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Prelude and Fugue in A mjaor J S Bach


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#1 Barry Williams

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Posted 14 April 2014 - 09:30

It would be helpful to know what manual changes Board Members suggest when playing this delightful piece.  The music flows easily and sounds well on soft stops, but most folk change manuals at least once in the Fugue.

 

All ideas would be welcome, please.

 

Barry Williams


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#2 fsharpminor

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Posted 14 April 2014 - 09:54

I assume BWV 536. Hardly requires much change, though in the fugue, having started on Great I sometimes go quieter at bar 45 on the Swell., and back to Great again at bar 89 if I've counted properly. Maybe add another stop at 116, and another 9 bars from the end. Its also a favourite of mine, and not too difficult !


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#3 Vox Humana

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Posted 17 April 2014 - 22:37

British organists are typically indoctrinated with the idea that any lengthy spell of one, unvarying organ colour is going to be boring. Because we are conditioned to think this, we do find it boring. More on this later. However, I know of no evidence that baroque composers and performers thought in the same way.

 

As has been observed many times, in Bach's fugues it is often easy to get off the main manual, but generally impossible to get back in a way that doesn't do a violence to the linear logic of the counterpoint. Usually it results in giving prominence to phrases that are not germane to the fugal argument, or even, sometimes, changing in the middle of a phrase, which is merely crass.

 

The Dorian toccata has manual changes meticulously marked, but where are the markings in the associated fugue? There aren't any. Why not? The Vivaldi Concerto arrangement in D minor has manual changes (and some specific registrations) clearly specified throughout, except in the fugue. In the fugue there aren't any. Why not? Where in the fugue of Brandenburg 2 are the passages for strings only that would be the equivalent of manual changes on an organ? There aren't any. Why not?

 

In those pieces in which Bach does mark manual changes (mostly the concerto arrangements, but also some chorale preludes) they always occur at wholly logical points corresponding neatly with the beginnings and ends of phrases. Bach never requires one to change manuals in, for example, the middle of a row of semiquavers. The one exception to this neatness is the sudden addition of the pedal 32' and a manual 8' in the opening section of the D minor concerto, which must surely have been drawn by registrants if continuity was to be preserved. If Bach wanted manual changes in his fugues he would, on this evidence, have structured them in such a way as to make the changes logical.

 

We view Bach's fugues retrospectively through the legacy of the Romantic period, which colours our reception of the music and our attitudes to interpretation. Performers therefore often pay more attention to the "effect" than the actual music. Baroque composers had no such Romantic hang-ups.  The Baroque fugue evolved from the Renaissance fantasia / voluntary / tiento / ricercare - the names varied, but the form was much the same throughout Europe and was based on the contrapuntal working of imitative points. The piece might be based entirely on a single subject, or on a succession of different subjects rather like a motet or anthem without words. At least one of Tallis's motets began life as an instrumental fantasia. Renaissance performers saw no need to "orchestrate" these pieces by changing instruments periodically. They were quite content to play or sing them throughout on one unvarying combination of instruments or voices. The interest was in the  interplay of the contrapuntal lines. This is the aesthetic that informed the Baroque fugue. To someone approaching baroque music from the Renaissance aesthetic, changing manuals in a Bach fugue will always sound like a failure of linear logic and an unwarranted disruption to the continuity of the musical argument.

 

Having said all that, it has to be admitted that most of our British organs are of a type that abandoned the contrapuntal aesthetic that made the instrument great, with the result that often one cannot endure an unvarying combination of stops without feeling weary. I do not think I have ever encountered a Victorian or Edwardian organ with a Great 8' Open Diapason that "sings" cleanly and interestingly enough that I could play on it for hours at a time without feeling suffocated. The aesthetic of these organs was all about forcing more power out of the pipes at fundamental pitch, particularly 8', in order to accompany hymns and play orchestral arrangements. Given this, it may well be the case that, in Britain, "any lengthy spell of a single organ colour is going to be boring." However, personally I still find it more satisfying and less disruptive to hear Bach fugues without manual changes.


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#4 Barry Williams

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Posted 18 April 2014 - 08:26

Thank you, Vox Humana, for your erudition.  It was because the A major Fugue has such natural breaks, (like the Fugue in D minor - not the 'Dorian', and the 'Great' B minor Fugue), that I asked the question.

