Jump to content
Mander Organ Builders Forum

Bach Interpretation


MusingMuso
 Share

Recommended Posts

How do we like to hear our Bach played to-day?

 

People, and especially organists, seem to have very strong ideas about what is "correct" interpretation and what is not, and yet, ever since the 19th century, each era has produced its own champions of interpretation and style.

 

Do the younger performers of to-day have any conception of how Bach's organ-music used to be played?

 

Here, as an opening teaser, is a re-creation of the way that Bach might have been played in Germany at the start of the 20th century, using the early Straube editions, and played by a lady German organist who studied with Straube, and who recorded this at the ripe old age of 82.

 

http://pipedreams.publicradio.org/listings/0433/

 

Käte van Tricht - Sauer organ - Bremen Cathedral

 

B Minor "Prelude" - 42m 50 sec

 

In the recent "Virgil Fox Phenomenon" thread, it was perhaps unfortunate that the subject ended up, as always, raising personal passions and prejudices.

 

However, the original reason for mentioning Virgil Fox, was to open up serious discussion about the various styles of Bach interpretation, as well as to offer up some sort of background which might explain the way a whole generation, including Virgil Fox, approached the organ-music of Bach.

 

I should have known better than to cast it under the heading of arguably the most controversial figure in the history of organ-playing.

 

Virgil Fox played Bach too fast, too symphonically and too loud, and as everyone knows, no self-respecting English organist would EVER have played Bach that way.

 

Well, try this:-

 

Sir George Thalben-Ball, playing the Fugue from BMV565 on the 1930 Compton of the BBC Broadcasting House, London.

 

http://pipedreams.publicradio.org/listings/0433/

 

1h 03.m 30sec

 

So there's our starter for ten, so to speak.

 

Does this style of performance have any relevance or merit to-day?

 

:blink:

 

MM

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Guest Roffensis
How do we like to hear our Bach played to-day?

 

People, and especially organists, seem to have very strong ideas about what is "correct" interpretation and what is not, and yet, ever since the 19th century, each era has produced its own champions of interpretation and style.

 

Do the younger performers of to-day have any conception of how Bach's organ-music used to be played?

 

Here, as an opening teaser, is a re-creation of the way that Bach might have been played in Germany at the start of the 20th century, using the early Straube editions, and played by a lady German organist who studied with Straube, and who recorded this at the ripe old age of 82.

 

http://pipedreams.publicradio.org/listings/0433/

 

Käte van Tricht - Sauer organ - Bremen Cathedral

 

B Minor "Prelude"  -  42m 50 sec

 

In the recent "Virgil Fox Phenomenon" thread, it was perhaps unfortunate that the subject ended up, as always, raising personal passions and prejudices.

 

However, the original reason for mentioning Virgil Fox, was to open up serious discussion about the various styles of Bach interpretation, as well as to offer up some sort of background which might explain the way a whole generation, including Virgil Fox, approached the organ-music of Bach.

 

I should have known better than to cast it under the heading of arguably the most controversial figure in the history of organ-playing.

 

Virgil Fox played Bach too fast, too symphonically and too loud, and as everyone knows, no self-respecting English organist would EVER have played Bach that way.

 

Well, try this:-

 

Sir George Thalben-Ball, playing the Fugue from BMV565 on the 1930 Compton of the BBC Broadcasting House, London.

 

http://pipedreams.publicradio.org/listings/0433/

 

1h 03.m 30sec

 

So there's our starter for ten, so to speak.

 

Does this style of performance have any relevance or merit to-day?

 

B)

 

MM

 

 

 

NO!!! :blink:

Link to comment
Share on other sites

How do we like to hear our Bach played to-day?

Does this style of performance have any relevance or merit to-day?

 

:blink:

 

MM

 

 

Well, if you are of bus-pass age like me, then the first of your examples is certainly relevant. At the age of twenty, I listened to the recordings of Albert Schweitzer and frankly couldn't understand what merit anybody saw in his performances, but as I grew up I began to appreciate the human being behind the music. I suppose just in the same way I can appreciate a fine wine or the scent of a beautiful rose more now than when I was young.

