped up into tiny nuances of voice-leading and phrasing. God knows, Glenn Gould managed to convert Bach's linear flow into a mass of vertical "events," and even had the cheek to sing along to it at the same time, but he has his followers.

 

Well, why do I restrict myself to words when there is real music to be heard by Bach, each played in radically different ways.

 

Below are three links to some outstanding Bach performances IMHO, and all as different as 'fromage blanc' and the 'white cliffs of Dover."

 

If you like your Bach slow, romantic and majestic, there is no better example than the following:-

 

http://www.orgelnieuws.nl/wcms/modules/new...hp?storyid=1064

 

Scroll down to Fantasia & Fugue in G Minor (Tracks 6 & 7) and listen to Jaap Schwarz performing the work from the Straube edition on the Batz organ of the Domkirk, Utrecht, in the Netherlands.

 

Next, travelk to Leipzig and hear Bach played in a less generous acoustic, and therefore a wee bit faster, without manual changes or contrasting registration.

 

http://www.orgelradio.nl/wcms/modules/news....php?storyid=79

 

Tracks 19 & 20 Ulrich Boehme - St.Thomas', Leipzig.

 

But if you want to hear the BEST recording of the "Little" G minor Fugue ever, listen to the following:-

 

http://www.kfki.hu/~/zlehel/zene/

 

Now I wonder who is playing THAT and where?

 

Any guesses?

 

:lol:

 

 

MM

 

PS: If this post appears again, these links don't work!

Link to post
Share on other sites

Archived

This topic is now archived and is closed to further replies.


×
×
  • Create New...