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December 1
3:00 pm Eastern

Messiah organist, First Presbyterian Church, Statesville, N.C.

December 3
8:00 pm Eastern

Haydn Creation organist, Rosen Concert Hall, Appalachian State University

December 13
12:15 pm Eastern

Music at Midday, National City Christian Church, Washington, D.C.

February 9, 2020
3:00 pm Eastern

Inaugural recitalist, St. Paul's Lutheran Church, Columbia, S.C..

February 16, 2020
5:00 pm Eastern

Evensong recitalist, Church of the Ascension, Hickory, N.C..

March 6, 2020
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Guest recitalist, Westminster Presbyterian Church, Knoxville, Tenn.

April 5, 2020
2:00 pm Eastern

Guest recitalist, St. Joseph Catholic Church, Macon, Ga.

April 18, 2020
7:30 pm Eastern

Concerto organist, Milligan College

May 12, 2020
12:35 pm Central

Tuesday Series recitalist, Church of St. Louis, King of France, Minneapolis, Minn.

June 21-26, 2020
Worship Organist, Fellowship of United Methodists in Music and Worship Arts, Lake Junaluska, N.C.

Entries in Franck-ly speaking (12)


Franck-ly speaking, Part XII: Fantaisie in C

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


This is the first of the big twelve that Franck published. Clearly it is also the most primitive. You can see him trying to expand things, which he did in spades in the next piece, the Grande Pièce Symphonique. Here we have a mini-symphony, three short movements played without pause.

Measures 7-8, 11-12, 47-48: Those hairpins should be tiny. Listen carefully to the effects there. All Franck had to do was tap a bit on his spring-loaded swell lever, and the box would swell and shut in a short moment.

Measures 17-40: The canon should sound the same in both voices. Don’t make one voice linger for the other; each has to carry its own baggage!

Measures 29-40: The right-hand melody is a counter-melody. I would make its contour fit in with the canon still going on in the other voices. In other words, don’t dwell on this melody at the expense of the more structural activity going on under it.

Measures 58, 60: Keep counting. No fermatas.

Measure 73: I would be very conservative with the box and the fermata here. It’s only a half-cadence, not a sandwich break!

Measures 82 and 162: I would suggest that after the fermata, cut off the chord in tempo. That would help propel the melody into the next measure.

Measures 213-end: No 32-foot stop? Play the entire Pedal part an octave lower. (Interesting that Franck wrote it the way he did, as if he knew it could be an option to play it 8vb.) But then you’ll need to figure out what to do about that low B in 233. Look around and see if you’d like to move to the tenor range for more than just that one note. For example, you might play loco from 229 and then switch back to 8vb from the third beat of 233.

And with that, Franck’s first piece has been covered last in this series. And his Final was covered first. There is nothing dramatic about any of that – I just learned and wrote about the pieces in the order I wanted to!


Franck-ly speaking, Part XI: Grande Pièce Symphonique

This is the eleventh and penultimate installment in a series on my take on playing the twelve large works of César Franck. Today’s topic is the Grande Pièce Symphonique. See the first post in the series for background information.


I love that cop-out title Franck came up with. He was trying to help the organ grow up as a recital instrument, and he composed here what became the French prototype of the solo organ Symphony. And the best he could come up with for a title was “Big Symphonic Piece.” I just love that.

This piece (the GPS in my casual references) seems to be the most experimental piece Franck wrote. It continues an idea of short, multiple movements played without pause, which he explored in his first published organ piece, the Fantaisie in C, which I cover last in this series). The GPS is the only one of its kind in Franck’s output, and it was early in his oeuvre, yet it was in a new style that his successors seized on and took the organ world by storm with. Because it is so experimental, it is full of…uh…experiments. Franck was testing this idea here, that idea there, pulling here, pushing there. As a result, this twenty-some-minute piece is absolutely full of melodic fragments, repeated ideas, and expanding formal structure. The greatest danger lies in all the fermatas (of which I count 23, an average of one every 25 measures, plus an additional 7 instances of Franck writing a pause via extended rests without fermatas). Franck is constantly coming to a halt here, pausing there, lingering there. The piece is much like an improvisation, an approach to which could be a life-changing experience. The number of fermatas is not excessive, but I have heard performances where we could order pizza during the pauses! And so if you’re not careful, this piece could end up sounding like a glorified organ demonstration, which would kill not only the piece but also the listener.

Technical difficulties aside, the GPS is so motivic and fragmented that it may represent the biggest musical challenge of the entire series. I have performed this piece only once. I learned it in college in 1990 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Franck’s death. My teacher and the studio were able to perform all twelve works in three recitals during a wonderful weekend of study of French music for organ and for organ and brass. I also wrote a paper on this piece in grad school. I was using it in a Grundgestalt analysis, as well as a complete formal analysis. (Made an A+ on it. Still have that paper, of course.) But I have not been moved to re-present the piece in public since then, until I started on my way through all twelve pieces. It’s a tough piece to pull off due to the difficulties discussed above, and I have never been satisfied with live performances I have heard, so I have been slow to try my hand at it as a professional.

This piece is long, but it recycles themes. Therefore, it might help you (and your listeners) if you have an overarching goal in mind. Decide exactly where you want the piece to make its thesis statement. There are several choices, such as the first appearance of the main theme in 64, the re-visitation of all primary themes beginning in 424, the only appearance of the main theme in major mode beginning at 472, or the tenor solo suggesting a Tuba (which Franck didn’t have) beginning in 540. In any event, if you can keep looking ahead (or back) to the “thesis” you define for the piece and keep fermata overload in check, your audience will survive it better.

