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Dutch Improvisation Technique


Does anyone know the name of a technique I see fairly often used when a Dutch organist is improvising? If the manuals are coupled, you sometimes see the keys of the upper manual bouncing up and down. The technique adds a great sense of movement and urgency to the music and is often used with many stops drawn. Gert van Hoef uses it very effectively in this example https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K1oeOksBgmA at about 3:30 minutes and again at 13:07 just for a short time. I can see it's just rapidly repeated chords or maybe only a few notes of a chord but what I would like to know is the name of the technique?
by bayless
Feb 7, 2020 11:07 AM

Replies (17)

RE: Dutch Improvisation Technique

Looking at the video I can see straight away that this is a REAL organ (as opposed to HW) and the pedal and manual couplers are mechanically coupled. This is not a technique but a feature of the organ.

The keys are not "bouncing up and down" but are moving in response to the organists actions.

csw900
by csw900
Feb 8, 2020 10:00 AM

RE: Dutch Improvisation Technique

I can't help you with any "technique name" - but I would agree with the first comment that the moving keys are a 'common sight' with coupled organ manuals with mechanical traction. But as a Dutchman who spent his childhood and youth in the middle of the strong Dutch protestant organ music culture, I can help you identify the movement you seem to hint at.

The work and career of the early 20th century protestant organist and composer Willem Hendrik Zwart, and soon also Jan Zwart (I believe his son) saw the birth of a new "virtuoso" organ culture, seemingly a parallel to the French Catholic Romantic organ culture of Cecar Franck, Louis Vierne and others. I'm not a music historian but I would call this the "20th Century Dutch Calvinist-Protestant Neo-romanticism". The movement took further roots through some of the Zwart pupils - particularly the likes of Feike Asma and others, and was strongly marked by a very characteristic and highly dynamic composition and improvisation style - always based on the musical themes derived from the melodies of popular Psalms and Hymns as sung in the Dutch protestant churches.

As a youngster I also was "spoon-fed" within this movement, but as my critical faculties developed I began to see that the core determinants amongst these Romantic virtuosi organists was NOT a thorough grounding in the classics, beginning with Bach, Pachelbel and Buxtehude, let alone the other giants of organ music literature.

Eventually I concluded that this movement was a highly dominating, but ultimately "populist movement" which drew tens of thousands of followers amongst the Dutch church-going crowd, who en masse swooned over the work of their heroes Feike Asma and Jan Zwart, where the organs at their hands would "scream and trumpet out the Glory of God". In my eyes this movement had aspects of "mass hysteria" amongst the Protestant church-goers. All those people heard hundreds, thousands of organ music performances in this style, and listened to thousands of LP Records in their homes, but were not "more educated than before" about the rich array of organ composers from Sweelinck and Bach to Franck and Vierne.

And if I get some very, very annoyed responses from some Dutch organists around here at Contrebombarde, then so be it.

We used to make the joke, "Oh boy, the organist went 'Asthmatic' again today", when some organist himself did the swooning by playing compositions of Jan Zwart or Feike Asma during the church service, executing them in an 'over-the-top' manner.

Jack
by jacko
Feb 8, 2020 09:02 PM

RE: Dutch Improvisation Technique

Thank you both for taking time to reply. I mentioned the coupled manual as an illustration of the method of playing rapidly repeated chords. I'm familiar with mechanical couplers which create the visual effect. What is the technique of rapidly repeating what would normally be a chord held for a full measure called?

Was it first used by Asma and was called Asthmatic Improvisation? (Sounds more like the organ has leaky bellows!) Maybe it has never been named, but there are so many organists who use it now - it must have a name. If I played the notes of a chord one at a time instead of together, it would be an arpeggio. Or if the tenor line is played on a solo stop it would be a tenor obbligato.

A similar technique on the guitar is called rasguedo "to fan the strings rapidly with the nails of multiple fingers" but it's not quite the same as repeating a chord on the organ as rapidly as ones fingers will move. The Dutch words 'scheur' or 'haast' might be used to name the technique. There must be someone who contributes to CB who knows the name?
by bayless
Feb 9, 2020 01:09 AM

RE: Dutch Improvisation Technique

bayless wrote:

Thank you both for taking time to reply. I mentioned the coupled manual as an illustration of the method of playing rapidly repeated chords. I'm familiar with mechanical couplers which create the visual effect. What is the technique of rapidly repeating what would normally be a chord held for a full measure called?

