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Mander Organs

Bach & Mendelssohn


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Sadly, I have to agree that you're spot on here. The musical taste of the average recital-goer is not that discerning. Most (alas, not all) organists apart, they are less interested in the music than the sound it makes. Where I live the majority of organists are "reluctant organists" who would never claim to be musicians. Their taste - and I daresay that of other recital-goers here - seems to be predominantly for music with a "good tune" (or, failing that, flashy virtuosity) and I'm sure several of them find Bach too cerebral and "spiky". You'd probably need to adopt a Curleyesque approach to Bach to win them over, but for better or worse (worse, no doubt), I can't bring myself to be such a showman.

 

 

I thought recital goers were an endangered species and had to be conserved at all costs wherever discoverd,with the possible exception of London. Since CC earns his living by giving recitals "bums on seats" are the number one consideration for him if he wishes to continue to eat. Mind you... I do not suppose too many people on this forum count as their principal source of income the fees obtained from giving recitals. And CC can certainly pull them in. Whatever may be the situation in continental Europe , no recital I have ever attended in the UK has been as well attended as those performed by him, and supposedly "the customer is always right..."

 

BAC

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Sounds like a load of bull to me. Sorry, someone had to say it.  B)

 

 

Oooh I didn't realise my posting on this subject had open up a can of worms ! It's been refeshing reading through some of the evidence. At least we have move away from the Bach Style of the 60's. In My Novello Edition the preface clearly states that no attempt should be made at bringing out the Fugue Subject. As Kevin Bowyer eminent organist once told me 'How do you like Bach Played ? Romantic as in Wilis Style or Baroque registration ? Yes they are probably players that play Bach in a different way. But the whole point of this discussion is to get you to think about is there any valid reason for doing something when it is not ask for ? Any performance should focus on comunicating clear articulation and clarity in your playing. Not and excuse to draw every stop or change of manual to murder a piece. I think of the late Virgil Fox who's Bach playing was said to be complety ear shattering at times !

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I was just thinking about some of my favourite performances of Bach. Here are some of my "favourites":

 

Prelude and Fugue in F minor, BWV 534: M-C Alain, Alkmaar

Dorian Toccata, BWV 538: Miklos Spanyi

Toccata in F, BWV 540: Helmut Walcha, Alkmaar

Prelude and Fugue in G major, BWV 541: Martin Souter, Nordbroek

Fugue in G minor, BWV 542: Helmut Walcha, Alkmaar

Prelude and Fugue in A minor, BWV 543: E Power-Biggs

Prelude and Fugue in C major, BWV 545: Piet Kee, Gronigen

Prelude and Fugue in C minor, BWV 546: M-C Alain

Prelude and Fugue in Eb, BWV 552: Piet Kee, Gronigen

Jig Fugue: Peter Hurford, Norden but Virgil Fox at Wanamakers runs a close second...

Passacaglia & Fugue in C minor: Lionel Rogg, Arlesheim

 

Of course, this is not a definitive list: I don't own or have listened to all the recordings ever made and I am not a definitive judge. These are just my favourites.

 

I've heard a recording of Cochereau playing the B minor, BWV 544, at Notre Dame at the old console, which I rate highly but I can't remember hearing it from beginning to end and I don't own a copy myself so I can't really include it. Similarly, I've heard Gillian Weir play the Prelude and Fugue in D major (BWV 532) on the radio but since I don't own it, I haven't included it here.

 

It's worth bearing in mind the following with these performances:

 

* Some have changes of stops and manuals, others don't.

* some have quick tempos, others are slow, others are in the middle

* All of these performances are musically inspiring and persuasive (well, to me they are).

 

So I'm tempted to think that perhaps the focus of playing Bach has to come from within, to bring the music to life and judgements about tempo and registration, historical authenticity, while important and relevant, are means to an end - an inspiring performance of music - rather than an end in themselves.

 

But why do we spend so much time and effort discussing historical authenticity and registration and so little about interpreting the music (and I don't mean historical articulation and fingering)? Well, one is very easy to talk about and the other is extremely hard...

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Any performance should focus on comunicating clear articulation and clarity in your playing. Not and excuse to draw every stop  or change of manual to murder a piece.  I think of the late Virgil Fox who's Bach playing was said to be complety ear shattering at times !

 

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

 

Ah! Now this is a curious thing. Virgil Fox did many oddball things with Bach, but then, so did many organists of the German romantic era.

 

I put a URL up which demonstrated the difference between "romantic" Bach and so-called "authentic" Bach, yet each were played on instruments which belong to the same tradition in the Netherlands. (A Batz organ is much the same as one from the century before, but a bit louder).

 

The performance on that URL by Jaap Schwarz uses the Straube edition, and in it, he picks out all sorts of things and adds stops by the bucket-load.......a bit like "hidden melodies" you never heard before.

 

IMHO, it is STILL a superb performance of BACH.

 

I will stick my neck on the proverbial block and suggest that Virgil Fox, certainly in his Boston Symphony recordings, played some quite thrilling Bach, and somewhere, there is a stupendous rendition of the F-major from Riverside if I can find the URL.

 

I wonder....just wonder.....if GOOD Bach isn't anything to do with "authenticity" at all, whether to use this manual or that or whether to add or subtract stops in an expressive way.

 

Maybe, some organists just cut through all that; instinctivly capturing the SPIRIT of the work and the musical-architecture therein.

 

Maybe THEY are the true artists, and the rest of us mere scholars or musicians?

 

(That's crammed a few more worms into the can! B) )

 

MM

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I wonder....just wonder.....if GOOD Bach isn't anything to do with "authenticity" at all,  whether to use this manual or that or whether to add or subtract stops in an expressive way.