Beginning: This is not the main theme. It’s a “stitching” theme that introduces the whole piece here and ties various sections together later. Because it is important background but not primary foreground, don’t dwell on it too much; the real meal will arrive in 64! Nevertheless, this introduction has some beautiful moments in it – measures 43-56 are perfectly ravishing.

Opening registration: You may need to adjust registration to make the melody audible.

Measure 6: This, too, is introductory material, but it will be elevated in status later on by being given its own intermezzo of sorts beginning in 192.

Measure 25: The introductory theme finally gets to roll along without stopping. If you discover that you tend to move the tempo here, then consider using that same tempo at the very beginning, at least as a subtle background guide to everything up to this point.

Measures 35-41: Be sure the left hand and Pedal trade off evenly, without blurring or breaks between notes, and without changes in tempo.

Measure 60: Franck says non troppo e maestoso!! Sometimes I want to stand up and say that aloud in live performances.

Measure 64: Notice that Franck is notating in exact rhythms what later composers would do with staccato marks, with the directive in their teaching and publications that staccato notes to the French organist are simply (and exactly) half-value. Since Franck uses exact notation, then the more exactly those notes and rests are presented, the better.

Measures 70, 90, 100, 123, 131: You’ll need to decide for yourself if you want to separate those half notes like the separated eighth notes and eighth rests throughout the rest of this main theme. I can go either way and have no biased advice.

Measures 113-117: Be sure all cutoffs are consistent among the parts!

Measures 139, 141: Notice that the manuals cut off, but the Pedal continues legato.

Measures 192 and following: This might not need to go as fast as you might think. I believe that your desired tempo at 231 should guide selection of tempo for 192. Throughout this entire section, be sure the right hand stays absolutely steadfast in its rhythm. We don’t want the higher note of any given beat in the right hand to be mistaken for the beat. Cleanliness is next to godliness.

Measure 261: It is so very tempting to play this movement Largo, but he marked it Andante. The quarter note must rule the tempo, and if you trust that as you go, then the movement makes more sense. Use your preferred tempo at 277 to determine tempo at 261, and then don’t speed up in 277 just because the texture gets easier! This movement is also difficult because Franck registers the melody on a non-expressive division (at least for the organ he played regularly).

Measures 277-281, 297-301: I don’t break between manuals, but I have no objection to breaking.

Measure 303: Strange registration! Go with it and see how it sounds. Don’t take this section as fast as it looks – those sixteenth notes are not textural – they are melody! Perhaps your preferred tempo at 343 should dictate the tempo for 303.

Measures 343-374: If you discover that this section keeps slowing down, it’s probably the left hand’s fault. The initial sixteenth rest on each beat tends to get overblown after awhile, which grinds everything to a halt. A good fix is to listen to the melody and require the accompaniment to keep up, rather than try to move the accompaniment along on its own steam.

Measures 410-415: The right foot has a decision to make between lunging for each note and just breaking proudly and gently between notes. I’ll take detaching over panicking any day.

Measures 417-418: It’s rare to see an accented note in organ music (how do you execute that?). Franck could just tap his box lever open, and the box would swell and then spring shut again. You can experiment with your own swell shades and see if you can achieve the same effect. Depending on the organ, the room, and your creativity, you may be able to play the accented notes on two manuals and then release one of them before the second beat. But that seems much ado.

Measures 422-423: The Pedal notes will disappear if you don’t have some independent 8-foot stops drawn for them. (Franck doesn’t call for pedal couplers there, anyway.)

Measures 472-500: Some performers just can’t seem to play this section fast enough to suit themselves, and others of us are blue in the face from pointing out that Franck wants this theme played much more grandly than it has been up to this point. This is the only time this theme appears in major mode, and it’s in the rather grand-but-dark key of F-sharp. I beg you – don’t confuse this section with the Sowerby Pageant! You can pick a faster tempo at 502.

Measures 540-569: The left hand part in this section begs for a solo party horn of some sort (which Franck didn’t have). But if you do and it’s not too brash, go for it. I recommend playing it through the downbeat of 570 and then moving off of it.

Measures 582- 587: Legato pedal and detached manuals seems instinctive to a lot of players. Go with your instincts.

Measure 592: Those three beats of rest bother me. I’m always afraid someone will mistake them for the end and start to applaud. On the other hand, the piece is over, and so I had better prepare those rests perfectly. The choice of tempo from 582 will be very important for pacing through 592 and for proclaiming that the piece really is over.

Measures 593-594: Franck’s voicing of those chords has been discussed by others. They are indeed strange, and it can leave the listener wondering if it’s really over. I do not advocate adding extra notes to “fill things out.” I believe your handling of all that has come before will be crucial toward making this last page make sense and concluding this most epic of all of Franck’s organ pieces.


Franck-ly speaking, Part X: Choral in A minor

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


This is the last organ solo piece we have from Franck. The popular perception is of him finishing the manuscript on his deathbed. Whether or not that is accurate, we do know that he was fighting an infection and died soon, and we also know that this music is the crowning achievement of Franck’s quest into transforming the organ into a concert instrument capable of playing its own symphonies. This is a profound piece indeed, and there is absolutely no shame in approaching it as a sacred treasure every time you sit down to it.

Of the three Chorals, this one is probably the easiest to play. That’s all relative, you understand; none is truly easy. And everyone will have his own opinion on which Choral speaks to him most deeply. This one speaks to me, if I listen to it through the lens of it being Franck’s final notes written for the organ. But my favorite Choral, indeed my favorite Franck, is the E major.

