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was E. Power Biggs good?

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  • Re: was E. Power Biggs good?

    I have been at performances with both. Fox I worked with personally. I prefer Fox. Just my thinking. dec

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    • Re: was E. Power Biggs good?

      E. Power Biggs' playing changed significantly during his lifetime. I have a 1940's recording made by Biggs when he was still basically an English organist. Several of J.S. Bach's major works are on this recording. Some of those same works were recorded again on a 1960's and later LP. Registrations are cleaner, ornamentation and "stylistic" considerations were very obvious in the later recording. Biggs handled polyphony well, inluding Bach fugues.

      There never has been "the best organist for the Bach fugues" and never will be. There are a number of valid approaches for playing Bach fugues. The playing must allow the counterpoint and inter-weaving of lines to be clear; the episodic passages of the fugue must contrast with sections where subject(s) and counter-subject(s) are heard. The registration on the organ must approximate what the composer intended. The are a number of organists currently playing and recording that could provide a good listening experience for organists and non-organists alike.

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      • Re: was E. Power Biggs good?

        Posted By: philomela on 08/02/2004 09:45 AM
        Subject: Re: was E. Power Biggs good?


        There never has been "the best organist for the Bach fugues" and never will be




        ----------------------------------------------
        I think you missed the subject matter here. The question wasn't "which organist is best for the Bach fugues" but "which organist is best" period. if I may suggest, read the thread from beginning to end.

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        • Re: was E. Power Biggs good?

          perhaps I did miss the "subject matter", but I hope not the fugue subject!!



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          • Re: was E. Power Biggs good?

            Biggs was "the best for Bach fugues" at a certain point in time, say, between 1947 to 1970.
            Biggs was well-known due to his recordings, concerts at Busch Reisinger, Harvard U., etc.

            His playing reflected care with registration, polyphonic clarity and an honest attempt to do what the composer envisioned, **INSOFAR AS HE UNDERSTOOD WHAT THE COMPOSER
            INTENDED**. Biggs was the first to record the organ on LP. I have that recording; it was issued in 1948, recorded at St. Paul's Chapel, Columbia U. This is a great room for organ sound, has one of G. Donald Harrison's "American Classic" organs in it.

            Biggs' playing matured as he got older and he used fingerings, ornaments that scholarship had brought to light. These revised fingerings and the addition of appropriate ornaments were musical details that scholars had uncovered in research of music from comparatively early times. Some of this can be heard very clearly on the "Pedal Harpsichord" recording that he made. I mention all of this to show that Biggs blazed trails at different times in his life.

            There were other organists that were important at the same time. I have never figured out why Fox was not exposed for the phony, messed-up man that he was. His playing was neurotic and out-of-focus most often. He catered to the lowest instincts in people and never sought to up-lift, inspire or inform.

            Sorry to got on so long, but re Biggs I wanted to be as clear as possible.

            R.

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            • Re: was E. Power Biggs good?

              Re: was E. Power Biggs good?
              Posted: 05/03/2004 08:17 PM
              "The Last Page" (page 96) in the May issue of The American Organist (it is also posted on the Virgil Fox Legacy website). "Choral and Organ Guide" conducted a popularity poll in 1952, and from 2,200 ballots sent in, Virgil Fox received the most votes of the "Big Ten" of the American Organ World. (Amazingly, he's still the most popular to many people at the beginning of the 21st Century.)

              The runners up were: E. Power-Biggs (that's the way it's inscribed on the cup), Catharine Crozier (these first three were chosen to dedicated the Aeolian-Skinner Organ in Philharmonic Hall, Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, in December 1962), Robert Baker, Alexander McCurdy, Arthur Poister, Claire Coci, Alexander Schreiner, Richard Purvis, and Clarence Dickinson.

              In most democracies, Mr. Philomela, the majority rules. Why would you think Fox was a phony? You never figured it out because put simply, he wasn't a phony. He was and still is, the best. even in death, he is at the top and probably will stay there for ever. In the words of the famous business man, Dale Carnegie.

              "Unjust criticism is often a disguised compliment. It often means that jealousy and envy have been aroused. Remember that no one ever kicks a dead dog."

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              • Re: was E. Power Biggs good?

