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My Play Date with J. S. Bach

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  • My Play Date with J. S. Bach

    When I was an active church musician one my greatest sources or organ repertoire was Bach's Orgelbuchlein. Of course it helped that the 1982 Episcopal hymnal uses so many of the chorale tunes upon which these pieces are based. However, I did not play everything from this wonderful collection. Now that I no longer have a weekly obligation to play for services, I have the luxury of playing whatever I want. Today I decided to start playing everything in the Orgelbuchlein. Some of the pieces are like old friends; it is good to play them again. However, there are some really wonderful gems that I had never played before.

    One of those "new" pieces for me is Vom Himmel, Kam der Engel Schaar. What a delightful piece. I have decided to add this to my "things to learn" pile.

    As I was going through this exercise, I also played one of the chorale settings and sang along with it. The tessitura felt uncomfortably high and then I remembered, A was probably set to somewhere around 435 hz. Since my organ gives me the ability to change the tuning so easily, I set A to 435 and selected the "Bach" temperament. It was an interesting exercise that I intend to continue. I have not quite made it to the half way point of the Little Organ Book, so I have more fun ahead. Who knows what other gems I will find.
    Bill

    My home organ: Content M5800 as a midi controller for Hauptwerk

  • #2
    Originally posted by voet View Post
    As I was going through this exercise, I also played one of the chorale settings and sang along with it. The tessitura felt uncomfortably high and then I remembered, A was probably set to somewhere around 435 hz. Since my organ gives me the ability to change the tuning so easily, I set A to 435 and selected the "Bach" temperament. It was an interesting exercise that I intend to continue. I have not quite made it to the half way point of the Little Organ Book, so I have more fun ahead. Who knows what other gems I will find.
    I personally wouldn't make any hard inferences between what the pitch reference was in Bach's time and the tessitura of the Cantus Firmus of a chorale prelude composed for solo organ performance. If you locate an Urtext of the chorale for SATB, that is something else entirely. You'll probably find it is a completely different key from the chorale prelude, and even then, as a guy (yes?) you would be 'expected' to sing the tenor or bass line. What the Soprano line sounds like in Tenor range may, or may not have a nice tessitura for a male singer. But, go ahead, have fun. I give you permission :-)

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    • #3
      I am sorry that I did not make it clear. My edition of the Orgelbuchlein has 4 part vocal settings of the chorales that each piece is based on. I was singing the soprano line an octave lower.

      I was once asked to sing tenor for a performance by a local Bach choir. The director was using modern instruments tuned to A 440. After looking at the music they were doing (I no longer recall which pieces they were) I realized that I would not be able to sing tenor in a performance that would run over an hour. While there was no consistent pitch reference used back then, we do know from extant historic examples that organs during Bach's time organs were pitched roughly a half step lower than the 440 Hz standard so widely used today.
      Bill

      My home organ: Content M5800 as a midi controller for Hauptwerk

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