Measure 1: I would suggest that the opening tempo be determined by how you would like to play measure 30 and following. That is the real Chorale, and perhaps the ideal tempo for that should be transferred to the beginning. More often than not, the beginning is played far too fast, especially in proportion to the rest of the piece. This is neither a toccata nor a cadenza. The piece has something to say in the opening notes, and there might even be a phrase or a nuance or two to be had in this section. Give yourself time for them. And be very precise with the difference in length between sixteenth notes and eighth notes as Franck wrote them.

Measure 5: Metrically speaking, the last note of this measure is very unimportant. Therefore, it destroys the pregnant pause that follows when this note is held even slightly past its value. Other examples are measures 7, 14, 16, 18, 52, 54, and 56. I can tell that a performer is listening to every note (or not), based on their treatment of these cutoffs.

Measures 16 and 18: Notice the fermatas are on rests, not on notes.

Measure 27: Franck initiates the ritard here. Many people start it in 23, but that overblows all these quarter notes starting in 26 and makes the section interminable. Allow Franck’s slower rhythms to be their own slowdown on some level.

Measure 30: One should probably resume tempo here, so that we can discern the melody (which is the real Chorale). Otherwise, it’s just chords.

Measure 39: I take the alto E-flat with the left hand and then use (dead) Pedal to assist with legato on the third beat.

Measures 91-96: Don’t start this section too slowly. It will get tedious and labored otherwise.

Measure 96: The fermata is on the final note of the outgoing registration, not on the first note of the Adagio section. I would make the pickup from 96 into 97 be in your intended tempo.

Measures 97-116: This slow chorale (arguably not the Chorale in this piece) is among the most excerpt-able moments we have from Franck. Be sure the melody notes don’t blur together. If they do, it just makes that Trumpet loud and muddy. Play every note right where it belongs. I would suggest treating this section like Chopin, where there is a general pulse in the background that is stretched and compressed here and there but never loses count. Finally, in too many performances, the player gets stuck on the ties in the melody (96-97, 98, 99-100, 105-106, 107-108, etc). But it is directly on a tied note where the melody needs to regain its momentum after the longer note that precedes it. Listen, listen, listen.

Measures 117-141: This is one of those sections that needs to be “perfect,” plain and simple. Too slow, and it languishes in its repetitiveness. Too fast, and it takes the limelight from what follows it.

Measures 143-145: Don’t speed up. You’ll just have to slow right back down in a moment.

Measure 146: The fermata is on a rest, not on the manual note!

Measure 147: I put my left hand on the Récit to avoid sharing middle C among the hands and breaking eighth notes into two sixteenths. In 153, I bring the left hand back to the Positif.

Measures 147-173: Try entertaining the notion of a subtle accelerando, all the way to 173.

Measure 170: I move the right hand to the Great on beat 3. That’s a safer spot to move that hand accurately, and it doesn’t interrupt the flow into 171 that way.

Measure 173: The registration instructions appear to be aligned with the downbeat in the editions I have used. But I would suggest that that piston be hit on the third beat, to coincide with the first note of the “chorale” climax.

Measures 190-199: Of course, legato with manual octaves is impossible. I feel it is most unfortunate that composers for the organ write full chords or octaves for hands and then mark it all legato. The French are pretty sparing about that; when, say, Widor or Guilmant wrote full octaves and chords, the style was already march-y or heroic, so you knew that it would automatically sound right. But Franck was still experimenting. [The British are utterly notorious for such writing. It’s kind of like playing the organ like a piano that has a broken damper pedal. It drives me insane.] Anyway, there are some options in this section. You could separate the octaves and make them a bit more declamatory. You could jump from octave to octave in a panic trying to lunge for legato (please don’t!). You could leave out some notes, particularly to keep the upper melody legato. I still experiment every time I get to this section. It just depends on what you want to say with the music. How it sounds is most important. Making alterations toward legato would sound completely different from a declamatory broken style. Take your pick. Franck wouldn’t be allowed to complain about your choice, since he marked octaves and full chords legato in the first place!

Finally, I make the ritard in 190 last until the very end. Every note is a wee bit slower than the one before. Such a slowdown is very long, very gradual, and very subtle and requires lots of practicing and lots of listening. Keep the beat or any background pulse you have going. The danger is in overblowing it. We still have to get to the end, you know, so don’t park somewhere when you’re not arrived yet. Think of this like trying to stop an old steam locomotive. You can pull on the brakes, but it won’t stop for a while! You have to pull harder, harder, and it finally slows down, little by little, until completely stopped.


Franck-ly speaking, Part IX: Choral in b minor

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


You may want to fire me for saying this, but this piece sounds better if played in one rather than in three. Yes, Franck indicated 3/4 and marked it Maestoso, but a large beat of 1 can be majestic, too. I’m not advocating for 3/8, but if this piece is too slow, then the recurring theme and its momentum are lost, and there is little glory in things to come later on in the piece. Give it some thought, make the theme move along, and make any accompaniment fit in with that at all times.

Measures 1-32: There are a number of spots where it might help the rhythm and the independence of voices if the hands and feet release notes at different times. For example, in measure 4, the Pedal needs to release the F-sharp in order to re-strike it, but that does not mean the hands should release their note early, as well. Experiment with this sort of thing as you wish. I feel it enhances the independence of the various lines and lends a sense of continuing, rather than bringing everything to a halt just because the primary voice needs a breath.

Measures 8, 10, 12, and similar spots throughout the piece: It is fine to break the main melody for phrasing. (Don’t forget that wall-to-wall legato came around after Franck.) The problem with that occurs when those breaks alter the forward-moving rhythm of the whole theme. Don’t allow any breaks to interfere with the progress of the theme.

