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wolfpaw Offline OP
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Maybe it's a phase, but I prefer it now to playing them on the piano. I either use the 'flute organ 1' [which is nice and intimate, like a little parish church] or the full 'tutti', which is like being in a cathedral, especially with reverb switched on. They're not 'organ' fugues with pedals. Just some of the easier ones from the Well-Tempered Clavier. I'm working on the A major fugue at the moment from book one, BWV 864, and have nearly got the notes learned. I guess it's ok.

I first started just practicing with the organ voices as the lack of decay made it really easy to tell how long the tied notes should be held down for. I found I had to be much more accurate than when practicing/learning on the piano. The lack of decay also made the voices really stand out.

Now I just prefer the sound and the full-on effect of all those tied notes sounding in full.

Does anyone else do this? shocked

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Last year I worked on the Bach Contrapunctus #1 from "The Art of Fugue" BWV 1080. The piece has 4 voices. I learned it years ago with the piano sound and ended up recording with the organ sound. If you're playing a piece with short and well articulated notes like a Bach Invention, a piano sound is a good choice. For slower pieces with long sustained notes, the piano sound doesn't do justice to the piece.


Bach wrote a number of fugues specifically for the organ. These pieces usually have a low "walking" bass line that is too low to combine with the notes of the LH so the organ pedal is needed. The instrumentation for the Art of Fugue is rather ambiguous. Bach died before finishing the last fugue. Over the years these have been performed with brass, string ensembles, solo piano & other instruments.

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Bach did not specify the type of clavier instrument to be used for the majority of his keyboard compositions (except a few like like the Goldberg). That is also the case for the WTC. In the 18th century, there were a number of positive (chamber) organ used. So his pieces were also likely played occasionally on those instruments.

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J.S. Bach particularly loved the Clavichord, for its large dynamic range and ability to use 'Bebung'. He loved the Lautenwerck, for its lute-like character, and owned two of them. He also had a pedal-clavichord at one time for practicing organ pieces without the need for a bellows-person. He didn't particularly like the harpsichord because of its harsh, metallic sound, but accepted its need to be heard in chamber music.

Put altogether, you can play Bach on any instrument you want, and more importantly, do like Bach suggested to his students and don't always play what he wrote. Those notes are more like 'guidelines' to whet your creative appetite.

Prout - a 7 decade student of organ, piano, clavichord, harpsichord, and very recently - theremin

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Just a quite note. One can use the sostenuto pedal in many of Bach's works to sustain Pedal Tones.

Ex: WTC Book I, Fugue I, last four measures, play C3 with the octave C2 and hold the sostenuto pedal down.

Ex: WTC Book I, Fugue XX, last five measures, play A2 and A1 simultaneously and hold the sostenuto pedal down.

Doing this frees up the left hand for more important things and also allows some of the energy in the upper notes to continually reinforce the sustained Pedal Tone.

You can also use this in Musettes (or some Bach Gavottes that are really musettes).

Last edited by prout; 11/22/21 09:27 AM.
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Oh man, I used to have this exact same Casio keyboard. If you're not that particular about the five-octave, unweighted, no dynamic keys, it's got a pretty long list of instruments and some of them actually sounds okay (including the church and reed organs). The Bach little preludes sounds okay on synth, too.



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wolfpaw Offline OP
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Originally Posted by prout
J.S. Bach particularly loved the Clavichord, for its large dynamic range and ability to use 'Bebung'. He loved the Lautenwerck, for its lute-like character, and owned two of them. He also had a pedal-clavichord at one time for practicing organ pieces without the need for a bellows-person. He didn't particularly like the harpsichord because of its harsh, metallic sound, but accepted its need to be heard in chamber music.

Put altogether, you can play Bach on any instrument you want, and more importantly, do like Bach suggested to his students and don't always play what he wrote. Those notes are more like 'guidelines' to whet your creative appetite.

Prout - a 7 decade student of organ, piano, clavichord, harpsichord, and very recently - theremin

I only found out about the lautenwerck a few weeks ago and immediately wanted to get one as soon as I heard it! What a beautiful, expressive instrument, and the gut strings are so warm and gentle. I didn't even know such a thing existed.

