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Orgelbuchlein - Registrations


Guest Andrew Butler
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Guest Andrew Butler

I have been asked to play BWV 643 which I have hitherto never learned. Registration suggestions welcomed please.

 

This topic could perhaps be expanded and prove useful to players at all levels. Even those of us with experience can benefit from others' wisdom.

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I have been asked to play BWV 643 which I have hitherto never learned.  Registration suggestions welcomed please.

 

This topic could perhaps be expanded and prove useful to players at all levels.  Even those of us with experience can benefit from others' wisdom.

 

 

On which instrument and in which building? A synoptic specification would be useful, too, please. There is little point in suggesting stops which are not present.

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I have been asked to play BWV 643 which I have hitherto never learned.  Registration suggestions welcomed please.

 

This topic could perhaps be expanded and prove useful to players at all levels.  Even those of us with experience can benefit from others' wisdom.

 

 

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

 

 

Just two suggestions for this rather simple and baeautiful CP.

 

The easy way is just to play it on a single 8ft Flute, coupled to 16ft Pedal. The Chorale is on top and will sing out quite happily.

 

The more difficult way (realtively speaking) is to solo out the choral theme on a suitable 8ft register (Diapason, soft reed....possibly even a Terz combination) and do the rest with left-hand and pedals as above.

 

MM

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

The more difficult way (realtively speaking) is to solo out the choral theme on a suitable 8ft register (Diapason, soft reed....possibly even a Terz combination) and do the rest with left-hand and pedals as above.

 

MM

 

I agree - an 8' flute for the left hand, coupled down a quiet 16' on the pedal. I think an 8' Open Diapason for the right hand cf sounds best - and don't forget a slow tremulant, if available.

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I think the first thing to decide is how you see the music - i.e. whether you think this is Bach being joyful about the afterlife (which if I recall is what the editor of the Novello edition suggested) or whether to treat it more reflectively. Then decide whether you are going to play it on one manual or two.

 

Registration will depend on that. The possibilities are legion, depending not least on the organ. I favour something fairly simple: flute 8' or flute's 8' + 4', or flute 8' + Principal. On a classically voiced organ, if I feel like making it dance a bit I may use a reed for the chorale melody, accompanied on 8' + 2' + pedal 8' + 16' (which someone will probably tell me is very naughty for the central German late Baroque).

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I agree - an 8' flute for the left hand, coupled down a quiet 16' on the pedal. I think an 8' Open Diapason for the right hand cf sounds best - and don't forget a slow tremulant, if available.

JSB is v specific about scorings throughout the collection - and doesn't mention 'a 2 Clav.' in the rubrics for this setting, which rather suggests that he imagined it should be played on one keyboard.

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Guest Andrew Butler

Thanks for comments. My Barenreiter edition , although clearly laid out, is singularly unhelpful regarding interpretation - and confusingly prints the full text of the chorale "Walet wil ich der geben" alongside the music of BWV 643. I'm sure there's a reason for that, but I haven't found it yet (nor have i actually sought it!)

 

I would not envisage playing this on 2 clavs, although it could be done. I agree with sjf on that one.

 

It just goes to show how wrong one's initial thoughts can be - I had thought of a fuller sound, possibly even Organo pleno. Am currently debating between 8' flute and a quiet bright 8' principal.....

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My Barenreiter edition , although clearly laid out, is singularly unhelpful regarding interpretation - and confusingly prints the full text of the chorale "Walet wil ich der geben" alongside the music of BWV 643. I'm sure there's a reason for that, but I haven't found it yet (nor have i actually sought it!)

That's not the text of the chorale, it's the first lines of chorales that Bach wrote as headings on other pages but never composed the music for.

 

Paul

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I had thought of a fuller sound, possibly even Organo pleno.

I might be able to live with that. The only question is: does it work? If it does, it's legitimate! I've always played Krebs's O Ewigkeit du Donnerwort on a fairly sparse registration with 8' reed left hand solo. I recently heard a recording on the Freiburg Dom Silbermann with the RH accompaniment on a full chorus - an approach that simply hadn't occurred to me - and it sounded very well indeed.
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It certainly does work with a fuller sound, like organo pleno. M-C Alain's recording at Alkmaar uses "organo pleno" (whatever that is supposed to be on the multiple possibilities with that organ), coloured with an 8' trumpet and a 16' manual chorus and very fine it sounds, too. It is, despite its title - "All Men must die" - an optomistic and exuberent chorale prelude: Bach seems to be looking at death as a glorious event, perhaps a release from the drudgery of the earthly life to ascend to heaven for a glorious celestial life with God.