Measure 24: I don’t repeat the F-sharp in the right hand.

Measures 27-28: I play the bass notes in the Pedal (no Pedal stops on), to assist with legato.

Measures 33-39: Here is another example of what I’m talking about by playing the piece in a feeling of one rather than three. Most folks make a huge, emotive deal out of the eighth notes and eighth rests in the manuals in these measures. But the melody is in the Pedal here, and it has its own ideas of how things should be paced. Pay attention to the melody, and stop setting up camp on the eighth rests in the manuals. Keep things moving; use the shape of the melody to inform all other voices.

Measures 41-48: Again, the melody needs to move and to rule. Although the accompaniment here is difficult to play, it must move along in service to the melody. Transfer your ears’ allegiance to the theme, and the piece suddenly comes together.

Measures 49-64. Same comments. Melody, melody, melody.

Measure 64: I have always found that moment strange the way Franck wrote it, and so I “fix” it by playing the third beat in the Pedal an octave higher. I also don’t make a huge break into 65; I use the eighth notes of the third beat to carry us into the next theme. Seamlessness is a good thing.

Measures 65-80: I know it’s tempting, but this section should not go slower. Don’t forget that this theme will be combined with the main theme later on, and so it should follow the contour of the main theme, even if not present.

Measures 80-114: This begins a “development” of sorts, as it were. The main theme is not present, so now you may emote and mess around with rhythm and tempo!

Measure 114: Most people put the brakes on hard here. I put the brakes on, but I start much earlier, to make it a more subtle ritard that leads smoothly into 115.

Measures 115-126: This is the true Chorale, hiding in this little section and in its companion section at the very end of the piece. Don’t hurry through it, and remember that it is subtle and will not survive attempts to turn it into a major event.

Same section: No 32-foot? Play the Pedal an octave lower (except the low Bs, of course). That’s one option. Another option is to play 115-118 an octave lower, then move to the tenor octave in 119. That will prevent the chromatic descent in the Pedal from being displaced an octave when the B comes along in 120. Now, to move to the tenor octave in 119, I play the first beat on low D (continuing 8vb from 115), then add a quarter note on the second beat on tenor D. It’s only one note so subtle and unexpected that few people will hear the difference. No one will run you out of town for it. Again, both of these options just described are useful only if the organ doesn’t have a 32-foot flue, or if the 32-foot flue it does have is too heavy or too quint-y.

Measures 119-122: Notice Franck’s quoting of his own melody from the first movement of his Symphony (for orchestra). That can’t be an accident!

Measures 131-135 and 142-147: I wouldn’t go too slowly here. This needs to be looking ahead to the gloriousness to come. In both sections, you can make some interesting decisions on what to tie, what to make legato, and what to detach. Use your own judgment – it’s probably right. I also couple the manuals to (dead) Pedal to assist with legato in 133-135 and 145-147.

Measures 148 and following: This is the "fugue," if you insist on finding one. Franck says we can move this along a bit. In any event, the “development” is over, and it’s time to get back to having the main theme call the metrical shots.

Measure 149: This is one of those maddening moments in organ music: Should we break that G in the melody to hear the eighth-note motion in the accompanying voice? In most cases, when we encounter a moment like this, we can make a decision based on the acoustics, the organ, or anything else. But I have discovered that if played all on one manual, this spot never sounds good, no matter what. My solution is to start at 148 with the right hand on the main manual and the left on another similarly-registered manual not coupled. Then bring the left hand to the main manual during the rest in 156.

Measures 162-194: You’ll drive yourself crazy trying to decide when to tie, when to break, and when to play legato. But it’s worth the trouble. Work things out, and write them in. In some cases, you’ll want to break more notes in a warm acoustic. But always make a decision that serves the rhythm and meter. If too many notes break, we hear an “event.” If not enough notes break, we lose the eighth-note motion.

Measures 182 and 186: I use (dead) Pedal to assist with legato.

Measure 187: Many people ritard here, but again, since it’s in the middle of a statement of the main theme, it should follow the same contour the melody has maintained all along. Listen with all your might to the main theme throughout this entire piece, and the piece will then assemble itself into a very clean structure that needs little help from you otherwise.

Measure 188: I move to a somewhat louder registration here.

Measures 195-226: The themes are finally combined. There is nothing you can do to make that clear to your audience, especially to first-time listeners. So just play it, no slower, and obey the contour of the main theme (in the Pedal) for phrasing.

Measures 209-210: The soprano tie across the barline between these two measures is a mystery to me. It doesn't appear in sister sections (79-80 and 225-226), so I'm taking it out!

Measures 211-226: There’s that pesky main theme calling the shots again. I can’t overemphasize that approach to structuring the phrasing. Although the upper voice appears to have more emotive potential, it absolutely cannot be allowed to derail the main theme (Pedal), just because it “wants a moment!”

Measure 222: After much discussion with myself, I decided to change a note. (Quelle horreur!) Compare the left hand in 222 with the left hand in 206. If 222 goes as written, then there would be parallel octave motion between the second tenor and the Pedal. I "fix" that in 222 by changing the second tenor third beat to an E, to match the voice leading in 206. Now, Franck does indulge in parallel fifths all the time (measures 96 and 104 in this piece, plus plenty in other pieces), but notice how this section (195-226) is absolutely pure in its five-voice texture -- it is some of the richest writing we have from Franck, because it is so pure in its voice leading. Hence my suggested change (well, that, and making the notes identical from statement to statement is easier to memorize, too!).

