The right words for performing Bach's trio sonata BWV 525b

In 1802 Forkel, Bach's first biographer, wrote about the organ sonatas: "One cannot say enough of their beauty". I imagine Bach playing such a sonata and listeners associating this with paradise. Recorded with the digitalized sound of the Van Dam-organ in Tholen (1832) on 11.10.2017. See my research "Dancing Bach on the organ": https://sites.google.com/site/willemtankeofficialwebsite/projects/resea


Copy Dancing Bach on the Organ 12.10.2017

Dancing Bach on the organ

In 2017 a simple but essential change marked the difference between my old and new way of playing Bach: inspired by my former teacher Rudi van Straten I started making upward movements from my lower stomach on strong beats.This literally gives a "gut" feeling which compensates for too much acitivity in the brain and the heart. It is the result of changing the perspective from Bach as the highlight of Western art music —a notion which only came into existance in the 19th century—to Bach as a highlight of music in general, i.e. of all ages and cultures. Many types of world music, jazz, pop and also Western music before 1800 have a natural relation to dance. Bach's music too, as confirmed by titles like gavotte, gigue or sarabande, but is mostly not performed accordingly. "Dancing Bach on the organ" implies for me performing Bach like my own music, which is thoroughly influenced by working with musicians from world music, avant-jazz and avant-pop traditions. Similar to these musicians and keyboard players in the 18th century, improvisation, composition and interpretation are completely interwoven in my musicianship and not considered as separate disciplines (another consequence of developments in the 19th and 20th century). "Dancing Bach on the organ" clearly relates to my project Olivier Messiaen and the Cave of Forgotten Sounds with Indian master musicians ,as I transfer the lightness and souplesse of performing with Indian tabla masters to Bach interpretation. 

Physical, mental and spiritual consequences

Upward movements from the lower stomach on strong beats result in:

- a dancelike movement while playing (also regarding the wrists)
- an improved breathing
- a tendency to lean back instead of forward. I have been searching for this for many years, as I always found that a keyboard player's world becomes small when bowing towards the instrument too much. Contemporaries of Bach observed that while playing he used to looked in front of him, not at the manuals. 

There is also a mental or even spiritual result: feeling more harmony between the organ, the sound and the space of the church. The organist's ears have to be where the audience is; leaning back with a gut feeling and good breathing makes this easier. One feels more like being at the heart of the event and its meaning. I admire Dutch organist Feike Asma (1912-1984) for being able to raise this rare quality almost to the level of a mystical experience. I am also intrigued by the tradition of blind organists, beginning with Francesco Landini in the 14th century. Blind musicians may have a better antenna for the musical and spiritual qualities of a space. In addition I admire the blind keyboard player Ray Charles for the fantastic dancelike feeling of his music. 

The following recording of Invocation, the first movement of Olivier Messiaen and the Cave of Forgotten Sounds with Indian master musicians shows my reflection on this aspect of Feike Asma's musicianship and the way I intend to transfer it to Bach interpretation.

Using four basic emotions as transmitters

To pass on the dancelike feeling of my own music to Bach interpretaton  I concentrate on four states of mind which are essential for both Bach's music and my own improvisations and compositions: joy, rage, suffering and longing. These emotions have been naturally related to dance anywhre in the world and throughout the ages.

1. JOY

Childlike, naive joy is almost impossible to find in contemporary classical music. I consider this as a lack of vitality, partly due to the above mentioned 19th and 20th century notion of Western art music. On the contrary, my improvisations and compositions cannot live without this simple joy. They would implode like black holes. In this respect I consider my music as completely unrelated to contemporary classical music. An example is Birds, drums and signals, with flutist Martijn Alsters:

I use this naive joy, for instance, for the performance of trio sonatas and feel in particular inspired by pianists Clara Haskil (1895-1960) and Alicia de Larrocha (1923-2009), who expressed the dancelike character of 18th century keyboard music in the most natural way and confirmed that this was the basis also for their interpretation of music from the 19th century. 

