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Questions about the tempo and volume of classical organ music.

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  • Questions about the tempo and volume of classical organ music.

    Did Bach, Couperin, Widor and other composers specify the tempo in their sheet music, that is the exact beats or counts per minute?

    How fast and/or loud should a grave be? A moderato? A presto? An andante? An allegro? An adagio?

    These are some Italian terms directing the tempo and/or dynamics as loud or soft.

    It seems as E Power Biggs and Anthony Newman always had the speed of their renditions just perfect: neither too fast nor too slow and the

    Tempo was always right by both Biggs and Newman whether on organ or harpsichord. They also had the expression pedal correct for the proper passages too. Diapasons and trumpets loud while
    delicate treble flutes, double flutes, strings and celestes often remained very soft.

    Too many "classical" organists today I see in YouTube videos seem to hurry through their performances as if to say "look how fast I can play this" and this often destroys the majesty of
    the classics.

  • #2
    Bach didn't specify the tempo in bpm - to my knowledge, this wasn't done until after 1815/1820, when the first metronomes were built.
    The good thing about organ music is that you always have to take the available instrument and the acoustics of the room into account. For me, it's not really possible to say that for example adagio = 68bpm and never faster or slower.
    I'm currently playing a piece by Barbara Heller, a composer born in 1936 who gives the tempo at 88-100bpm. I have an organ available where I choose the slowest tempo possible, and with another organ, I play it faster.

    Some organs take a faster tempo rather well, and others don't.

    An interesting example is BWV 668 - you can find performances on youtube lasting up to 6 minutes and a rather fast performance less than 4 minutes. When I first looked at it, I thought that it wouldn't work at this speed, but the performer chose a very good combination of stops and made the piece sound very majestic. I still like the quiet, contemplative versions more, but I admired his musicianship nonetheless. His playing sounded natural and not hurried at all.