proof Vierne didn’t always play his stuff the way it was written


Regular readers of this blog may or may not remember that I am slogging my way through Hope College Library’s copy of Rollin Smith’s huge and expensive tome on Louis Vierne.

This morning I hit a very interesting and enlightening section. Vierne made some organ rolls of his playing before his death. (Organ rolls like piano rolls)

These reveal very clearly how he interpreted his own work. And boy did he interpret it! An organ roll like this is better than a typical piano roll because accents of course do not come from the weight of the hand as they do on the piano. That means an organ roll is pretty accurate picture of how the piece was played.

This morning I downloaded a copy of Legende by him to my tablet music reader and played through it. Then I read Rollin Smith’s very detailed description of Vierne’s performance on a weird Aeolian organ designed for the purpose of making rolls.

Vierne ignores most of his own manual recommendations. Presumably this might be because the  Aeolian was set up in a much more limited manner than most organs Vierne would play.

However, I found it very satisfying to see him adapting to a smaller, limited instrument and completely changing which keyboards played what.

In this illustration from his book, Smith reproduces the organ roll under this phrase of the music.

Vierne startlingly does not lift his hands to make phrases, frequently tieing notes that are not written that way. He lengthens notes beyond their written value just before the ends of phrases.

I’m not exactly sure what implications this has for playing Vierne these days. If one were to render his Legende the way he did, one would surely flunk any AGO test as well offend most classical organ academics (I have actually done both of these things but not out of integrity particularly).

At the very least, the next time I perform some Vierne on my little organ at work I will have some idea about how to go about adapting it to a bad small instrument… mostly I’m thinking of registration not changing tempo.

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