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Bach - when to play on one or two manuals

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brucerosen

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Bach - when to play on one or two manuals

PostSat Aug 21, 2021 12:53 pm

I am pretty much a VPO newbie (although I played Bach 2 and 3 part inventions on the piano as a kid, and
still play though the easier ones now). I've watched numerous videos (especially by Balint Karosi) and have
been trying to understand when a particular Bach piece is to be played on one manual (plus pedal, if it's
written) or on two manuals. Is it a matter of my personal preference (similar to how I would register a
particular piece), i.e., if the music seems like a "call and response", might that hint at two manuals?
Are there hints in the music itself? For example, if I see the same note in both the treble and bass clef,
is this a hint that it ought to be played on two manuals?

[At the moment, I only have one "manual", my digital piano that has a USB/MIDI out, but I'm waiting anxiously
for Midiworks to get their pistonless manuals back in stock.]

I'm guessing there is an extensive literature out there on the topic, but I'd appreciate any thoughts or
guidance folks might have.

Thanks!

- Bruce
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mnailor

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Re: Bach - when to play on one or two manuals

PostSat Aug 21, 2021 3:10 pm

While there are a few pieces marked to switch manuals, or change registration f to p, on echo passages (a couple of Chorale Partitas) or between interleaved parts on OW and RP (Dorian Toccata), mostly it's up to you to see if cues in the music lead you to manual changes.

But many chorales have solo parts that benefit from a second manual with a distinct registration. There are simple examples in Orgelbuchlein. (imagine an umlaut...)
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larason2

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Re: Bach - when to play on one or two manuals

PostSat Aug 21, 2021 4:04 pm

For Bach, I listen to Marie-Claire Alain’s recording of it, and if she uses two manuals, that’s what I do! In general though, if there are two distinct voices, or a distinct voice and accompaniment, or an obvious call and response, I use two manuals. This includes most chorales and trios. If a piece has multiples voices in a dense texture, like a fugue, it’s usually meant to be played on one manual. However, I’m sure there are exceptions, and pieces which would still sound good if you break the rule.
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brucerosen

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Re: Bach - when to play on one or two manuals

PostSat Aug 21, 2021 7:24 pm

Thanks for your insight!

- Bruce
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brucerosen

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Re: Bach - when to play on one or two manuals

PostSun Aug 22, 2021 11:43 am

@larason2 ... thanks for introducing me to Marie-Claire Alain. I found that two of her three recordings of the complete Bach organ works are available on YouTube (apparently courtesy of the record labels), so your hint about her being
your "go-to" reference is really valuable!

I also found, in your "Channeling Marie-Claire Alain" thread, reference to James Kibble's recordings of the Bach complete organ works. This is another really valuable resource, in that it includes the details of Kibble's registrations.

Also worth mentioning Balint Karosi's performances available on YouTube. I'm not sure how extensive that collection is, but the titles are "Complete Works ... ". He includes his registration as text over the videos, not quite as handy as Kibble's notes.

Thanks again!

- Bruce
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Paradise

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Re: Bach - when to play on one or two manuals

PostTue Sep 14, 2021 3:39 pm

If you listen to 'baroque fundamentalists', the dogma is : one keyboard, and one registration, even between a prelude and its fuga.
I unterstand that it can be a bit boring : 12 minutes on the same keyboard, with the same registration... :roll:

Personnaly, I like to change keyboard in a fuga, when is is possible and when I find it is relevant, and more, to make a progression in the registration.
Of course, when the texture is too dense, I don't change keyboard.

Bach got organs owning at least two keyboards, and some parts in his works lend themselves to a change, in my opinion.
That does not mean that we must change keyboards all the time like on a theater organ. :lol:
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gecko

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Re: Bach - when to play on one or two manuals

PostWed Sep 15, 2021 6:33 am

Hi, Baroque fundamentalist here.

I think it depends on the organ. If you have an organ that's close to Bach, for example, OAM's Trost and you're interested in understanding how Bach would have expected the piece to sound, then of course you have to be a fundamentalist, or at least use fundamentalism as a starting point.

You have to be careful not to caricature fundamentalism. Nobody would play a prelude and fugue all the way through without change of registration. But the evidence is that, with a very few exceptions, preludes and fugues were indeed played with a single registration each, some kind of plenum. Note that "plenum" here is not a single registration but rather a continuum ranging from just an 8' principal up through all the principals + mixtures and maybe reeds (what we usually think of as "plenum").

Too often, players switch manuals or registrations when Bach switches textures, but that just obscures what Bach wrote. Maybe the intent is to make the different textures more obvious, but if you're talking with a group of people and every time a new person says something you get hit on the head with a stick, you're going to pay a lot more attention to the stick then to anything else.

So, another way to approach the music is to play without a lot of historically "wrong" manual changes and see how much you can make of it and then add in manual changes only after that. Don't start with them.

Of course, if you're playing on an historically "wrong" organ, maybe one that doesn't show texture changes well or one that doesn't articulate well, then you have to work with what that instrument wants to do.
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Paradise

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Re: Bach - when to play on one or two manuals

PostThu Sep 16, 2021 5:40 am

gecko wrote:Nobody would play a prelude and fugue all the way through without change of registration.

Nope ! But we can often hear that way !
I can give you many recordings on Youtube, from professional organists...

That are I call 'fundamentalists' ! :mrgreen:

But other organists, professional too, change the registration between a P&F, and also switch keyboards during the Fuga.

But the evidence is that, with a very few exceptions, preludes and fugues were indeed played with a single registration each, some kind of plenum. Note that "plenum" here is not a single registration but rather a continuum ranging from just an 8' principal up through all the principals + mixtures and maybe reeds (what we usually think of as "plenum").

Too often, players switch manuals or registrations when Bach switches textures, but that just obscures what Bach wrote.

Alright, you make a Plenum, but I don't see the problem if you leave it during a moment, i don't see any treason against Bach writing... 8)

With french baroque pieces, you've got Plenums too, and they are cut by solo.

The changes of keyboard create different sound plans, like in Bach Concerti, I do not see the problem of switching keyboard when the piece suitables for different sound plans, that is, in my opinion, an obviousness.
A long fuga with the same registration all the time, and/or with the same sound plan, end up making tiring.
Anyway, I don't follow some so-called baroque 'laws', even about the phrasing.
Personnaly, I listen to long Fugas when I don't hear the same sound all the time, so I play them like that too, I switch keyboards when I feel it is possible and appropriate.

Just my opinion ! :wink:
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Re: Bach - when to play on one or two manuals

PostThu Sep 16, 2021 9:43 am

I think all these responses are helping to enlighten and clarify the matter. After Bach died, he wasn't popular for some time after his death, and a lot of the practices and knowledge of his craft were forgotten. When he started becoming popular again in the middle to late romantic period, performers such as Dupré used what they knew about the baroque combined with modern practices to try to figure out how they should be played. During the organ reform movement, some archeological evidence came to light that helped to try to further enlighten how Bach was played, but with all archeological evidence, what we have is incomplete, and sometimes the evidence leads us in the wrong direction! Sometimes new evidence emerges that shows us that we were wrong in some ways. Even then, Bach's approach was intended for the sociological environment, and the technological environment of the organs that were available at the time, and both of those have changed. When I play Bach then, I try to take into account the available evidence, and then adapt it to current approaches. And I try not to take it too seriously, otherwise all the fun is gone!

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