Day 2: Stuttgart ist ganz Chor!
by Laura Gullett
After a great night’s sleep, we all awoke this morning rested and ready to begin our first full day of programming. Chris made coffee and Gianmarco fried over-easy eggs for us all before we piled into our large black Mercedes van to drive to Stuttgart.
We were greeted in Stuttgart by large banners proclaiming “Stuttgart ist ganz Chor,” which means Stuttgart is an entire choir. This was the tagline of this year’s German Choir Festival, which concluded today. We all delighted at Germany’s public celebration of choral music.The German government plays a large role in cultivating high class choirs; most major cities have a full-time, state-funded professional choir whose singers make a living wage. We stopped to hear the Sing-Along performance of a community choir, and Kade, David, and I had a great time singing and dancing.
On Sundays, most shops and restaurants are closed in Germany. The streets and main squares all felt a bit empty, but we found a charming Italian restaurant for lunch. Gianmarco and Brandon chatted with our waitress about their Italian heritage in Italian and we all relished the delicious Italian fare. David’s spaghetti with parmesan cheese was prepared by dumping cooked, strained hot pasta straight into a parmiggiano cheese round, where the pasta melted the cheese on the interior of the round. After mixing, the pasta was coated in melted cheese and poured into his bowl. Delicious!
We then walked down Stuttgart’s “Culture Mile,” passing the city library and opera house, which was decorated with banners for this season’s performances by the Stuttgart Oper and Stuttgart Ballett.
Our destination was Universität Stuttgart’s Hochschule for Musik und Darstellende Kunst. In other words, we were visiting the Music Department of Stuttgart University. The department was developed in the 70s and houses ten organs, such that its students are lucky enough not to find time in a church to practice. The four organs we had come to see were in the Italian, French Baroque, North German Baroque, and Middle German Baroque styles. Jörg Halubek, a professor in the department, was our host.
The Italian organ was originally from Venice and built in the late 18th century. The sound was very clear and light with a sparkly color, which Jörg noted was similar to the Italian style of singing. It had a single manual and a slanted pedal board, and was tuned in pure meantone. The organ case had notes (graffiti) from previous players all over it, including an impressive sketch of an angel and the signature of a Rolando Piccolo from 1863. Brandon played Michelangelo Rossi’s Toccata Settina on the organ. Jörg introduced us to the 16th century work Il Transilvano by Girolamo Diruta, which gave Brandon registration advice. We discussed how Brandon could harness the flavor of the piece’s “torments of passion” and how he could use early fingering to best achieve the proper character.
The North German Baroque organ was not originally from the era, but instead built in the style by living builder Ahrend. Tuned to the thirds, the organ’s tone palette was limited, but included an impressive plenum and singing reeds. It was very light to the touch as low air pressure is needed for the pipes. David delighted us all with a Passacaglia by Dietrich Buxtehude. Jörg worked with David to interpret each line according to the metrical patterns and accents we might expect in words of the language. We were all fascinated by this concept, which is best brought out in the German style by using the third finger on stronger beats (Nobile beats) and the second or fourth fingers on the weaker beats (Vida beats). It was great fun to think about how the metrical patterns in language vary between English, French, Italian, and German, and how this understanding might inform our performance of pieces from these various traditions!
The French Baroque organ was built by Kern in the style of Andreas Silbermann. Tomorrow morning we will see a true Andreas Silbermann, and are eager to see how it compares! Its action was very heavy, but the texture of its sound was broad and smooth. Jennifer played two short movements from François Couperin’s Messe pour les Couvents, a Plein Jeu and a Basse de Trompette. Right as Jennifer was about to set up registration, Jörg whipped out “Remarquer Pour le Toucher et Pour le Caractère de Chaque Pièce,” a book from the period that is essentially a cookbook for registration and style. After her performance, we talked about how she could use notes inégales for the rhythm. This is a practice wherein, although the notes are written as equal length, one uses a dotted rhythm.
After a quick stop to see some of the impressive practice organs, we ended our tour by seeing a 2006 Wegschneider organ built in the disposition of a Bach organ (the Middle German Baroque style). The organ contained many eight foot pipes of varying colors. Noel played J.S. Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in a minor, a piece which allowed us to delve into how stylus fantasticus can be used in Bach’s works. Jörg then told us how he believes that many harpsichord techniques, specifically “finger pedaling” (where one might hold harmonically-unified tones longer than notated to strengthen the chord and create crescendo) can bring out the larger lines throughout the work to the listener and highlights the arcs of cadences.
Before saying goodbye, Jörg took us to roof of the school’s tower, from where we could see a spectacular panorama view over Stuttgart. However, the sky was graying and we suspected the coming of rain. We then spent an hour or so wandering the streets of Stuttgart before piling back into our van snd heading home to Tübingen. As I write, Noel and Chris are preparing dinner: pork loin with roast vegetables and rice. Noel just mentioned that we may have apples with homemade caramel sauce for dessert — yum!
We are off to Strasbourg, France tomorrow morning bright and early, so tune in tomorrow to hear of our French adventures!