 

I'm not so sure about the GTB D minor fugue. It doesn't reach the parts that Fr. van Tricht did. In fact it reminds me of somebody frantically trying to fit their performance into one side of a 78 rpm disc.

 

Authenticity has its place, but so does the art of making music to reach the soul.

 

JC

Link to comment
Share on other sites

How do we like to hear our Bach played to-day?

 

People, and especially organists, seem to have very strong ideas about what is "correct" interpretation and what is not, and yet, ever since the 19th century, each era has produced its own champions of interpretation and style.

 

Do the younger performers of to-day have any conception of how Bach's organ-music used to be played?

 

Here, as an opening teaser, is a re-creation of the way that Bach might have been played in Germany at the start of the 20th century, using the early Straube editions, and played by a lady German organist who studied with Straube, and who recorded this at the ripe old age of 82.

 

http://pipedreams.publicradio.org/listings/0433/

 

Käte van Tricht - Sauer organ - Bremen Cathedral

 

B Minor "Prelude"  -  42m 50 sec

 

In the recent "Virgil Fox Phenomenon" thread, it was perhaps unfortunate that the subject ended up, as always, raising personal passions and prejudices.

 

However, the original reason for mentioning Virgil Fox, was to open up serious discussion about the various styles of Bach interpretation, as well as to offer up some sort of background which might explain the way a whole generation, including Virgil Fox, approached the organ-music of Bach.

 

I should have known better than to cast it under the heading of arguably the most controversial figure in the history of organ-playing.

 

Virgil Fox played Bach too fast, too symphonically and too loud, and as everyone knows, no self-respecting English organist would EVER have played Bach that way.

 

Well, try this:-

 

Sir George Thalben-Ball, playing the Fugue from BMV565 on the 1930 Compton of the BBC Broadcasting House, London.

 

http://pipedreams.publicradio.org/listings/0433/

 

1h 03.m 30sec

 

So there's our starter for ten, so to speak.

 

Does this style of performance have any relevance or merit to-day?

 

:blink:

 

MM

 

 

I'll keep my opinions on interpretation to myself as there are others here far better placed to comment, but curiosity got the better of me, and I rewound a little further to hear Robert Elmore perform the Toccata from BMV565 at Atlantic City! I have to say that the dear old BBC Compton with its studio acoustic sounds an eminently more suitable vehicle than does the 'big one'.

 

The sound of a hundred ranks all pulling in different directions.......

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I'll keep my opinions on interpretation to myself as there are others here far better placed to comment, but curiosity got the better of me, and I rewound a little further to hear Robert Elmore perform the Toccata from BMV565 at Atlantic City! I have to say that the dear old BBC Compton with its studio acoustic sounds an eminently more suitable vehicle than does the 'big one'.

 

The sound of a hundred ranks all pulling in different directions.......

 

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

 

I take it you don't like the Atlantic City organ?

 

What, with all those lovely Schulze-inspired diapasons, and the enormous wealth of mutation, I would have considered it the perfect vehicle for Bach.

 

Perhaps someone should have mentioned the fact that mutations don't have to be heavy pressure reed ranks!!!!!!!!!

 

:blink:

 

MM

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Try it on a Trost or a Holzhey, MM.

The last may be a bit late, of course. But even Naumburg

-Could one play Bach on that one like it is believed today to be "correct"?-

 

I even dare this:

-Did Bach ever have what we believe today to be a "proper chorus" at hand?

 

Pierre ( busy booking for the Kerguelen islands).

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Try it on a Trost or a Holzhey, MM.

The last may be a bit late, of course. But even Naumburg

-Could one play Bach on that one like it is believed today to be "correct"?-

 

I even dare this:

-Did Bach ever have what we believe today to be a "proper chorus" at hand?

 

Pierre ( busy booking for the Kerguelen islands).