 

The writing, with those consitently rhythmic figurations in the A & T lines lend themselves more readily to a motoric rather than an expressive interpretation and it works best at quite a bouncy 4 in a bar for me. It doesn't have a heavily decorated chorale line which lends itself better to a more expressive and intimate interpretation while its comfortable major key (F major?) tonality (from which it doesn't stray far) gives it optimistic and extrovert character. So, for me, it works best as quite a lively and loud chorale prelude - I wouldn't feel shy about letting rip a bit on this one. Registration wise, I'd probably start with an organo pleno as a base and experiment with adding a reed to give it a bit more colour and roundness.

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Guest Andrew Butler
It certainly does work with a fuller sound, like organo pleno. M-C Alain's recording at Alkmaar uses "organo pleno" (whatever that is supposed to be on the multiple possibilities with that organ), coloured with an 8' trumpet and a 16' manual chorus and very fine it sounds, too. It is, despite its title - "All Men must die" - an optomistic and exuberent chorale prelude: Bach seems to be looking at death as a glorious event, perhaps a release from the drudgery of the earthly life to ascend to heaven for a glorious celestial life with God.

 

The writing, with those consitently rhythmic figurations in the A & T lines lend themselves more readily to a motoric rather than an expressive interpretation and it works best at quite a bouncy 4 in a bar for me. It doesn't have a heavily decorated chorale line which lends itself better to a more expressive and intimate interpretation while its comfortable major key (F major?) tonality (from which it doesn't stray far) gives it optimistic and extrovert character. So, for me, it works best as quite a lively and loud chorale prelude - I wouldn't feel shy about letting rip a bit on this one. Registration wise, I'd probably start with an organo pleno as a base and experiment with adding a reed to give it a bit more colour and roundness.

 

Glad I wasn't out on a limb over the Organo Pleno. Hope we're talking about the same piece though - my copy is in G....

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For the record, I do not see why one should not play the melody on a solo registration. Just because JSB did not specify two claviers does not necessarily mean that he did not himself play it thus. There are, for example, plenty of instances of long tied notes in the Forty-eight Preludes and Fugues - yet it was customary at the time to repeat them, (particularly when playing on keyboard instruments with a short note-decay), yet Bach did not feel that it was necessary to annotate his scores with directions for the player to do this.

 

On my own instrument, I might play the melody on 8p, 4p and 2 2/3p flutes and the accompaniment on two or three of the quiet Swell foundation stops. On the Pedal Organ, I may use the quiet 16p string, with the 8p flute - or the Bourdon with the 8p string. No couplers, of course.

 

The melody could just as easily be played upon the Swell Hautbois, accompanied by the GO Rohr Flute.

 

If it is effective thus, why limit oneself to one timbre on one clavier because of the absence of a particular direction to the contrary? Bach may have felt that the use of two claviers was implied from the layout of the score. (If, indeed, it is laid out in this way in Bach's hand.)

 

Conjecturally, there is a danger that we can approach the possibilities of what JSB may (or may not) have intended from our own present-day point of view. At the time, it may have been customary to do things in performance of which we are currently unaware. Whilst Bach was specific in certain areas, he may well not have envisaged that, two hundred and fifty years later, some things which were commonplace to him and his contemporaries, could be practically unknown to us and that we would be interested in knowing what was so well-known to him.

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The trouble with this is that everywhere else in the Orgelbüchlein - which was, don't forget, written specifically as an organ tutor for students - Bach was meticulous in specifying when he wanted two manuals used (and also those places where the pedals were to take a melody), so the absence of any such direction in BWV 643 is overwhelmingly likely to be significant. One can of course wonder whether Bach simply forgot to write in the direction... (but you'd need to look at the autograph to assess whether that's a tenable speculation).

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The trouble with this is that everywhere else in the Orgelbüchlein - which was, don't forget, written specifically as an organ tutor for students - Bach was meticulous in specifying when he wanted two manuals used (and also those places where the pedals were to take a melody), so the absence of any such direction in BWV 643 is overwhelmingly likely to be significant. One can of course wonder whether Bach simply forgot to write in the direction... (but you'd need to look at the autograph to assess whether that's a tenable speculation).

