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Just what is a 'virtuoso' anyway?

 

I was listening last night to Colin Walsh's new Lincoln recording of Widor V and VI, and what really made me sit up was just how measured was his performance of the infamous Toccata, coming in at a stately 6 mins 56 secs. I have also heard Colin perform live other works by Franck, Gigout, Widor, Vierne where his tempi have been, compared to most others, also on the slow side.

I must admit a preference in general for works such as the Widor Toccata, Final from Vierne I or VI to be played at a more moderate speed. It seems to allow the music to swing, and for so much more of the detail to be revealed. However, there are a few works where you want the organist to positively explode out of the blocks - I'm thinking of the codas of Die parmis nous (Messiaen La Nativite), the Durufle Toccata and Dupre's Deuxieme Symphonie.

 

To plod or not to plod, that is the question!?

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However, there are a few works where you want the organist to positively explode out of the blocks - I'm thinking of the codas of Die parmis nous (Messiaen La Nativite), the Durufle Toccata and Dupre's Deuxieme Symphonie.

 

To plod or not to plod, that is the question!?

I'd agree about the Duruflé. I don't know the Dupré. Tend to disagree about Dieu parmi nous - it's possible to play this piece so fast it actually loses energy. The ideal speed for me is Simon Preston's on his old Westminster Abbey recording: fast, but not breakneck, and utterly compelling.

 

No music should ever plod, of course, unless for some special reason that particular effect is required.

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I'm thinking of the codas of Die parmis nous (Messiaen La Nativite), the Durufle Toccata and Dupre's Deuxieme Symphonie.

 

To plod or not to plod, that is the question!?

 

I disagree concerning Dieu Parmi Nous - I believe that the whole point of the chords is lost if one were to rush this section. By all means play the toccata section quickly (yet powerfully) - but I hate the last section played quickly; to me it just sounds messy - the power of the inexorable build to the climax is dissipated if it is rushed.

 

Insofar as the Duruflé Toccata is concerned, the speeds are marked clearly - whilst there is no rallentando until just before the final chord, neither is there any accelerando (or even stringendo). Duruflé was fastidious in his compositions - it can only be assumed that he did not want a cadenza played at white-heat, however effective this may appear to be.

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No music should ever plod, of course, unless for some special reason that particular effect is required.

 

There is a fine line between lyrical and plodding, but too fast just kills the music and says “Look at me, I can play fast”. :P

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Insofar as the Duruflé Toccata is concerned, the speeds are marked clearly - whilst there is no rallentando until just before the final chord, neither is there any accelerando (or even stringendo). Duruflé was fastidious in his compositions - it can only be assumed that he did not want a cadenza played at white-heat, however effective this may appear to be.

 

Well, there is an accelerando from dotted crotchet = 84 to crotchet [sic -should be dotted] = 126 from bar 137 to bar 144.

 

Michael

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A friend of mine likes to take the Vierne 1st symphony final as fast as he can, this enables him to run his foot down the pedal board in the last few bars rather playing what’s written, it’s over before you register that it’s not quite correct.

 

As a non-player (hanging my head in shame) I like a more sedate tempo to allow the music to “breath”.  :P

Your friend doesn't happen to be a fusician called "arty"?

 

I prefer it to be at a tempo which is completely under control. THere's a difference between rushing a piece and playing it fast while being totally under control and poised.

 

Unfortunately, while I may sometimes start off fast, under control and poised, it rapidly degenerates into a rush as I run out of steam....

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Your friend doesn't happen to be a fusician called "arty"?

 

Err....no.

 

He’s a fine man who I’ve known since joining his then parish choir when I was 12. He taught me (and others) far more than just how to sing hymns and anthems on a Sunday. One of his protégés regularly deps (sings) at St Pauls, Westminster Abbey and St Georges Windsor, so my friend must have got something right.

 

:P

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I disagree concerning Dieu Parmi Nous - I believe that the whole point of the chords is lost if one were to rush this section. By all means play the toccata section quickly (yet powerfully) - but I hate the last section played quickly; to me it just sounds messy - the power of the inexorable build to the climax is dissipated if it is rushed..

No, you are right. The Toccata section should be played quickly but I do wish players would take their time on those final chords and in particular the last one held over the lowering pedal line, which for me, doesn't really work without a 32ft reed.

 

I once sat through an interminable performance of La Nativite at Westminster Cathedral on a Sunday afternoon that was completely redeemed by a splendid Dieu Parmi Nous, capped by a remorseless spine-tingling 32ft pedal descent at the close.

