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The Spirit of France in Organ Study

"The eloquent organ waits for the master to waken the spirit"DOLE
 
The prompt response of the French soldier has astounded the world. The marvelous art of the French organist is exciting the same attention. The spirit of France prevails to-day and predominates our musical life and activities. Why is this so? The French as a nation are ever on the alert, but at the same time guard an enviable repose. They possess qualities that are of the highest value to the artist, and we as a nation have much to learn from them. In the French organist one easily observes the instantaneous attack and release of the key. The marvelous clarity heard in all the voices; the extraordinary phrasing; the brilliancy of execution; attention to the minutest detail; the care bestowed upon the nuance, and all forms of poetic expression; the balance of tone in registering; and the seriousness of purpose—all these and many more salient qualities are to be found in the French organist.
 
The three visits of Alexandre Guilmant to this country did much for the advancement of organ music. The present tourneé of Joseph Bonnet is demonstrating above all, that the American people like the best in music, and are interested in what has been written for the instrument much more than what has been transcribed for it. Mr. Bonnet proves that there is ample in the repertoire for the organ for all purposes including church and recital use, and right he is. There is a wealth of material easily obtainable and it is only necessary to secure it. Mr. Guilmant said repeatedly that the nobility of the organ should at all times be preserved, and urged that the music written for it should be played just the same as is that of pianists, violinists, 'cellists and all others in the world of music who perform the music composed for their respective instruments. The highest ideals are being upheld in the work of Joseph Bonnet and the spirituality of his extraordinary art; the mysticism and genius displayed in all he does, together with a combination of the innumerable qualities which the Frenchmen possess, makes it well worth while for the organ profession of this country to stop and make a keen observation of the lofty methods and noble example he is presenting to us.
 
To those who are about to take up the study of the organ, as well as a still larger number, those who wish to better their musical status, the question presents itself, what is necessary in order to raise the standard of the playing to a higher artistic level?
 
In order to gain efficiency, a system or method should first of all be decided upon. As a plan to adopt for those who cannot be guided by an experienced teacher, it is indispensable to acquire as thorough a knowledge of the pianoforte as is possible before taking up the organ. The technic of the instrument, the instantaneous attack and release of the note, and a facile command of each individual finger must be mastered before proceeding further. This is much easier to acquire and more effectual than on the organ and saves a tremendous amount of time. It is also highly advisable to study the inventions and well-tempered clavichord by Bach to gain independence between the hands and to become familiar with the polyphonic style of writing as a prelude of what is to follow later on. In any event the technic which can be gained from piano study is the only logical way to prepare for entrance to the organ loft. Once the door is open, the touch of the organ should be mastered. It is the first step taken by the pianist; the violinist learns his positions; and the vocalist how to place the voice; therefore why not have the organist learn the touch of the instrument he is to play? The legato, so absolutely indispensable and difficult to acquire, should occupy a large amount of each day's practice. Great stress should be exercised in the attempt to master it, and a large amount of patience will be needed, as it is a long and difficult road to climb. However, perseverence (sic) and determination stand for a good deal, and the serious student will possess these. The staccato can be combined with it to a certain extent especially in gaining the instantaneous attack of the note. Its success, however, depends on how well the legato is first mastered.
 
First and foremost, learn to concentrate. Nothing can be accomplished in any of the arts or sciences without being able to keep the mind absolutely fixed on the work. It should be taught to children and developed with the same care as is given to the other subjects studied in our educational institutions of learning. To gain independence between the hands and feet begin the study of trios immediately—first those that are simple and easy, advancing as the progress warrants. As the trio represents three individual voices, each part (or voice) is to be studied separately. Afterwards join each two-parts together, and finally the three voices at the same time. A trio should not be abandoned until absolutely learned, and the three voices heard by the student when executing it. This gives an introduction to the king of instruments that spells success, and the chance of eventually becoming a player of intellectual attainments. There is much to be gained by scale-work. Not only with the feet alone, but by combining them with the hands in all possible positions and combinations. The technic of the feet is also as necessary to acquire as for the hands, and this too must be added to the daily schedule.
 
Make a program of the work for each day of the week, and follow the schedule to the letter. Never be late to the lesson, which at best, is none too long, and conversation on current events should never enter into it.
 
Volumes have been written on this subject. Teachers have attempted to explain until their voices became hoarse. How many have heeded their rules and words of wisdom? There is only one way to gain an artistic result from study in any branch of music, and that is to practice slowly; then more slowly; and afterwards still more so. By that is meant Adagio (not Andante), but so slowly that each individual note is given its exact value, hands separately, then together. Afterwards the feet alone, then in combination with the hands. Each phrase should be studied separately and not passed over until sufficient repetitions have been made. Not only must a slow tempo be adopted when starting a new etude or piece, but continued each and every following day. The greater the artist, the slower is the practice.
 
