Nov. 16, 2021

IMMEDIACY-- the quality of bringing one into direct and instant involvement (presumably complete) with something, giving rise to a sense of urgency or excitement -- is an often used word these days in a variety of applications, including music where it currently dominates and is a palpable handicap for the contemporary composer.
Any more, to sense interesting content throughout a newly composed musical work is not enough to captivate and win the approbation of the current listener who wants all the keys immediately to understand and supposedly appreciate, weigh, or judge it in the span of a few seconds.
In the 19th and early 20th centuries "listening" media as we have it today did not exist; this forced potential listeners (who were passionate or even mildly interested in experiencing a perceived "something" from the music) to attend performances and maybe return multiple times -- including even the most demanding who often made it their business to obtain a written copy or an extract or reduction of the score to examine it and perhaps decipher it on the piano.
The world in which we live today is light years removed from that.
With the rise of digital technological progress which first began in the early 1990's came low-cost recording techniques, computers, and the first home studios; anyone at the time who could afford and had space for the equipment and taught themselves how to use it thought they were a new Mozart merely because they could trigger an arpeggiator with a keyboard and computer and could amplify it.
This liberation has produced uninhibited good but also has given rise to a host of wannabees who admit to having little if any composing or performing aptitude but are good in (and don't mind assuming the risk of) business.
These entrepreneurs, not surprisingly, have taken the media by storm.
There's another world however, a smaller one, one in which no chicanery, no machination, no mediocrity, no egomaniacs, no fake musicianship, no cookie-cutter mass production, can enter -- a place where composing is the real deal and can go on for a high reason (that of the Muse) and not for the actual worldly circus -- a world where if consumers appreciate what the artistic composer has written, that's wonderful, but if no other living sould pays any heed to it at all, that's fine, too.
Today's composer is seeing and experiencing a public tempted to stick to the "preview" of any new work-- meaning the sound, the mix, the mastering, the effects, the atmosphere, or even other parameters such as cover design, anecdotes of the author, etc. -- instead of actually listening to it in its entirety.
The current ease of studio sound production and knowing that all artistic data (as well as enormous musical content) can be electronically stored has meant that listeners today can pretend to be pre-listening to a new musical work when in fact they don't listen to it at all from front to back ... their attention, too much sought-after and yet too myopic, renders many people unfit to listen for more than a few seconds before moving on.
Today's emerging composer is therefore caught between these 2 concepts of Art and Consumer Product -- which is deeply paradoxical since authentic Art is almost by definition a non-slave to time or fashion.
It should come as no surprise then, that occasionally one will come across a living composer of long standing -- a true practitioner of the creative arts -- someone from the old school whose attitude (much like Beethoven's toward the self-proclaimed aficionados of his day who knew diddly about the composer's Art) is pretty much the same.
If put into words, that same stance would likely run something like this: "To hell with the world ! -- if people want to live in their cultural dirty diapers, then that's their affair and not mine !!"
The point is, the contemporary composer puts up with the perceptible disadvantage posed by immediacy (it goes with the territory these days), keeps creating no matter what, and ignores the ever-present apathy and indifference of the public and any misguided criticisms which may come.
What matters most to organist/composers should NOT be what this current consumer world, such as it is, thinks of their compositional output -- in other words, NOT how well their Art may or may not resonate with the immediacy reality around them -- but rather what is right and good and genuine and beautiful and enduring about it.

Nov. 15, 2021

This ... is where dreams begin.