                I'm fascinated with this discussion, because all of you are right, but all of you are also wrong! How can you judge organists of almost 60 years ago by today's standards? Remember that when E. Power Biggs started playing, they were still building, and SELLING, Wurlitzers! Walt Holtkamp was still alive, and G. Donald Harrison. And, for that matter, E. M. Skinner!

                My Oberlin teacher informed me that during the 40's it was standard procedure to jump to the Swell and close the box during the B sections of a Bach work. Biggs was above that. He was one of the few that STARTED pulling us out of the doldrums of the early part of the last century. Maybe he wasn't like the organists of today, but he WAS the first of us!

                Bach's organs were all entirely unenclosed? We couldn't be forgetting the many times he jumped up on the bench and slammed the huge dust doors that covered the whole organ, are we?

                And what about his tempos? Have you ever PLAYED any of the organs he played? Well, I have. Several of them. Old organs with cast iron action in a building with 6 to 8 seconds of reverb. How fast do you think he could have played them? Not very! But then, did your teacher ever tell you to adjust your tempos and articulation to the resonance of the room, or the action of the organ? Mine did.

                What about a Romantic interp of a Bach work? Just get ahold of an old recording of Gaston Lataize playing Bach on an unrestored Cavaille Coll and hang on to your hats! A whole new world will open up to you.

                Not many stop changes? You DO realize that it takes four people to play an old German tracker, don't you? One playing, one turning pages, and one on either side to change stops. They are still called registreurs. If Bach wanted to, he could have stop changes like a movie palace Wurlitzer!

                So how did he play? Over the years performance standards always go UP! Americans are the only ones who always push for recording standards, which means no mistakes! Europeans don't do that. They push for musianship first, then accuracy. There are plenty of recordings around of pianists before 1900. We may think of them as some of the greatest pianists of all time, but the recordings show terrible inaccuracys, they always start slow and speed up towards the end, and they always slow down during the hard parts. I suspect that you DON'T want to hear a recording of Widor playing his own works, especially when he takes the famous toccata at about MM=80 for the quarter notes. But then, with his accoustics, how could he take anything faster?

                Look at the Bach works. They were the most difficult organ music of his day. But how do they compare with, say, the Alain Trois Danses? He couldn't have played works like that. In his day, no one could. They didn't have the technique. Sadly, I suspect that J. S. Bach had a technique about the same as a good college organ minor around his junior year.

                If I think of anything else I'll let you know.

                Dave Stevens

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                • Re: was E. Power Biggs good?

                  Dang, Mr. Stevens, a blast of sensible air! You certainly reeled off a great set of slap-to-the-forehead moments. Thanks!
                  Allen, circa 2006

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                  • Re: was E. Power Biggs good?

                    My name is Dave, and the next time I see you, maybe we can duck out during the sermon and I'll buy you a couple of drinks! That's how Bach got himself fired from his first job, you know!

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                    • Re: was E. Power Biggs good?

                      Mr. Stevens,
                      Your statement about Bach's works and how he must have played is by far the most asinine statement I have read to date. If this is an example of what they teach out there in the home of the musician's junkyard Julliard wanna be's, I can only offer one word of advice. It is better to keep your mouth shut and let someone think you are stupid, rather than to open it and remove all doubt. Please, do us all a favor, don't think, just do as your told. but by all means warn us if the cells in your cerebellum start to tingle.

                      Jerry Taylor

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                      • Re: was E. Power Biggs good?

                        Jerry wrote:
                        "but by all means warn us if the cells in your cerebellum start to tingle. "

                        Jerry, I can't comment on all of what Mr. Stevens said, but he WAS thinking, and thinking takes place in the cerebrum, not the cerebellum. Also, the brain does not feel anything like tingling or pain; it only interprets what comes in from stimuli to nerve receptors of our senses.

                        I am not defending all of what Mr. Stevens said, but I'm not sure that an attack on a fine fine conservatory is a judicious approach to sane discussions.

                        Chill, Jerry, chill. Chill your cerebellum, cerebrum, and your medulla oblongata. Please give your hypothalamus a rest, and try to regulate that limbic system of yours that wants to start a flame war. Come, let us reason together.

                        Now, to weigh in on the topic, "Was E. Power Biggs good?" He was, in my opinion, superb!

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                        • Re: was E. Power Biggs good?

