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Thread: Widor Toccata advice sought

  1. #1
    Recruit, Pianissimo
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    Widor Toccata advice sought

    Hello all.

    Sometimes I just feel the need for the opinions of others. I am largely a pianist but I have studied organ as well. As a church organist I like to bring out the Widor from time to time as I did today. I sometimes find myself discouraged by the fact the the instrument I play, a 36 rank Kilgen with more unification than I would like and which has the Great and Choir enclosed together and the Swell enclosed separately, just does not permit me to do the things I would like and that I hear done on other larger and better instruments. This instrument simply will not allow a decent smooth crescendo. There is that middle section of the piece marked pianissimo and I would love to be able to get a gradual crescendo from that to the fortissimo the piece concludes with but realistically I know the instrument will only do what the instrument will do based on its capabilities. I seem to only be able to achieve the crescendo in "bumps" rather than smoothly. Even the crescendo pedal, which I try to avoid, is "bumpy" and not a smooth increase. This leads to the larger question I have been pondering lately of how acceptable it is to change the indications given by a composer who may have written for a certain type of instrument at a certain time to fit a lesser instrument whether it is in the Widor Toccata or anything else. It seems a shame to have throw such a piece out if it can still be presented in a musical way. I have significant formal study in piano and have supplemented quite a lot in organ but still not as much as many of you may have. Your advice and opinions are welcome. Thanks You.

  2. #2
    Admiral of Fugues Contratrombone64's Avatar
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    Hey goodwill - interesting thread. My only advice about changing suggested registration is this: just do it. Afterall, there are no two pipe organs that are completely identical. Widor would obviously have had one of the big Parisian monsters in mind, possibly.
    I'm not an atheist and I don't think I can call myself a pantheist. We are in the position of a little child entering a huge library filled with books in many different languages. The child knows someone must have written those books. It does not know how. The child dimly suspects a mysterious order in the arrangement of the books but doesn't know what it is. That, it seems to me, is the attitude of even the most intelligent human being toward God.
    —Albert Einstein.

  3. #3
    Administrator Krummhorn's Avatar
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    Hi Goodwill,

    Excellent question ... Thought the piece was written certain stops in mind, we don't all have access to large instruments, nor even the likes of what Widor had at his disposal.

    We can only use what resources we have ... so it is quite acceptable to modify the registrations. I perform this work at least once a year, usually for an Easter Sunday prelude at church, and I play it on what resources I have ... 9 ranks!! Yes ... 9 ranks, and it works beautifully. It takes judicious use of the crescendo shoe as well as proper shading of the swell (where my reeds are) to save as much full sound for the end as possible.

    At my church, I register the organ for the 'quiet' part (but include my only 16' manual stop, too) ... I begin the piece with full Crescendo but the box closed. Towards the end of the 'quiet' section, I keep adding stops with the crescendo shoe (as the feet are idle at this point anyway), as stops are added, the box gets closed. I make a very quick pause right before both feet are playing in octaves to fully open the crescendo shoe. Where the hands cross, I close the box ... at the end, of course, I open the box while holding the high "F".

    That's how I do the Widor on 9 ranks ... I have played the Franck Chorale No 3 many times on this organ, also with great success. Last year, I even performed Mendelssohn's Sonata I ... it can be done ... just takes lots of creativity.

    You might also try a single registration, and close/open the boxes together ... one can place their foot in such a way to operate both shoes at the same time.


    I've played the Widor many times in my church, and have had to be creative and a half ...
    Kh ~~.
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  4. #4
    Rear Admiral Appassionata (Ret) Ghekorg7 (Ret)'s Avatar
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    Hallo Lars,

    This is a great tutorial , not just a reply post !

    I believe you must write a series about how large works for large organs can be played in smaller ones and with a few ranks (9!!!!). In full detail, as you did here.

    Best of the best !
    Panos
    *It's like a fight with women, which always ends in .... bed.*
    F.Kafka, Aphorisms.

