# Small Structures

The Sierpinski triangle is an equilateral triangle that is subdivided repeatedly into smaller and smaller equilateral triangles. It is one of many recursive designs that mathematicians call fractals. Whether you look at a small portion or the entire picture, the design appears the same.

### Building Out

While Sierpinski divided the basic triangle to create smaller triangles, Helge von Koch added triangles to each side:

Like the Sierpinski triangle, the Koch snowflake can be continued infinitely. More and more details arise, but they are all triangles. The most common structure in music is the 4-bar phrase. Sierpinski and Koch used triangles for their forms. We will look at form through the lens of the 4-bar phrase.

### Léon Boëllmann

Though he died at the age of 35, Léon Boëllmann is one of the well-known French organist-composers thanks to his Suite Gothique. While he wrote numerous pieces for organ, piano, and even orchestra, the “Toccata” from Suite Gothique is a staple of the organ repertoire and his best-known work. Rather than look at the “Toccata,” I’d like to look at the second movement from the suite, the “Menuet gothique.” If you do not have a score for the Suite Gothique, you can download one at IMSLP. You can also hear me play it as a postlude on YouTube.

### Repetition

The Menuet is built virtually entirely with 4-bar phrases. The overall form is ABA. Only towards the end of the B section is the 4-measure structure even slightly ambiguous. The return of the A section is abbreviated in that the repetitions on different manuals are omitted. The piece is constructed entirely through the use of repetition and contrast in 4-bar phrases. The first improvisation lesson from this piece is to be sure you can play what you just played, even five minutes later after doing something different!

The first section of the piece is 48 measures long. The first eight measures (two 4-bar phrases) is played on the swell and then repeated on the great. The next sixteen measures (4 4-bar phrases) on the swell takes us a little further away from the home key before returning to end on the tonic. This is repeated on the great and brings the first A-section to a close.

### Contrast

Whereas the A-section began softly with the repetition being louder, the B-section reverses those and begins loudly with softer repeats. The A-section was also more connected with longer notes and step-wise motion (especially the descending bass line). The B-section is filled with staccato notes, arpeggios, and rests creating a marked contrast with what came before.

Following the same format as the A-section, the first eight measures of the B-section (two 4-bar phrases) played on the great are repeated on the swell. After another two 4-bar phrases on the great, we get another break with the repetition when the softer material is not a repeat. This new figuration gets a four measure extension which brings back the original A-section material which will now alternate with the louder B-section material for another page until we modulate back to the original home key and arrive at the recapitulation of the original A-section.

### Modeling

Because I believe anyone can improvise a 4-bar phrase, I believe it is possible to use the “Menuet gothique” as an improvisation model to build much longer pieces. I’ve created a PDF map of the form which is available for download here. The key centers are indicated so that you could use this to create a similar piece with different thematic material. It also could be interesting to change the tonal plan but use the same thematic material from Boëllmann.

While Sierpinski and Koch used triangles to create and break down forms, as musicians, we can use 4-bar phrases and work with a surprisingly small amount of material to build larger works.

Hoping Boëllman’s “Menuet gothique” inspires you to improvise!
Glenn

Newsletter Issue 60 – 2016 08 15

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# Modeling Tournemire: Offertoire

As I prepare to play selections from Tournemire’s L’Orgue mystique for All Saints this weekend, I thought we’d look at the second movement for some improvisation ideas.

### Form and Language

The Offertoire for All Saints is based on the chant Justorum animae. The short piece contains five sections: A)harmonized chorale, B) monophonic chant, A’)elaborate harmonized chorale, B’) shorter monophonic chant, C) Coda.

The chant is in Dorian, Mode 1, so though there are no alterations in the key signature, because Tournemire starts the chant on G, every B is flatted except at the final cadences of the A sections. He borrows from closely related modes by including E-flats and A-flats. The chant is presented in half notes in the soprano, but Tournemire suppresses all the repeated notes, making each pitch of the chant equal in duration. While a traditional Bach-style chorale harmonization would include many root position chords, Tournemire rarely uses root position triads. Sevenths, suspensions, and inversions keep the progression unstable even at the cadence in the middle of the section at the end of the first phrase of the chant. The voices move mostly with step-wise motion.

