Category Archives: Sheet Music

Muscle Memory – Mastering a piece of music applying new techniques

Since last year I learned new techniques to master the music I play. I first applied them to some pieces I was already playing, so that this year’s performance went quite well. After almost one year I thought it was time to apply them to learning a new piece.

As Jon Laukvik writes in his book:

Der Übeprozeß führt, spieltechnisch gesehen, vom bewußten Tun zum unbewussten Geschehenlassen.

Freely translated:

From a playing perspective, practising leads from conscious doing to let it happen unconsciously.

The key to it is muscle memoryProzedurales Gedächtnis« in german). To train it, I do repetition a lot. To gain the required motivation to do so, I had to learn that playing a piece of music is a totally different thing than practising it. Besides many other sources I used, I can recommend the TEDx talks of Jocelyn Swigger and Claire Tueller.

The new piece I’m currently applying it to is a Fantasia (e minor) of Abraham van den Kerckhoven. Here’s the approach I’ve chosen.

Prepare interpretation

The interpretation I intend has some impact on the fingering. E.g. if I want to play a couple of notes in legato style, I may use another fingering as if I want to play staccato. The difficulty is that I do not yet have a clear picture concerning the interpretation, since this will develop as I learn the piece. But anyway, sometimes I already have some ideas how to interpret some bars, and most often I already have an idea how not to interpret some bars. I do this by learning more about the context in which the piece was written (composer, time, location) and by listening to interpretations of other musicians.

Develop fingering

Muscle memory is trained by repeatedly doing the same motions. This requires to play each individual note of the piece with the very same finger each time. I do not write down the number of the finger for each individual note. But I apply enough numbers so that the fingering is absolutely non-ambiguous.

This can become a very frustrating process. I have to “somehow” play the piece while considering how I could do the fingering and writing it to the sheet music. Often there are passages where I have no clue yet how the fingering should look like, but I must decide for one before I can practise it. Some things I do:

  • When I found some fingering but dislike it, I start practising whith it anyway. It may well happen that I change it at some later time, when I learned more how I want to interpret the piece. This means that I will need to re-learn the new fingering. But if I have no better clue right now, I accept this possibly additional work.
  • I try to avoid fingerings where I have to jump with the very same finger from note to note. But sometimes it turns out later on that there either is no better solution, or that the jumping fits the interpretation rather well.
  • Sometimes it is difficult to find a good fingering playing the notes forward, e.g. because I want to reach a later note with a certain finger. In such cases, I develop the fingering backwards, playing from right to left.

At the end of the process, the sheet music is quite populated by a lot of magic digits, which is the base for training the muscle memory.

Define fragments

The next step is to divide the piece in relatively short fragments which I can practise independently. I apply numbered markers to the sheet music. The length of the fragments depends on a couple of parameters, e.g. the structure and difficulty of the piece. Sometimes a fragment is just one or two bars, sometimes approximately one line. Sometimes I start with short fragments and I make them longer at a later point in time – or the other way around in case it turns out a passage is more difficult to learn as expected.

Practise fragments

Practising is the process which absolutely consumes the most time while learning a piece. As a consequence, I apply several techniques to succeed.