 

Your point is made most impressively when one considers the so-called 'Little' Fugue in G minor, which works wonderfully without any manual changes at all, and either on soft stops or louder tones.  The music just unfolds.  It is all most  wonderful.

 

Professor Peter Williams opined that neither extreme position was likely - "..that he never changed, or that he always changed - is quite tenable.  It is possible that even exceptional fugues like the 'Wedge' were played without changing manuals...".  I find this interesting because it supports Vox Humana's view, even with a fugue such as the 'Wedge', where mnaual changes seem implied, though not marked - it is, after all, in concerto form, though a less successful ternary example than the Fugue in C minor (attached to that Fantasia).

 

The ultimate guide must be 'Is it musical?', for even the neo-baroque organs in this country of the past fifty years bear little or no resemblance to baroque instruments. 

 

All of this relates to another matter on tone, about which I shall start a new thread later today.  (After the gardening has been done!)

 

Barry Williams


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#5 Guest: mel2_*

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Posted 18 April 2014 - 11:47

Please can someone clarify that the fugue in question is BWV536?

Enjoying the discussion and would like to follow it with the score.


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#6 Vox Humana

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Posted 18 April 2014 - 12:08

Please can someone clarify that the fugue in question is BWV536?

Enjoying the discussion and would like to follow it with the score.

 

I hope so. At any rate, it's the only P&F in A major by Bach that I can think of.
 

Professor Peter Williams opined that neither extreme position was likely - "..that he never changed, or that he always changed - is quite tenable.

 

Yes, I was aware of Prof Williams's statement, but I have not (yet) seen any facts adduced to support this argument in respect of fugues. If anyone can provide a reference, or, better still, a paper, I would be very interested.

 

The ultimate guide must be 'Is it musical?', for even the neo-baroque organs in this country of the past fifty years bear little or no resemblance to baroque instruments.

 

Not even an organ like the Frobenius at Queen's, Oxford? Some do, many don't. I sometimes think that "avant-garde" would be a better label than the misleading "neo-Baroque" (but that's not really accurate either). Either way, such a label is not automatically a synonym for "unmusical". Many of these organs are extremely musical indeed. Just because they cannot necessarily cope well with Romantic music is neither here nor there. Indeed, that is often their strength.


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#7 fsharpminor

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Posted 18 April 2014 - 13:44

Its the only one in A Major BWV 536


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#8 Guest: mel2_*

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Posted 18 April 2014 - 14:49

Thanks for the confirmation. In my own defence (lest anyone is thinking I'm an eejit, )
IMSLP seems to boast a second P+F in A major by JSB numbered BWV 896.

 

 

 

 

Edit:......which I now see is for keyboard, not organ. As you were.......


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#9 fsharpminor

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Posted 18 April 2014 - 15:23

There will be two P & F's in A Major from Well Tempered Clavier Books 1 and 2


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#10 Vox Humana

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Posted 18 April 2014 - 15:57

It was because the A major Fugue has such natural breaks

 

But it doesn't. See my remarks above.


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#11 Barry Williams

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Posted 19 April 2014 - 09:43

it

 

It was because the A major Fugue has such natural breaks

 

But it doesn't. See my remarks above.

 

Whilst I take your point Vox, I feel that that it applies much more to other fugues.  e.g. The (Toccata and) Fugue in F major (actually adouble fugue, if I recall correctly), The 'Dorian' (Toccata and) Fugue, the 'Great' A minor and G major Fugues and most especially to the 'Little' G minor Fugue.  Many very eminent players change manuals in the A major fugue.

 

Preofessor Peter Williams words were taken from the little BBC Guide.  (I will gladly send it to you for loan, if you wish.)  However, he had told me the same during a couple of telephone conversations back in 1999, when he was very helpful about our House Organ.  Schweitzer and others had made similar comments. ( Even more interesing is Professor Williams' comments about 'non-glittering' registrations in Trio Sonatas.)

 

I have never thought the Frobenius in Queen's College as especially suitable for Bach.  Your description of 'Avant Garde' applies as much to that as it does to other instruments of that time, many of which are not as beautiful as that Frobenius.  Perhaps I feel that way because Queen's, like many others, is so far removed from the organs of Bach, with their magnificent rich tones.  Whilst it is not necessary to have a replica to play musically, it is often helpful to know what the composer had to use at the time.

 

Barry Williams

 

PS I have just played the A major Fugue through on flutes 8' + 4', with Pedal 16' + 8' and no manual changes.  I rather like it!