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Originally Posted by thepianoplayer416
Last year I worked on the Bach Contrapunctus #1 from "The Art of Fugue" BWV 1080. The piece has 4 voices. I learned it years ago with the piano sound and ended up recording with the organ sound. If you're playing a piece with short and well articulated notes like a Bach Invention, a piano sound is a good choice. For slower pieces with long sustained notes, the piano sound doesn't do justice to the piece.


Bach wrote a number of fugues specifically for the organ. These pieces usually have a low "walking" bass line that is too low to combine with the notes of the LH so the organ pedal is needed. The instrumentation for the Art of Fugue is rather ambiguous. Bach died before finishing the last fugue. Over the years these have been performed with brass, string ensembles, solo piano & other instruments.

Yeah, the inventions I've played with the organ voice sound better on the piano/harpsichord, I think. Maybe the lighter flute organ voice is ok but they sound odd with the 'tutti'! I quite liked the inventions on the nylon string guitar voice. Very lovely, and domestic, like being in Bach's house! But the tied-notes of the fugues, especially the slower ones, sound amazing. The contrapuntal texture just comes to life in a way that is an absolute delight.

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Originally Posted by prout
Just a quite note. One can use the sostenuto pedal in many of Bach's works to sustain Pedal Tones.

Ex: WTC Book I, Fugue I, last four measures, play C3 with the octave C2 and hold the sostenuto pedal down.

Ex: WTC Book I, Fugue XX, last five measures, play A2 and A1 simultaneously and hold the sostenuto pedal down.

Doing this frees up the left hand for more important things and also allows some of the energy in the upper notes to continually reinforce the sustained Pedal Tone.

You can also use this in Musettes (or some Bach Gavottes that are really musettes).

Oh that's a good idea. The keyboard has a sostenuto pedal but I've never thought of using it for Bach at all. I've just only ever done 'finger pedaling' and not used even the sustain, which is probably a little puritanical. I'll try it smile

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Originally Posted by Sidokar
Bach did not specify the type of clavier instrument to be used for the majority of his keyboard compositions (except a few like like the Goldberg). That is also the case for the WTC. In the 18th century, there were a number of positive (chamber) organ used. So his pieces were also likely played occasionally on those instruments.

It makes me feel less heretical in using the Clavinova's organ sounds. I'd love to get one of those digital organs you see people using on YouTube, with a double keyboard, and pedal and speakers, all connected to a computer. They sound really impressive.

I remember once I was in York Minister on a guided tour [when I was a student, years ago] and someone was practicing the huge organ there. Not only could you not hear the guide talking but you could literally feel the sound of the organ coming up through the stone pavement via the soles of your feet. It was the most incredible experience, and I've loved the organ ever since.

I'd just repeat that if anyone has a Clavinova and wants to learn/practice contrapuntal music then using the organ voice is really useful, even if you end up playing the pieces on a piano.

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The more one gets into J.S. Bach's music, his life, his children's writings about their father's ideas, and the stylistic conventions of the late Baroque, you realize that live music was very improvisatory - it would have been unusual to ever play a piece the same way twice. Composers who admired Bach - Chopin for example - and the students of Chopin would take enormous liberties in adding measures, ornaments, fioritura, and such. Chopin would send different versions of his compositions to different publishers simultaneously.

Thankfully, we have jazz today to continue this great musical tradition, and a revival in exciting ad lib. performance practice, at least among some musicians, that allows them to really let go when performing those boring ABA arias of Bach - boring only when they used to be sung identically from end-to-end.

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One of my favourite bits of music making is doing figured bass in an ensemble. With just a single note to guide you, you are free from the visual distraction of full score music. How you voice the chords, how thick you make them, what octave spread you use, the melodic fragment dialogues you imitate or create with the other musicians on the fly, what rhythms you use for the passing notes, the type and quantity ornaments you use, are all dependent on your mood, the mood of the ensemble, the mood of the audience, and the acoustics of the building. It's never the same, even from one rehearsal quick take of a section to repeating it. It is truly exhilarating.