 

Maybe, some organists just cut through all that; instinctivly capturing the SPIRIT of the work and the musical-architecture therein.

There's no harm in wondering, of course, but how do you know what the spirit of the work is if you do not understand the historical background? Bach's [insert piece of your choice] consists of more than just the notes on the page and to assume that just because a performance may be utterly musical and riveting it therefore has anything to do with Bach seems to me a mighty big leap of faith. That's not to say that one is wrong to enjoy such a performance - this is a completely different issue. It's like the Mendelssohn performance I mentioned. The notes were Mendelssohn's and the performance was very musical, interesting and enjoyable. But what came out was nonetheless a complete anachronism that had little point of contact with Mendelssohn other than the frequencies and durations of the pitches. A composer's notation is necessarily king, but it is nevertheless subject to a whole parliament of other considerations which the performer ought least to take into account, even if the circumstances at hand (such as the organ) demand that he then adapts them or even ignores them. If you want to capture the composer's spirit, that is. If you're content to capture any old spirit, then of course, none of this really matters.

 

Why do people persist in thinking that all you need to interpret a composer is the notation, imagination and musicianship? But I seem to be p*****g into the wind.

 

This is in no way an attack on MM, by the way: I've got it in for the world in general! B)

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All this talk of Bach performances....you ain't heard nuffin!

 

For the most whacky and enjoyable hour + there is a programme entitled "Bach on the wild side" in the archives of the Minnesota Public Radio programme, "pipedreams" which never fails to amuse, enlighten and shock in equal measure.

 

http://pipedreams.publicradio.org/

 

Type in search - Bach on the wild side

 

This will bring up programme number 0310 , March 10th 2003

 

Go into programme by clicking on title-bar

 

Click on "Listen to the programme"

 

It is possible, with a fast connection, to scroll through the programme in Real Player or Media.

 

Here can be heard some of the whackiest Bach ever played, but the music "almost" survives the ordeal.

 

My favourites are the "Air on the G String" given the full Stokowski treatment B) on a big American organ which can be hard at 20mins 15 secs played Fred Hohman , the highly amuisng and almost dinner-jazz "Blithe Bells" by Percy Grainger at 37min 55 secs :D , the Reger "3-part" two-parts at 44mins 00sec played brilliantly by Paul Jacobs, a "rock" version of the D-minor at 51min 50secs :P , an utterly outrageous B-minor Prelude (BWV544) from Ton Koopman at 56min42sec which I simply don't understand :P and...finally....at 1hr.08mins00secs, some utterly stunning virtuoso Bach from Virgil Fox from the Philharmonic Hall, Boston. :o

 

Now, which profoundly brave soul is going to learn the Bach/Reger "three part inventions" and play it for us in public?

 

B)

 

Enjoy!!

 

MM

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But why do we spend so much time and effort discussing historical authenticity and registration and so little about interpreting the music (and I don't mean historical articulation and fingering)? Well, one is very easy to talk about and the other is extremely hard...

I think one of the crucial matters in playing Bach is rhythm.

 

Bach's italianate style of rhythm, with its steady pace, is always in danger of being played just boringly. I find the E-Major Prelude deeply irritating because it mixes a North-German sectional toccata with Italian rhythm and harmony. You just can't allow yourself to let go of the pace as much as you easily would in Buxtehude or Bruhns. There are always Vivaldi's violins and cellos in the background, waiting to pound along and forget all about any concept such as stylus phantasticus.

 

The best performances of Bach I have heard used sound and articulation, whatever they were, to bring out the rhythm powerfully and convincingly. E. g., you can do so much for BWV 544 and 548 just by working out a good articulation for the pedal notes in the opening ritornellos. By the pedal octaves you decide whether the piece swings along or marches gravely. With a good, not overly quickly-speaking Posaune, you can have, in one single registration, everything from mf to ff, depending on how you articulate the short notes.

 

Give me BWV 541 on an 8-foot open flute everyday -- if you get the rhythm straight, I buy whatever you give me.

 

Best,

Friedrich

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Why do people persist in thinking that all you need to interpret a composer is the notation, imagination and musicianship? But I seem to be p*****g into the wind.

 

This is in no way an attack on MM, by the way: I've got it in for the world in general!  B)

 

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

 

 

Attack away!

 

Should I be banished from playing Geroge Thalben-Ball's "Elegy" on the little neo-baroque job I play?

 

But I DO....and Reger, and Vierne's "Berceuse" and a lot of other carefully chosen romantic muck.

 

Maybe I'm just a musical crime-wave? :P

 

Do I care? B)

 

MM

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I wouldn't presume to judge you, MM. I should perhaps have mentioned before (and I did think of doing so), that, since I don't have a church job these days, I don't have the problem of having to make music fit on an instrument not best suited for it (either that or deny myself the opportunity of playing lots of music I like). By and large I am able to pick and choose repertoire to suit the instrument at hand. For me the problems come when I am accompanying choirs - and, yes, I had to play Howells "Gloucester" service and "O pray for the peace" on a neo-baroque job last year. B)

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For me the problems come when I am accompanying choirs - and, yes, I had to play Howells "Gloucester" service and "O pray for the peace" on a neo-baroque job last year.  :P

 

 

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

 

 

Why do I find this so funny?

 

:DB)B)

 

I DO HOPE you changed manual frequently!!

 

MM

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I DO HOPE you changed manual frequently!!
AND stops! At least - thank goodness - there was a swell box.

 

Having said which, I have a copy of a CD of Howells and Leighton made by the choir of Queen's College Oxford. Everything considered, the accompanist did a really good job on the Frobenius.

 

Ahem... Sorry to run off topic.

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