                          Biggs taught at the Longy School in Cambridge and recorded on the two Busch-Reisinger organs at Harvard. I have one recording on the 1937 Aeolian-Skinner organ and a number of recordings on the 1958 Flentrop.

                          Busch Hall is a good room for sound and has a spooky, interesting collection of statuary around the room, below the organ gallery.

                          Richard

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                          • Re: was E. Power Biggs good?

                            Cole,
                            I am chilled, I just had whole house Air conditioning installed and I am test running it to see what it will maintain. As we speak, it is 62 degrees in the hallway where the thermostat is located. As for our colleagues at Oberlin, My apologies, if any of you happen to read the statement made about JS Bach by one of your alumni, deny that you ever heard of them. I don't think anyone would blame you If I were an applicant to Oberlin with a desired major in organ, after reading the statement made by Mr. Stevens, I would withdraw.

                            Cole, as far a s he cerebellum is concerned, I am aware of that. Apparently my attempt at sarcasm was weak. It certainly wasn't the part of the brain that does think for a musician holding a degree make the statement "Sadly, I suspect that J. S. Bach had a technique about the same as a good college organ minor around his junior year."
                            First of all, the difference between the Organ that Bach played and the organ now is (1) the original instrument has been replaced, so there is no comparison, (2) when Bach played it, it was new, today it would be very old. If it were still there.

                            Please do not take me the wrong way on this next statement, Jehan Alain, who's music I love, and who's sister I think is one of the finest organists in the world today, held Bach's works as the greatest. Marie Claire has recorded Bach's complete works twice now, correct me if I'm wrong. and I am certain that if asked if Bach were alive, could he play the works of Alain, that the answer would be referred to the "music and western civilization " courses 101 thru 402.
                            Lay person to professional musician living in the years from 1650-1750 would consider Alain's works a bunch of garble to the ear. The same would apply to what Beethoven would think of Stravinsky. or Chopin of Bartok. Imagine what all of them would think of Ives.

                            Please lead me to the building that has a 6 to 8 second reverberation. the only one that comes to mind for me is in the land of Oz. Emerald City. In the hall of the wizard.

                            the reverberation, or may I say, the aliveness of a building may vary from room to room for the way an organist articulates, but not his tempo! it is the "legato" that looses itself in a large room, not the "allegro"

                            one more defense for Bach. one has to keep in mind that he would improvise fugues at will during services. hmmm anyone want to try that. he scribbled a lot more of his music on wrapping paper than what we have today. he was a showman, conceited with every right to be, and every one loved him, he was the best. he is buried at the alter of Saint Thomas in Leipzig Bach was know to revel in the fact that his music was so difficult no one could imitate it. He was in fact a musical genius who single handled influenced the way we write, play, and listen to music today. If his musicianship is like that of a good "junior organ minor" that would mean the average musician could do every thing that Bach did, tell me then, why do I find the likes of country western music and pop music so simplistic in comparison maybe Hank Williams will be discovered as a genius writer and dethrone Bach as a fake?
                            Please Cole, another poor attempt at sarcasm from me, don't take me serious.

                            If I were the chairperson of the organ department at Oberlin, upon reading the statement made by Mr. Stevens, I would have headed directly to the list of graduates to see if this person actually graduated from my dept. and if they did, i would look to see who their applied music teacher was and head directly for them. and they would better be able to answer more than a few questions about their methods of teaching and demand a public apology for allowing misrepresentation. Oberlin is a very fine conservatory, I'm sure if approached, the most common statement replied would be "not me, I never told him that!"
                            Now that my steam pressure gage is out of the red, lets all sing happy birthday to this thread on its first birthday. and lets get back to putting the right logs on the fire, "Biggs and Fox"
                            I think the best description for comparing Biggs and Fox is the difference between a flaming Queen and a Closet Queen. we all know which one was which. oddly enough, not only did their life style display it, their interpretation and performances did also. but if we need to find one thing that ties all of us, from J.S.Bach right down to the freshman organ minor, we all are a bunch of "know it all's" who love to sit around and tell each other just how much we know, then tell each other that they are wrong and argue for years about it. Thus,

                            "Happy Birthday to You,
                            Happy Birthday to You,
                            Happy Birthday to this thread--- ad,
                            Happy Birthday to You----oooooo!

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                            • Re: was E. Power Biggs good?

                              Our young friend Jerry may have done well in college, but he certainly flunked out of Charm School.

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