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I know it's not really related to the forum or the thread, but how do you highlight fugal themes on an organ? I'm learning the C minor fugue from Bk 2 of the WTC and at measure 19 & 20 the theme is augmented in the left hand bass. In the piano you'd just play those notes a little louder. But surely you can't do that with an organ? So how would the organist bring a theme out or highlight a particular passage if the sound level is 'fixed' without any decay?

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An extremely valuable question. Well thought to ask. Thee are several possible answers.

On the organ, it is possible, due to several manuals and a full pedal board, to simply select a stop, a reed for example, whose character was very different from the flutes or principles in the other voices and play the augmented theme on the pedal.

However, this is not what you are really asking. The organ is a mechanical beast. It has no soul, as does a piano. The organist must trick the listener into hearing (thinking she hears) lines, voices, and melodies that 'seem' louder. This is done through note length - a note played longer than its neighbours, whether simultaneously or serially, will sound louder, and timing - a note played before the listener expects it to be played will be heard as being accented.

The reality is that we do this all the time on the piano. When we purposefully play a note louder on the piano 'simultaneously' with other notes (voicing a chord for example) We actually have to increase the velocity of the 'louder' note, which means that it speaks slightly before the other notes.

I'll stop here, but there is much, much, more to the 'art' of making music on an organ, or a piano.

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The other key thing is to look at the phrasing of lines. Neither Bach (any of the Bachs), nor any other Baroque composer should be played legato, except for very short passages that clearly have a melodic arc. Bach always said to his pupils to play the way a singer breathes, or a violinist bows. This creates wonderful, light, airy, short, phrase structures, against which a legato, cantorial line is easily heard.

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Thank you for the very interesting reply. Yes, I can see how altering the character of the pipes would allow the organist to highlight a particular theme.

Obviously I've only got my Clavinova which probably isn't going to respond anything like a real organ anyway, but I'll try practicing the passage with some sleight of hand and see how it goes shocked. At the moment the notes all literally sound the same volume no matter what I do.

I listened to a few recordings of BWV 871/2 on an organ and I've yet to hear one that projects the augmented theme in a similar way to the piano. Maybe it's down to personal taste too. I was reading something that suggested the idea of projecting a theme in such a manner would've been alien to Bach anyway, and is something that really only came in with the late 19th century and Busoni's doubling at the octaves, etc.

Anyway I'm enjoying this fugue a lot. I think it's the greatest thing I've ever played. Parts of it, especially its expressiveness in the second half, remind me of some passages in Beethoven's late sonatas. Amazing.

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Originally Posted by wolfpaw
I know it's not really related to the forum or the thread, but how do you highlight fugal themes on an organ? I'm learning the C minor fugue from Bk 2 of the WTC and at measure 19 & 20 the theme is augmented in the left hand bass. In the piano you'd just play those notes a little louder. But surely you can't do that with an organ? So how would the organist bring a theme out or highlight a particular passage if the sound level is 'fixed' without any decay?

First of all, there isnt necessarily a need to highlight every entry of a subject; essentially counterpointing the other voices with an augmented, diminished, retrograde, inverted theme or any combination of such transformations is a way of composing. It does not mean one has to emphasize it. The fugue remains a musical object and as such the voicing must be suited to the musical context. In particular in this case, I personally really see no need to emphasize the bass voice in bars 19 and 20 which is used as a walking bass line. Based on how the piece is written, it is obvious that Bach wanted to highlight the upper voice, the fact that he used the subject for the walking bass line is a just compositional device.

I fact starting bar 14, you are in a stretto section. Bar 14 the theme is augmented also in the tenor voice, bar 22 the theme is inverted.

Irrespective of that particular case, originally the different voices must differentiate themselves by the nature or character of the voice. On the organ the bass line is usually quite audible by the nature of the instrument. However when playing on an instrument like the harpsichord that has limited differential ability, in particular when the voices are rather close to each other, only articulation can allow to emphasize a given voice.