Measure 257: Some ritard is good, but too much will spoil the chromatic tension here. You need to arrive at 258, not get stuck in 257.

Measures 258-272: Of course, we can go slower and grander here. But that melody is still in charge – use it to determine the flow of things.

Measures 266-269: It is possible to play both octaves of the Pedal legato. Pedaling for the Bs to the F#s is straightforward. The Gs to the Ds may be pedaled LF o^, RF ^o (toes pointed out, not parallel). Loosen up those ankles and give it a try!

Measure 270: Franck’s Molto rall. is not kidding. You’ll need it to keep 273 from taking off before you were finished with the main theme.

Measure 273 leads into 274. Try not to take a huge break to hit a piston. Try to keep it all flowing, one idea to the other.

Measures 274-285: Same comments as for 115-126.

Measures 285-end: I solo out the eighth notes. In 287, I span my left hand across two manuals, playing the low B on the eighth-note manual and the tenor F-sharp on the Swell. I transfer the low B to the Swell in the very last measure; it helps to make further decrescendo.

Measures 287-288: The Pedal will disappear on the low Bs if you don’t have some independent 8-foot stops drawn. Listen carefully there, and if you do choose to make a registrational adjustment, make them from 274 on.

This piece has always been with me. I learned it in college, one of my teachers recorded it, and the other one claimed to have played it “when God was a child.” Although it is mostly quarter notes and eighth notes, it is hard to play and to play well. Approach it with love and care and with ears listening in the right places.


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.


Franck-ly speaking, Part VII: Prière

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


“Prière” is one of those titles that seems as if it might have been born of desperation to find a title. Picture Franck agonizing over what to call this piece and then discovering that he could call it what we all need in the first place: a prayer! Not a true story, but the title is perfect, really. The piece sounds like a prayer – more like a litany – with a single theme being presented and re-presented in full and in part for fifteen minutes.

And I wonder if Franck suspected that people would resort to prayer to play every note of this piece and still maintain their dignity! This piece is the hardest thing the man wrote, I believe. It’s piano music without a damper pedal. It’s ten-key data entry for a hand missing two fingers. It’s a leap across the Grand Canyon with a sack of bowling balls. Everyone knows that Franck had huge hands, and this piece proves it. [Check out that photo of him seated at the Ste-Clotilde organ. Notice how long his fingers on that stop knob are.] The Prière is full of tenths, elevenths, cross-rhythms, and everything else that makes us want to take up knitting instead. I can usually provide good advice to someone with small hands how to get through a spot or two in a given piece, but when that “spot” is fifteen minutes long, we’d need to publish a separate edition! Ah, but what beautiful music it is. Let’s see what we can do with it:

The entire piece should be ultra legato, which means going to some trouble here and there to preserve the legato. Only melody notes should be broken when they are repeated in the score. Virtually everything else may be tied; the only exceptions I make are when a beat needs to be heard more clearly in another voice.

At the beginning: BUT OF COURSE, couple the manuals to a dead Pedal to help get through the wide spreads. People who don’t do that are just showing off, or they’re compromising the integrity of a complete legato. Franck was fine with using the feet to achieve manual legato – don’t forget that he composed vertically, not linearly in these sections; and he was also saving paper this way. When I use the Pedal in these manual-only sections, I use it only when needed, rather than playing every one of the lowest notes down there. For example, I’ll use Pedal for the first three measures and then I’m able to cover everything with my hands for a few beats, then I use the Pedal to cover the wide stretches in measures 6 and 7, etc. The Pedal here is a convenience, so I use it only when necessary.

Measure 49, beats 2 and 3: The alto has the same melodic fragment that the soprano just played, and so I repeat the alto E notes to announce that fragment.

Measures 50-51: The melodic fragment mentioned just above seems a little obscured here, to my ear. I clean things up a bit by omitting the tenor E in 50 and the alto B in 51. Heresy, I know, but I like how it makes the melodic fragment in the alto clearer. It’s just two little notes, you know…

Measure 71: I “finger” the alto D-sharp with the right hand until the left can get to the scene from the previous measure.

Measure 72: That same D-sharp mentioned just above can be released from the left hand on beat three. The right hand now has it in the alto.

Measure 79: I delay the left hand’s arrival on the Great until 81. I feel that makes a more effective and smooth crescendo. The entire section that follows is full of opportunity to re-distribute notes among the hands. Don’t ask the poor left hand to do all the work there.

Measures 95-96: Most people just jump the left hand to the Positif, and you can hear the bump when they do. That can be smoothed out: in 95, take the alto D-sharp with the right hand on beat 2. Then in the 3rd beat, take the tenor F-double-sharp with the right hand. Now your left hand has only the final C-sharp to play, during which time it can be positioning fingers on the Positif to set up for 96.

Measures 108-109: The transition to the Positif can be smoothed out by moving a beat earlier in the lower two manual voices, leaving only the final G-sharp on the Great.

Measure 110: Theoretically, both hands are still on the Positif here, but on some organs, the right hand may be well served to play those few remaining melody notes on the Great.

Measures 114-158: This is the “development” section, if one is required. It would probably be well served to sound like an ongoing improvisation rather than a series of events. Even Franck indicates at 120 “with a certain liberty…” as opposed to a disorderly one. Keep things moving; it’s still only one theme.

Measures 146-147: I use the (dead) Pedal to help maintain legato in the manuals.

Measures 149-158: Don’t rush through here. That would be out of character with the piece, and you’ll only have to come to a screeching halt again for the recap at 159.

Measures 159-174: Plenty of opportunities to redistribute notes among the hands. Don’t be lazy.

