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Thread: The Well-Tempered Clavier on organ

  1. #1
    ppp Pianississmo darditti's Avatar
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    The Well-Tempered Clavier on organ

    This is a question which may be a daft one, but it’s a thing I’d really like to know, as a pianist with a fascination with Bach’s music coming to the organ relatively recently.

    The Well-Tempered Clavier (Books 1 & 2) is sometimes played on the organ rather than the piano (or harpsichord, clavichord etc), and there are a few recordings of it thus. Some critics think it’s better on the organ.

    Seeing as Bach did not write the work to require pedals, when organists play it, do they play it on the manuals as if on an instrument with no pedalboard? Or do they completely re-think the execution from how it would be done on piano? For example, would they probably play a 3-voice fugue on Swell for top voice, Great for middle voice and Pedal for bottom voice, so as to clearly separate the voices by timbre (though that might create a difficult pedal part)? What might they do in the case of a 4 or 5-voice fugue? Would they adapt a prelude somehow to incorporate the pedals?

    Thanks for any knowledge or insights.

    David

  2. #2
    mf Mezzo-Forte Leisesturm's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by darditti View Post
    Seeing as Bach did not write the work to require pedals, when organists play it, do they play it on the manuals as if on an instrument with no pedalboard?
    This is the safe and logical assumption for the majority of the WTC 1 & 2.

    Or do they completely re-think the execution from how it would be done on piano? For example, would they probably play a 3-voice fugue on Swell for top voice, Great for middle voice and Pedal for bottom voice, so as to clearly separate the voices by timbre (though that might create a difficult pedal part)?
    Impossible pedal part is more like it. There might be a specific organist/arranger who has 're-worked' a few of these Preludes and Fugues to include pedal but I doubt it. Beyond playing the appropriate tonic pedal at the conclusion of a work there is just too much there. There are limits.

    There is a famous collection of Chorale Preludes arranged by Johannes Brahms for organ. Most organists have this collection lying around somewhere if they haven't lost it (like I have). I think some of them have notated pedal but Number 5(?) in particular "Schmucke dich O lieb seele" sp. "Deck Thyself My Soul With Gladness" does not have a notated pedal line in its original form. It is often done by organists utilizing the pedal to sound not the rather florid (impossible) bass line of the original, but the Cantus Firmus in the soprano. This requires a complete mental re-working of the score, and I don't know that any organist could do it at sight from the original. It has been transcribed to 3 staves for organ, however, and I really should get myself a copy. Thanks for making me think about it.

  3. #3
    ppp Pianississmo darditti's Avatar
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    Thanks very much Leisesturm for a concise and informative answer.

    David

  4. #4
    mp Mezzo-Piano Peterboroughdiapason's Avatar
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    I think some of the WTC suits the organ very well and all of it can work with careful playing. Some pieces don't seem to me to work so well, e.g. the very first prelude.

    The fugues are natural organ music, of course. The lowest voice could be played on the pedals, as you would an original organ fugue, but the fugue subjects are mainly too fast. The D major and E major fugues in Book 2 could be played with pedals throughout. I've just had a go at the book 2 Eb fugue: if I wanted to play that on the organ (and I think I will!) I would probably play the exposition with pedals aand then drop them out until the final bass entry. Not very authentic, of course.

    The pedals, with no stops drawn, could be used freely to help out the hands - as long as one's feet phrase as well as one's fingers!

    With regards to the Brahms "Schmucke Dich", (an original organ chorale prelude, not an arrangement, of course), I think if Brahms had wanted the tune played on the pedals he would have written it like that - I think it's a beautiful piece as it is. It's certainly an option, though. With Baroque music it's a bit different as I composers weren't as specific in their instructions.

    Thank you for bringing this up - I'd never considered playing any of the WTC on the organ but will now have a go!

    By the way, one klavier piece that I do play on the organ in the wonderful Fantasia in A minor (BWV 904) which I think suits the organ perfectly. I use pedals (as suggested by Hermann Keller) for the full sections and just manuals for the lighter ones. (in: http://www.bodensee-musikversand.de/...ucts_id=111149)

  5. #5
    mf Mezzo-Forte Leisesturm's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Peterboroughdiapason View Post
    I think some of the WTC suits the organ very well and all of it can work with careful playing. Some pieces don't seem to me to work so well, e.g. the very first prelude.