The second section is a monophonic statement of the last two phrases of the chant. The change of registration and texture provide a contrast to the opening chorale. The relative speed of the chant also changes dramatically from half-notes to eighth-notes.

The return to the opening material for the third section is on a slightly softer registration and now includes more motion. While there were occasional eighth-notes in the first harmonization, this repetition keeps to the same harmonies, but includes constant eighth-note motion.

The fourth section is an echo of the second. The registration is softer, and only the second (final) phrase of the chant is cited. The final section seems to be a return to the opening material, but does not cite any of the chant. It is more of an extended harmonic return to an open fifth on the tonic G.

As offertories often take different lengths of time in different places, it strikes me that this piece could be easily shortened if needed by leaving out a section (or two or three). It would also be possible to repeat the longer B section instead of the shorter B’ section in order to lengthen the piece. While I do not know that Tournemire intended a performer to do these things, if we consider these pieces as examples of how we can improvise and fulfill the musical needs of the liturgy, I see no reason not to alter the number of sections we might play.

### Applications

To summarize, here are ten ways to apply ideas from Tournemire’s Offertoire in our improvisations:

1. Alternate contrasting sections to create a piece to cover an unknown length of time.
2. Borrow from closely related modes or keys for harmonic interest.
3. Use inversions and suspension to keep the piece moving forward.
4. Suppress repeated notes in the melody.
5. Standardize the rhythm of the melody into one time value.
6. Change the unit of standardization for contrasting formal sections.
7. Use single voice textures.
8. Plan for repetition. Make sure you can play what you just played again.
9. Repeat with variation. Keep it the same, but add more motion.
10. Use registration to help mark formal sections.

As an example, I recorded an improvisation on Veni Veni Emmanuel following the model of this movement which you can watch here. As I recorded it before writing this column, I’m not sure I followed all ten of the above ideas, but hopefully it demonstrates at least some of the ways to apply ideas from Tournemire to a new theme.

Happy Halloween!
Glenn

Newsletter Issue 52 – 2015 10 31

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# The Final Grand Jeu

In concluding this series on the French Classical Suite, we come to one of the most impressive sounds of the French Classical organ, the ensemble of reeds. Virtually every time I sit down at a historic instrument and pull out the small number of stops required for the Grand Jeu, I am impressed by the volume of sound. Listen to Jean-Baptiste Robin play Louis Marchand’s Grand Dialogue at Poitiers to hear what 6-7 stops can produce!

### Registration

The Pre-classical Grand Jeu registration consisted of:

• G.O.: Trompette, Clairon, Cromorne, Cornet, Tierce, Bourdon 8, Nazard, Quarte de Nazard

A distinction emerged in the Classical period between the Grand Jeu using the registration above and the Grand Dialogue which omitted the Jeu de Tierce:

• Pos: Montre 8′ or Prestant 4′, Bourdon 8′, Cromorne
• G.O.: Bourdon 8′, Prestant 4′, Trompette 8′, Clairon 4′, Cornet

As the organs grew larger and the Dialogue advanced, the registration expanded to:

• Pos: as above
• G.O.: as above
• Récit: Cornet
• Écho: Bourdon, Prestant, Doublette, Nazard, Tierce

Use of the pedal depended upon the organ, but was based on the Trompette, adding the Clairon and then Bombarde stops if available. Couperin and Boyvin specify the flute stop on the pedal when they include trio passages in their dialogues.

### Forms

Multiple forms are used with this registration including Pedal points, Fugues, Dialogues, and Overtures. In an early suite, the Grand Jeu may only be 10-12 measures long and played entirely on one keyboard. Later composers created 10-12 minute Dialogues exploiting the varied palette of colors and demonstrating a variety of writing styles. For a short movement with a little variety, the overture provides an easy example for us to follow.

Start on the Grand Orgue in a slow tempo. Use dotted rhythms. Scales by either the right or left hand can provide movement while the other hand holds a static chord. This slow section is generally in a duple meter.

