Connecting with the Past: An Interview with Kimberly Marshall
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Written by Carson Cooman   
Monday, 28 January 2013

Connecting with the Past: An Interview with Kimberly Marshall

Kimberly Marshall is a very active concert organist, teacher, and scholar. She is a faculty member at Arizona State University and previously taught at the Royal Academy of Music in London and Stanford University. Marshall has become particularly well known for her work with historical organ repertoire. As a scholar, she has edited several anthologies of very early organ music and has produced articles on a variety of organ and repertoire topics across all eras. Marshall is one of the several figures responsible for a revival of interest in, and renewed scholarly understanding of, the organs and repertoire of the late-medieval period. Her anthology of this repertoire has become the definitive text.

As a recording artist, Marshall has enjoyed a long collaboration with the organ-specialized Loft record label and its producer Roger Sherman. Her discography includes recordings, primarily of historical repertoire, on a large variety of instruments, ranging from new instruments in historically inspired styles to significant historical organs. Marshall’s newest CD is devoted to the compositions of Arnolt Schlick (c.1455/60—after 1521) and is entitled The First Printed Organ Music . It celebrates the 500th anniversary of an anthology of Schlick’s organ works published in 1512. Though blind, Schlick was one of the most active performers of his day and served as court organist for the Electorate of the Palatinate in Heidelberg. He was particularly sought after as an organ consultant, and in 1511 published the first German treatise on selecting, building, maintaining, and playing organs: Spiegel der Orgelmacher und Organisten.

Q: You are best known for your work with historical repertoire and instruments. Do you feel this is a fair “pigeonholing”?

A: I’m thrilled to be an advocate for neglected aspects of the early organ repertoire, and I love playing on historical instruments. It’s perhaps not an entirely fair pigeonholing, because I do quite a lot with contemporary music as well. However, I haven’t recorded much contemporary music, so I understand how the impression would be primarily of me as an early music specialist. I see recording as a chance to make known something that is not well known. Much of my work with contemporary music involves works that have already been recorded. I specialize in the organ music of Ligeti, for example, and I’ve just contributed an article on his organ music to an anthology, but there are already such fine recordings of his music by Gerd Zacher that it seems unnecessary to record them again. I also feel that for some contemporary music you really need to be in the room experiencing it in live performance. My recorded discography is thus primarily devoted to early music. I often want to document a historical organ and bring it to the ears of those who don’t have a chance to go hear it in person, or I want to make the listening public aware of some organ music that has been unjustly forgotten and hopefully inspire some obscure works to reenter the repertoire. However, my live recitals and teaching incorporate a wide variety of repertoire from all periods.

Q: How long have you been aware of Arnolt Schlick’s music?

A: When I was an undergraduate at Duke University, the musicologist Stephen Keyl was there doing his graduate work and preparing his dissertation research on Schlick. The Maria Zart piece of Schlick is well known among organists, because it has ended up in a number of anthologies over the years. So, while I’ve known the music of Schlick for about 30 years, I didn’t really go beyond that one piece until I was doing my doctoral work at Oxford, where I studied the whole history of organ repertoire. When one gets to the early 16th century, Schlick becomes crucially important, and so I became very interested in his music from a scholarly point of view. Then, in the last five years, I started to incorporate different pieces into various recital programs. Last year I realized it was going to be the 500th anniversary in 2012 of Schlick’s publication, so I thought it would be great time to bring out a recording of his complete organ works.

Q: I know for some of your other projects (like your disc of late-medieval music, Gothic Pipes ), you’ve had to prepare or supervise new, modern editions of the repertoire. Was that necessary for the Schlick project?

A: Not really. Schott put out a very accurate edition in the 1970s edited by Rudolf Walter. However, he makes a lot of suggestions for musica ficta that I don’t think are appropriate, so I just ignore those. But the edition is very good in that it’s totally clear as to what are his suggestions. There is one place in the Maria Zart where we believe Schlick made an error, and Steve [Keyl] has suggested a corrected version. I don’t believe I actually used that on the recording, as I wanted it to represent Schlick’s text as published. I always hesitate a little bit about “correcting” the composer, but in a live performance I usually use the correction. Steve has done an edition of the large Ascendo ad Patrem setting that is significantly easier to read than the Walter edition. We published that in an anthology of Renaissance organ music that I did for Wayne Leupold Editions.

Q: Ascendo ad Patrem , which closes the disc, is a rather remarkable and unique work—an organ solo in 10 voices, four of those voices given to the pedals! Is it difficult to play?

A: Yes, I would say so. It’s very homophonic, and so you end up thinking about it vertically, even though the lines are clearly conceived contrapuntally. From a technical perspective, it’s the four voices in the pedal that become tricky. In Schlick’s Spiegel treatise, he says that all organists should be able to play two and even three parts in the pedals so as to be able to arrange (intabulate) vocal music as keyboard solos. So, from this we can infer that playing multiple voices in the pedals was something expected of organists at that time. I’ve played the piece now for a long time and on a wide variety of organs, and of course it has become easier with experience. One of the most exciting places I ever played it was on an early 16th-century organ in the Malmö Museum in southern Sweden. That was a very old instrument that had short and rather steep pedal keys for the sharps. Fortunately the organ was up in a gallery and nobody could see me, because the only way I was able to do all the required stretches was by playing barefooted!