 

This is a valid point, Pierre.

 

Arnstadt had more 8p stops than might have been expected - and rather less in the way of upper-work.

 

For my money, so far nothing has come close to Daniel Roth at S. Sulpice.

 

Yes, you did read that correctly.

 

S. Sulpice.

 

Go on - try it!

 

Motette CD 12321

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Try it on a Trost or a Holzhey, MM.

The last may be a bit late, of course. But even Naumburg

-Could one play Bach on that one like it is believed today to be "correct"?-

 

I even dare this:

-Did Bach ever have what we believe today to be a "proper chorus" at hand?

 

Pierre ( busy booking for the Kerguelen islands).

 

 

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

 

This is the whole point Pierre!

 

Do we change the organs to suit the music, or do we change the music to suit the organs?

 

I'm not going to elaborate on this too much at the moment, because I want to see what emerges from this thread. However, we might consider an important point.

 

When Bach transcribed the orchestral music of Vivaldi (and others) to the organ, he didn't request Wanamaker style string divisions from the organ-builders (I know that wasn't possible at the time). To answer the question, of course he didn't.

 

Rather, Bach re-wrote the notes and "arranged" the music to suit the organs at his disposal, but by what authority? How dare he mutliate the work of others? Had he no respect for the composer's original intentions?

 

When I play Reger on a baroque instrument, am I taking liberties?

 

If I play Bach on an organ with only 8ft and 4ft manual stops at my disposal, how can I make a Bach rendition meaningful, short of using dynamic changes?

 

It all comes down to what actually works, and it seems to me, that the word "interpretation" amounts to nothing, unless each instrument sounds exactly the same as the next; which we know not to be the case.

 

The mention of a Holzhey organ is interesting, because unlike a Schnitger organ, they cannot be rushed, so Bach's music has to slow down quite a bit, to a pace which is commensurate with the speech of the pipes, which in the case of Holzhey, is at a rather leisurely pace. The same applies to a Schulze organ.

 

So what exactly do we mean by "interpretation?"

 

MM

Link to comment
Share on other sites

This is a valid point, Pierre.

 

Arnstadt had more 8p stops than might have been expected - and rather less in the way of upper-work.

 

For my money, so far nothing has come close to Daniel Roth at S. Sulpice.

 

Yes, you did read that correctly.

 

S. Sulpice.

 

Go on - try it!

 

Motette  CD  12321

 

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

 

 

Do you mean this chap?

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UYhKKc6aEoU

 

I can't help thinking that the old wreck could benefit from a Mander re-build.

 

:blink:

 

MM

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Rather, Bach re-wrote the notes and "arranged" the music to suit the organs at his disposal, but by what authority?  How dare he mutliate the work of others? Had he no respect for the composer's original intentions?

More than many before him, I would suggest. To understand Bach's approach fully you need to understand his historical context. Back in the middle ages there was nothing sacrosanct about polyphony. As one scholar once pointed out, until around 1400 or so, the status of composers was roughly on a level with today's ladies who arrange the church flowers. Their contribution is greatly valued, but the identities of the creators is irrelevant - and (I might add) anyone is free to come along and improve on what they find. Thus any piece of medieval music might undergo significant alteration at the hand of another. Hayne van Ghizeghem's De tous biens plaine - a medieval "hit" if ever there was one - is the archetypal example. The different guises under which this piece crops up makes Handel's plagiarism look quite conservative. Later on, Thomas Morley was quite capable of taking compositions by other people, "improving" them and passing them off under his own name.* By these standards, Bach was being quite respectful.

 

If I play Bach on an organ with only 8ft and 4ft manual stops at my disposal, how can I make a Bach rendition meaningful, short of using dynamic changes?

