Jun. 13, 2016

Fraternal Organ Playing, Part V

(con't from Part IV)
In addition to performing processional music, patriotic music, hymns, and support for the singing of Odes and accompanying occasional vocal solos, the fraternal organist is constantly called upon to supply incidental music.
This type of music, also known as "wallpaper music," while not primarily musical, is intended to provide a background, create a mood, or add atmosphere to the action happening on the floor.
It may take the form of something as simple as a low, ominous, held tone, or it could include just the manual parts of a chorale prelude played up high, very softly and slowly; it might involve anything from a horn fanfare to a drum roll to a passage lifted from a familiar organ composition to an improvised interlude, but it's a genre that typically does not extend to pieces designed for concert performance.
Incidental music, as it relates to organ playing, therefore comes in 2 general types: written and improvised.
If written, it may take the form of a very short prelude or verset, an interlude, a longer composition, a passage lifted from a composition, or a chorale (hymn) harmonization.
Some of the most useful material for this purpose can be found in the "44 Versets or Short Preludes for Keyboard" by Johann Georg Albrechtsberger (1736-1809).
Albrechtsberger (photo) was an Austrian musician, organist, master of musical theory, acclaimed pedagogue, and teacher of, among others, Hummel and Beethoven; while he was a prolific composer, his status in musical history rests mainly upon his theoretical writing and his knowledge of counterpoint.
Most of his works remain in manuscript, but some of it was published, among which are the pieces in this collection; being written in the key of D Major throughout, they're all fairly easy to read, consist of just a few measures each (several are only 4 measures long, the longest one being 14 measures), and most of them are made up of short fugal expositions which come across well using a very light registration, such as a single 8-foot flute stop; herein lies their value.
The 2 Sketches available for downloading and printing on this web site [See menu bar, Free Stuff] are another source of incidental music and may be performed piecemeal or in their entirety to fit a time requirement.
Something a bit longer from the literature but without an obligatory pedal part might also serve the purpose at hand; this might include any of the other 2 Staff scores posted here [See menu bar, Free Stuff, subpage 2 Staff}, any of Vierne's 24 Pieces in Free Style, any pieces from Franck's L'Organiste, or similar works by Pachelbel, Dubois, Callahan, and others; the list of this type of repertoire is extensive.
Passages might also be lifted from longer compositions and used as incidental music, such as portions of the Choral from Vierne's 2nd Symphony, the first page of the Allegro from Widor's 6th Symphony adapted for 2 hands, etc.
As far as chorale harmonizations are concerned, there's probably nothing more useful for incidental use than the 371 Four Part Chorales of J.S. Bach; these are available in a plastic comb binding to lay flat on the rack, which is recommended; this collection represents every tune of the entire Lutheran hymnal of his day, which Bach treated in 4 part harmony, sometimes more than once; while there is no pedal part and each setting is not terribly difficult to read, the hand division at times can be tricky; there are also, at times, large stretches for the hands; their chief advantage is that they're short and lend themselves to fit a time requirement, but they're also a great study in learning the rules of part writing [see Hymns, Part III].
What finer models are there, as examples for study, than those left to us by J.S. Bach? ...
As for improvising incidental music when you don't have pedals in front of you, in the beginning, once again, it helps to keep it simple; there's nothing wrong with sticking to one key and a single 8-foot flute stop, keeping only one voice in each hand (soprano or alto in right hand, tenor or bass in left hand), and creating an interesting bicinium (piece in 2 parts only) based upon some simple motive or theme, such as the first few notes of a well known hymn tune; the hand that isn't carrying the idea can be used to work an interesting line around it, using mostly consonant intervals [See blog, Improvisation, Part I].
As to form, you can keep it as simple as possible there, too; just aim for an 8 measure period consisting of 2 phrases of 4 measures each; try to make the idea say something musical rather than having it sound like it's meandering; in the beginning, that's all you need to shoot for.
You can start with the hand carrying the idea, and then add the other hand to it; if you get stuck on what to do, you can go back and thin the texture down to a single line again; It's your improvisation, so you can't make any mistakes; and if you think you did, nobody, and I mean nobody, would know the difference.
The late and incredibly talented artist Bob Ross, when talking about painting used to say, "We don't make mistakes, we just have happy little accidents." [See blog, Musical Landscapes].
As you approach the final cadence, you might add a 3rd voice to create some harmony, then a 4th voice on the final chord.
Something this rudimentary comes across surprisingly well, lends a quiet peace to the floor work (it's almost perfect when the lodge room is tiled or purged), provides some relief from full chords on the stronger sounds, and helps the beginner get over any fear they may have of being vulnerable when improvising.
The more you do it, the more you exercise your imagination, the more you're going to enjoy success with it, and the more you're going to want to do it.
You might then continue this procedure, still using an 8-foot flute stop but extending it to another nearly related key or two, and then, in time, you might even try adding another voice to the right hand or left hand after the first two get going, thus creating a 3 part harmony throughout the piece.
If you're not sure at some point, you can thin the texture down again to a single line, see what it suggests for something new, and use it to move the music forward; you just need to keep playing, keep moving, and don't stop.
From there, once you're used to working the alto or tenor voice into the harmony separately, you're only one step away from working both of them into the harmony, at the same time.
It's a progressive science, with one thing gradually added to another, in successive steps [See blog, Layering Sheets Of Paper]; the important thing to understand is, you're making progress every day, and you get there in a shorter time than you might think.
It won't come by wishing for it; you just have to set yourself on the bench and try working with it on a regular basis, a little bit at a time, in little steps, and let it grow day to day, like any other skill [See blog, Improvisation, Parts I-V]..
It isn't something that comes down from above and somehow flows out through the hands of the select few; this is something that can be taught, something that can be learned, and something you can do.
(con't in Part VI)