Was it first used by Asma and was called Asthmatic Improvisation? (Sounds more like the organ has leaky bellows!) Maybe it has never been named, but there are so many organists who use it now - it must have a name. If I played the notes of a chord one at a time instead of together, it would be an arpeggio. Or if the tenor line is played on a solo stop it would be a tenor obbligato.

A similar technique on the guitar is called rasguedo "to fan the strings rapidly with the nails of multiple fingers" but it's not quite the same as repeating a chord on the organ as rapidly as ones fingers will move. The Dutch words 'scheur' or 'haast' might be used to name the technique. There must be someone who contributes to CB who knows the name?

Ahhh, thanks - your point is clearer now. You're talking about the "repeated chord bounce" (that's only MY term, not a 'common naming' of the technique'), a bit like an arpeggio for a full chord. I would, as a youngster, also call this "the organist going hyper". I've actually seen both Jan Zwart and Feike Asma do it during concerts...

BTW - your video of the performance was in the church in Harderwijk: I often was dragged along with my older siblings to concerts in that church. For more than ten years, during a church renovation, the live concerts continued while the entire organ was covered in a gigantic clear plastic sheet - it was wrapped "in a plastic bag"!

by jacko
Feb 9, 2020 01:49 AM

RE: Dutch Improvisation Technique

jacko wrote:

Ahhh, thanks - your point is clearer now. You're talking about the "repeated chord bounce" (that's only MY term, not a 'common naming' of the technique'), a bit like an arpeggio for a full chord. I would, as a youngster, also call this "the organist going hyper". I've actually seen both Jan Zwart and Feike Asma do it during concerts...

BTW - your video of the performance was in the church in Harderwijk: I often was dragged along with my older siblings to concerts in that church. For more than ten years, during a church renovation, the live concerts continued while the entire organ was covered in a gigantic clear plastic sheet - it was wrapped "in a plastic bag"!

After a bit of research I have discovered that this technique is "tremolo".

Tremolo usually comprises two notes; but this form has only one note and is usually played by using three fingers alternately.

The musical notation for it is the same as normal two note tremolo but has only one note.

Several sources on the internet confirm this finding.

csw900

by csw900
Feb 9, 2020 09:54 AM

RE: Dutch Improvisation Technique

Thank you CSW900 - what websites gave you that - I would like to explore them for more information.
by bayless
Feb 9, 2020 05:47 PM

RE: Dutch Improvisation Technique

bayless wrote:

Thank you CSW900 - what websites gave you that - I would like to explore them for more information.

Primary information: A book - "The Right Way To Read Music" by Harry & Michael Baxter.

Web: Google, Wikipedia + a few more I cant remember. I suspect if you google "Tremolo" it will give you a good start. There are some very good sites available.

I also investigated "Hammering" but this is definately not the correct term.

csw900

by csw900
Feb 10, 2020 03:38 AM

RE: Dutch Improvisation Technique

jacko wrote:

Ahhh, thanks - your point is clearer now. You're talking about the "repeated chord bounce" (that's only MY term, not a 'common naming' of the technique'), a bit like an arpeggio for a full chord. I would, as a youngster, also call this "the organist going hyper". I've actually seen both Jan Zwart and Feike Asma do it during concerts...

BTW - your video of the performance was in the church in Harderwijk: I often was dragged along with my older siblings to concerts in that church. For more than ten years, during a church renovation, the live concerts continued while the entire organ was covered in a gigantic clear plastic sheet - it was wrapped "in a plastic bag"!

If you saw Jan Zwart do this, you must be quite an old man, since Jan Zwart died in 1937. Are you sure you do not mean his son Willem Hendrik, who died in 1997, and who was indeed very (in)famous for this kind of playing?

by Gerrit
Feb 10, 2020 01:57 PM

RE: Dutch Improvisation Technique

Gerrit thanks for setting us straight on our Zwarts. I'm having a hard time finding the name of the technique, do you agree with csw900 that it's called "Tremolo"? Seems like that would be confused with "Tremulant" at least in English.
by bayless
Feb 10, 2020 02:29 PM

RE: Dutch Improvisation Technique

bayless wrote:

Gerrit thanks for setting us straight on our Zwarts. I'm having a hard time finding the name of the technique, do you agree with csw900 that it's called "Tremolo"? Seems like that would be confused with "Tremulant" at least in English.

I don't know the name of the "technique, if there is any. But I know the reason for certain organists: to get a kind of celestial effect instead of straight notes, giving more effect of climax.

by FredM
Feb 10, 2020 03:05 PM

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