  • Remove any distraction. I never sit down to the instrument as long as any other stuff occupies my mind. I write down any other ToDos so as to avoid that they pop up during practising. I ensure noone else is listening, e.g. by using an electronic instrument and headphones, since otherwise I am not really free in focussing on the music.
  • Limit session time. Some people use a timer to limit the sessions. I do not. Instead, I define the scope, e.g. the amount of fragments I want to practise. For shorter pieces, this may well read as ”Practise each fragment at least twice”.
  • Prefer multiple shorter sessions over one long. It is being said the brain learns in the time between the sessions. Thus I practise for about 20 minutes up to an hour, then I do anything different, and return to the instrument after an hour or so.
  • Practise in slow motion. To train muscle memory, I play the fragments in ultra slow motion. This may be half of the target speed. For me it is difficult to resist the temptation to speed up. But I know doing so is counter-productive. I keep the speed constant at least during one session.
  • Use a metronome. I often listen to organ music which is played with little rhythmical structure respectively missing pulse. For me it is absolutely key to exactly know the rhythm of each individual fragment. The metronome has a further side effect – it prevents me from raising the speed during the session. As we are at it – I found that many many metronome apps for Android are not running precisely. Use one with proper timing. I built a spike for my own which I’m constantly using, but it’s only available as source code, not via the play store.
  • Limit repetitions. As a rule of thumb, I notice my concentration for each fragment already decreases after a couple of repetitions, e.g. three to four. As a consequence, I usually do not repeat a fragment more often. However, I sometimes break this rule, especially with new fragments my fingers aren’t used to yet at all. It may well happen I then repeat them up to ten times.
  • Focus on playing it right. Training the muscle memory best works in case the motion absolutely is identical each time. In case I notice my fingers prefer another motion over the fingering I developed, I sometimes change the fingering to reflect that.
  • Practise fragments in random order. The goal is to avoid that the brain learns it can rely on the sheet music. I thus practise them in random order.
  • Practise fragments at the end of the piece first. Pieces sometimes become more complicated to play towards the end, and even if not, chances are given I did practise the fragments at the beginning of a piece more often than the later ones, resulting in the fact that I can play the beginning of the piece better than the end.
  • Practise fragments difficult to play the most. In case I won’t master those, any other effort to learn the piece is useless.
  • Practise on different instruments. Different instruments provide different key sizes, key action, key weight and so on. I use this technique to gain reliability. Fortunately the Kerckhoven piece lacks a pedal voice, so I can just practise it on a piano.
  • Practise with dynamic sounds. I’ve chosen a synthesizer sound on my digital piano which provides lots of dynamics. This way I can easily detect notes I depress with less precision than others. Those notes require additional attention, since they indicate weak fingering.
  • Do not play the complete piece too early. This is an temptation I do not resist very well, since it helps to develop my interpretation, which in turn can lead to changed fingering. So I do play the piece every now and then. But at least I try to pay attention to the next point.
  • Clearly separate playing from practising. Since the brain learns during the rests, I never play the piece the day I practised. If I want to play and practise the very same day, I always do the playing first.

Conclusion

I know about a couple of further, more advanced techniques, which I apply every now and then. But the abovementioned points meanwhile became essential to me and allowed me to make significant progress within a couple of weeks while learning Kerckhoven’s piece.

I wrote this posting due to the fact that I found rather little information concerning this topic, though it is important to so many people who play instruments either professionally or as an amateur. If you know about similar documents, please let me know.

Coping with a piece of Kerckhoven

Until recently, I perceived the works of Abraham van den Kerckhoven as less complicated to understand and learn as pieces of other composers I play. But currently, I’m working on a Fantasia in e minor, which is known as #355 of the Cocquiel manuscript (Royal Library Albert I, Brussels, Music Dept. – Manuscript II 3326 1741). Unfortunately little information is available online concerning this work. I knew it from the gramophone record (something similar to a Clay tablet, but intended for preserving music) Orgues Historiques De Thorembais-les-Beguines by Etienne Leuridan. He plays it with reed pipes (Grands Jeux) and makes extreme use of Notes Inégales (“piqué”). I found another recording of François Houtart, but since he’s using neither of them, I still prefer Leuridan’s edition.

As a consequence of last year’s performance, I had to completely change my practicing techniques. I did it first for the repertoire I’m already playing, and it helped to do much better this year. The Fantasia in e minor of Kerckhoven is the very first piece which I approach completely from scratch using the new techniques. Here’s what I did:

  • First I need to find a piece I really want to master. I listen to recordings of other musicians, and while doing so, I already try to imagine what I want to adopt and what I want to do differently.
  • I search for sheet music. Most often, I’m using the imslp.org database. Sometimes I’m not content with the scores I find, so I typeset them using Musescore.
  • The next step, at least for me, is the most annoying, while very important – do the fingering. I print the sheets to paper and use a pencil for that. Then I try to somehow “play” the piece as good as I can while trying several fingerings. As soon I am content with the results, I write them into the PDF using macOS’ Preview application. I do this at home using a digital pipe organ emulation. The advantage is that I can use headphones so as to not disturb others. And due to that, I find the energy to actually walking through this frustrating and time consuming process. For the abovementioned work, I almost gave up whilst in the middle of the work. Now I have the fingering, and there are some bars where I need to play subsequent notes with the very same finger. Maybe historical fingering was helpful, but I have little clue concerning this technique. On the other hand, this piece actually requires less legato and a more stepped approach while playing (otherwise it will sound “muddy”, expecially when playing it with a Grands Jeux registration in a huge cathedral). I learned this while learning the Passacaille of Lully.
  • The next step is to identify fragments which I can practice autonomously. I tend to make fragments the size of about one to two lines respectively six to eight bars, depending on the piece.
  • Now I can finally start with the actual practicing work, the ruminant playing in slow motion of the fragments. I start with the fragments at the end of the piece and then move to the beginning, fragment by fragment. Sometimes I also use a random apprach for selecting the fragments, so I do not play them in the order they appear in the piece. I additionally use a metronome app and about half the intended final speed. This way I can avoid rhythmical failures early. I try not to repeat a fragment too often, e.g. 3 to 5 times is enough. If I do more often, I observe distraction. The metronome has one forther advantage – it avoids acceleration. No, I do not accelerate. I learned that practicing slowly really helps to avoid slipshod work. If I really can play a piece, I can also play it properly in slow motion. If I find it difficult to play a piece in slow motion, it just means I didn’t master it yet.

That’s it so far. I’m still working on the latter point, and this will last several weeks, if not months, depending on time available. This is hard work, and I managed to motivate me by understanding that practising is a welcome after work activity, and that playing the piece is a totally different thing. Both are worthy activities, and they serve a different purpose.

Jean Baptiste Lully – Armide, Acte 5, Scène 1 (LWV 71, 1686) – Passacaille – Sheet music release

Giovanni Battista Lulli was a french baroque composer of significant influence. I twice heard the passacaille of his opera Armide, Acte 5, Scène 1 (LWV 71, 1686) being played at the Dubois organ at Wissembourg. The first one was Roland Lopes (August 5, 2012), the second was Jürgen Essl (July 20, 2014). An orchestral version is available thanks to the Chœur de chambre de Namur (including Scène II).

I did a transcription of Scène I for organ. The archive contains a ready to use PDF (including my fingerings). Additionally it also contains the Muse Score source files. Unfortunately the latter one needs adjustments when opening it in more recent versions of Muse Score. Feel free to edit it :) .

I play it using a Grands Jeux registration, which results in a much more aggressive sound than the aforementioned orchestral version. I also play it using three keybeds.

Die Crux mit dem Fingersatz

Vor ziemlich genau drei Jahren habe ich begonnen, barocke Orgelliteratur zu spielen. Derzeit bin ich wieder intensiver an der Passacaglia von Dieterich Buxtehude (BuxWV 161) dran, die ich letztes Jahr zum Jahreswechsel schonmal geübt hatte. Damals dachte ich nicht, dass mich das Stück, im wahrsten Sinne des Wortes, noch so lange beschäftigen würde. Wie kann das sein?

Bis Juni diesen Jahres übte ich noch so, dass ich nur an wenigen kritischen Stellen Fingersätze in die Noten schrieb. Dazwischen vertraute ich darauf, dass meine Finger von alleine laufen, während ich das Stück im Kopf ablaufen lasse. Die Stücke übte ich stets, indem ich sie von vorne bis hinten durchspielte. Leider führt das nicht dazu, dass ich die Stück zuverlässig auf Anhieb spielen kann. Sie klappen immer erst beim dritten oder vierten Durchlauf “irgendwie”.

Inzwischen zerlege ich die Sücke in Fragmente, spiele stets mit dem gleichen Fingersatz, übe jedes Fragment mehrmals in Schleife und reduziere das Tempo so weit, dass ich jede Unzulänglichkeit sofort bemerke. Leider führt das noch immer nicht dazu, dass ich die Stücke zuverlässig erlerne. Es gibt Stellen, die zu spielen sich meine Finger schlicht weigern, egal wie oft ich sie übe und egal welchen Fingersatz ich bisher probierte.

Meine Fingersätze zielen darauf ab, alle Stellen vollkommen legato spielen zu können. Im Laufe der Zeit fange ich dann an zu entscheiden, wo ich bewusst nicht legato spielen möchte. So verfüge ich über den größtmöglichen Spielraum für die Interpretation. Zumindest theoretisch. Solange sich aber meine Finger weigern, habe ich exakt keinen Spielraum :) .

