As you may recall from a previous post, I am practicing and being totally consumed by the Great Eighteen chorales of Bach, BWV 651-668. It was my need to “get myself a project” now that I am down to three jobs (from four, formerly).
It’s been about a month now, and I have decided that I am feeling pure luxury. Since I don’t have the obligation of having to prepare weekly preludes, postludes and communion pieces (sorry, Iolani chapel-goers, I’m doing re-runs!) I’m able to focus on learning the remaining few pieces which I had not played before.
First, I assigned myself the list of pieces to learn. Just as I do with my students, I gave myself weekly goals by dividing each piece into sections. I further needed to isolate particular measures which were more complex and needed more slow practice. I even had to look up and find out how to play an ornament which I had not ever encountered before. I have listened to most of the pieces on YouTube to get some ideas about tempos and registration.
BWV 655, Herr Jesu Christ, dich zu uns wend. As I said previously, this is a trio which I learned in college but had not really played since. Grade: 95% (by this I would give myself a solid ‘A’ as the piece is close to performance level.)
BWV 662, Allein Gott in der Höh’ sei Ehr. This is a gorgeous, highly ornamented chorale with the melody in the soprano. This was the second piece I tackled. Grade: 95%
BWV 663, Allein Gott in der Höh’ sei Ehr. I only started this piece last week. The melody is in the tenor voice, and the rest of the piece is like a trio sonata. Miraculously most of the voices are falling into place, in spite of the contrapuntal texture. Grade: 92%
BWV 664, Allein Gott in der Höh’ sei Ehr. I haven’t started this piece yet, and it looks like it will be the most challenging of the lot because of its length and its complexity. It is a trio texture throughout and the hands and feet are completely independent. That means they are going every which way. My husband likens this to “walking on eggs.” This one is going to be tough! Grade: 0%
BWV 665, Jesus Christus, unser Heiland. I’ve been working on this piece for only about two weeks now, and it’s just about there. Each phrase of the melody is treated contrapuntally, like a chorale motet. Grade: 92%
BWV 666, Jesus Christus, unser Heiland. I haven’t started this piece yet. It’s another chorale motet, but looks like it shouldn’t be so hard. Grade: 0%
Hey! I had an absolute break-through today! I had ordered Marie-Claire Alain’s recording of some of these pieces (Bach: Complete Works for Organ, vol. 10) and the CD arrived yesterday. I listened to just a few of the pieces on my drive to the church this morning and a miracle occurred. Somehow I was able to get beyond just playing the notes and am starting to make some real music. By that, I’m feeling comfortable enough to sing every note (another phrase I tell my students) and to make it expressive. “Not like a robot!”
“Keep your eyes on the prize” — I tell myself. My goal is to be able to play the Great Eighteen in a series of two concerts, perhaps by the end of the summer.