The second section is generally faster and in a triple meter. Voices could enter in a fugal style (one after the other in imitation). Typically this portion would start on the Positif and could have dialogue sections where the soprano or bass would be played on the Grand Orgue.

The final section would be a return to the material of the opening of the movement, but may be very short and serve more like a coda than a true repeat of the opening.

### Conclusions

I hope you have enjoyed this series on the French Classical Suite. Please let me know if you have any questions or areas where I could offer further help as you improvise your suites. If you are able and willing to share recordings of your improvisations, feel free to include them in the comments section for this post.

Improvement comes not only through practice, but also feedback. This applies not just to improvising, but also to writing. If you have suggestions for the next series or ideas for how I can help you improvise better, I’d love to hear them.

May your improvisations continue to improve,
Glenn

Newsletter Issue 49 – 2015 09 21

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# Are you killing time or following a form?

No one likes to wait, and silence can be deadly.
When that unexpected silence arrives in a church service, who is asked to fill the void?
Why, it’s the organist, of course!
This might mean extending a piece for a few more measures, or it might mean creating a new piece just long enough to fill the gap (even when you don’t know how long that gap might be).

### Aimless Wandering

At the most basic level, any organist should be able to fill time. Creating an additional repeat in a written piece of music or even starting again at the beginning and bringing the piece to a successful cadence when the time is up are the simplest ways to start. While I recommend aimless wandering as a way to explore new modes or when searching for your own harmonic language, when the organist just meanders meaninglessly around the keys to fill time, it becomes killing time and I think silence might actually be a better option.

### Following a form

The much better option is to actually follow some sort of form in the extension that you need to create, or if you expect to have the time for an entire piece, then you definitely need to have a form in mind. I find one of the easiest and most flexible forms is AABA or song form. There are many hymn tunes that follow this form (HYMN TO JOY and NETTLETON to name only two), and unless your B section is radically different, there’s a good chance that you can end your piece at the end of any section without too much concern.

### Simple Structure

If you are in need of an extension, the easiest material to use for the A section is a phrase or idea from the piece you just played. If you need to start from scratch, here is a simple harmonic scheme that you can follow:

You could plan out more elaborate structures according to your ability level, and of course, this can be adapted for any key or time signature. One easy way to stretch this form would be to double the phrase length to eight measures. For example:

At a moderate tempo, either of these examples could provide you with 1-2 minutes of music. I prepared a PDF that you can download here to print both of these on one page to take to the console and practice. Feel free to create your own patterns to practice the form.

### Longer Songs

Once you are comfortable creating a 16 or 32 measure song form, you can then practice stringing them together to create a larger ABA or even AABA form. If you choose to follow a larger AABA form, be sure to differentiate your two A sections by changing the accompaniment pattern or the register of the melody or perhaps even both. By doing something slightly different, you help to keep the listener involved with the piece. By using the same material again, you will be making your job as an improviser easier, so it becomes a win-win situation for everyone!

Silence can torture, but so can rambling aimlessly. If you have a gap to fill, make sure you are following a form rather than just killing time.

May all your songs be filled with beautiful melodies,

Glenn

#### Theme:

Newsletter Issue 25 – 2014 10 21
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# Symphony

A symphony is a multi-movement form, usually tonal with the first movement in sonata allegro form. While originating as a suite of pieces for orchestra, as the tone palette of the organ grew, it migrated to a form for the newer romantic/symphonic organ. Though the very first organ symphony was written by German composer Wilhelm Valentin Volckmar in 1867, the genre is mainly associated with French romanticism. César Franck wrote what is considered to be the first French organ symphony in his Grand pièce symphonique, and the composers Charles-Marie Widor, who wrote ten organ symphonies, and his pupil Louis Vierne, who wrote six, continued to cultivate the genre. The Symphonie-Passion of Marcel Dupré is the reconstruction of an improvisation by Dupré that he made at Wanamaker’s in Philadelphia on 8 December 1921. While classical symphonies (and those written compositions) developed original material, it seems most improvised symphonies follow the pattern of Dupré in utilizing chants, chorales, or other themes known to the audience.