Nov. 12, 2021

The so-called "chromatic scale" consists entirely of a 12-note array of consecutive semitones; it contains each and every black and white note on the keyboard between its starting note and its octave.
When we find different organist/composers notating this scale in their scores in arbitrary ways (albeit consistently, the actual pitches being exactly the same, and readable enough) it begs the question about what method of notation might be best to adopt and how one would arrive at that.
In theory the chromatic scale, just like the minor scale, exists in 2 different forms -- harmonic and melodic -- both of which proceed by semitones.
The harmonic form is so named because its semitones can be harmonized within the normal diatonic (step-wise) scale structure; the melodic form, on the other hand, was invented because it has fewer accidentals and is easier to read.
In its harmonic form, scale degree 1 (the tonic) and scale degree 5 (the dominant) are written first and only once on the staff; all other (10) chromatic semitones are written twice, i.e. in pairs between the tonic and dominant notes.
The melodic form is used ascending only; in descending the harmonic form is used simply because there is no descending form of the melodic chromatic scale.
In the melodic form, scale degree 3 (the mediant) and scale degree 7 (the leading note) are written first on the staff and only once, and all the other notes twice, paired where possible.
When the chromatic scale over one octave is written ascending or descending, the ending note at the octave needs to be the same letter and accidental as its starting note.
Major scales and both forms of the minor scale are called "diatonic" because each note has a different letter name; neither form of the chromatic scale can be diatonic, however, as letter names are repeated.
In actual practice composers approach writing an extended chromatic scale in their scores basically in 2 different ways:
1. One way is by using accidentals on a blank staff implying a C Major/a minor signature -- in this form no letter name should occur more than twice in a row.
For example, one would not use Gb, G natural, and G# -- instead Gb, G natural, and Ab would be used.
If the starting note is a natural or sharp, then sharps are used ascending and flats descending, the only caveat being that the first and final note must be notated the same (photo).
In other words, if the first note is a sharp, then the last note must be sharp as well -- if the first note is a flat, then the last note must be flat.
If the starting note happens to be a flat, then flats and naturals are used until we can switch without breaking the "two-letter-rule."
2. The other way, which is far more common, involves notation which is subject to the sharps and flats in all the other key signatures generated by the Circle -- the method is to write the chromatic scale within a sharp or flat key signature and add in notes with accidentals, bearing in mind that the interval between the mediant (scale degree 3) and subdominant (scale degree 4) of the major scale, as well as the interval between the leading note (scale degree 7) and the tonic (scale degree 8), is already one semitone.
This provides the organist/composer with a guideline to follow when notating the chromatic scale which can be applied for any key signature beginning on any note.
In an Eb Major signature (3 flats), for example, the melodic chromatic scale would be applied in the score ascending and would observe each note flattened by the signature (Bb, Eb, Ab), use the mediant note (G) and leading note (D) just once, use the other notes no more than twice, pair these other notes by letter where possible, sharpen the naturals where needed, and would be notated this way:
Eb, E, F, F#, G, Ab, A, Bb, B, C, C#, D, Eb
Descending the harmonic form would be applied and would still observe the notes flattened by the signature (Bb, Eb, Ab), use the dominant note (Bb) just once, use the other notes no more than twice, pair these other notes by letter where possible, flatten the naturals where needed, and would be notated this way:
Eb, D, Db, C, Cb, Bb, A, Ab, G, Gb, F, Fb, Eb.
The coda of Processional March in Eb Major Op. 3 for hands only is an illustration of this [See blog, Bio/Free Stuff, !0 Pieces -- FREE].