In seiner »Orgelschule zur historischen Aufführungspraxis« beschreibt Jon Laukvik ab Seite 36 den “Alten Fingersatz”. Dieser ist deutlich weniger auf Legato aus als der heutige, der Romantik bzw. Marcel Dupré entstammenden Technik mit vielen Daumenuntersätzen. Früher galt das Interesse viel stärker auf der Schwere der Zählzeiten als auf einem möglichst perfekten Legatospiel.

Heute bin ich zufällig über die Videoreihe »Von der Natürlichkeit der Fingerverteilung in der Musik von J.S.Bach« mit Ingo Bredenbach, bestehend aus Teil eins, zwei und drei, gestolpert, in denen er sich unter anderem auf Laukvik bezieht. Besonders spannend fand ich Teil 1 und die zweite Hälfte von Teil 3. Auch von Daniel Roth gibt es einen kurzen Ausschnitt zum Thema.

Ich werde versuchen mit den neuen Erkenntnissen nochmal an den Fingersätzen der Passacaglia zu arbeiten. Ob das die (Er)lösung bringt wird sich zeigen.

Der Notenanzeiger – Onyx Boox Max 2

Vor knapp einem Jahr hatte ich mir verschiedene Notenanzeigegeräte angesehen. Mittlerweile hat Onyx mit dem Max Boox 2 ein Nachfolgemodell zum Onyx Boox Max Carta herausgebracht. Im Vergleich zum Vorgängermodell verfügt das Gerät jetzt über einen berührungsempfindlichen Bildschirm. Das Betriebssystem ist Android 6, und der Google Play Store ist vorinstalliert. Soweit ich gelesen habe lassen sich auch zusätzliche Repositories wie etwa f-droid.org einrichten. Das Gerät ist somit vergleichsweise offen und “zukunftssicher”, da es nicht von der Verfügbarkeit einer spezifischen Infrastruktur abhängt (ähnlich sieht es auch Sascha Segan von pcmag.com). Es bietet außerdem eigentlich alles, was man als Musiker von einem Notenanzeigegerät erwartet.

Das Gerät ist mit rund 800 € kein Schnäppchen. Der Gvido mit zwei Bildschirmen ist mittlerweile zu 1700 € (allerdings ohne Mehrwertsteuer) erhältlich. Zwei Boox Max 2 sind somit immer noch günstiger und bieten das deutlich offenere System. Dafür muss man darauf verzichten, dass die zwei Bildschirme beim Umblättern miteinander gekoppelt sind.

Das Max 2 sieht jedenfalls verlockend aus. Nur der Preis hindert mich derzeit an einem schnellen Zugriff.

Georg Böhm – Vater unser im Himmelreich – Sheet music release

Georg Böhm used the chorale »Vater unser im Himmelreich« to write two pieces. Both have been attributed to Johann Sebastian Bach in former times. Thus they are also known as BWV-760 and BWV-761.

There are two editions of BWV-760 published by Breitkopf & Härtel. The later publication »Georg Böhm (1661-1733), Sämtliche Werke für Orgel« of Klaus Beckmann contains far less ornaments than the earlier »Georg Böhm (1661-1733), Sämtliche Werke für Tasteninstrumente« by Gesa respectively Johannes Wolgast. The International Music Score Library Project offers a Scan of the issue of 1927. The piece can be found in volume 2 on page 136. Menno van Delft played it on a historic instrument of Arp Schnitger.

Bernard Greenberg offers the Beckmann version via musescore.com. I used his work to transform the score into the Wolgast version by adding the ornaments according to the scan. The archive contains three files:

  • The three pages of the piece of the scanned document.
  • The Muse Score sheet music file (so you can taylor it to your likings).
  • A PDF of the score.

Have fun playing it.

Georg Böhm – Vater unser im Himmelreich

Im Bachwerkeverzeichnis sind drei Bearbeitungen des Luther’schen Chorals »Vater unser im Himmelreich« als BWV-760, BWV-761 und BWV-762 gelistet, wovon die ersten beiden inzwischen Georg Böhm zugeschrieben werden. Unter anderem hat Aldo Locatelli BWV-761 eingespielt.

Ich beschäftige mich derzeit mit BWV-760. Noten finden sich in einer weniger verzierten Fassung beispielsweise bei Breitkopf & Härtel als »Georg Böhm (1661-1733), Sämtliche Werke für Orgel« von Klaus Beckmann. Auch von Bernard Greenberg gibt es eine weniger verzierte Version auf musescore.com.