  5. #5
    Commodore con Forza Soubasse's Avatar
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    Hi Goodwill and welcome aboard,

    Don't ever feel concerned about having to cut corners since for most of us, it's the only way we can perform anything. Given Widor's 60+ years at St Sulpice, it's not unreasonable to assume that it was at and/or for this superlative instrument that his 5th Symphony (and probably all the others) were written. Much as we'd like to have C-C's masterwork at our disposal, us mere mortals with less than 5 manuals and 102 ranks can only ever approximate and compromise, and that of course goes for the vast majority of all other organ repertoire.

    The first time I ever heard a live performance of Widor's Toccata, was standing next to my first teacher. It was a recital to celebrate the new lungs for the organ in the church where my father was presiding at the time. Right up to the last moment, my teacher had no idea what he was going to play for the final item (listed in the programme as "to be announced"). From memory, he played the Toccata and whilst doing so, called out which stops for me to take off and bring back on again for the end. The organ in question was a rather basic 2-manual with 13 stops, completely mechanical, no performance aids, and only one shoe for the swell box. I certainly cannot recall what I did those 28 years ago (!) ... but it worked! (even in spite of him mumbling to me just after I'd pulled on another stop "I think I might have missed a couple of pages!"). Lars's suggestions above are highly practical.

    Another thing about the Widor is don't be afraid to play it slower than you've heard. Widor himself is reported to have been disappointed with the ambulance-chasing tempi that many organists employed when performing his piece, and in his own recording, made when he was in his late 80s, you hear quite a slower tempo than that to which most are accustomed. He apparently liked to hear the staccato articulations on the right hand part. (That said, having had the priceless privilege of playing the St Sulpice organ, I can vouch first-hand that the amazing Barker Lever makes it possible to play those passages fast and staccato if you want to!)

    MPA
    Music is made to transform the states of the soul, for an hour or an instant (J. Alain)

  6. #6
    Admiral of Fugues Contratrombone64's Avatar
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    Funny, I've heard the Widor Tocatta played on a small organ (though not as small as Lars' one) and it worked ok, despite being a positively vile instrument (St. John the Baptist Anglican Church in Mudgee, NSW).
    I'm not an atheist and I don't think I can call myself a pantheist. We are in the position of a little child entering a huge library filled with books in many different languages. The child knows someone must have written those books. It does not know how. The child dimly suspects a mysterious order in the arrangement of the books but doesn't know what it is. That, it seems to me, is the attitude of even the most intelligent human being toward God.
    —Albert Einstein.

  7. #7
    Ensign, Principal
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    An interesting and worthwhile thread given that pretty much every organist has to wheel out the Toccata on an instrument totally unsuited to that piece.

    It is worth thinking about the acoustics of the building in question. Great booming resonant buildings really demand a slower speed. As I recall, Daniel Roth does a slower than 'normal' performance on UTube.

    I agree with Soubasse that the 'normal' speed is too fast, however, playing in a modern building with next to none reverberation almost forces the tempo up - I've been a victim of that myself, and had to bite my tongue trying to explain to a bride-to-be that lovely as my 10 stop Willis One is, the building aint Wesminster Abbey!

  8. #8
    Captain of Water Music
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    Just a side note. From Daniel Roth I've heard that there's a tradition in St Sulpice that one plays the toccata all the way on the same manual despite notation... And as I remember it when I was standing right next to him when he played it in St Sulpice (by heart of course!) the registration changes were not that huge either (anches on/off, there's still the original system there), but the swell capacity in St Sulpice is of course great.

    Many times in french music the dynamic markings are only indication of the swell position, not exact relative dynamic indications anyway. If the interpretation is ok, good music will always sound good on any instrument, but of course only a great instrument will sound great also. But as others have remarked, don't be put down by thinking about the limitations of the instrument. Always be creative and try to make the instrument perform the best it can with the resources available.

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