Reflecting on Theo Teunissen's organ lessons in 1977-1978 I now play with "dancing wrists", as demonstrated here: 

In the following interpretation of the well-known chorale prelude Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme I intend to combine de Larrocha's famous rhytmic impetus with Haskil's imaginative rubato.

2. RAGE 

Rage is a powerful source of creativity, which can be transformed in several ways to serve a performance. In my own music I often relate it to wild energy in nature and the universe:

Regarding Bach rage and wild energy can be considered as a manifestation of the Holy Spirit and transformed into majesty and spiritual grandeur. This does not imply any form of ponderosity; on the contrary, the lightness and souplesse of a trio sonata remains to be the starting-point. It only manifests itself in a different type of dance now.


Longing and suffering cannot be separated from each other and are essential for Bach's music. They are deeply felt in my organ piece InMemoriam Claire Delbos:

This I intend to transfer to the interpretation of Bach's profound chorale preludes, with the lightness and souplesse mentioned above, resulting in yet another type of dance. 

J.S. Bach - Das alte Jahr vergangen ist BWV 614

Educational purposes, a next step and a reflection

The above examples are played with the digitalized sound of ancient instruments of my study organ at home. They will serve a course which I am preparing (not necessarily for Codarts, University of the Arts, Rotterdam), called Analysis, interpretation and physicality, in which my expertise as a performer and a theorist will be combined. 

For the research, a next step will be to realize my new way of playing Bach on some of the many beautiful historical organs in Europe.

Personally (not so for students) Dancing Bach on the Organ is about going beyond professionalism and re-discovering a lost naivity. A naivity that is beautifully simple and efficient.

This project  is dedicated to the memory of violinist and composer Claire Delbos, Messiaen's first wife, who tragically spent the last fifteen years of her life in a psychiatric institute.

What organ art and contemporary classical music need

Reflecting on what I wrote yesterday I have come to the conclusion that both organ art and contemporary classical music are in need of qualities like lightness, elegance souplesse and above all natural cheerfulness. And that I have the expertise now like few others to contribute to that.


Listening to the fairies with Martijn Alsters, flute, including the score

The organ has been my favourite instrument from when I was a teenager, but I always disliked the ponderosity which is generally (and unfortunately with reason) associated with organ playing.

I also react on ponderosity in contemporary classical music: the fact that naive joy of playing can hardly be found there, as if this is the new taboo. I find that quite unhealthy, if not to say pathetic, and just continue creating uncomplicated, cheerful pieces, finding inspiration in 18th century keyboard music and world music traditions.

"Listening to the fairies" is dedicated to my former organ teacher Rudi van Straten, who inspired me to start my research "Dancing Bach on the Organ" in 2017 and transfer the lightness, clarity and souplesse of my own music to Bach interpretation. It was recorded in the Grote Kerk in Breda on 10.9.2011, when the score was still not final. Therefore one may observe some small differences. Later "Listening to the fairies" became a part of the full evening project "The Enchanted Forest", see https://sites.google.com/site/willemtankeofficialwebsite/home/the-enchanted-forest

J.S. Bach - Sonata E-flat major BWV 525, first movement with score

In line with my project "Dancing Bach on the Organ" this will probably my best performance of BWV 525a up to the present.


Video Variations on To God be the Glory with score

I continued posting videos with scores and think this will work. On the one hand I document my legacy and on the other people can really see the score now without the possibility of direct download, violation of author rights etc.


Birds, Drums and Signals with score; organ solo and with improvising flutist Martijn Alsers

Yesterday I made two videos of "Birds, Drums and Signals". Both show the score. The first is for organ solo, with the digitalized sound of the Van Dam organ in Tholen (1832):

The second video shows the same, but with improvising flutist Martijn Alsters, as a part of our project "The Enchanted Forest":