Upcoming Performances

May 13, 5:00 pm Eastern
Guest recitalist, First Presbyterian Church, Wilmington, N.C.

June 10
Guest recitalist, Bethel Evangelical Lutheran Church, Rochester, Minn.

September 23, 4:00 pm Eastern
Guest recitalist, Schantz organ 40th anniversary, Culpeper Baptist Church, Culpeper, Va.

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Franck-ly speaking, Part VIII: Fantaisie in A

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


Measures 1-8 and 13-20: No need to play the left hand, since everything is coupled to the Pedal. You could split the right-hand part among the hands so that the right hand does not have to work so hard to position itself in the lower tenor range.

Measures 1-8 and 13-20: It is compelling to break at the phrase marks, and I do so throughout the piece. (Don’t forget that wall-to-wall legato was an idea that came along just after Franck.) Any breaks have to be executed carefully so that they sound neither like coffee breaks nor panic moments. Compare this with the all-legato approach for, say, the Prière.

Measure 28: I take the lower E with the Pedal (no Pedal stops on), just to preserve all the legato I can.

Measure 34: Ditto for the low A. That means needing a piston for 35.

Measure 40: See those hairpins? I insert them in 36 and 38, as well.

Measure 51: I “thumb” the E in the left hand with the right to preserve legato.

Measure 59: I “thumb” the high A in the left hand with the right to preserve legato.

Measure 84: I “thumb” the A in the left hand with the right to preserve legato. It’s a stretch!

Measure 86 and following: Now we get into the dangers of turning fermatas into events. Franck is exploring form, fantasy, and improvisatory effects. But if we go out for a burger on each and every fermata, then the piece grinds to a halt at every turn, and the emotional impact is lost. I recommend deciding which fermatas are worth some extra time and which are worth barely more than a breath. For example, I don’t hold the fermatas very long in 86, 88, 90, 95, and 98. Even though those measures are pausing for “punctuation,” they are still “telling a story” that needs to go on. Commas, not exclamation marks. In contrast, see 101 below.

I reduce registrations little by little at 87, 96 and 99. I feel this makes a smoother transition down to the voix humaine. And while I observe the fermata in 98, I go into 99 without breaking. I just like that effect, especially if the boxes are capable of closing things down to nothing.

Measure 101: Now THERE is a fermata worth sitting on for some extra time (but not all day). That’s a major seam before introducing the voix humaine theme.

Measure 102: No voix humaine on your instrument? I’m not surprised. Welcome to America. But sorry, the voix celeste is not a suitable substitute. It is often used as a substitute just because it contains the word voix in its name, which is a worse transgression than using it as a substitute in the first place. However: once you get past the “rules” of registering in the French manner, you may start experimenting with registering this section in the absence of any necessary stops. I’ll make a long story short: when faced with no voix humaine, I do use the celeste, but without the string, and add the 4’ flute and the tremulant. That lends an air of mystery to the sound, and it’s probably not a combination that has been heard on a given organ. If the organ is well voiced, I have discovered that this can elicit an audible gasp from an astute audience.

Measures 119 and 121: Notice there are no fermatas like there were in 88 and 90.

Measures 118-132: I do here what I did in 87-101 with fermatas and registration.

Measures 161-162: There are no fermatas there. I go right on without breaking, after some healthy Molto rall.

Measures 165-166: I keep the uppermost note legato. For whatever reason. Same thing in 175-176.

Measure 167: There is no fermata there. Neither is there one in 177. Keep going, and in the “Poco animato” tempo, not the “1º Tempo.”

Measures 170-171: Before this section begins, I have cancelled the Pedal and added only the Récit coupler to it. I play in the Pedal the last two notes of the right hand in 170 and the first note of the right hand from 171. That achieves complete legato. But look at that final D – the Pedal already has that note, but the Pedal will need its stops back on for that note as Franck wrote it. So I also hit a Pedal divisional piston in time for that note, and then hit a General to bring everything back on for 172. This sounds like a lot of trouble, but if you have the pistons and the stomach for all these little details, then we have the technology.

Measures 197-198: I don’t pause or break before 198. Ritard, yes. Stop or break, no. I feel the swell of sound is more effective if we use all that endless wind the organ can use!

Measures 198-213: Franck’s Très largement will have to be gradually (and subtly) sped back up in time for 214, if you want 214 to match the tempo of 47. That is an approach I take; I feel the two themes require different tempos. Or perhaps more accurately, I feel that the theme at 214 is not as effective if it’s slow; those punching triplets suggest a bit of a driving sense to me.

Measures 213-214: I take the final three eighth notes from the left hand with the right. That prepares a smoother move for the left hand to the Positif. Since I’m retaining two voices in the right hand on the Great there, I also “complete” the lower voice by adding an alto A in the right hand on the downbeat of 214, then I release it, and it is then present on the Positif when the left hand arrives there.

Measure 218: I “thumb” the left hand E with the right. Same thing with the left-hand alto A in 226.

Measures 258 and 260: I reduce a bit. I like to use the entire section as a long cool-down.

Measures 275-276: It’s hard to get a quiet-but-French sound here. I just go to whatever stops are quieter than 274 was. I tie everything from 275-276.

I often get asked the question, “What’s your favorite piece?” I usually respond truthfully by saying, “Whatever I’m working on at the time.” Although the Franck E Major Choral is my favorite Franck, the A Major Fantaisie runs a close second. The E Major thrills me most, but the A Major haunts my ear.

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