Today, more than four months before my concert date of October 30, 2016, I played through my program before an audience of two: Scott Fikse, who will conduct a small chamber choir to sing the four-part chorales, and Todd Beckham, organist.
Amazingly enough, I heard myself say many of the things 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!
It wasn’t my best — but I did get through it without major disasters or breakdowns — and this is four months before concert date. I dare say that no other organist in this town would be so crazy to play this program — some of the pieces are absolutely the most difficult and challenging Bach I’ve ever played! Even Wikipedia calls it “Bach’s most significant and extensive work for organ, containing some of his musically most complex and technically most demanding compositions for that instrument.” You can say that again!
It is true that thirty-seven years ago on March 10 and 11, 1979, Carl Crosier and I presented this monumental work — Carl took half the pieces and I took the other half, but even then we did not present the complete collection. You see, there are large and small settings of what is known as “The German Organ Mass,” (Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, etc.) and what Carl and I did was a mixture of large and small settings. To play the entire collection would be too much for one evening, nearly two hours of organ music, so I’ve selected all the large settings (naturally, the hardest!)
Here’s what I wrote in a previous post: “Listening to my 28-year-old self”
Now that Carl is in the heavenly choir, though, I have decided to play all the large settings, meaning that I have to learn some of the pieces that he played in 1979. Wow! I am finding that he took on some of the most fiendishly difficult and impossible settings. In fact, I remember him saying to me back then that it was a good thing he was playing Jesus Christus unser Heiland because it was too pianistic for me and my hands were too small! If you don’t know it, the piece is full of wide intervals, and there are leaps of tenths in almost every measure. You’re right, Carl, I’m finding it quite a nightmare!
In today’s performance, it’s ironic that of all the pieces I played, I thought that Jesus Christus unser Heiland was probably my best. Todd asked me when I learned it, and I told him that it was actually while I was at Yale in February earlier this year. While Joey Fala was in class, he let me into the practice rooms and I learned Jesus Christus unser Heiland and Vater unser im Himmelreich at that time, both of which are the most difficult Bach works I’ve played. [Oh, I guess I’ve told you that already!]
As to some of the other pieces, I’ve played them for years and years — I learned the opening and closing Prelude and Fugue in E-flat during my Westminster Choir College days with Joan Lippincott. And Aus tiefer Not, for double pedal was a piece I learned shortly after moving to Hawaii in 1973. So some of these pieces are old friends.
As to similarities/differences with my Bach Great 18 Chorales concert of three years ago, though, the choir will sing the chorales after I play the organ piece, which will serve as each introduction. That way I won’t have to worry about giving the choir the pitch. Also it’s probably more “authentic performance practice” in that I understand during Bach’s time, the organ piece was played first, followed by the congregation’s a cappella singing of the tune.
This concert I’m also giving the congregation (audience) the opportunity to sing two of the chorales: “Allein Gott in der Höh’ sei Ehr” (the Gloria) and “Wir glauben all an einen Gott (the Creed) — in German, of course! They are two pieces with which the Lutheran Church of Honolulu congregation should be familiar, as they are sung several times a year.
Now I’ll let the music “percolate,” umm… “marinate” in my mind while I am away in Philadelphia and in Europe. For most of the trip, I’ll be away from a keyboard; however, I will be taking a miniature score of the music in my purse for me to peruse from time to time.
Bach, I promise I’ll be back to you in August when I return!
I’ve been listening to Joan’s performance on YouTube of “Jesus Christus, unser Heiland” (my former teacher).