Nov. 9, 2021

In previous postings in this blog/archive we have essayed how to WRITE an organ fugue [Ten Steps Of Fugue Writing] and how to LEARN an organ fugue [How To Learn A Fugue] ... now we will take up 5 of the most critically important points having to do with how to PLAY one ...
1. It's important to bear in mind that the whole idea of a fugue is crescendo, textural contrast, and tonal contrast (modulation); in the exposition there is a step-wise dynamic increase as each voice enters, and when the voice texture thins during the episodes the music undergoes a contrasting decrescendo; this contrast, of course, can be and usually is accentuated -- within reason -- by registration changes, manual changes, and use of the swell pedal.
It isn't good to start a Bach fugue on a single 8-foot stop at a barely audible pianissimo and end with an Armageddon of sound ... why? ... because all extremes in densely contrapuntal music need to be avoided like the plague to keep things clear to the listener.
It isn't good for the sound level to decrease suddenly and drastically during episodes between entries ... why? ... because the idea is to keep the listener with us; if the music is moving along at a forte dynamic and the bottom suddenly drops out it has the same effect on listeners as if we were to take off at an insanely fast tempo and leave them behind -- then they have to catch up, and they're a little lost briefly.
The same is true of tonal contrast, or modulation; the music need not wander all around the Circle during episodes in order to prepare the way into the key of the next entry; all that may be needed to link the last entry with the next one is a short modulating sequence of 4 or more bars which moves through a common chord, gradually adding or subtracting accidentals as needed; brevity during the episodes in fact will help create a sense of rapid and weighty development.
This leads to the next point ...
2. At its most elemental level, before hands or feet ever touch the instrument's keys, everything in performance will depend upon the organist's choice of stops.
It's critically important to spend some time in advance with the instrument getting to know each and every one of its voices, their tone color in high, low, and mid-ranges, and to find a combination of stops that creates a balanced chorus on the main manual, balanced ensembles on the other manuals, and a lean full organ sound.
For the Bach fugue it's better to avoid the use of large scale, tubby-sounding diapasons and flutes, big reeds, highly imitative strings and color reeds, and screaming mixtures in ensembles; it isn't good to start out the fugue with the biggest sound the organ can produce because it leaves nothing left to be brought on for the big finish; a big punch at the end serves the music, thus it's a good idea to hold something back for the coda.
Using Bach as the example, the exposition typically ends when the first pedal entry comes to a stop; in each subsequent entry the pedal line typically restarts and comes to a stop for the episodes between entries, and typically the final entry of the subject will be in the bottom octave of the pedals with the addition of a Pedal stop or two, such as a tame 16-foot reed or, if such a stop is already drawn, a 32-foot stop if one is available.
Clarity of the moving lines, particularly in the bass, if of prime importance in the performance of multi-voice fugues, thus at the outset narrow scale and mid-scale diapasons of a tone not too commanding and powerful along with other non-imitative quick speaking 8-foot and 4-foot foundation stops (including a mixture stop, if not too strident, in the main manual) are good to draw in the manuals along with a balance of 16-foot and 8-foot foundation tone in the Pedal, whatever the organ happens to have.
It's a good idea to start out by including in the Pedal either a tame 8-foot reed (possibly the Oboe coupled from the Swell) or a tame 16-foot reed, this to supply definition so the listener can easily pick out and follow that all-important pedal line.
A ministering art of performance is needed when selecting stops for Bach playing; to play fugues we set combinations in advance as we do for all music, but subtle changes are what's needed for playing Bach; in the Bach fugue the temptation to use the organ's absolute power, to make registration changes too frequently or in large clumps at a time. needs to be resisted.
3. It's important to LISTEN FOR THE LISTENER.
DON'T listen to it as YOU hear it ... separate from that and listen to it as THE LISTENER hears it.
These are two different things.
If we listen to it only as WE hear it, sometimes things aren't kept clear that really need to be kept clear.
This is a critically important general concept to integrate into our playing from the get-go, for EVERYTHING we play.
Maintain the hypnotic pulse of the music, but keep the tempo elastic; we don't want it to sound mechanical from beginning to end, like a typewriter is playing; nuance the music by starting the subject at the outset just a tad slow, then increase to tempo, maintain the pulse, but slow it a barely appreciable trifle before something else starts and then resume tempo.
Our ear tells us, for example, that when playing densely contrapuntal music like multi-voice fugues the more we connect the left hand line, the less the right hand line is evident, the more it's compromised; in such places the moving lines aren't really audible -- they are just vaguely moving.
At times we may have to "change the manuscript mentally" to get clear what's written on the page ... why? ... because the idea is to deliver ALL of the majestic powers at work on the page to the listener.
With Reger, for example, we have to change hundreds of things in the way he wrote it, but we do it because when we play it exactly as written our ear tells us that not everything on the page is really audible, and it's wonderful writing.
On the other hand, with Bach playing, we're not really changing anything -- we're just not connecting everything.
4. We also need to get used to the idea, if we aren't already, that THE ORGANIST PLAYS THE BUILDING AS WELL AS THE INSTRUMENT.
The touch and tempo will suggest itself depending upon the way the instrument breathes in its own acoustical environment and how much "bounce" the room has.
The way we performed it at our last public service or concert or the way we always practice it at home may not, and often does not, work at all on the instrument at hand.
In wet acoustics it may be necessary to play a little slower and more broken; in dry acoustics we can quicken the tempo and play less broken or even legato.
In very dry acoustics the values of rests written between big detached chords may have to be shortened (and the chords held longer) from what is written to keep the music from sounding too choppy; the composer, in writing the music, gauges the values of these rests written into the score between big chords by imagining the effect they would have in a moderately reverberant building -- which may not be the case at all where we're playing today.
5. One more thing: DO WE ... OR DO WE NOT ... SOLO THE FUGUE SUBJECT? ...
This is a modern development typically limited to the moving line in the left hand taken momentarily on a secondary manual, a maneuver which has gained acceptance among those players who tend to think orchestrally even when playing a multi-voice Bach fugue.
In the Bach fugue all of the voices in an entry are independent and have equal rights, thus they are to be weighted equally in performance simply because in the mind of this composer -- the greatest fugue writer who ever lived -- any of the moving lines can function as foreground material, not just the subject.
Some of the charm of polyphonic music like this is precisely due to the composer giving each moving line -- subject, countersubjects, and a free voice, if present -- equal treatment on the page and the interpreter giving them equal treatment in performance (the only possible exception being the final entry where with Bach the subject typically is assigned to the bottom octave of the pedals possibly with the addition of another subtle layer of sound -- this to allow the subject to exploit to the fullest the downward sonority of the instrument).
For this reason soloing the subject in an organ fugue -- unless written into a certain place in the score where the composer wanted the subject to be specially accentuated, such as at a redundant entry [See top menu bar, 5 Postludes, Postlude in F# Major Op. 33, for an example of this] -- is contraindicated.

Oct. 23, 2021

This (photo) is a typical bottom octave of a Renaissance styled organ manual.
Organs from this period were typically tuned in quarter comma meantone temperament [See blog, Temperaments & Tuning, Part IV].
In organs tuned to this temperament the bottom octave of the manuals (other octaves as well) typically were provided with a broken octave with split sharps.
The first white note at the bottom is C.
Next above it is F.
The front black note behind F is D.
The back black note behind F is F#.
The front black note behind G is E.
The back black note behind G is G#.
The front black note behind E (far right in photo) is Eb.
The back black note behind E is D#.