Zum anderen findet sich ebenfalls bei Breitkopf & Härtel »Georg Böhm (1661-1733), Sämtliche Werke für Tasteninstrumente« von Gesa (bzw. Johannes) Wolgast, die reich an Ornamenten ist. Das International Music Score Library Project bietet einen Scan der Ausgabe von 1927 an. Das Stück findet sich in Band 2 auf Seite 136. Menno van Delft hat das Werk an einem Instrument von Arp Schnitger ziemlich beeindruckend eingespielt.

Auf bach-cantatas.com finden sich verschiedene Melodiefassungen des Chorals, darunter ein Abzug des Werkes von Böhm, in dem die Melodietöne farblich hervorgehoben sind.

Die Pedalstimme besteht ausschließlich aus durchlaufenden Achtelnoten. Auch in der linken Hand finden sich viele Achtelnoten, die den Puls des Stückes stützen. Nur an wenigen Stellen finden sich ein paar Sechzehntelnoten. Die Solostimme der rechten Hand setzt am Ende des sechsten Taktes ein. Hier finden sich zahlreiche Ornamente wie Triller, Mordente, Vorschlagnoten und Umspielungen, die nicht einfach zu verstehen sind. Beim Üben kommt es sehr leicht vor, dass ich im Pedal – fast im wahren Sinne des Wortes – “aus dem Tritt” komme, also den durchlaufenden Puls verliere. Die Sechzehntelnoten interpretiere ich ternär – für mich ist das Stück ein gutes Indiz dafür, dass Notes inégales – »Die ungleichen Geschwister« auch den Komponisten im deutschen Sprachraum bekannt waren.

Ich bin gespannt, ob ich das Stück konzerttauglich hinbekommen werde.

Coping with a Duo of Louis-Nicolas Clérambault

About two months ago I wrote about the Plein Jeu of Clérambault, which I still didn’t master. Today I was at the Dubois organ at Wissembourg, which I’m allowed to play every now and then. One of the pièces I’m currently studying is the Duo of the very same mass (here’s a recording of a recital by Marie-Claire Alain, the Duo starting at 2′ 32″).

Many, if not any, french organ masses contain a Duo. The three characters tell the organist at couple of things:

  • The pièce consists of two voices, one in the left hand on the great organ, one in the right hand on the positif or Reçit.
  • Unlike the registrations of the other pièces of a french organ mass, there are two registrations known for Duos, one with labial stops only (with an emphasis on the thirds), another one with lingual stops (I found further information in the book Orgelschule zur historischen Aufführungspraxis, Teil 1 – Barock und Klassik of Jon Laukvik 2017, page 165).
  • Vivid playing.

All of this information is great, though I still had no clue how to interpret it. I got the essential hint by Bernhard Marx, who played at the Dubois organ in August of 2016. Unlike the other concerts, he also did the presentation. While announcing the mass of Grigny, he mentioned that the Duo is a dance. That was the crucial information I missed beforehand. Since then, I try to play the pièce as such. If it was a dance, I need to choose a matching tempo. I have to keep a steady beat so that the dancer is able to follow. Additionally, I can help the dancer by precisely articulating the notes and rhythmicity.

Orgelschule zur historischen Aufführungspraxis – Jon Laukvik

Auf knapp dreihundert gleichermaßen großformatigen wie kleingedruckten Seiten liefert Jon Laukvik in Band 1 jede Menge Informationen zu Barock und Klassik. Ich habe die Version mit beiliegendem Notenheft erworben, in dem die nicht ganz so leicht zu beschaffenden Beispiele abgedruckt sind.

Ich konnte gestern nur kurz einen Blick hineinwerfen. Als Autodidakt konnte ich bereits die ersten Erkenntnisse gewinnen, sowohl in Bezug auf Aspekte, die mich in meiner bisherigen Arbeit bestätigen, als auch Dinge, die ich bisher überhaupt nicht berücksichtigt habe.

Besonders freue ich mich über die Hinweise zu den Messen von Clérambault, an deren Interpretation ich jetzt schon eine ganze Weile feile.

Ich habe ob des Preises von 75€ lange mit dem Kauf gezögert. Um so mehr freue ich mich, das Werk endlich vorliegen zu haben.