Quite. And even those chorales which few people would think of playing on one manual - like O Mensch or Der Tag, both of which can be played on one keyboard - are given very specific 'a 2 man' markings. If he'd wanted two keyboards in BWV 643 as well it would have been marked. The chances that he 'forgot' the marking are slim. It also seems to me that the unusually dense motivic texture of 643 puts it in a rather different category from the other 2 manual settings, where the accpt is less rigorously worked.

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And then there are a pieces like Wer nur den lieben Gott, BWV 691, that look to all the world as if they ought to be played on two manuals until you get to the end and realise that they weren't (surely no one could seriously believe that that final spread chord - so similar to many instances in his clavier music - should be divided between two tone colours?)

 

Peter Williams pointed out somewhere that on a Silbermann organ such pieces sound entirely satisfactory on a single stop. And there must be plenty of other organs where this is true. We are colour mad these days...

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The trouble with this is that everywhere else in the Orgelbüchlein - which was, don't forget, written specifically as an organ tutor for students - Bach was meticulous in specifying when he wanted two manuals used (and also those places where the pedals were to take a melody), so the absence of any such direction in BWV 643 is overwhelmingly likely to be significant. One can of course wonder whether Bach simply forgot to write in the direction... (but you'd need to look at the autograph to assess whether that's a tenable speculation).

 

 

And, of course, the autograph is fairly readily available, because it has been published by Barenreiter and seems still to be in print.

 

It's a fascinating document. He clearly wrote the headings before composing a note of music. Some of the chorales don't quite fit on the page he had allocated for them, so their last few bars are written in the margins in tablature.

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For the record, I do not see why one should not play the melody on a solo registration. Just because JSB did not specify two claviers does not necessarily mean that he did not himself play it thus. There are, for example, plenty of instances of long tied notes in the Forty-eight Preludes and Fugues - yet it was customary at the time to repeat them, (particularly when playing on keyboard instruments with a short note-decay), yet Bach did not feel that it was necessary to annotate his scores with directions for the player to do this.

 

On my own instrument, I might play the melody on 8p, 4p and 2 2/3p flutes and the accompaniment on two or three of the quiet Swell foundation stops. On the Pedal Organ, I may use the quiet 16p string, with the 8p flute - or the Bourdon with the 8p string. No couplers, of course.

 

The melody could just as easily be played upon the Swell Hautbois, accompanied by the GO Rohr Flute.

 

If it is effective thus, why limit oneself to one timbre on one clavier because of the absence of a particular direction to the contrary? Bach may have felt that the use of two claviers was implied from the layout of the score. (If, indeed, it is laid out in this way in Bach's hand.)

 

Conjecturally, there is a danger that we can approach the possibilities of what JSB may (or may not) have intended from our own present-day point of view. At the time, it may have been customary to do things in performance of which we are currently unaware. Whilst Bach was specific in certain areas, he may well not have envisaged that, two hundred and fifty years later, some things which were commonplace to him and his contemporaries, could be practically unknown to us and that we would be interested in knowing what was so well-known to him.

 

 

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

 

 

Quite! Virgil Fox could have done wonders for this work and totally re-invented it!

 

;)

 

MM

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The trouble with this is that everywhere else in the Orgelbüchlein - which was, don't forget, written specifically as an organ tutor for students - Bach was meticulous in specifying when he wanted two manuals used (and also those places where the pedals were to take a melody), so the absence of any such direction in BWV 643 is overwhelmingly likely to be significant. One can of course wonder whether Bach simply forgot to write in the direction... (but you'd need to look at the autograph to assess whether that's a tenable speculation).

 

The trouble with this is that it makes the assumption that JSB was either flawless in his notation - or that he left nothing to chance, particularly for a later time when, for all he knew, performance practice may have been different.

 

I still think that one can be unnecessarily restrictive in approaching certain aspects of registration and performance.

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The trouble with this is that it makes the assumption that JSB was either flawless in his notation - or that he left nothing to chance, particularly for a later time when, for all he knew, performance practice may have been different.

 

I still think that one can be unnecessarily restrictive in approaching certain aspects of registration and performance.