Measures 175-187: This is that section that sends people screaming into the night in their underwear. There are some obscenely wide reaches plus some nasty cross-rhythms. General suggestions: 1) If you have large hands, congratulations. Use them well. 2) Keep the melody legato at all costs. 3) Jump the left hand lightly when necessary. Do not lunge for notes – astute listeners can hear the panic in the sound when you do that. 4) People with small hands deserve every permission to leave out some notes, re-configure some octave placements, etc. Do what you have to do; feel free to ask for help.

Measure 182: In the interest of melody legato, I move the final alto note E-sharp up an octave. Who’s going to notice?

Measures 190-196: Left hand still on Great.

Measures 197-198: I play the left hand on the Positif for some extra decrescendo. The left hand goes back to the Great for 199.

Measure 198: If the left hand takes the final C-sharp in the alto, that will allow complete legato for the right hand’s return to the Great.

Measure 205: Second beat, lower alto: I add a G-sharp (second line) on the final triplet of that beat. I feel we just need another pitch there to keep the texture from thinning so much in that little spot.

Measures 212-222: This is one of the most beautiful passages I know of for the organ. I go into some interesting contortions to keep the right hand legato. It is possible, but it will require your absolutely best Gleason “Finger Crossing” technique. If you’re interested in the details, I’ll send you a copy of those measures with my fingerings.

Our Prayer is concluded. Amen.


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.


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!


Franck-ly speaking, Part V: Pastorale

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


Beautiful piece. Enough said.

Throughout the piece, notice that Franck places fermatas on notes, not on rests. Therefore, it interrupts things too much to go out for coffee during the rests in, say, measures 4, 8, 12, 16, 18, etc. Once you have released the elongated chord, the tempo should resume on the rest. This is even more important in, say, the Grande Pièce Symphonique, which if one isn’t careful with all those rests and fermatas can sound like a 20-minute organ demonstration. To be continued.

Measure 3: Don’t panic in the Pedal department. Keep it smooth. You can hear the panic in many performances as the feet scramble to substitute on tenor E and then on low B – it usually throws off the lovely flow in the hands. The easiest solution is simply to cross the right foot over to play the B, using no substitutions at all. Consult Gleason for the proper way to do that. :)

Measure 5: same tempo, please. It might be good to use this measure to determine your beginning tempo.

Measure 6 and similar spots: As it is with all of Franck, you have to make some decisions between tying and breaking repeated notes. Franck didn’t mind one way or the other. It was the guys who came later, such as Dupré, who established the rules on all this. For sections like this, keep things clear. Detach repeated notes only if it serves a rhythmic or melodic purpose.

Measure 28 and similar spots: in most cases when I have played this piece, I have been able to maintain voice consistency by tying the last note in the right hand from the alto. Example: the last melody note F# in measure 28 could be tied from the alto F# one eighth note earlier. Although neither breaking nor tying is ideal (breaking seems too broken), tying seems the lesser of two evils to me. There are several such spots, such as measures 29, 32, 33, 170, 171, etc.

Measure 37: Yes, there is a fermata there, but we’re not done yet. This section isn’t over until 40.

Measure 45: The obligatory “storm scene” is not much of a storm here. It’s more like a cloud and some drops, just a gentle shower while at the café. Please don’t try to make this section what it is not. One trompette doth not a full organ make, and Quasi allegretto means, “This ain’t the William Tell overture.” Keep the staccatos clean; perfect half-values ought to do it.

Measure 81: During the fugato, wide reaches are better facilitated with a dead Pedal with Récit and Positif couplers on.

Measure 98: I move the left hand on the downbeat and the right hand on the second eighth note. Not only does that complete one phrase before beginning the next, it also helps smooth out the transition to the Positif. If those two manuals are not adjacent, I recommend coupling one of them to your Great in the middle to make them so.

Measure 121: ditto, only this time moving to the Récit.

Measure 151: I know it’s hard, but same tempo, please. Thumb the higher notes in the accompaniment with the right hand: the upper E in 151, the upper C# in 159, the upper C in 165, the upper Bs in 166. And since the manuals are coupled, you can leave out the upper F# in the left hand in 152, plus the upper D# in 160.

Measure 179: a tempo may be taken with a grain of salt. Not only is the end near, but also if you had to slow down for the hard part before this, then it makes no sense to speed back up at 179, only to arrive at the end nine measures later.


Franck-ly speaking, Part IV: Pièce Héroïque

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


Trivia: this was the first Franck I learned in college. I also remember playing it in a masterclass with John Ferguson at Second Presbyterian in Knoxville. The things we remember.

This piece is rather heroic for Franck. He’s usually grand, noble, heartfelt, etc., but rarely does he grab his sword and mount his trusty steed like this. Even the Final is not this warlike. So stay heroic, never flabby – not even the soft, pretty part in the middle should be allowed to get too sentimental.

The title itself has three different accents on vowels. Learn how to mark those correctly by hand or how to make them on your computer, and make sure whoever is printing the program pays close attention to them, too, lest a font substitution sneak in.

I take the maestoso in Franck’s marking of Allegro maestoso seriously. This is a march, not a cavalry charge. If it’s played too fast, it becomes just another casualty at the hands of just another organist showing off.

Measure 1: I begin a bit under tempo and torque things up going into measure 2. I also begin with the box open, then closing it during the first measure. That lets the opening make a nice statement and then get out of the way for the melody. Keep the repeated eighths absolutely steadfast in their rhythm – Dupré would say they should be exactly half-values: sixteenth-note durations followed by sixteenth-note rests. I agree; such is the backbone of the heroic element of the piece. If the accompaniment gets flabby, our héro will fall off his horse.