Dare I say by playing it musically? As I have suggested before, harpsichord players manage to make Bach sound musical without changing the tone colour every minute or so. Why should it be different for an organist? "Have stops, will change?" The other day I heard a performance of Bach's Pastorale. In the "aria" movement the organist changed the tone colour of the solo melody several times. Clearly he was wedded to the idea that variety was essential. But it really didn't do the music any favours at all. It completely destroyed the sense of line; it also disrupted the submilimity. In short, it was unmusical. But the player was a young chap who clearly has much going for him; if he has ears to hear he'll learn with experience.

 

As for how I like my Bach, I'll come back to that later. It's late and the Bruichladdich is particularly palatable tonight.

 

*His ballet Sing we and chant it is cribbed from Gastoldi's A lieta vita, which was later turned into that chorale In dir ist Freude. One of the motets he wrote when he was 18 cribs its last couple of bars verbatim from a motet Byrd published in 1575.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

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

Do you mean this chap?

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UYhKKc6aEoU

 

I can't help thinking that the old wreck could benefit from a Mander re-build.

That is no way to talk about M. Roth. If Aldous Huxley had heard him improvising I'm sure he would have conceded that that he is perfectly pneumatic enough.
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Dare I say by playing it musically? As I have suggested before, harpsichord players manage to make Bach sound musical without changing the tone colour every minute or so. Why should it be different for an organist? "Have stops, will change?"

 

 

Completely agree. Simplicity is the key to Bach - he creates his own colours and textures. Get the phrasing right, and it speaks for itself.

 

Too many performances butcher the lines - I remember one of my teachers (who I had for the longest as a teenager) always banging on about playing Bach completely legato. What a load of old bollocks.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Guest delvin146
How do we like to hear our Bach played to-day?

 

People, and especially organists, seem to have very strong ideas about what is "correct" interpretation and what is not, and yet, ever since the 19th century, each era has produced its own champions of interpretation and style.

 

Do the younger performers of to-day have any conception of how Bach's organ-music used to be played?

 

Here, as an opening teaser, is a re-creation of the way that Bach might have been played in Germany at the start of the 20th century, using the early Straube editions, and played by a lady German organist who studied with Straube, and who recorded this at the ripe old age of 82.

 

http://pipedreams.publicradio.org/listings/0433/

 

Käte van Tricht - Sauer organ - Bremen Cathedral

 

B Minor "Prelude"  -  42m 50 sec

 

In the recent "Virgil Fox Phenomenon" thread, it was perhaps unfortunate that the subject ended up, as always, raising personal passions and prejudices.

 

However, the original reason for mentioning Virgil Fox, was to open up serious discussion about the various styles of Bach interpretation, as well as to offer up some sort of background which might explain the way a whole generation, including Virgil Fox, approached the organ-music of Bach.

 

I should have known better than to cast it under the heading of arguably the most controversial figure in the history of organ-playing.

 

Virgil Fox played Bach too fast, too symphonically and too loud, and as everyone knows, no self-respecting English organist would EVER have played Bach that way.

 

Well, try this:-

 

Sir George Thalben-Ball, playing the Fugue from BMV565 on the 1930 Compton of the BBC Broadcasting House, London.

 

http://pipedreams.publicradio.org/listings/0433/

 

1h 03.m 30sec

 

So there's our starter for ten, so to speak.

 

Does this style of performance have any relevance or merit to-day?

 

B)

 

MM

 

I was always taught that as Bach left relatively few indications of tempo, articulation and registration we will probably never know how he played his own pieces. Personally I think it depends on the individual organ, the acoustic together with the mood of the player. In the vast majority of cases Bach's music is so well written that it can withstand a variety of treatments. Perhaps Bach realised this and perhaps this is why he didn't write much in his scores unless of course he assumed people would know how to play it already.

 

I don't always use the same registrations except where a specific one is specified. The way I play it also depends on my mood. I played some earlier, perhaps slightly more legato than I would normally because the building and organ seemed to make this a more natural way to play it somehow. The organ and building almost seemed to dictate how to play it.

 

Bach's music is so varied, so I cannot see how one can apply hard and fast rules about how it should be played. Much of it works equally well detached and forte as it does piano and legato. (although not all).

