Jun. 12, 2019

How To Learn A Fugue, Part II

(con't from Part I)
Let's face it -- while the polyphonic work in general, and the fugue in particular, might be considered the organ piece "par excellence," this type of composition with its multiple moving voice lines, because of its dense texture, is not among the easiest pieces to learn.
Special pieces like this, for the majority of us, need to be learned a special way.
The watchword for learning an organ fugue therefore is "SUBDIVIDE," and the strategy involved is to permit "DIVIDE AND CONQUER" to guide the learning process [See Part I].
The thicker texture of these pieces demands that they be learned by first learning each voice, getting clear where we want the phrasing and breathing and keeping it the same every time another voice enters, then move to combinations of 2 voices, working out the best fingering and pedalling that works for us during slow practice, and only then attempting to put it all together.
Human beings learn very early in life that any kind of food too large to eat all at once first has to be broken down into smaller bites.
Four voice organ fugues, especially those with multiple countersubjects written in triple and quadruple counterpoint, can be thought of as the Dagwood sandwiches of the standard repertoire -- they cover the whole plate so-to-speak and are stuffed just as high and wide with all sorts of chewy stuff.
Listeners who keep track of all of the parts are going to be busy; while it's being performed, we the performer will be busier.
To digest our way through something like this we need to come at it the same way, i.e., little by little, a bite at a time, which is substantial time gained; we also have patience with the process and with ourselves knowing that, even if we don't seem to "get it" right off the bat, even if we think "I can't do this," even if we run into something that has us thinking "this doesn't work," it doesn't mean that we're never going to work our way through it, that we're never going to get this sandwich down (photo).
Never is a long time.
The basic plan of tactics then for coming at learning a 4-voice fugue (as this organist would advise, and as many college professors of Organ are quick to recommend) include the following, in this general order:
1. play at sight each voice separately and get to know it, all by itself;
2. determine which hand will carry the alto voice, and mark the score accordingly,
3. slowly sight read combinations of 2 voices beginning with the left hand part;
4. write down the best fingerings discovered from step No. 3 and do not deviate from them,
5. write down the best heel and toe pedaling discovered from step No. 3 and do not deviate from it,
6. slowly practice both hands together;
7. slowly practice the left hand and pedal, then right hand and pedal, then put it all together;
8. do not skip steps.