How to fix a broken PDF for online printing

I collected all of the classical pieces I’m currently playing in one PDF, mainly to get it printed by an online service, epubli.de.

The PDF consists of items from various sources. Several pages of sheet music have been downloaded, others have been typeset by myself and exported to PDF. Additionally there are two pages I exported from OpenOffice (Cover and a registration page).

I used the Preview app of Mac OS X (an amazing app, BTW, including a lot of cool hidden features) to put all pages into one huge document, and I used the very same application to add tons of annotations, mainly fingering and pedaling information.

A recent attempt to get the document printed online resulted in a non prinable document. The main reason of the issues appearently are the many annotations. After removing them, a lot of warnings of the upload form disappeared. But without my fingering and pedaling annotations, the printed sheet music is almost useless. An additionaly issue was the page size of the individual pages.

The provider recommended to use a tool to unify the page sizes. So I did:

  • docupub.de has the advantage that the annotations remain editable. Its disadvantage is that annotations in form of lines are misplaced after the conversion (text remained intact).
  • online2pdf.com did the job. Almost all issued disappeared. A minor drawback is the fact that the annotations are no longer editable in Preview app. Not an issue, but to keep in mind.

One further issue was that the upload did work in Safari (6.1.6 aka 7537.78.2), but not in Firefox (48.0.2). The web service immediately complained it was not a PDF file. I presume that it’s just an issue concerning the MIME type transmitted, but I do not know exactly.

I hope the printed result will look as expected. I’ll know in about two weeks.

Coping with a Plein Jeu of Louis-Nicolas Clérambault

In 1710 Louis-Nicolas Clérambault published a Livre d’orgue containing two suites (Suite du premier ton et Suite du deuxième ton) in the style of the french organ school. I’m working on a couple of pieces of the latter one. The first piece is a Plein Jeu which I’m playing for almost two years now, and I’m still not content with the outcome. This posting tells why.

At first sight, the piece is not that difficult to play. Just two pages of sheet music, partly even without pedaling, and only a couple of sixteenth notes. Actually I did not notice any issues until I mastered playing the piece mechanically and started interpreting it. What I was playing at that time just was sounding dull. It was obvious that the composer had things in mind I didn’t understand yet.

Speed

The piece is structured in four parts. It starts with the «Petit plein jeu au positif» (without pedaling), in bar ten it swaps to the «Grand plein jeu» (with the pedalboard joining in bar 13), back to positif in bar 22 and back in bar 32. A couple of things happen at the interfaces:

  • The keybed changes.
  • The time signature changes between “2” and the infamous alla breve.
  • The parts on the Positif are marked as «Gay»ment, the parts of the great as «Lentement» (or even «fort lentement» for the last couple of bars).

I was confused by the latter two points. Fortunately I found some additional information concerning french Plein Jeux in the book »Zur Interpretation der französischen Orgelmusik«. Beginning with page 14, Hans Musch cites several contemporary composers:

  • Nicolas Lebègue: «Le Prélude et Plein Jeu so doit toucher gravement, et le Plein Jeu du Positif légerement.»
  • André Raison: «Le grand plein jeu so touche fort lentement. […] Le petit plein jeu je se touche légèrement et le bien couleur.»
  • Jacques Boyvin and Gaspard Corrette both state the agility applied to the positif, e.g. by using trills.

After a lot of experimenting I’m currently using the following approach. I interpret the «2» of the positif as a time signature of 2/2. I use a speed of 56 beats per minute, which is equivalent to a speed of about 112 bpm in case the time signature was 4/4. And I interpret the alla breve of the grand plein jeu as a 4/4 using the very same pulse of 56 bpm. This actually means a bar of the grand plein jeu has twice the duration of a bar on the positif. This allows me to keep a steady pulse throughout the complete pièce while still playing the positif twice as fast as the grand plein jeu. This is exactly the opposite of what an organ player might do when only reading the sheet music.

Steady Pulse

A steady pulse, which guides the listener through a piece, is a very important aspect of a good interpretation. I try to keep the aforementioned tempo of 56 bpm throughout the piece, except for the last couple of bars. This is hindered by a couple of issues. One of the impediments are the trills (e.g. bars 1,2, and 22 ), another the rests before the sixteenths (e.g. bars 1, 2, 10, 16, 17, 18, 19). A further issue is the relative length of the sixteenth notes. Especially on the grand plein jeu, I tend to play the sixteenths way too fast. But the very same is valid for the quarter notes. Frankly, it actually is difficult to play the quarter notes as slow as necessary. I always feel like «Those can’t be that long».

