Lionel Rogg – Improvisation Course for Organists

Lionel Rogg
Improvisation Course for organists
Cours d’improvisation pour les organistes
Editions Musicales de la Schola Cantorum

While there are two volumes mentioned for this course, I only presently have the first volume that I can review. The topics for volume one are practical harmony, ornamental counterpoint and chorale. Volume two is supposed to cover modal and free style improvisation.

While many of the method books I have examined are full of text and sometimes lacking in exercises, this improvisation method book is virtually 100 percent exercise material. Rogg begins with simple chord voicings, giving students a chance to train their fingers with different positions and resolutions. It is real easy for this to be a bilingual book because the amount of written instruction is very minimalistic. While the instructions may be sparse, the time a student will need to complete the exercises will be quite lengthy. Many of the exercises are the beginning of sequences that the student is expected to continue until the sequence makes a complete circle. There is then an instruction to transpose the exercise into multiple keys (preferably all keys), so three of four measures on the page if practiced as instructed, could becomes an hour or more at the keyboard!!!

Many of these exercises also include the instruction for the student to invent or improvise other ones of the same kind, so even though the exercises may seem very basic, Rogg expects the student to be creative with the given material from the very beginning. Rogg may give several harmonic schemes for the student to practice, but will then also give several ways to vary the texture (usually with only a few notes to indicate an idea to the student), so it really becomes the student’s task to take the material provided and combine it together in a musical way. There are times when I almost wish Rogg provided more instruction for how to work with the material he provides. While sometimes the ornamentation style is clear, at times a few words to explain the intended ornamentation would greatly clarify the goal.

While I did spot a parallel fifth in one of the examples, this book focuses on common practice harmony. Counterpoint is learned through ornamenting different voices in standard harmonic progressions. The chorale melody is the primary thematic material for the book once Rogg moves beyond basic chords and harmonic sequences. Numerous chorales are given throughout the book, sometimes with bass (figured or not), sometimes only the melody. The last fifteen pages of the book are devoted to themes for the student to practice. Nine of those pages are chorale melodies, followed by one page each of psalm melodies, Gregorian chants, other tunes, passacaglias, and finally two pages of fugue subjects. I expect the second volume would contain material about other musical languages and forms not related to counterpoint or variation. (I hope I will be able to find a copy of vol.2 soon.)

Overall, I find the material in this volume to be very useful and presented in a logical order. It may present some challenges for a student pursuing independent study, but I feel like this book may be a compilation of the materials Rogg covered and distributed to his improvisation students during what I suspect might be a first year course in improvisation. (Volume 2 would be the second and final year before earning a certificate or prix from the conservatoire. Just my guess. I’d love to hear from anyone who could confirm my suspicions.) If you want to learn to make a chorale partita, this is an excellent method to study.

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