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Guest paul@trinitymusic.karoo.co.uk
And another: the Chant Donné (Hommage à Jean Gallon). One of my absolute favourites.

 

 

Please forgive me asking, who publishes Chant Donne? I didn't know of its existence before your posting. I assume it is well up to standard from your comment.

P.

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It's fairly difficult to get hold of. It was first published in a volume of pieces dedicated to Gallon, published in 1953 or so, but as far as I know hasn't been reissued by itself.

 

My copy came courtesy of an organist who'd recorded it - I e-mailed him asking if he knew where I could get it, and he sent a scan back to me. For this weekend only, then, I've put the scan up on the web here. I'll take it off next week for the avoidance of lawyers!

 

(Incidentally, the annotations on the scan aren't mine... I'd never consider the tierce de Picardie appropriate. :lol: )

 

Richard

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It's fairly difficult to get hold of. It was first published in a volume of pieces dedicated to Gallon, published in 1953 or so, but as far as I know hasn't been reissued by itself.

 

My copy came courtesy of an organist who'd recorded it - I e-mailed him asking if he knew where I could get it, and he sent a scan back to me. For this weekend only, then, I've put the scan up on the web here. I'll take it off next week for the avoidance of lawyers!

 

(Incidentally, the annotations on the scan aren't mine... I'd never consider the tierce de Picardie appropriate.  :lol: )

 

Richard

There is an arrangement of Faure's Prelude to Pelleas to be published imminently - Frederic Blanc has played it a few times. And I think there's also an unpublished (very early) organ fugue.

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Yes, by Durand (I bought a copy from Blackwell's in Oxford the other week). You might recognise the theme - it's the same one used in the Agnus of the Messe cum jubilo.

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Its a transcription of/the basis of the Agnus Dei from the Messe Cum Jubilo apparently done in 1964. Its published by Durand (2001) and a very lovely piece.

 

Thank you, Richard, for the scan of Chant Donne and also to Stephen for the info on publication the Pelleas transcription - do we know which publisher? I know of two organ transcriptions of the Trois Danses (Whitehead and Farrington) any hope of publication? (Durufle himself transcribed them for solo and duo piano).

 

Lastly I gather some more Demessieux has found the light - a piece entitled nativite delatour demessiuex - anyone heard it/seen it?

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Its a transcription of/the basis of  the Agnus Dei from the Messe Cum Jubilo apparently done in 1964.  Its published by Durand (2001) and a very lovely piece.

 

Thank you, Richard, for the scan of Chant Donne and also to Stephen for the info on publication the Pelleas transcription - do we know which publisher?  I know of two organ transcriptions of the Trois Danses (Whitehead and Farrington) any hope of publication? (Durufle himself transcribed them for solo and duo piano).

 

Lastly I gather some more Demessieux has found the light - a piece entitled nativite delatour demessiuex - anyone heard it/seen it?

UMP I guess, but it's all gone quiet - I was hoping they might be out last year.

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Well, there is an accelerando from dotted crotchet = 84 to crotchet [sic -should be dotted] = 126 from bar 137 to bar 144.

 

Michael

 

Yes, but I had assumed that we were discussing the last two pages or so (my edition does not have the benefit of bar numbers) and thirty-one bars before the end, my edition is marked [dotted] crotchet=126 senza accelerare.

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No, you are right. The Toccata section should be played quickly but I do wish players would take their time on those final chords and in particular the last one held over the lowering pedal line, which for me, doesn't really work without a 32ft reed.

 

I once sat through an interminable performance of La Nativite at Westminster Cathedral on a Sunday afternoon that was completely redeemed by a splendid Dieu Parmi Nous, capped by a remorseless spine-tingling 32ft pedal descent at the close.

 

Absolutely, Jeremy.

 

Who was the organist? (Or would you prefer not to name him/her?)

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I don't suppose that I really belong to the real addressees either, but I have experienced a number of them, including Gillian Weir and Simon Preston, from whom I adopted the rule " at least 1 hour for every 10 minutes of the programme". I regard this as professional. I want 9 hours of practice before a full length recital.

Barry

Couldn't agree more with you Barry, and especially the term 'professional' - I am careful to talk about 'setting up' or 'registering' with the venue or event people, and not use the word practice. Practice is what you do before you arrive. I can't see why some performers take an almost perverse pride in preparing for a concert with minimum time. Surely, the more you are able to prepare in every sense (from getting used to console, desk, sounds, stops, lighting and even the way in which the concerts begin and end), the more at ease you will be, more at ease the audience will be, the better you will play, the happier everyone will be.

