Advent Sunday

Advent is upon us. I dare say there’s a popular misconception that the season of Advent doesn’t begin until December. After all, 1st December is the date when heathen children all over the Western world start raiding their Advent calendars for that daily chocolate fix, and churchgoing children do the same and have to make do with a picture of a virgin receiving a visit from a magical flying boy. I can still remember the sensation of resentment that despite turning up for church every Sunday – unlike most of my friends – I wasn’t getting the perks out of religion that they did. I didn’t even get Ruud Gullit sitting on a shed. One year I stumped up for my own chocolate one, but by then I would have been in my teens and the magic was gone.

But no, Advent starts on the fourth Sunday before Christmas, which this year falls today. Not that I have anything of any interest to say about Advent. All this is merely a pretext for putting up a recording of me playing some appropriately Adventy music, namely Busoni’s piano transcription of Bach’s beautiful chorale prelude on ‘Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland’, BWV659. It’s not as good as Bach’s original, of course, but I’m handicapped by my incompetence, i.e. I haven’t practised the organ sufficiently to have got the hang of pedalling. The Lutheran chorale that is its basis, a source of dubious reliability informs us, ‘was used as the prominent hymn for the first Sunday of Advent for centuries.’

There’s a nice score here that shows how the tune of the chorale fits into Bach’s ornamented melody.

So have a lovely Advent, everyone.

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7 Responses to “Advent Sunday”

  1. crosseyedpianist Says:

    Very nice Bach-playing, Gareth! I came across an interesting transcription of ‘Sheep May Safely Graze’ by Percy Grainger on Radio 3 the other morning: the main architecture of the original was there, with some typically Grainger-ish additions which were, as one of my pupils says of the Menuetto he is learning for Grade 1, “gayish”! (The pupil is 40, by the way!)

  2. Gareth Says:

    Just looking at the Grainger now, which I’ve known for years but haven’t got in my repertoire. The notes aren’t impossible, but there are passages in the right-hand where you have to play a series of three-note chords, accentuating the middle note in each one. This sort of thing crops up a lot in Grainger’s piano writing. Brilliant if you have that kind of control, but it’s not at all easy to get the hang of. Maybe one day…

  3. Gareth Says:

    And thank you for the compliment 🙂

  4. crosseyedpianist Says:

    You’re more than welcome – as they say in Ireland…..

    As for the Grainger, my right hand reacted instantly on sight to the more-than-an-octave stretches (I have a chronic RSI-type injury) but there are ways around that…. Re. control in the chord playing, it’s all about weight in the relevant fingers and practice practice practice – as I keep telling my students (they don’t believe me!). Lose the outer notes and practice the melody alone – et voila! Easier writ than played, I grant you, but worth a try….. 🙂

  5. Gareth Says:

    I haven’t got the score in front of me, but I think it refers the smaller-handed (or otherwise compromised) pianist to an ‘easy’ version without stretches. I think I may be able to manage a stretch of an 11th at a push, but the parallel 10ths it begins with are a bit of a nightmare. What you say about practice is absolutely right. It’s the reason that my piano-playing has never gone beyond a certain level – a tendency to give up on things if they get too difficult. That will change!

  6. argumentativeoldgit Says:

    Speaking as someone whose musical accomplishments are limited to a squeaky rendition of Greensleeves on a descant recorder, I look upon all musical ability with something approaching awe. I very much enjoyed your rendition of the Bach piece, Gareth: if anyone deserves a Ruud Gullitt sitting on a shed, it is surely you!

    (I tried looking for that piece in my CD collection – playing a CD being the nearest I come to playing any musical instrument – but the only recording I have of it is in Wilhelm Kempff’s transcription, not Busoni’s.)

  7. Gareth Says:

    “if anyone deserves a Ruud Gullitt sitting on a shed, it is surely you!”

    I’ve been hinting as much for years, but nobody listens. Well, I suppose we never get what we want for Christmas.

    If you’d like to see a professional interpretation of the original piece, there’s a rather good rendition by Ton Koopman here. It might even be contended that he’s a better musician than I am, though as an admirer of his I can’t claim to be entirely impartial.

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