Q: Did you consider using the Swedish organ for the recording?

A: It didn’t seem feasible because of its tuning and its relative dearth of reed stops. Schlick made very clear that he prized the timbres of different reed stops. He even gives the example of specific registrations with reeds, so I felt it was essential to use an instrument large enough to employ his suggestions.

Q: What do you think the contemporary response was to Ascendo ad Patrem?

A: There’s no evidence that the piece was ever performed or that anybody else ever saw it, so there probably wasn’t any contemporary response. We think that Schlick wrote it trying to impress the Bishop of Trent, perhaps even hoping to be invited to play for the coronation of Charles V as Holy Roman King. (The plainchant on which the piece is based is appointed for use at a coronation.) This is speculative, though, as the music may have been composed after 1520, when the coronation took place. In Steve’s dissertation, he transcribes Schlick’s letter, sent with the music, explaining that the compositions were sent in honor of Charles’s coronation as king. The letter and music were preserved with the bishop’s papers and are now in the Trent Library. It’s quite possible that Schlick never intended it for other organists to play.

If they had seen it, I think contemporary organists would have been quite astounded that he was trying to get that much sound out of an organ. Because of what Schlick writes in the Spiegel treatise, I don’t think the notion of the four pedal voices would have been totally shocking (even if it is more than might have been typically expected). If you were trying to make an intabulation on the organ of an eight-voice motet, then the pedal would be used to take some of the voices to create a bit more independence, and avoid some of the voice crossing. However, with Ascendo I think it’s the demands on the organ’s winding that would have been more surprising. I’ve played it on organs with flexible wind, and that is definitely the most challenging part. In some cases you have three voices very low on the pedalboard, and obviously those notes are taking more of the wind. I’m trying to control the winding so that the organ doesn’t sound asthmatic.

Some have argued that it might actually not be organ music, but Steve thinks that, although the other Schlick items included in the Trent manuscript were vocal works, Ascendo is an organ piece. The two main reasons that I personally think it’s organ music: (1) the mention in the Spiegel treatise about the multiple pedal parts, thus suggesting it’s a common practice for organists of that time; and (2) the very beginning of Ascendo is just a bicinium in two voices; then it goes into the grand 10-voice music. Whenever you have very large changes of texture in this repertoire, that is usually an indication of a keyboard piece.

Q: How have audiences responded to your live performances of the Schlick compositions?

A: Audiences respond really well to it. One of my general goals is to show that in every historical period and in every musical aesthetic, a wide artistic range is always present: there have always been virtuosi; there has always been expressive writing, and sensitive writing, and bombastic writing, and so on. Some people feel that our current time reflects greater progress and complexity, but that is not necessarily true. I want to show the links between historical eras and our current times. People are always amazed at the sophistication of Schlick’s music given how early it is. We have a few other German organ sources from the 15th century, for example the Buxheimer Orgelbuch (from about 1455), but we have no major source of organ music between that and Schlick’s publication in 1512. Clearly during those 60 intervening years much was happening, but we don’t have a notated record of the music or performance practice. It would be as if we didn’t have any sources between Scheidemann and J. S. Bach! Bach is a similar kind of phenomenon to Schlick, in that even amidst a vibrant historical trajectory he stands out for his refinement and imagination.

Schlick’s purpose in publication was clearly to disseminate his style of writing and to leave a document on the state of organ music. Interestingly, only the Salve Regina is a liturgical work. There are variations on devotional songs, but they are not songs that would have been sung in the context of a church service. Some are also settings of popular/secular songs. Schlick is part of a long tradition of combining the sacred and secular within a keyboard collection. We have that right from the first surviving collection of organ music (the Robertsbridge Code x of c. 1360) onward.

The organ has a place in both sacred and secular life. A lot of people think they don’t like the organ, because they believe it’s a “church instrument.” Yet I’ve found that if I can just get them to a concert where I’m explaining something about the music and how it’s put together, people are always fascinated by all the colors, the multiple keyboards, the pedals, and the sheer mechanics and sound of the instrument. I have yet to find somebody who is truly disinterested, once they are introduced to the instrument in an informative way. There are so many dimensions of the organ and its music that can appeal to different sorts of people.

I want audiences to realize that the organ is not constrained by its liturgical function. There’s so much more it can do. What it is constrained by is the need for some sort of institution to provide the physical setting and the funding to create, house, and maintain something so large. The church has historically been this institution. In Schlick’s time it was a sign of the importance of a court that they would have both musicians and instruments of a very high caliber. His stated reason for publishing his Spiegel treatise was to provide advice and guidelines for what to look for in commissioning an organ and evaluating a builder. He was a consultant and provided reports on a number of instruments and builders. Not surprisingly perhaps, many of the things that he says are still relevant today. He decries the notion of having too many stops or divisions. If you keep adding stops and there’s no real change in the sound, then what’s the point?

Q: In what ways do you see your recording projects as different from live concerts?

