Articles

Sietze de Vries The historical organ and improvisation
Het ORGEL 110 (2014), nr. 3, 14-18 [summary]


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On 20 December, 1997, the late Ewald Kooiman gave a lecture in the Oostkerk in Middelburg about the historical organ and improvisation. His lecture is as useful today as in 1997, but it also invites deeper study, especially as regards the relation between instrument and player. After all, the organ is not an empty canvas, on which the painter produces something from nothing. Whether we’re talking about improvising or repertoire, an organ forces the player to make choices. It is a serious matter that improvisation is badly neglected in organ instruction. Otherwise than Kooiman the author doesn’t believe there’s a difference between ‘handiwork’ (craftsmanship, the necessary baggage of any organist) and ‘künstlerische Improvisation’ (being able to manage the larger forms). Just as a language is best learned when young, it is also important that improvisation is taught from an early age and that the mental ear is thus developed early.
The author argues that the greatest crisis of contemporary improvisation is: not truly speaking the language. To speak the language of music as a native speaker, a basic repertoire of melodic units must be developed via harmonization. Starting from smaller forms, a student with perseverance and talent can ultimately learn to manage the large forms.
Talent is primarily necessary for creativity; all other aspects of improvisation can be learned. A particular style is not important; but it cannot be underestimated how important it is that the musician can adjust to the instrument at hand.
Good development of the mental ear and practicing improvisation from an early age will result in the improvising organist’s being able more quickly to discover the character of the instrument, and being able to make creative use thereof.