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October 24, 2002
Vol. II, No. 39

"So What Am I Playing?"
In my last Rampage, I wrote about my upcoming recital at St. Thomas (now only 31 days away - 11/24), so this time I thought I'd discuss how I arrived at the program I'll be performing.

To begin with, I took my own advice and only considered compositions by Bach that I could already play. Still, that was a significant number of pieces so I needed to pare down the list. Fortunately, St. Thomas has a 40-minute time limit, and I do mean fortunately. Last year at St. Paul's Chapel, Columbia University, I programmed an hour of Bach (actual recital length: one hour and ten minutes) and overexerted myself.

I knew right off the bat that I wanted to end with the crowd-pleasing Toccata and Fugue in D Minor (BWV 565). It's a blast to play and gets the audience all wound up. Is there a bigger ending? I think some organists may avoid playing it because it's such a familiar piece and they feel like they'd be under greater scrutiny. I'm convinced that most people only know the beginning. One day I'm going to play the Fugue without the Toccata and see if anyone recognizes it. If they don't, I'll have two postludes for the price of one! Speaking of scrutiny, I'm aware that I play the D Minor somewhat differently than others might prefer but to me it just begs to be interpreted. The fact that it comes out a little differently each time is part of what makes it so exciting to play. Whatever, it's ten minutes of music.

Next, I had to decide between my other familiar big pieces: the Prelude and Fugue in A Minor (BWV 543), Prelude and Fugue in B Minor (BWV 544), and the Fantasy and Fugue in C Minor (BWV 537). At first, I was thinking I could play at least two of them but then I realized they were too similar to each other, and also to the T&F/dm, so I had to pick just one. From the beginning I was feeling strongly about the B Minor. The Prelude is incredibly dramatic and has all those crunchy harmonies while the Fugue is one of the most fun to play with all those running sixteenth notes. I love the A Minor with all my heart, and the C Minor is very dear to me, but the B Minor is so awesome I had to go with it. Another 12:30. Two pieces down and I was past the halfway point.

Now what I needed was another big piece that would provide a striking contrast to, and tuck nicely between, the B Minor and D Minor. I decided on the Fantasia (BWV 572) which, while I'm playing it, always makes me think of Garth Peacock, my organ professor at Oberlin. Actually, he hasn't been in the best of health lately and it just felt right to include it, maybe as a sort of musical comfort food. You can read the tribute I wrote to Garth by clicking here:

The Fantasia is ten minutes long, which brought the program length up to 32:30. Another big piece would put me over the limit so I started looking at smaller pieces. After considering the Fugue in G Major ("Gigue")(BWV 577), "Ich ruf' zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ" (BWV 639), and the Fugue in G Minor (BWV 578), I went with the specimen of purest beauty and perfection, the G Minor. Not only is it a strong opener, but I can register it so it will contrast with my other selections. Placing it at the beginning also made the order of keys a good, solid progression: G Minor-Major, B Minor, G Major, D Minor. Finally, at four minutes, it brought the program to just under 40 minutes, with a little time left over for between pieces. A drum roll, please! Here's the final order:

I. Fugue in G Minor (BWV 578)
II. Prelude and Fugue in B Minor (BWV 544)
III. Fantasia (BWV 572)
IV. Toccata and Fugue in D Minor (BWV 565)

Personally, I feel these four compositions should be required listening the world over. However, until music appreciation classes are globally mandatory, I'll do my part with a recital that's fun to play and, I hope, exciting to listen to.
Click this link to read comments and offer your own:

Updated Pages
Your Stories page:
Read an inspiring Bach story from community member Beckie Henry.

Independent Artist page:
The websites of organists Martin Setchell and Aarnoud De Groen have been added.

Organ Links:
--Taylor and Boody, Opus 37, St. Mark's Lutheran Church, San Francisco, CA, USA
--Fisk, Opus 119, First Presbyterian Church, Gainesville, FL, USA

Have a great week!

Dan Long

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