Oct. 4, 2017

Heel or Toe, Part III

(con't from Part II)
Generally, when playing pedal passages from repertoire composed after 1800, the premise is good to play it in a uniform legato using toes and heels in combination.
It can be very tricky, however, trying to make this premise apply to every situation.
A case in point is the opening passage from the Toccata from Suite Gothique, Op. 25, No. 4, by Leon Boellmann.
This famous work is highly effective at captivating an audience and not terribly difficult to play, the "T figure" (toccata figuration above the pedal) lies pretty much under the hands, but a certain control has to be exercised to perform the pedal theme exactly as indicated in the score, to get it right.
This pedal theme enters on the downbeat of the 3rd measure (photo), and on the second beat of the 3rd measure we find a dotted quarter note followed by a sixteenth note.
It's been the observation of this writer that, when listening to this work performed, time after time, it's often played at such a fast concert tempo that this sixteenth note in the pedal, and the others which follow later, don't always come out as written; it can happen, that they're lengthened slightly and sound more like the third note of a triplet group with the first two triplet notes tied to the preceding quarter note (instead of sounding like a sixteenth following a dotted quarter, as indicated in the score).
At first glance one wouldn't think a little thing like this would matter all that much, but lengthening the duration of these sixteenth notes even by this slight amount and disturbing the legato by lifting the feet off the pedals in certain places changes the character of the theme completely, and its proximate cause can be related, in some cases, to the use of the right heel in playing these same sixteenth notes.
When these sixteenth notes are held longer than exactly 1/4 of a beat it's not something that can be counted readily, but the ear can detect it.
The way the composer notated it, it should sound like the first note C glides in legato immediately up to the third note Eb, and the Eb then glides in legato immediately up to Gb, as if they were glissandos.
With the exception of a few brief rests written between notes within motives and to indicate the breaks between phrases, no other articulation whatsoever is written into the score for this pedal theme, meaning that the composer wanted legato with no articulation (breaks) between notes.
By notating it the way he did, the composer wanted the strongest emphasis to come on the notes C, Eb, and Gb, the diminished triad upon which the theme derives all of its harmonic interest.
He indicates this emphasis in the score by keeping these 3 notes in longer note values in the theme, writing them on the strong beats, and working these notes into the left hand chords on the strong beats as well.
Therefore to be true to the score and stylistically authentic these sixteenth notes should be played legato and very quickly, but we know that there are limits to how fast the human ankles can react to the commands given them by the brain.
This piece stretches those limits to their extremes when the tempo is fast and the heels are employed on D and F, even when the organist's ankles are perfectly flexible.
The score is not marked Vivace or Presto as some organists are apt to perform it (some even play it Prestissimo, as fast as possible).
The composer's tempo mark is "Allegro," which means lively, not tornado speed.
Therefore we have to settle on one way of playing these pedal notes, depending upon personal taste, and stick to it.
This writer (who's a clarity guy) prefers a steady, lively but not too fast, concert tempo for this work which enables him to get the duration of those legato sixteenth notes in the pedal line exactly as written, which defines the character of the theme.
In this example this writer prefers the left heel on the first note C, the left toe on the third note Eb, and the right toe on the intervening second note D; he then takes F with the right toe and Gb with the left toe, playing these notes for the right foot (D and F) extremely quickly.
Many editors, following the premise of using heels, toes, and legato for pedaling in music composed after 1800, have provided pedaling indications for the opening theme by suggesting that the right heel be used on those two quick notes D and F.
There's nothing wrong with this; the premise is actually good.
But while the premise may be good, in this situation trouble can arise for some players in that the right ankle isn't always fast enough, and it's just too easy, when trying to employ the right heel on D and F (notes which the composer wanted held for almost no time at all) to hold these two pedal keys down a slight bit longer than the duration of a sixteenth note.
This might also arise when only the left foot is used to announce the theme; if the left heel takes D and F legato it must slide quickly forward on these keys in order for the left toe to take Eb and Gb; this requires superhuman coordination to keep the left heel from holding that D and F too long.
For this writer, it's just a matter of desiring the most control as it works with his own ankles and feet.
Organists are all wired differently, but, in some situations like this, it may boil down sometimes to coordinating the tempo with greater use of the toes in Romantic and Modern organ music to get certain fast sixteenth notes to come out exactly as written on the page.
As stated above, this can have us at a tricky place in certain pieces like this one as we try to settle on the pedaling indications that work best for us as the tempo of a work is increased during the practice period.
We find that there's some experimentation required ... and what works in one application may not work in another.
This writer also finds it works best for him, when the pedal theme returns in octaves later in the work, to pull out ... slow the tempo down just a bit ... at the return of the theme to give the lowest pipes a split of a second more time to get on speech and to play those sixteenth note octaves legato with the heels on D and F as quickly as possible with ankle movement.