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#12 Stephen Barber

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Posted 19 April 2014 - 12:06

From Peter Williams' book (The Organ music of J.S. Bach (2nd edition):

 

"For the player, a further question concerns manual-changing, which is entirely practical here: the episodes are such that changing is effortless, even to a third manual during one of them (b. 123)."

 

Though I haven't got my copy here, and I don't remember ever changing manuals in it.


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#13 Vox Humana

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Posted 19 April 2014 - 12:23

 

Preofessor Peter Williams words were taken from the little BBC Guide.

 

Thank you. I have that little booklet - and well worth reading it is too (if you can track down a copy; I imagine it's out of print). In the words you quoted Williams does not say specifically that he is referring to fugues, but, since he then goes on to mention the "Wedge" fugue, it is likely that he was. However he also goes on to say that until a detailed analysis of the harpsichord music of the Leipzig period is undertaken one can do little other than guess. I am not sure why evidence of what Bach did on the harpsichord in Leipzig necessarily tells us how he played years earlier when he wrote most of his organ music, but I am willing to be persuaded.

 

Many very eminent players change manuals in the A major fugue.

 

Sidney Campbell once complained to me that Thurston Dart considered all cathedral organists dead from the neck up. I knew what Campbell meant and I had sympathy, but I could also see Dart's point of view. Cries of "eminent player" do not impress me. Not all emperors wear clothes and I make my own judgements. I feel confident that if you closely examined any of these eminent players about why they change manuals in Bach fugues you would find that their decisions derive from a given assumption that some tonal variety is necessary to prevent boredom, followed by a search for the best places to make the changes. In other words, their decisions do not derive from the linear logic of the counterpoint. The typical organist will alight on the passages without pedals as being the best candidates for transfer to a subsidiary manual.

However, consider the sort of instruments Bach had to play. There is no doubt that Bach was much influenced in his youth by North German players and organs, hence his very active pedal parts. One may imagine that, back in his home territory of Thuringia, he must often have been frustrated by the pedal departments of the local organs. Except in larger organs they did not possess the developed pedal divisions of the North German instruments. In Gottfried Silbermann's smaller organs (which is nearly all of them) the pedal department may consist of little more than a 16' flue, an 8' flue' and a 16' reed. One gets the distinct impression that they were designed to play nothing much more elaborate than the concluding bass entry of the theme in short chorale fughettas of the type composed by Pachelbel and J. M. Bach.  The pedal divisions of Bach's organs at Arnstadt and Weimar were basically of this type, though both also included a higher-pitched pedal reed for solos; he was luckier at Mülhausen. On such organs Bach's grander fugues would have been underpinned in the pedal by a reasonably assertive 16' reed. The alternate presence and absence of this would have provided all the tonal variety required.

 
So, reverting to the A major fugue, where would you make the manual changes? Let's first dispose of bar 49. For many players the end of the pedal passage here signals, zombie-like, a change of manuals. It's easy to transfer the left hand, but what do you do with the right? Presumably the change will be made after the first quaver or after the fourth. However this is in the middle not only of a musical phrase, but one which also happens to be the fugue subject, which does not peter out until the next bar (it is "broken" by the quavers, but it is still there). The subject is in a three-part stretto at this point, so changing manuals disrupts the developing linear argument. I know twentieth-century organists who would reply that this isn't important, but Renaissance and Baroque thought primarily linearly and would not have agreed. In short, I can't see any reason why changing manuals in a fugue should have occurred to them and I see nothing in any of their scores to make me think otherwise.
 

It is worth repeating that, at the end of the day, one has to make musical judgements about the organs one has to play. If one concludes that one needs (or, for that matter, simply prefers) to play in a way the composer did not envisage, that is the performer's prerogative. I am a lot more pragmatic in practice than the points I argue might sometimes suggest, but, whatever a performer does, I still listen primarily for an intelligent and properly considered interpretation of the music.


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#14 Vox Humana

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Posted 19 April 2014 - 12:44

Even more interesing is Professor Williams' comments about 'non-glittering' registrations in Trio Sonatas.

 

The introduction to the new Breitkopf edition of the trio sonatas has some interesting observations on their registration. It's available online here - click the "Introduction to EB8805" link; the English translation starts on page 18.


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#15 fsharpminor

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Posted 19 April 2014 - 12:56

As in my first post Bar 45 to Swell (quieter) , bar 89 back to Great


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