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Tuesday
Dec162014

Franck-ly speaking, Part VI: Choral in E

This is the sixth installment in a series on my take on playing the twelve large works of César Franck. Today’s topic is the first Choral in E. See the first post in the series for background information.

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This is my favorite Franck. I love Franck’s harmonies in these sharp keys, and I feel this piece is perfectly ravishing at every moment. With the three Chorals, we clearly have a much-matured style by a much-matured composer. The titles are troublesome if your audience does not recognize French. I have even heard a Franck Choral announced as a ‘coral’ on the radio. The use of the English “Chorale” in print is perfectly acceptable; I usually send it in one way or the other, depending on the venue.

At the beginning: Of course, couple the manuals to a dead Pedal to make life easier. Franck was saving paper and time by writing on two staves. It might even be convenient to cover two notes in the Pedal here and there. Experiment. On the other hand, there’s no need to play a pedal part all the time in this section; I just use it to keep the wide reaches legato, rather than learning and memorizing a complete Pedal part.

This piece is an ultimate challenge in deciding what to tie and what to break. Do take the time to figure out how you’re going to play every note. But don’t consider it a chore; consider it an opportunity to get to know some beautiful notes more intimately. I break only when a beat needs to be heard or when a voice needs its line clarified.

Measure 8: Keep going. Don’t stop for coffee before moving to the Récit. This is a long piece, and it will get longer and disjointed if there are too many stops and starts. (The Grande Pièce Symphonique is particularly dangerous in that regard.)

Measure 64: Let that be a moment of completion before moving on. The whole piece is stated in measures 1-64. Everything else is derived. Although the audience might not catch all the connections, you will be discovering interactions from section to section for the rest of your life.

Measure 65: This is the beginning of a variation on what we have heard up to that point. If you’ll phrase it just like before, it will carry itself to its own completion in 105. No need to work too hard at squeezing juice out of it.

If your Great is in the middle, I recommend coupling the Positif to the Great for this same section [from 65]. That will facilitate many instances of “thumbing” across manuals to preserve legato. Here are but a few of the spots I thumb (or finger) into the other hand:

Measure 79: I take the alto G with the left hand.

Measure 80: I take the alto Ds with the left hand. That makes a smoother transition for the hands to exchange manuals.

Measure 85: I take the alto G in the second beat with the right hand.

Measure 86: I take the alto F# in the second beat with the right hand. 

Measures 89-92: This will probably be the most unorthodox thing I have mentioned in this series. From the last beat in 89 all the way through 92, reverse the hands! Play the left-hand part with the right and vice versa, hands crossed. The “recovery” will occur naturally at 93. This will eliminate those lightning-quick and dangerous substitutions on the last beat of 89 and the last beat of 92. Go on – give it a try; you know you want to.

Measure 93: As if all the above weren’t enough, if you also put on the Récit to Pedal here, you can cut out some of those lowest notes in the left hand and facilitate better legato. The coupler will need to come off at the end of 94. If you value legato and are willing to spend some extra time working all this, it’s worth the trouble. As I’ve said before, anything to preserve legato is legal. I haven’t played notes with my nose, but I’d be willing to, even if it saved just one note from eternal detachment and damnation.

Measure 101: This is another good time to bring on the Récit to Pedal for the duration of the phrase.

Measure 106: This is only an interlude, so don’t give away the store just yet.

Measures 123-125: I reduce during every rest. And see Wayne Leupold’s discussion of 121 for permission to reduce the Pedal there.

Measures 138-140: I use echo effects by opening and closing the box for the re-statements of those little phrases. I just can’t resist.

Measure 147: If you’ll take the first note of the right hand with the left, you won’t have to have a coffee break for the Positif entrance. But you’ll need to hit your piston carefully in between.

Measure 148, second and third beats: I take the bottom notes of the right hand with the left. Same for 150.

Measures 152-166: Opportunities abound for thumbing/fingering across manuals to preserve legato. This section kicks off one of those places where it’s helpful to provide fingerings for both locations of your Great manual. See my discussion of that in the post on the Cantabile.

Measure 167: The Récit to Pedal may come on here to facilitate legato. It should come off again in 169.

Measure 174: This is probably the trickiest thumbing exercise I have encountered [invented]. The left hand E-flat should be released on the final sixteenth of the measure, because it has to be repeated at 175. On top of that, in the third beat of 174, if you’ll take the second and fourth sixteenths with the left hand, AND in 175, if you’ll take the right hand’s lowest two voices on the first beat with the left hand, all this will facilitate the right hand’s journey up the octave in 175. It takes practice, but you will then understand how Cameron Carpenter plays every piece. [Actually, I have heard him play this piece, and he doesn’t go to the trouble in that measure. However, he goes to a lot of trouble in a lot of other places to create counter-melodies where Franck didn’t write them. Whatever.]

Measures 183-192: thumb/finger across manuals freely to facilitate the wider intervals. Too many to list here.

Measure 200: Life is easier if you reverse the hands here. Right plays left hand part and vice versa.

Measure 205: I release the manual first chord early to give the Pedal some space to assert itself.

Measure 209: I add some more stops here, especially if they’re under expression. Same for 218.

Measure 232: This moment separates the lazy from the diligent. The melody that begins in 233 actually begins on the third beat of 232. Therefore, the additional stops need to be added on that upbeat. But to do so would build the Pedal too much, which is probably why Franck cuts the Pedal note by an eighth. An easy solution is to add all the manual stops you’re going to add on the third beat but actually reduce the Pedal a bit (probably a coupler or two) to keep it from blasting for that one note. Then while your melody is underway in 233, hit another piston to finish building the Pedal.

Measure 233: This section kicks off one of those rapturous moments with few peers in the literature. Make good decisions about tying vs. breaking. And make the Pedal entrances match the manual statements in phrasing.

Measures 243-244: On some organs, it pays to move the left hand to the Récit. And in that case, if your Great is in the middle, it’s also easier to return to the Great from above, rather than from below. In 245, I thumb the first eighth in the left hand with the right; that works best from above (Récit), rather than below (Positif on bottom).

Measure 249: I add the Pedal 32’ reed here, of all places. Kind of like bringing in the tubas and a rolling tympani for the climax to come.

Prepare the final cadence carefully. If 252 rushes, it will ruin it.

Measures 256 and 257: I play the left hand quarters on the first beat (just those two notes) on the Positif, so that we don’t hear that note repeat while being used in two different voices.

Final chord: I add tenor E with my right foot. Might as well!

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