 

I say, interpret each piece as you want each time you play it. Nobody can tell you catagorically you are wrong by doing so. A matter of personal preference. Life would be so boring if we all played it the same way and if all organs were identical.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

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

Do you mean this chap?

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UYhKKc6aEoU

 

I can't help thinking that the old wreck could benefit from a Mander re-build.

 

:)

 

MM

 

 

Hmmm.... I hope that you are joking, MM - I am sure that you would not wish to receive any further acrimonious telephone calls....

 

(He said, darkly.)

 

B)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Dare I say by playing it musically?

 

As I have suggested before, harpsichord players manage to make Bach sound musical without changing the tone colour every minute or so. Why should it be different for an organist? "Have stops, will change?"

 

.......... But the player was a young chap who clearly has much going for him; if he has ears to hear he'll learn with experience.

 

 

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

 

I couldn't agree more, but "Vox" will also know that the moment Bach is transcribed (and it IS transcribed) to the piano from the harpsichord, the nature of Bach changes completely, where the vertical dynamic plays as much a part as the linear flow. This is particularly true of the fugues, where individual entries and counter-sujects may be picked out.

 

Well, prepare to be amazed.............

 

http://music.download.com/andrewkoay/3615-...20Andrew%20Koay

 

 

 

The boy shows promise, I think.

 

B)

 

MM

Link to comment
Share on other sites

More than many before him, I would suggest. To understand Bach's approach fully you need to understand his historical context. Back in the middle ages there was nothing sacrosanct about polyphony. As one scholar once pointed out, until around 1400 or so, the status of composers was roughly on a level with today's ladies who arrange the church flowers. Their contribution is greatly valued, but the identities of the creators is irrelevant - and (I might add) anyone is free to come along and improve on what they find. Thus any piece of medieval music might undergo significant alteration at the hand of another. Hayne van Ghizeghem's De tous biens plaine - a medieval "hit" if ever there was one - is the archetypal example. The different guises under which this piece crops up makes Handel's plagiarism look quite conservative. Later on, Thomas Morley was quite capable of taking compositions by other people, "improving" them and passing them off under his own name.* By these standards, Bach was being quite respectful.

Dare I say by playing it musically? As I have suggested before, harpsichord players manage to make Bach sound musical without changing the tone colour every minute or so. Why should it be different for an organist? "Have stops, will change?" The other day I heard a performance of Bach's Pastorale. In the "aria" movement the organist changed the tone colour of the solo melody several times. Clearly he was wedded to the idea that variety was essential. But it really didn't do the music any favours at all. It completely destroyed the sense of line; it also disrupted the submilimity. In short, it was unmusical. But the player was a young chap who clearly has much going for him; if he has ears to hear he'll learn with experience.

 

As for how I like my Bach, I'll come back to that later. It's late and the Bruichladdich is particularly palatable tonight.

 

*His ballet Sing we and chant it is cribbed from Gastoldi's A lieta vita, which was later turned into that chorale In dir ist Freude. One of the motets he wrote when he was 18 cribs its last couple of bars verbatim from a motet Byrd published in 1575.

 

I never cease to be amazed at the scholarship of some of the contributors, here. I find that I am constantly learning new facts about cherished composers and performance styles.

 

Thank you, Vox, for your input.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I was always taught that as Bach left relatively few indications of tempo, articulation and registration we will probably never know how he played his own pieces. Personally I think it depends on the individual organ, the acoustic together with the mood of the player. In the vast majority of cases Bach's music is so well written that it can withstand a variety of treatments. Perhaps Bach realised this and perhaps this is why he didn't write much in his scores unless of course he assumed people would know how to play it already.

 

I don't always use the same registrations except where a specific one is specified. The way I play it also depends on my mood. I played some earlier, perhaps slightly more legato than I would normally because the building and organ seemed to make this a more natural way to play it somehow. The organ and building almost seemed to dictate how to play it.

 

Bach's music is so varied, so I cannot see how one can apply hard and fast rules about how it should be played. Much of it works equally well detached and forte as it does piano and legato. (although not all).

