As a church musician, Bach mostly played the organ for worship. What a sense of grandeur and power to see and listen to a pipe organ! Once you’ve had the opportunity to visit one, you’ll understand why Bach made a point of playing as many as he possibly could. What a powerful piece this is! And the complexity of it would be as if you wrote a complex crossword puzzle twice: once right side up and the next one upside down and backwards–that’s how complex a fugue is!
Although you do not have the opportunity today to visit an organ performance, here is an excellent one to observe and enjoy:
I really enjoyed watching and listening to this performance because of all the wonderful things which you get to see.
So, here are some things to look for:
*The organist changing the stops, that is, pulling out and pushing in the plungers to his right and left
*The wonderful view of the pipes. What sizes do you see?
*Just after the 2:45 mark, you can see the musician working the foot pedals really hard and something amazing happens
*How many manuals do you see? Or, how many keyboards does this organ have?
*After the 4:00 mark, the camera shows you the organist working the foot pedals. In what pattern are the pedals laid out?
*How large is the instrument itself in relation to the pipes?
*Just after the 6 minute mark you see the organist working the first and second manual. What’s happening in the third? Why?
Now that you’ve watched and listened the first time, listen again. This time, though, listen and pretend to be a conductor. Listen for the dynamics (how fast or slow the music is), how low or how high the tones are, the tempo (how fast or slow). How do your arms feel?
Now for the third time that you listen, sit in a kitchen chair or on a bench and pretend to be playing the pedals with your feet! How do your legs feel now?
And for the final listen, simply lie on the floor on your back with your eyes closed. In your mind’s eye envision playing the organ, listen for the the pauses, the notes which are held out much longer than the others. See how important the short notes are with the long notes? The pauses with the busy passages?
Many years ago I had the opportunity to hear this piece played as part of the prelude at 10th Presbyterian Church in downtown Philadelphia. In that huge space, with our sitting up in the side of the balcony, the music carried the appropriate splendor for worship. Truly, I do hope that you have the opportunity to go and hear this piece performed. It is an experience, for truly, an excellent organ’s music is not only heard, but also felt. Yes, you feel the vibrations of the music in your body!