Opening melody: Our American organs rarely have enough power in our 8’ and 16’ stops, and so I usually end up adding a 4’ flue of some sort to the melody. Fortunately, Franck allows some wiggle room by suggesting jeux de ____, rather than so many specific stops.

Measure 2, melody, last note C#: Here is one of those places where you might explore the notion of shortening that note just a bit, so that it doesn’t bloom too much in such a rhythmically weak part of a measure. For heaven’s sake don’t clip it to death, but see if the phrase might taper off by releasing that last note just a bit early. Any time a short, weak note is followed by a strong rest, you might explore that option, such as in measures 8, 22, 71, etc., and 60-64.

Measure 12: I take the right-hand alto B-sharps with the left, “thumbing” across the two manuals. Same goes for the E-sharps in measure 32. This is one of the many lengths to which I go to preserve legato whenever possible, in this case the upper voice of the right hand. Now, for those two spots, it will require some inventive fingering, but it can be done if your fingers have the length and you’re willing to go for it. See my post on the Cantabile for a discussion of fingerings for the Great on the middle manual vs. Great on the bottom.

Measure 14: Decision time: should the Pedal notes, marked as eighths, be half-value like the accompaniment, or should they be full-value eighths? I make them full eighths, while still keeping the accompaniment half-value. But it might depend on the acoustics or the fullness of the organ – if you’re not careful, it could just sound like bad rhythm.

Measure 15: Careful that the last note [C] of the melody doesn’t get clipped. Give it a little TLC to finish the phrase. Same for measure 17 and plenty other spots like that.

Measure 18: I hit a piston here to kill the Pedal and couple the accompaniment to it. I then use the Pedal to help out in measure 21 by taking the entire lower voice, just for that measure. After that, there is plenty of time to hit the original piston to return the Pedal into service.

From measure 34: Instinct tells me to play 34 and 35 detached, including the Pedal. Then instinct tells me to go legato for 36 and 37. Detached at 38-39, and legato again from 40 on. I can’t tell you why, but it works for me.

Measures 47-51: Just memorize that section! And don’t telegraph to your listeners how hard it is. Keep things heroic.

Measures 60-64: see the discussion above for measure 2.

Measure 79: I move to the Swell, just to continue the decrescendo.

Measure 83: I take the right-hand alto E with the left.

Measures 111-120: You might take a look at Dupré’s edition for some clever solutions to keeping (most of) those octaves legato.

Measure 129: by this time, we have probably slowed down or gotten a little romantic along the way. At 129, I pounce immediately back on the heroic tempo. No warning.

Measures 129-132: I keep the right-hand melody legato and the left-hand accompaniment detached. Can’t tell you why; I just like it. HOWEVER: In measures 130 and 132, I hold the tied melody note full value, while still keeping the accompaniment half-value. That sort of thing is a bit of trouble to keep up with, but it adds elegance to the sound by keeping each voice or ensemble consistent. For 133-138, see my discussion above on measure 2.

Measure 139: This section is clearly an older sibling to the final buildup in the B minor Choral. Don’t slow down here; it needs to continue building. Yes, we know it’s difficult. But we’ll be mighty impressed (and grateful) if you’ll keep the tempo absolutely steady and heroic.

Measure 151 will need some preparation by slowing down into it. I begin a ritard in 149 and make sure that my ritard does not get any slower than I intend to go in 151. That way, 151 simply proceeds out of 150, rather than starting a new idea. Practice the cross-rhythms in 152, 154, and 158 to perfection.

Measure 164: notice there are no fermatas leading up to this full rest. Don't sit on the last eighth of 163 -- you'll give away the surprise! Make 164 an unexpected pregnant pause. This measure is perfect to use against those parishioners who won’t shut up during the prelude. Spring this piece on them sometime and watch/listen to them wither during that measure, then slap them over the head with 165! Priceless.

From measure 165, you’ll keep yourself busy deciding when to detach and when to go legato. For example, I play pretty much detached, but I go legato 167-168. For whatever reason.

Measure 168: the fermata is on the rest, not on a note.

Measures 173-179: I take the Pedal and the upper voices of the hands legato. I detach (heroically) the repeated notes in the hands. Notice the Pedal does not break going into 176. That can work to your advantage for giving the Pedal some direction into the next phrase. Same for 178-179, even though there’s a pesky repeated note to deal with.

Measures 179-183: This isn’t much of a pedal solo, and so it isn’t showoff moment. (There are no showoff moments in Franck’s organ music.) Make it musical. Make it build somewhere. Make your listeners wonder where this is going, how it's going to get back to B Major, and how it’s going to end.

Measures 184-end: More decisions between detached vs. legato. I play the pedal legato. For the B-F# “tympani” hits, I play the left foot legato and detach the right. That’s just a thing with me, but I feel the legato left foot adds weight to the passage, and the detached right foot adds clarity. I also play the hands legato 185-187; it gives a sense of crescendo to the hemiola.


Franck-ly speaking, Part III: Cantabile

This is the third installment in a series on my take on playing the twelve large works of César Franck. Today we look at the Cantabile. See the first post in the series for background information.


The Cantabile is the shortest of the big twelve. Perhaps it’s also the easiest, but none of them is truly easy, so don’t get too excited.

