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The Organ Lacks Audible Accent.

The one point which differentiates the organ from all other instruments is that it has no accent, no power of emphasis. Its tone is dead. True, it can be swelled and diminished, but its swell is not like the crescendo of a chorus or orchestra, a gradual increase of concerted personal energy, with a human heart beating harder and harder behind every successive note; it is like the growing roar of the approaching storm, an inconsistent force, irresistible if you will, but wholly impersonal. Yet the swell, much as it is prized and outrageously abused by modern organists, is an item of comparatively small importance in the organ. The prime characteristic of the instrument is its perfectly even, sustained, and impersonal tone. It is Bach’s complete sympathy with this quality of the instrument that makes his organ works so unique. Some of his greater organ pieces have been arranged for orchestra: the “Passacaglia,” in C-minor, and the “Toccata,” in F. These arrangements have been much admired, but they seem to me very horrible. It is claimed that they give greater variety in tone-color; so they do, and this is one reason why I object to them. This variety seems weak and trivial where it is not needed. Yet my greatest objection to these transcriptions is, after all, that the orchestra cannot play them without accent, without a certain human inflection. The phrase no longer rolls out in one continuous breath; it is chopped up into rhythmical divisions which give it the triviality of human utterance, where it should ring out like a force of Nature made vocal. This succession of pigmy blows is no substitute for the steady, irresistible push of organ tone.—WilliAm Foster Apthorp (“Musicians and Music Lovers”).

 

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You are reading The Organ Lacks Audible Accent. from the March, 1900 issue of The Etude Magazine.

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