 

I say, interpret each piece as you want each time you play it. Nobody can tell you catagorically you are wrong by doing so. A matter of personal preference. Life would be so boring if we all played it the same way and if all organs were identical.

 

 

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

 

This is such an important reply, and I can't quite figure out why for the moment, but it is absolutely at the heart of the matter.

 

Thinking on the hoof of past experiences, I have played Bach quite fast and with an iron rhythm; often in churches where the acoustic is minimal and where the organ less than clear.

 

On the other hand, I vivdly recall playing the Bavo orgel for the first time, when I just sat and played. After 20 seconds, I came to a screeching halt in the Bach B-minor. It just wasn't working.

 

A couple more false starts, and I began to react to both organ and acoustic, and the speed dropped dramatically. Then I paused for a minute or so, and started again from top-left. Never have I felt more moved or inspired by that combination of peerless sounds, the visual beauty, the responsiveness of the action and the acoustic magnificence of that particular building.

 

That wonderful combination was telling me, in no uncertain terms, how the music should be played.

 

Well, that's part of what we mean by interpretation, but I'm sure it doesn't stop there.

 

MM

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I started this thread by providing a link to what seems to be a rather quirky performance of Bach, played from the early Straube editions. Just to remind folks:-

 

http://pipedreams.publicradio.org/listings/0433/

 

Käte van Tricht - Sauer organ - Bremen Cathedral

 

B Minor "Prelude" - 42m 50 sec

 

Now, without doubt, Friederich Sprondel will know a whole lot more about this than I, but at the turn of the 20th century, the piano was completely dominant in the minds of the great european performers. After all, Beethoven and Brahms were the great Gods of keyboard music, with Bach as the founding father, once Mendelssohn had popularised his music after almost a century.

 

Thus, the great virtuoso pianists approached Bach in the most pianistic way imaginable, and no greater exponent of the art of Bach transcription existed than Busoni. (Carl Tausing (Polish) ran him a close second, but had a short if productive life)

 

The following will illustrate the brilliance of what Busoni could achieve in his transcriptions; the virtuosity belonging firmly in the Liszt, Chopin and Mendelssohn tradition.

 

I don't play anything written or transcribed by Busoni, but I did once go to the enormous effort of learning, as best I could at the time, a Tausig arrangement of the BWV565, where massive amounts of notation were added to the organ score, with lots of harmonic fillers and octaves to achieve the big, pianistic effect.

 

This makes interesting listening. (Click on the little arrow next to the BWV number)

 

http://www.garageband.com/song?|pe1|S8LTM0LdsaSnZli_ZGE

 

Now, in the light of THAT, do the changing dynamics of the first sample, by Kate van Tricht, make more sense?

 

I think so.....more later.

 

MM

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Delvin makes some excellent points.

 

However, surely the real point is that this thread is, in a way, redundant. Leaving aside the fact that this topic has already been discussed on other threads, in the end it is up the the player, the instrument, the acoustic - and the occasion.

 

Since we have no way of knowing, for the most part, exactly how JSB preferred his works to be played (assuming that there is an 'ideal' vehicle for the performance of his music), this thread is unlikely to achieve anything in the way of ground-breaking facts.

 

However, it could also be argued that there is little point in drawing-up (imaginary) schemes for rebuilds which may - or may not - take place; I find this pleasantly diverting, so I would not wish to spoil the fun of another contributor who does desire to discuss this matter.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

What we really have:

 

-Some nearly intact organs (Trost, Silbermann, Hildebrandt...),

obviously different from what we built during the 20th century.

 

I just received my copy of "Die Orgeln J.S. Bachs":

 

http://astore.amazon.de/gp/detail.html?tag...asin=3374024076

 

.....From very knowledgable authors. That is the menu for the next Week-end!

 

Pierre

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Please sign in to comment

You will be able to leave a comment after signing in



Sign In Now
 Share

×
×
  • Create New...