Now that the Early Music Hawaii concert is over, I can get back to practicing Bach! Finally, I can go back to preparing for my concert on Sunday, October 30th at 7:00 pm, which will be Bach’s Clavierübung III, sometimes called the German Organ Mass.
The word Clavierübung means “keyboard practice,” and so you may be asking, “Why, III? Where’s I and II?” Well, thank you for asking! Bach’s Clavierübung I are six harpsichord suites, called “partitas” (1726-1730) and Clavierübung II consist of the Italian Concerto and French Overture (1735).
Clavierübung III is for the organ and was in part a response to musical requirements in church services. In addition to the Kyrie and Gloria, it contains the basic elements of the Lutheran Catechism: the Ten Commandments, the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, the Sacrament of Baptism, and Holy Communion, and is bookended by the massive Praeludium and fuga in E-flat. The chorale melodies of the Clavierübung were composed between 1524 and 1539, some by Martin Luther, and are thought to be the most important hymns of the Lutheran Church. How very appropriate to perform this work on Reformation Sunday!
The Clavier-Übung III is thought to be a summation of Bach’s technique in writing for the organ, and at the same time a personal religious statement. However, the technical difficulty of the compositions would have made the work too demanding for most Lutheran church organists, both then and now! [And why is it that I always have to choose the very most difficult works to play?! I’m a glutton for punishment!]
You may recall that a few months ago (“Sneak preview”), I was already able to more or less play through the program, but it wasn’t quite “ready for prime time.” Remember? I echoed many of the same phrases my students tell me:
But I just played the music note-perfect yesterday!
I’ve never made a mistake there before!
I don’t know what happened — I got lost in the music!
And then I had to stop working on Bach altogether because of my 40-day trip to Philadelphia and Europe. I resurrected the music again when I was home in the first few weeks of August, and then I went away for two more weeks to France with the Historic Organ Study Tours. When I came home on September 8, I still had to postpone my Bach practice because I had to worry about learning the music for the Early Music Hawaii concert last weekend.
So yesterday was the first day in many weeks that I was able to play through the Bach concert music, beginning to end. Wow, was that ever rough! And I could hear myself saying, “Now you just have to go back to using the metronome and play every piece more slowly!” Today was my day with the metronome and slow practice, and everything was just fine!
Each time I am able to practice for a spell, and then stop because of my travels, and then resume all over again—has miraculously resulted in actually making the music better! I call my intervals of being away from the music my “marinating” phase, and then when I come back to it, at first it’s pretty rough, but then quickly snaps back into place. The parts which I had to spend hours in slow practice now just roll off my fingers and feet with ease.
You would think that now I’m home and can coast to victory to my concert? Wrong—I’ll be taking one more trip to California the week before the concert for a family reunion.
(I know, this is crazy!)