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Thanks. I like the points you make. I know the first fugue I learned it seemed a given that "you must make the listener aware of each entry of the theme". Maybe not. Often the other stuff going on is much more interesting. It's definitely the case in mm. 19 & 20 of BWM 871 which have incredibly beautiful dialogue for the upper two voices. Almost every piano performance I've heard has the augmented theme being highlighted as much if not more so.

Originally Posted by Sidokar
First of all, there isnt necessarily a need to highlight every entry of a subject; essentially counterpointing the other voices with an augmented, diminished, retrograde, inverted theme or any combination of such transformations is a way of composing. It does not mean one has to emphasize it. The fugue remains a musical object and as such the voicing must be suited to the musical context. In particular in this case, I personally really see no need to emphasize the bass voice in bars 19 and 20 which is used as a walking bass line. Based on how the piece is written, it is obvious that Bach wanted to highlight the upper voice, the fact that he used the subject for the walking bass line is a just compositional device.

I fact starting bar 14, you are in a stretto section. Bar 14 the theme is augmented also in the tenor voice, bar 22 the theme is inverted.

Irrespective of that particular case, originally the different voices must differentiate themselves by the nature or character of the voice. On the organ the bass line is usually quite audible by the nature of the instrument. However when playing on an instrument like the harpsichord that has limited differential ability, in particular when the voices are rather close to each other, only articulation can allow to emphasize a given voice.

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Sidokar makes very good points. I was at a concert/lecture two weeks ago where the pianist performed the WTC Book I in full on the piano. In his lecture/masterclass the next day he made similar points.

It is important to understand the difference between counterpoint and the reaction to the intellectual attention required to appreciate it, which ultimately led to a shift in composition to much the simpler structures of accompanied melody.

The neat thing (I would say wonderful and magical) is the ability of our brains to absorb all the sound of Bach's counterpoint and pick out, as desired, any line for consideration. Our brain, in effect, makes that line louder. We all do this in a crowed room (remember those?). It is possible, as an observer, to pick individual conversations amongst the overall cacophony. In Bach's music all the lines are equally important and interesting.

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I liked listening to Bach's keyboard music before I started to play any of it on the piano. I enjoyed it a lot but much preferred Mozart's concertos and Beethoven's sonatas. But playing it is a totally different experience.

Each of the fugues I've learned remind me of miniature tone poems, or Mahler symphonies. They are so incredibly rich and beautiful, and the harmonies are often so startling or extreme or just lovely for the sake of it. I found I've missed most of what was in them just by listening to them. Each fugue has multiple moments when you're learning it when you think 'oh that's unbelievable' or 'that's outrageous'. [I probably should have tried to be a better listener.] The A major fugue from Bk 1 which I've been playing on and off for a while is remarkably beautiful, and yet it's usually played with such velocity that I think many of its numerous musical beauties seem to get lost. Bach played as a finger exercise is one my big annoyances.

When playing counterpoint I find it hard/impossible to have an awareness of all the voices and what they're doing at any given time. Is that something that comes with practice and experience? I tend to focus on one 'line' and leave the other things to do their own thing. I'm guessing that's not right, but it's hard to remove oneself enough to see the bigger picture.

Originally Posted by prout
Sidokar makes very good points. I was at a concert/lecture two weeks ago where the pianist performed the WTC Book I in full on the piano. In his lecture/masterclass the next day he made similar points.

It is important to understand the difference between counterpoint and the reaction to the intellectual attention required to appreciate it, which ultimately led to a shift in composition to much the simpler structures of accompanied melody.

The neat thing (I would say wonderful and magical) is the ability of our brains to absorb all the sound of Bach's counterpoint and pick out, as desired, any line for consideration. Our brain, in effect, makes that line louder. We all do this in a crowed room (remember those?). It is possible, as an observer, to pick individual conversations amongst the overall cacophony. In Bach's music all the lines are equally important and interesting.

Last edited by wolfpaw; 11/27/21 01:56 PM.
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