# The Four C’s of Improvisation: Coherent

As we continue our journey through the month of May and the Four C’s of Improvisation, this week, we arrive at #3: coherent. We already explored the first two (competent and convincing) and colorful will be our topic next week. Last week’s lesson from Naji Hakim – “Never play faster than you can think.” – will also be a key to being coherent.

### Style

Continuing our general metaphor of music as language, style can be considered the type of language or dialect that we are using to communicate. A coherent speech will be given in the same language. Hopefully, it will be one that the listener can understand. Anyone who has ever had the privilege to attend a multicultural celebration (mass or other worship service) where languages were changed frequently will quickly recognize the difficulty in achieving a coherent celebration when certain segments of the population can not understand what is being said in one or more of the languages used. Just imagine for a moment constructing sentences where all nouns are in German, verbs are in French, adjectives are in English and adverbs are in Spanish. Even though my general comprehension is pretty good in all four of those languages, combining then together into a sentence makes an incoherent mess: Ich voudrais chocolate Eis hoy. While I recognize there are occasional words that have crossed from one language to another, even then, the pronunciation usually changes. It is far more coherent to present in one language than to mix them all together. So it is also with music. Choosing a musical style that one has mastered or playing slow enough in a style in order to master it is a key element to coherent improvisation.

### Form

The order can in German words change.
Even if we manage to use the same language, if there is no apparent form, we lose coherence. I remember from my study of German that you could put just about anything at the beginning of the sentence in order to choose to emphasize some particular element. Someone once pointed out to me that I would never hear a German interrupt another German speaking because until you heard the verb – which often was at the end of the phrase- you wouldn’t necessarily have any idea what the person was actually saying about all the other elements you had heard. There are simple forms and complex forms that we can use to improvise: binary, ternary, passacaglia, variations, rondo, sonata allegro, fugue, and so forth.

We can also construct our form as we go through motivic development. The key here is to have a plan in mind. Sure, we may need to end the prelude or offertory quicker than expected, so our form may be subject to change along the way, but if we started with a plan and know where we are in it, then we should have a pretty good idea of how to bring the piece to a coherent close. I remember once hearing Naji Hakim improvise for an offertory where he started treating a chorale (or chant) in a specific way as an ornamented chorale. It became clear to me that if he continued this for all the phrases of the chorale, the piece would be too long, so just before the last phrase, he changed and did something different. I remember being quite shocked at the time, but in the twenty or thirty seconds that he took to wrap up the piece and include that last phrase, he managed to turn it into something completely coherent with what he had done before. I could have hardly imagined a more fitting ending to the piece. One of the simplest, yet perhaps most difficult ways to practice form is to practice repeating oneself. Play a melody or chord progression and then immediately repeat it. Increase the length or complexity of the phrase until you have difficulty. Repeat yourself, but change tonal center in the repetition (transpose the idea). If you are playing just a melody, repeat yourself with the other hand or even on the pedalboard with your feet. Repetition is the key to motivic development and a comprehensible formal plan, and these are the keys to coherence.

### The Store

Hopefully you found some time to practice your competency and conviction last week and didn’t get stuck in a YouTube spiral watching Derren Brown clips after my last email…. While working to add as much useful information to organimprovisation.com as possible, this week, I set up a store on Amazon.com where you can go to purchase items related to improvising at the organ. When I have access to the items, I expect to offer reviews and critiques of the items in future newsletters or posts. Perhaps because I’ve been working on my collection of improvisation materials for some time, I find the sample available at Amazon.com to be a little sparse at the moment, but then again, I think most of my materials I’ve picked up from a specialty retailer (if not from the organist on the CD directly)…. Have a look and let me know if there is anything that catches your eye that I should review promptly. I also added a list of summer courses in 2014. Please let me know of any others that you might know of.

Next week, it’s on to color!

May all your improvs be coherent!

Glenn Osborne

#### The Store

Summer Courses for 2014

#### Themes:

Newsletter Issue 4 – 2014 05 19
See the complete list of past newsletter issues here.