A: I’ve found that those who are fans of recordings often have specialized interests, and they often like things that are well categorized or complete. I’d never play the complete works of Schlick in a live concert (unless it were for a very particular academic conference), but in the context of a CD recording, it makes sense to present them this way so that people can have an anthology with all this music. One of my best selling CDs is a recording of Italian music on a 16th-century organ in Siena. It has sold better than many of my recordings of much more “normal” repertoire, like my Bach albums. At the time the Italian disc was made, it was the only recording of that music, and so I think that aspect had appeal. By and large, my recordings try to give a total picture of a composer or an instrument.

Q: When you’re planning a recording project, does the repertoire always come first, or does the choice of the organ come first?

A: I’ve done it both ways. An example of the latter is the Siena recording. I was in Italy working on Baroque music, and somebody asked me if I’d take a trip to Siena to see this earlier (1519) organ. When I got there, I realized that none of the music I knew really worked effectively on it. That inspired me to go home and do research into early 16th-century repertoire. I found a whole wealth of music, and then about five years later went back and made the recording. More often, I have a repertoire concept first and then seek out an instrument. Sometimes just by working and practicing on a particular instrument, I am inspired towards certain repertoire. During my years at Stanford, the wonderful Fisk organ there with its dual temperaments (meantone and well tempered) was particularly inspiring.

With the Schlick project, I thought about using a historical organ, but there isn’t one that fits the specific needs of the music. In his treatise, Schlick advocates a particular variation of quarter-comma meantone temperament so that the major third of A♭–C is usable. The famous organ at the court chapel in Innsbruck might have been a possibility, but I would have had to convince them to let me retune all the G♯s. They never would have allowed that for such an important instrument. Though it’s more well known now, when I made the Siena recording, that organ was not famous at all, and it was basically in equal temperament, because they had changed it sometime in the 20th century. To make my recording, I had the entire organ restored to its original quarter-comma meantone tuning. Amazingly, the priest in charge had no issue at all with changing the temperament. But with a famous organ, its curators are not likely to be so accommodating.

I was really happy with doing the Schlick on our superb Paul Fritts instrument at Arizona State. Since I didn’t know of an existing organ that meets all the requirements for Schlick’s music, I felt liberated to choose an instrument that projects the repertoire as well as is possible. In the end, it’s the music itself that is the most important. I always tell people that if we had waited in the 20th century to play and record Bach until we had an “authentic Bach-style organ,” we never would have had a Bach organ—because nobody would have been playing the music to inspire the desire for it!

When I made my recording of late-medieval music, I used a 1985 Edskes-Blank organ in Basel, Switzerland. Since then, there have been more replicas of medieval blockwerk s built. However, using a larger instrument for the recording gave me greater color potential. In June 2013, I’m doing the keynote address for the inauguration of a replica of a 1479 Peter Gerritsz organ. The original was built for the Petrikirche in Utrecht, but then it was dismantled and components were spread around to different places. In the last few years, enough data from these scattered elements was finally gathered and analyzed so that they felt confident in building a new replica. It will be for the Orgelpark in Amsterdam, a very creative concert venue with many organs in different styles, devoted to unusual concert presentations and repertoire. It should be a fun event, as they’ve asked me to come speak and then to improvise as I “re-discover” the medieval organ. We’re hoping that David Rumsey from Switzerland will bring his 2010 portable Gothic organ, and we’ll all just have a medieval jam session, making music together. I think this spirit of global collaboration is one of the most inspiring things happening today. Instead of having just one “great visionary,” we are all working together to create new things and to explore exciting ideas.

BUXTEHUDE Prelude, Fugue and Chaconne in C, BuxWV 137. Chaconne in e, BuxWV 160. Canzonetta in G, BuxWV 171. Magnificat noni toni, BuxWV 205. Nun komm der Heiden Heiland, BuxWV 211. Praeludium in g, BuxWV 149. BACH Jesu meine Freude, BWV 1105 . Machs mit mir, Gott, nach deiner Güt, BWV95. Lobt Gott, ihr Christen, allzugleich, BWV 732. Toccata, Adagio and Fugue in C, BWV 564. Fugue on the Magnificat, BWV 733. Toccata and Fugue in d, BWV 565. Nun komm der Heiden Heiland, BWV 149 Kimberly Marshall (org) LOFT 1029 (70:42)

A FANTASY THROUGH TIME Kimberly Marshall (org) LOFT 1108 (58:35)

BACH Fantasy in G, BWV 572, “Piece d’orgue.” Fantasy in c, BWV 562. Fantasy in g, BWV 542. FERRABOSCO Fancy. SWEELINCK Fancy chromatica. NEWMAN A Fansye. MOZART Fantasy in d, K 397. FRANCK Fantaisie in C (Version III). ALAIN: Première fantaisie. Deuxième fantaisie

THE FIRST PRINTED ORGAN MUSIC Kimberly Marshall (org); Skye Hart (ten) LOFT 1124 (53:38)

Works by SCHLICK, BUCHNER, HOFHAIMER, ISAAC, KLEBER, KOTTER, PAUMANN


Last Updated ( Wednesday, 23 January 2013 )