I’m currently experimenting with a metronome to educate myself. Interestingly, I’m now playing the second petit plein jeux part (bar 22) much slower than before. And it is difficult. I do not intend to play the piece exacly like this, since Agogic is an important part of an interpretation. But for the moment it helps me to figure out a correct straightforward approach. It’s just the baseline before applying some deviations.

Notes inégales

In short, the piece sounds boring without them. Since the meter is even, notes inégales can be applied to the notes of one quater of the “denominator”. On the petit plein jeux, those are the eighth notes. But what about the grand plein jeu in alla breve?!? I only see one solution, which is applying notes inégales to the eigth notes on the main as well (e.g. bars 14 and 15).

The infamous last line

I had difficulties to bring the last line to life. Until I started to apply notes inégales to it as well, though the typical rules of notes inégales are not obviously visible. But they helped a lot. Beginning from the 2nd half of bar 42 until the end of the pièce, I have to count the triplets loudly to cope with this issue. But it’s well worth the effort. Since I treat the eigths notes as the thirds of a triplet, I get much better results. I keep it this way even during the ritardando of the last three bars. And I still apply them to the trill on the very last half note.

Plein Jeu, Grand Jeu – Grand Plein Jeu!

The french organ school of that time knows the Plein Jeu as the choir of principals (including mixtures), and the Grand Jeu as a combination of labial and lingual stops. As far as I know at the moment, they neither didn’t know of a Tutti nor a combination of the Plein Jeu with the Grand Jeu. The only exception I know of is the Plein Chant, a Plein Jeu with a 8′ Trompette added to the pedal.

The mistake I made was to interpret the term “Grand Plein Jeu” as the combination of a Plein and a Grand Jeu. Meanwhile I dismissed this practice. It just means the Plein Jeu of the great organ in contrast to the Plein Jeu of the positif. Note that a Plein Jeu also requires the positif to be coupled to the great organ.

Verdict

A lot of difficulties, well worth the effort. French organ masses consist of relatively short pièces. And every pièce is different of all others. Yes, it’s a lot of work to fiddle with the characteristics of all those short piéces. And this is what makes baroque french organ music different. There’s a lot of stuff densely packed into relatively short pièces. I’m deeply impressed what the musicians of that period have to offer. The longer I spend time coping with their music, the more I believe they anticipated jazz music – centuries before it was invented.

Abraham van den Kerckhoven – Fantasia in d – Sheet music release

Last year I was looking for a piece of pipe organ music I could use to play a cornet (one of my favourite stops, BTW). I finally found the Fantasia in d by Abraham van den Kerckhoven. Sheet music is available through the International Music Score Library Project. It’s the piece at pages 69 through 71 of the scan, or pages 87 through 89 of the PDF.

There’s a great recording performed by Nico Declerck. He plays it very accurately.

I found it hard to read in »Werken voor Orgel«. For example, there is no separate row for the pedalboard, and the awesome solo line is just a series of many sixteenths, not structured by slurs or caesuras. Thus I rewrote the score using the excellent Muse Score notation software. My release contains a PDF and the Muse Score source file so anyone can easily taylor the layout to her likings:

Abraham van den Kerckhoven – Fantasia in D

Have fun playing!

Dietrich Buxtehude – Passacaglia (BuxWV 161) – Sheet music release

The passacaglia in d minor of Dietrich Buxtehude (BuxWV 161) »is generally acknowledged as one of his most important works, and was possibly an influence on Bach’s Passacaglia and Fugue in C minor (BWV 582), as well as Brahms’ music.«

There’s an awesome performance by Harald Vogel, playing the historic Arp Schnitger organ of St. Ludgeri, Norden. Sheet music is available through the International Music Score Library Project. However, I was not content with the sheets I found. For example, I wanted to decouple the left hand accompaniment (see bars 103 and 110) from the right hand for better readability, since I play both on different keybeds. Thus I rewrote the score using the excellent Muse Score notation software. My release contains a PDF and the Muse Score source file so anyone can easily taylor the layout to her likings:

Dietrich Buxtehude – Passacaglia in d – BuxWV 161

Have fun playing!