Cut short that preparation time and you are courting disaster. In fairness I know from bitter experience that often despite the organist's best efforts, practice time can get whittled away by all manner of intrusions (see my signature)

 

I wonder if UK organ concert organisers (churches and town halls) offered higher fees (or fees at all!) they would in return attract more professional attitudes. I don't mean to be provocative here... <_< ... so don't hit me....

Jenny

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I'm curious about how all you peripatetic virtuosi cope. If you are giving a recital on a sizeable three-manual instrument (or larger) which you have never played before, how much practice time do you find is a comfortable minimum? Personally, I'd love to get about four hours, but I count myself very lucky if I get half that. But it occurs to me that, if the recital you're giving is far away from home, your practice is probably going to have to be done on the day and you're not going to want to tire yourself out before-hand.

 

 

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

 

 

I've followed this thread without comment thus far, and interesting it is too, in so much as organists always seem to gravitate to a point of reference which starts and finishes with French Toccatas; for what they are worth.

 

My idea of virtuosity is quite different, I hope.

 

As at least one person has suggested, practise is what you do before a recital rehearsal, and whilst is may be beneficial to try specifically difficult moments as a means of personal re-assurance, if the notes are still being learned at the 11th hour on the day, them the preparation has not been good enough.

 

So what it really comes down to is how quickly one masters the pallet of sound, the acoustic, the key-touch, the console layout and any peculiarities of the organ-action. On this score, I always used to look forward to a Harrison or Compton instrument, because they were/are so organist friendly and so very comfortable. Indeed, one of the great frustrations of getting to grips with a large organ, is the difference in layout and feel, which takes up valuable time.

 

Acoustics speak their own language, and after half-an-hour or so, an organist should start to feel comfortable with it.

 

So really, the first hour os so of rehearsal-time is taken-up by routine spatial/aural responses and motor reflex-actions; after which music starts to emerge. Nevertheless, some organists are much quicker with the learning-curve than others.

 

Diverting slightly, I would suggest that the absolute virtuoso can adapt very, very quickly, where most struggle a bit and take time. I recall something I once witnessed in motor-sport, when Stiq Blomqvist, the Swedih Rally Driver, arrived in the UK, sat in an RAC rally car for the first-time, and within 15 minutes, was setting fastest times, even though he never even seen the car before. I believe that some organists can be like this, but they are very rare.

 

So perhaps an aceptable performance is possible with a couple of hours rehearsal, but seldom, I would suggest, the ultimate performance.

 

With reputations to consider, it therefore comes as no suprise that the top professionals work very hard and long to achieve the best result. What is the saying? A musician is as good as the last performance.

 

However, back to subject of virtuosity, which can often be just a lot of notes played quickly. Personally, I would prefer to hear the sort of virtuosity where a Bach Trio Sonata is so perfectly polished, that each subtle nuance is matched to others, and where the organist is truly the master interpretor of the music. Of course, that's a very different kind of virtuosity, rather than one which merely plays to gallery.

 

The organ is perhaps unique in that no two organs can ever be the same, and if I may be bold enough to suggest, even the best organists will make mistakes because of it.

 

I know that when I get to the console at a recital/concert, it is too late to worry, so at that point, I sit down and enjoy the moment. If what comes out of the organ is musical and moves people, then I have achieved something. If I make a few mistakes, then it is possible to laugh about them afterwards. However, what people never laugh at is poor musicianship, or the over-cautious, measured approach which kills spontaneity stone-dead.

 

I learn the notes, try to get it right on the day, but when it comes to performance, I just go for it and throw caution to the wind.

 

MM

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As at least one person has suggested, practise is what you do before a recital rehearsal, and whilst is may be beneficial to try specifically difficult moments as a means of personal re-assurance, if the notes are still being learned at the 11th hour on the day, them the preparation has not been good enough.
At the risk of playing semantics I suggest that this is an unecessarily narrow definition of the word "practice". It is certainly not the one I had in mind. To me practice is the process of ensuring that nothing goes wrong. That includes not just the notes, but also console control and everything else that may be peculiar to the circumstances of a particular venue.

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At the risk of playing semantics I suggest that this is an unecessarily narrow definition of the word "practice". It is certainly not the one I had in mind. To me practice is the process of ensuring that nothing goes wrong. That includes not just the notes, but also console control and everything else that may be peculiar to the circumstances of a particular venue.

 

 

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

 

 

Which is why I chose the word "practise" for that bit, rather than the WIDER implications of the word "practice," which I covered elsewhere.

 

:P

 

MM

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Ah, I thought it was another of your mis-spellings. :P

 

 

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

 

 

What are you implicating?

 

:P

 

MM

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