Cumbrian Society of Organists

Review : Playing Bach on a Small Organ : 20 January 2007

Eighteen members attended this event at St. John’s church, Keswick, on 20 January.

Ian Hare gave an informative talk, taking us from the organs of Bach’s time through to contemporary ideas on playing Bach and adapting his music to suit your church’s instrument. From some specifications of baroque organs played by Bach, it could be seen that these tended to be rather modest 2 or sometimes 3-manual instruments.

The debatable and controversial issues of whether to pedal with toes only and whether to vary registration were alluded to. Ian explained how, in Bach’s time, pedal boards were set back, deeming a toes-only technique essential. Registration changes would have required an assistant, (which he may have had). The current trend favours toes only, (as those of us who have attended David Sanger’s Playing Days know too well!)  It was interesting to hear the Ian found the use of the odd heel acceptable, and also was not against appropriate registration changes.

We were given tips on style, such as using agogic accents, (slightly lengthening the note to be accented and shortening the preceding note), and making sure ornamentation is appropriate to the style of the piece. Ian advised studying the words of a chorale when learning chorale preludes, to understand the mood and theme.

Ian illustrated his ideas with demonstrations on the St. John’s organ and also with some interesting recordings of other organists past and present. This helped us to see how approaches to playing Bach have changed over the generations.

After the talk three members attempted to put some of the tips into use in their own performances of Bach, and other members had the opportunity to try out the organ during tea.