“More terrifying than performing naked” — this was the caption that former student Joey Fala posted today on Facebook about his February 6th concert performance of Bach’s Trio Sonata No. 5 which I attended in New Haven, CT. It was the first time Joey had performed a Bach trio sonata in public — and I’ve always maintained that these are some of the most challenging works in the organ literature.
Organ trios, by their very nature, are difficult and complex because you basically have three contrapuntal, independent voices happening simultaneously: one in the right hand, another in the left hand, and another in the pedal. At times the two hands move in parallel motion and other times, they move in contrary motion. Add in the pedal doing something entirely different and you have the organists’ version of multi-tasking to the extreme degree!
Bach’s six Trio Sonatas, BWV 525-530 were conceived and have been used by organ students for hundreds of years to develop technique. Bach wrote them for his eldest son, Wilhelm Friedemann, which must have done the trick in making him “a great organist that he afterwards was,” according to biographer J. N. Forkel. In a 2009 interview with organist Paul Jacobs by the Juilliard Journal, Jacobs described these works as:
“The organ sonatas are disarmingly attractive and immediately appealing to the listener, though they pose ferocious interpretive and technical demands for the player.” A significant challenge of performing these works is one of sheer coordination: playing three lines of music on two keyboards and pedal with all four limbs. “There isn’t much for the performer to cling on to,” Jacobs said. “It’s a little like walking on eggshells.” By contrast, in other weightier organ and keyboard works, Bach sometimes employs thicker four- or five-part counterpoint, offering a more idiomatically conceived keyboard texture.
My late husband, Carl Crosier, used to regale people at our dinner parties about my memorized all-Bach recitals, and how nervous he got when I once unintentionally found myself repeating a section of Bach’s Trio Sonata No. 6. It’s so easy to do — one or two notes difference between the sections and you can either wind up moving on or getting yourself in an endless loop! A nightmare for performers, to be sure, but as I recall, I was able to finally move on.
Just the act of getting up to perform before an audience can make you feel extremely exposed, and I’m wondering whether Joey’s quote about feeling naked was something he remembered me saying at a lesson — it sounds like something I would say!
Yes, it is really nerve-wracking to play in front of an audience, and especially playing a trio sonata, with its “walking on eggshells” treachery, is especially cause for angst.
But like anything else, everything can be “fixed” by three magic words: Practice, practice, practice!
Thanks, Joey, for such a brilliant performance of the Trio Sonata!