Friday, March 1, 2013

Lento ma non troppo

We're in the middle of the season of Lent right now. Lent, a word that is closely related to the musical directive "slow." That's not an accident.

The term doesn't have anything to do with the Italian for "minor keys" but those tend to get a good airing this time of year, too. Last year I posted an apologetic for the use of those sonic depressants, including when they aren't very depressing, such as in the music I'm playing at Faith this week. It's at the bottom of the post--the music, that is. The article can be found here.

This week's organ music is brought to you by not one but two geniuses of the Baroque period. That means it is fortified or something. And it should be. It took some effort to track it down. But I like a little musical detective work, now and then.

This summer I found a DVD called "History of the Organ." The promotional video online had an attractive piece on it that sounded like it would be fun to play. But they didn't say what it was. A couple of Googles later I found somebody complaining that they didn't know what it was, either.

I ordered the video because it looked like it might be a useful watch and they might list the musical selections. No luck on number two. That's because this particular selection served as a background for the narrator to talk over and thus it was considered bumper music.

This use of music is so pervasive that even organizations whose purpose is to "exhibit" the very same music will also present that music as travelling music. For instance, our classical radio station will play a piece, the announcer will tell us what it was and who played it; then you will hear about 30 seconds of something completely different and just as you are getting into it the music will fade and they'll go on with their programming. That's bumper music. They don't tell you what it was. It has no identity.

A few weeks later (I think I was in the shower) I suddenly woke up and thought, "well, it sounds like a Vivaldi concerto and it is being played on an organ. Now who do I know who arranged Vivaldi concertos for organ?" That would be Bach.

It seems kind of silly that I didn't think of that right away. I have a doctorate of music--in piano, not organ. In order to get one of those degrees they give you a test on the literature for your instrument. You have to know, for instance, what keys all 32 of the Beethoven piano sonatas are in, and be able to list the opus number. You have to recognize which of Bach's dance suites have overtures and which have preludes. If they play drop the needle on a piano concerto you have to know which one. Since I didn't go through that process as an organist there are still some fairly standard pieces by well-known composers that I don't recognize. I'm still learning the literature.

Still, I happened to know that little corner of the Bach repertoire by reading--not because I had actually heard the pieces, but I'd heard of their existence. And I used my ears to tell me what characteristics the piece had and matched it with the composer who wrote music that way. (This was also something you got tested on during your oral defense, by the way)

As music mysteries go, it was a relatively tame one, and not very time-consuming. I'll tell you sometime about whole afternoons trying to coax information out of the internet--nay, several years spent in the pursuit of specific pieces of music starting from perhaps few clues. But now you know one of the ways in which I find music to play in church. It doesn't just show up on the music rack, you know!

I think it was a piece worth tracking down. I'm enjoying playing it, and I hope my congregation likes it on Sunday, too. It is in a minor key, but it is hardly ponderous, or sober. Perhaps it celebrates a more vigorous side of Lent--Sunday as a "little Easter." Serious, but active, even joyful.

Here's the first movement. I'm playing the last next week, and I decided today to wait a day or two before trying to record it. So for the rest of the story you can check in at the pianonoise listening archives in a week. Next week in this space we're going mountain climbing. Bring your oxygen.

Vivaldi/arr. Bach  Concerto in A minor, Bwv 593   I. Allegro

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