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Thread: Heel or no heel in Bach?

  1. #1
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    Heel or no heel in Bach?

    Hello,I am looking for (possibly)proven facts as to whether it is possible or allowed to use the heel in any of the organ works by Bach.For example,the pedal scale in the D-major prelude seems to prove that it is possible to use the heels.At the same time the pedals on Bach's organ were short-which made it impossible to use the heels.So,should I be authentic for phrasing's sake?Any information/links would be very helpful! Thank you!

  2. #2
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    Re: Heel or no heel in Bach?

    I´m sure it is "allowed" to use whatever method may feel comfortable. But personally I think it is not NECESSARY to use heels when playing old music. Definitely when playing on an old organ or a "copy" organ it is awkward or impossible to use heels.

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    Midshipman, Forte megodenas's Avatar
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    Heels in Bach ? Do what you want, the aim firstly the music

    Is your heel-point technique well controlled ? If yes, don't ask the question "hell or no hell in Bach" but play as you know to play. Johann Sebastian Bach used heel (not only in D praeludium, but also in C toccata, in Legrenzi fuga, and so on). During Bach time, there was pedals like today (BDO). Only AGO is very modern.
    The problem is not "heel or no heel" but playing good music with the better articulation possible, for polyphony control, and keep attention to have all the voices perfectly followed. I hope to be understood, because English is not my language.

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    Apprentice, Piano D P Werner's Avatar
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    Re: Heels in Bach ? Do what you want, the aim firstly the music

    I'm not sure the assertion is correct that Bach had only short pedalboard and could not use heels. I agree with Megodenas that the pedalboards Bach and his immediate predecessors used were similar to today's BDO pedalboards. This advanced pedalboard and the resulting sophisticaion in polyphonic pedal parts is one of the distinguishing features of the North German organ school.

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    Recruit, Pianissimo Jarle's Avatar
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    Re: Heels in Bach ? Do what you want, the aim firstly the mu

    At the Trost organ of Waltershausen, which Bach might have played himself, using heels is perfectly feasible. Same goes for the Hildebrandt (designed by Bach himself) of Naumburg. So unless later restorations have altered the pedalboards, we can quite safely assume Bach was able to use his heels. Whether he did or not is a somewhat more difficult question; I personally think he did if he thought it could improve his playing.

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    Re: Heels in Bach ? Do what you want, the aim firstly the mu

    to my point of view ,avoiding heels compleetly in bach music
    is unnatural. in many cases using heels is comfortable and looks as the most natural thing to do. Im qute sure that pedals
    in the days of bach were long enough to use heels.

  7. #7
    Captain of Water Music Thomas Dressler's Avatar
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    Re: Heels in Bach ? Do what you want, the aim firstly the mu

    There is no direct evidence either way as to whether JS Bach used heels or not. However, based on other evidence, it is possible to determine that German organists in those days probably used very little heel. What I have found playing either old flat pedalboards from the 19th century here in the US, or playing on copies of old instruments, is that heels are possible, but sometimes awkward. It is much easier to control articulation using toes.

    By looking at sources other than JS Bach, scholars pretty much agree that the old German pedal technique mostly involved toes, and involved foot crossing, in front or behind. Also, because of the non-legato technique of those days, it is entirely possible to play a good pedal line just hopping up the scale with the toes of one foot. We know Bach did exactly that with his fingers, based on existing fingerings of his own and his students. So when the pedal lines got to the top or the bottom of the pedalboard, organists probably either 1) used a heel once in awhile 2) used alternate toes--though this can get uncomfortable for high or low notes or 3) just hopped around with one foot. I use a combination of these methods, but often use the hopping method. However the pedal solo in Bach's F major Toccata really required alternate feet. I have pedaled the D major scale in the D major Prelude using heels, but have found the all toe method with crossing feet to be more accurate for me on a flat pedalboard. It also allows better control of articulation.

    I believe the answer to this is to do whatever works the best, but to just use heels because that's what you're used to is not the answer. Actually try learning to alternate toes and cross your feet and give it a fair attempt before deciding which works better. I think heels are necessary sometimes, but how often depends on the kind of pedalboard. For me, not too often on a flat pedalboard, but more often on a concave, radiating one.

    Thomas Dressler

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    Admiral of Fugues Contratrombone64's Avatar
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    Thomas, I think (and you'll correct me here if I'm wrong) that pedal boards were all flat until the 19 century, but I'm not sure how I know that useless fact.

  9. #9
    Captain of Water Music Thomas Dressler's Avatar
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    I believe you are correct. I don't know all the facts, but I believe concave, radiating pedalboards came about here in America during the early 20th century. One of the nicest organs I had in a church job was an 1896 (I believe--189?) Hook and Hastings with a flat pedalboard.

  10. #10
    Commodore con Forza Soubasse's Avatar
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    There's a well-known - and most excellent - organist from Melbourne, John O'Donnell, whom I admire greatly as, on the few occasions I've met with him, we've had some superb discussions (often about Jehan Alain, but also about other things!). Anyway, for years, he has had practically unlimited access to the superb Ahrend instrument in Blackwood Hall, Monash University. I've only played the instrument once, but it's difficult to forget - especially the pedalboard which is not only flat, but damn near convex! It uncompromisingly forces you to re-think your pedalling habits. No, it's not impossible to use your heel in places, but there are other places where, if you do use your heel, you'll get a cramp in your calf muscles!

    Last time I saw JO'D, I was page turning for him here at the Adelaide Town Hall. I watched fascinated as he played the pedal solo in the C major (BWV 564) ALL TOES, even though he was on a radiating concave board. For me, it completely re-defined that particular solo.

    My teacher was/is a supreme Bach specialist, but she never discouraged use of the heel in his works (she did discourage use of the swell box in his works to the extent where she would sometimes look at you suspiciously even if you had your foot resting there!) so I've always felt the whole heel or no heel debate is very much one of personal preference ... or possibly even comfort.
    Music is made to transform the states of the soul, for an hour or an instant (J. Alain)

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