    The fugues are natural organ music, of course. The lowest voice could be played on the pedals, as you would an original organ fugue, but the fugue subjects are mainly too fast. The D major and E major fugues in Book 2 could be played with pedals throughout. I've just had a go at the book 2 Eb fugue: if I wanted to play that on the organ (and I think I will!) I would probably play the exposition with pedals aand then drop them out until the final bass entry. Not very authentic, of course.
    Two things, and I wouldn't mention them if I didn't think you could handle it: 1. Charles Gounod wrote an original "Ave Maria" melody that he superimposed on the 1st prelude from Book 1 of the WTC and it is nearly always done on the organ and thus the Bach-Gounod "Ave Maria is now more famous than the Prelude in C Major from the WTC. It is often arranged for solo organ with a solo stop taking the role of the vocalist. 2. Brahms arranged "Schmucke dich", he did not write it. Neither did Bach, Pachelbell, Reger and who knows else that has had a go at "Deck Thyself". Brahms wasn't an organist and I don't think it is wrong to exploit the capabilities of our instrument to isolate voices and enhance polyphony. From a listening standpoint it would be almost impossible for a non-organist to tell exactly what the organist was doing different. Brahms was definitely a Romantic composer but he is definitely writing in a Baroque style with respect to the #5 Chorale Prelude.

  6. #6
    mp Mezzo-Piano Peterboroughdiapason's Avatar
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    1 members found this post helpful.
    Quote Originally Posted by Leisesturm View Post
    Two things, and I wouldn't mention them if I didn't think you could handle it: 1. Charles Gounod wrote an original "Ave Maria" melody that he superimposed on the 1st prelude from Book 1 of the WTC and it is nearly always done on the organ and thus the Bach-Gounod "Ave Maria is now more famous than the Prelude in C Major from the WTC. It is often arranged for solo organ with a solo stop taking the role of the vocalist. 2. Brahms arranged "Schmucke dich", he did not write it. Neither did Bach, Pachelbell, Reger and who knows else that has had a go at "Deck Thyself". Brahms wasn't an organist and I don't think it is wrong to exploit the capabilities of our instrument to isolate voices and enhance polyphony. From a listening standpoint it would be almost impossible for a non-organist to tell exactly what the organist was doing different. Brahms was definitely a Romantic composer but he is definitely writing in a Baroque style with respect to the #5 Chorale Prelude.
    1. Gounod did indeed write a sentimental, romantic piece using the Bach prelude as an accompaniment: "Méditation sur le Premier Prélude de Piano de S. Bach". It was originally for piano (with sustaining pedal required) and cello. There is an ad. lib. organ part which has sustained chords and snatches of melody. Bach's music is relegated to an accompaniment.

    I'm not sure why you mentioned it, to be honest; there seems to me to be no particular correlation between the two different pieces. Certainly you can play the Bach-Gounod on the organ but you will almost certainly play it in a romantic way with use of the swell pedal and held pedal notes and/or arpeggio notes.

    To return to the original Bach piece: personally, I don't think it works as well on the organ as on the harpsichord or, preferably, clavichord. I think it's the necessarily abrupt ending to all each note. A resonant acoustic would help, of course. However that's just my opinion which you are certainly entitled to disagree with!

    2. You wrote (in Post #2): "There is a famous collection of Chorale Preludes arranged by Johannes Brahms for organ." This is incorrect. They are not arranged for organ, they are original organ pieces. Easy enough to make a mistake when hurriedly typing a post - we all do it.

    You now seem to be suggesting that chorale preludes are arrangements and not compositions. ("Brahms arranged "Schmucke dich", he did not write it.") So all of Bach's Leipzig Preludes, the 3rd part of the Clavieruebung, the Orgelbuchlein etc. are not organ pieces by Bach, but arrangements by Bach? Technically, especially for the shorter ones, you have a point but I don't think we've ever considered the vast corpus of organ music based on chorales as arrangements. I've never seen a concert programme that says, for example, "Schmucke dich, O liebe Seele - arr. Bach".

    Brahms was an organist and wrote his chorale preludes in the last year of his life with great care. He specified dynamics, pedal parts and changes of manual explicitly. When he wanted the melody played in the pedals he wrote it like that (Herzlich thut mich verlangen 2nd setting). The beautiful "Schmucke dich," was written for manuals alone and I think it works best when played like that - the texture seems perfect to me and the melody stands out without any help. This is a matter of opinion and taste, though, and as I said in my previous post, using the pedals in that way is an option.

    I think the same about Bach's "Erbarm dich mein". I learnt it from my old Novello score and there the piece is given with a pedal part and the right hand on a different manual. However now I know it wasn't written like that I play it all on one manual without pedals and it is much more effective that way.
    Last edited by Peterboroughdiapason; 04-17-2018 at 04:48 PM.

  7. #7
    f Forte rjsilva's Avatar
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    Although not the WTC, here’s an example of a movement from a Bach suite played on organ with pedals, to see how it can be done effectively:

    https://youtu.be/wRc-EzKxGWk

    Whatever you think of Carpenter I think this is an excellent transcription to organ. Nice performance too (except for the end which I think is rather corny).

  8. #8
    pp Pianissimo voet's Avatar
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    I agree with your assessment, rjsilva. The arpeggio just cheapened an otherwise good performance. The ending would have been much stronger without it.

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