We're going round in circles now so I'll only add one more observation. The score is all there is, and it's as clear on this particular point as it is on the notes themselves. There isn't any kind of historical or musicological case to be made for disregarding the indications - in fact some rubrics seem to have been added to the score later than the pieces themselves, suggesting that opportunities for revision didn't lead him to add a marking to BWV 643. If there were no rubrics anywhere, then it would be fair game to pick and choose - but that isn't the case, and none of the numerous people who copied it into secondary sources after its composition thought it was for two manuals either. The idea that JSB left the notation unclear to allow performers 300 years later to orchestrate the chorales in novel ways to accord with performance practices as yet unknown to him is...interesting. He would have had little if any expectation that these pieces would still be in currency after three centuries; it's not until much later in his output that the idea of leaving scores to 'posterity' comes in and the OB is far too early for that. I don't think it's 'restrictive' to respect a composer's clearly expressed wishes.

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We're going round in circles now so I'll only add one more observation. The score is all there is, and it's as clear on this particular point as it is on the notes themselves. There isn't any kind of historical or musicological case to be made for disregarding the indications - in fact some rubrics seem to have been added to the score later than the pieces themselves, suggesting that opportunities for revision didn't lead him to add a marking to BWV 643. If there were no rubrics anywhere, then it would be fair game to pick and choose - but that isn't the case, and none of the numerous people who copied it into secondary sources after its composition thought it was for two manuals either.  The idea that JSB left the notation unclear to allow performers 300 years later to orchestrate the chorales in novel ways to accord with performance practices as yet unknown to him is...interesting. He would have had little if any expectation that these pieces would still be in currency after three centuries; it's not until much later in his output that the idea of leaving scores to 'posterity' comes in and the OB is far too early for that. I don't think it's 'restrictive' to respect a composer's clearly expressed wishes.

I forgot to say ....the lh texture that results from playing on two manuals in BWV 643 is quite unlike any other accompanimental texture in the chorale preludes in general, and certainly in the OB - very angular and with lots of parallel sixths and awkward tied notes. It ends up being like a particularly ungainly transcription texture - compare it to the accpt figurations in eg BWV 605 which are much more feasible. Vom himmel hoch BWV 606 can also be played on two manuals but you get the same problems of technical difficulty, which are so inelegant it's hard to believe that Bach wouldn't have found a better solution to the scoring of the texture, or have chosen a different figura for the prelude which was better suited to the 2 manual scoring.
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There isn't any kind of historical or musicological case to be made for disregarding the indications - in fact some rubrics seem to have been added to the score later than the pieces themselves, suggesting that opportunities for revision didn't lead him to add a marking to BWV 643.

Just to reinforce Stephen's point, although the Orgelbüchlein was written at Weimar, two of the preludes were composed later at Leipzig, so Bach clearly continued to use the book.
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We're going round in circles now so I'll only add one more observation. The score is all there is, and it's as clear on this particular point as it is on the notes themselves. There isn't any kind of historical or musicological case to be made for disregarding the indications - in fact some rubrics seem to have been added to the score later than the pieces themselves, suggesting that opportunities for revision didn't lead him to add a marking to BWV 643. If there were no rubrics anywhere, then it would be fair game to pick and choose - but that isn't the case, and none of the numerous people who copied it into secondary sources after its composition thought it was for two manuals either.  The idea that JSB left the notation unclear to allow performers 300 years later to orchestrate the chorales in novel ways to accord with performance practices as yet unknown to him is...interesting. He would have had little if any expectation that these pieces would still be in currency after three centuries; it's not until much later in his output that the idea of leaving scores to 'posterity' comes in and the OB is far too early for that. I don't think it's 'restrictive' to respect a composer's clearly expressed wishes.

 

Fair enough, Stephen. Thank you for the information - I was quite obviously mistaken in my assumption and now I have learned something about this particular piece which I am able to pass on to pupils.

 

I think that all I was trying to say is that we can sometimes limit ourselves to thinking in a limited way about music - particularly the music of J S Bach. I suppose that this discussion is not that far removed from the (probably equally pointless) debate on the most suitable type of organ for Bach's music.

 

However, you have convinced me on this particular matter. Perhaps one day I will save up and purchase one or two different editions - I would be fascinated to see some of the facsimile pages which some publications reproduce.

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