I insert a lot of inter-manual “thumbing” to keep things legato, and therefore I try to place the hands on two adjacent manuals whenever possible. If the Great is the middle manual, then keeping hands on adjacent manuals will require a couple more pistons to convert the Great into the Positif and back several times. This also brings up the issue of fingering for a Great on the bottom or a Great in the middle. Solution: finger it both ways, and write it all in. Things won't always work in both directions, of course, but when it is possible, I’ll draw an up- and a down-arrow to show which direction to travel to the other manual, and then I’ll write in the fingerings for both configurations. Then it’s only a few extra minutes for me to memorize both ways and then be ready for anything at the recital site.

Throughout the piece, you’ll need to make innumerable decisions between tying and breaking repeated notes. Don’t forget that Franck composed vertically, not contrapuntally, and so he didn’t mind when notes were tied across. But of course, repeated notes in melodies should be broken. I break repeated notes among other voices to hear/show a beat better, and I break when a voice sounds imitative of a melody. I try to break in voices that aren’t terribly exposed, so that the beat is merely heard rather than hammered.

Registration: our American Swells can be sorely lacking in the colors Franck is looking for. Trumpets are too strong or weak, Hautbois are too weak or strong, and there’s very little in between. You might consider adding the 4’ flute and/or the 8’ string to the Récit texture. They might come in handy later as the piece winds down; more on that later below.

In the U.S., rarely does the Positif/Choir have enough 8’ flues to do what Franck asks, and so I usually add a stop or two from the Great to give the Positif more presence. Of course that’s not always possible, but if you have the stops, the pistons, and the time to switch stops back and forth between the "real Great" and "contrived Positif," then surely Franck would approve. For the Cantabile, that means I use one piston for the first two measures of pedal “solo” against Great and Positif 8’, then I hit another one in measure 3 to reduce the pedal and remove some of the Great to sound like a Positif. All while remaining on the Great. Back and forth like that we go: measures 6 and 8, measures 11 and 12, measures 25 and 27, etc.

Franck’s initial dynamic of p is unnecessary. To the French organist, a dynamic indication is a box indication. But the Récit is not playing there, and when it does show up in measure 3, the dynamic is mezzo forte. So set the box to mf before you begin, and for heaven's sake don't lunge for the box in a panic at the last second. But on the other hand, if you choose to hit extra pistons as explained in the paragraph above, you could add Récit fluework to the Great to strengthen the 8’ registration when the solo is not playing, then operate the box accordingly. If you have time to do all that in the moment, it’s a nice idea that helps our American organs nudge closer to what Franck heard.

Franck marks the piece Non troppo lento, so don’t get stuck on half notes and quarter notes. The piece still needs to pulsate with some life.

Measure 1: notice that the Pedal foreshadows the real melody coming up in measure 3. Franck even registered those first two measures and their later siblings to bring out the Pedal, but for whatever reason the registration was watered down at publication. In his complete Franck recording, Jean Guillou registers a quiet reed in the Pedal for those. I also try to bring it out a bit, but I try to use fluework.

Measure 5: It’s curious that Franck does not insert the global quarter rests from measure 5 into 6 and 10 into 11 that he inserts from, say, 2 into 3 or 7 into 8. Nevertheless, I insert the rest for all voices. It just begs for it, I feel. One exception is in Measure 11, where I go into measure 12 without breaking, not only because it’s possible but also because I don’t want things to get predictable. Non-breaking requires some quick fingerings and substitutions.

Measures 13-14. I get across that barline legato in the left hand.

Measures 15-16: I carry the melody from measure 15 without breaking. With the box closing, I feel it’s a nice enough arrival without the break.

Measures 18 and 67: I thumb the second quarter note in the alto with the right hand. I do the same thing in measures 24 and 73 for the first eighth in the left hand. See the discussion above regarding playing this piece on adjacent manuals.

Measure 27: I thumb the b in the alto with the left hand.

Measure 32: if you’ve been on adjacent manuals up to this point, you’ll need to move your right hand to the “real” Positif here (assuming it's on the bottom), to be in position for Measure 43, where all three manuals are needed on their own terms. Everything can be re-positioned as you wish at 65.

Measures 38-39: I don’t break the melody across that barline. I like the continued crescendo that allows.

Measures 51-61: The canon is exquisite. Register it carefully so that the Pedal gets its due, and phrase the Pedal melody exactly the same way as the right hand melody. Keep careful track of the couplers, and know that you could cheat with an extra coupler to the Pedal, if you need it.

Measure 59: I take the lowest right-hand note E with the left.

Measure 61, fourth beat: I take the lowest right-hand note E with the left.

Measure 62, third beat: I take the lowest right-hand note F# with the left.

Measure 64, third beat: I take the lowest right-hand note D# with the left.

I live for measure 74. I believe it’s a stunning repose the piece has been yearning for all this time. I start preparing for it in 72 with a subtly graduated ritard and a smooth closing of the box.

At 78, some Swells have little left when the Trumpet comes off. Here you could use those extra stops I suggested at the beginning, such as the string or a 4’ flute. Hopefully, there’s an Oboe that would also have been on from the beginning. The reason I mention all this is because I remove all but the Oboe from the Swell at 82. It helps with the decrescendo, and it gives me a chance to get rid of any lingering stops (such as my added 4') that may not contribute to a quiet ending.

Measures 86-end: Use the slowdown to buy successively more time on each note so that you don’t have to add a fermata at the end where Franck didn’t write one.

Measures 88-89: I add a stop or two to the Pedal so that it can be heard. This is especially important if the left hand has been coupled all along to the Pedal. (Sometimes coupling the accompanying manual to the Pedal makes a more subtle 8’ than the Pedal’s own.) Play those Pedal quarters with a nice tenuto; don’t clip the penultimate one prematurely.