Works of moderate difficulty should not be despised. It is far better to play a first grade piece artistically than a fifth grade badly. The trios lead up to the Six Organ Sonatas which Johann Sebastian Bach wrote for his son Wilhelm Friedman to practice to enable him to perfect himself in organ playing. These should be the daily menu of every organist, for these are the works that will not only make him great, but keep him so, and in addition enable him to better understand and interpret the preludes and fugues, which should always find a place in the schedule of all serious-minded organists.
 
Registration should not be studied until the ground work of organ-playing has been gained. If attempted too soon, there will always be hesitancy and the phrasing will be interrupted each time a change of combination is sought after. There should be symmetry and poise the same as is maintained in orchestral playing, and this is possible to acquire readily if one is prepared for it. A large help is in listening to the world's greatest organists, and in becoming familiar with the best in organ music. Attendance at orchestral concerts gives an idea of tone color and should always be taken advantage of. Study the mechanism of the instrument, and know exactly what each set of pipes represents. Then the art of combining them will depend on the ability of the player and his artistic taste.
 
The success of public performance, following systematic study, will naturally be greater if the organ is of a character to respond to the demands made upon it. If a concrete or solid base is required for good organ-playing, no less is it needed in organ building, whether the instrument be intended for church or concert purposes. There, must be in the specifications plenty of diapasons and mixtures, the former in order to obtain a full round tone, and give something to build upon, and the latter for brilliancy and life to the general effect. Octave-couplers can never replace mixtures, and are hollow and weak when placed in comparison. The tendency to-day is to avoid them, but it is a grave mistake, for there is nothing that will take their place. Naturally an organ should contain much else, but unless there is a sufficient amount of diapason tone, the rest counts but for little. The organ is intended primarily for the church service and therefore must sustain the congregation and also have ample resources for accompanying the choir. Afterwards comes the organ recital. Therefore, in making out the specifications for an organ, there should be plenty of solid foundation tone, and mixtures, with solo stops necessary to give variety and enhance the effect of the instrument.
 
One has only to turn to the old masters for a wealth of material. Joseph Bonnet, in his historical research, has unearthed some remarkable examples of music for both church and recital use, for which we are most grateful. The Bach Choral-Preludes are practical in every sense, and happily are frequently seen on service lists to-day. The heart of Bach is found in these Chorales, and when they are played in the right spirit, congregations are bound to be interested and uplifted, as they create a devotional atmosphere found nowhere else.
 
Guilmant was a prolific composer for the church, and enriched it in many ways. Turn also to the works of Bonnet, Vierne, Widor, Salomè, Dubois, Boëly and others of the French school, as well as to those of the English, both ancient and modern. Bossi and Capocci of the Italians should be included, together with the great masters of the early centuries from Palestrina up to the present day. There is ample to form a practical and comprehensive repertoire, without resorting to the small melodic pieces now used so universally, which with few exceptions can be played at sight. The nobility and grandeur of the organ should predominate, and it is completely lost sight of in this form of compositions if followed too closely. This is not up-to-date music, but a style long ago discarded by the French.
 
The short road to success is WORK and plenty of it. To play a good service or an interesting recital, all must be prepared in advance. It is much easier and takes less time to play transcriptions than to do legitimate organ music. More satisfying, however, is the latter. While it is of the greatest importance to strive for a system and method, it is equally necessary to keep always in mind that the organ is not a mechanical instrument, and that the musical side needs equal attention, although accent, phrasing, and the nuance must be carefully studied and observed; above all, the heart and soul of the performer must be in the work. Intellectual playing is what we want, and to place it on the highest level of artistic excellence, nothing should be slighted. Every note must have its true value and significance and be carefully moulded, the same as a sculptor gives care to his particular line of work.
 
If we are to advance in the art of organ-playing, in organ building, and in writing for the instrument, we must embody the traditions that have given to France her position of influence, importance and creative genius which places her above all other nations in the world of organ music to-day. The scholastic principles embodied in a perfect system formulated and put forward for years by such giants as César Franck, Alexandre Guilmant, Charles Marie Widor, Eugene Gigout, Joseph Bonnet, Louis Vierne and their associates, have produced an educational standard that commands the attention of the entire civilized world. Every organist throughout this broad land of ours should become acquainted with the artistic imports of the French and inwardly digest what they have to say.
 
The French are indefatigable workers, and possess patience and perseverance to the fullest extent. The time is ripe for us to realize the necessity of a higher standard in organ-playing. The public demand it, and appreciate the best (as has been proved by the audiences who greet Bonnet and who welcomed Guilmant during his three visits to this country).
 
We have only to follow the noble example and high standards and ideals established and practiced by them if we expect to make headway ourselves and advance in the work. The French people have upheld the highest standards, and to gain and profit by it we have only to infuse into our work the spirit of France.

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