J.S. Bach - Ach bleib bei uns, Herr Jesu Christ BWV 649

In my opinion, this choral prelude is often played much too fast. The best performance I could find on   YouTube is by Wim van Beek on the organ of the Martinikerk in Groningen. The sound is magnificent; I only find the cantus firmus too loud. In addition, the notes of the choral's melody are too separated from each other; the result is a certain strictness and lack of warmth.

I play the accompaniment more rubato, to support the feeling of imploring.


What is (not) innovative?

In contemporary music and particularly in organ art (because organists tend to be more conservative than other musicians) many still have the idea that compositions from the 20th century are innovative. They forget that we live in 2016 and that Messiaen, Stockhausen, Boulez, Ligeti, Xenakis, Nono, Berio, Cage and others belong to the past and are part of music history. I happen to be  teaching about works by Stockhausen (Punkte, Kontra-Punkte, Gruppen, Kontakte, Refrain) at Rotterdam Conservatoire and it surprises me how students respond to these classics of the ‘50s and early ‘60s as typically belonging to a distant past. 

I do not write pun this as an outsider, as even before entering the conservatory I had heard Stockhausen’s oeuvre till Aus den sieben Tagen (1968) and later studied organ works of Messiaen, Ligeti, Berio and Cage. Among these Messiaen’s works stand out as a monument of the 20th century. Still, they belong to the past and cannot be considered as innovative. In the late ’90s I stopped playing Ligeti, Berio and Cage as I found them outdated and not interesting anymore.


Olivier Messiaen - Les Mages: fine-tuning through spirituality

On February 4th, I made a recording of Messiaen’s Les Mages which was not bad but in the days after did not quite satisfy me. On February 5th,I went to a concert with Persian music at RASA in Utrecht, with maestro Dariusz Talai, tar and setar, and Keyvan Chemirani, tombak. The concert was wonderful. Of course I could not understand subtleties of craftsmanship and artistry, as that asks for a lot of expertise in listening to this music, but more important is that I was able to receive a spiritual meaning, which I felt could benefit my interpretation of Les Mages. On February 6h, I made a new recording, in the spirit of both Messiaen and the Persian music that I had heard. 

There are perhaps three layers in art: craftsmanship, artistry and spirituality. Not every work of art needs spirituality, but some do. In the recordings below craftsmanship manifests itself in many obvious ways, such as control of touch in playing the pedal part and a fluent legato for the left hand part. Artistry is necessary for, for instance, a view on the structure of the piece, supported by analysis. Spirituality is difficult to describe, but in the second version it becomes clear through a deep rest. 

Here are the versions of February 4th and 6th respectively:


The Loop Man # 16 (3+3+2+2+2+2+2)

This pattern is less complex than the previous one. It reminded René van Commenée of a certain rhythm in rock music.

To play the loop steadily with the left hand and improvise with the right asks for a lot of discipline and activity of the controlling mind. However, the endless repetitions may result in a different state of mind (trance?) with less control, which in its turn can lead to new, improvisatory figures. This is true improvisation: freedom coming out of discipline.