Gwendolyn Toth

Gwendolyn Toth is the director of the New York City-based early music ensemble, ARTEK, and a soloist on early keyboards (organ, harpsichord, fortepiano). She is married to harpsichordist Dongsok Shin, and they have three children.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Organs and Ferris Wheels in Vienna

August 6-7, 2010 Friday I practiced several hours on the Sieber organ, at the Michaelerkirche, right across from the Hofburg, where my recital would be the following day. I had performed on this organ previously, so I thought I remembered it – but I had forgotten several key points not immediately apparent from the published stop list. Mainly, that the apparently two-octave pedal was in fact just one octave with duplications. The lower short octave had C, F, D, G, E, A Bb, B; the next note was the same C repeated, then C#, D repeated, Eb, E repeated, F repeated, Fsharp, G repeated, G#, and A repeated. So in total there was just 12 notes all in the same octave. Hm! I had been planning to play the final bass parts of the Sweelinck Ricercare here on pedal, but had to revise that somewhat since I was missing the upper pedal octave. Here, the organ action was a bit heavy and deep, understandable since the case for the great is located in two pieces substantially far away from the console (the original design from 1714). The depth meant that some intervals of a tenth which I can often easily play were not quite possible here on this organ. I spent some time re-fingering and adjusting. The organ there is nevertheless a fabulous sounding instrument. The church has a lengthy acoustic and the sounds of the organ blend together in an extremely satisfying way. It was yet another completely different type of historical organ, though, with a typical South German giant variety of 8’ stops on the great (principal, flute which was more like a gentle principal, quintadena, salicional, and gamba). The third manual consisted of 4 stops of pipes that were located within the organ console itself – like a small continuo organ just for the choir. What a brilliant idea! Perfect for the choir to hear, but not very loud for the congregation below. And the arrangement of the loft, with the console in the center, pipes to either side, allowing for plenty of space for choral risers and additional space for instruments, was perfect for church masses with orchestra. In fact, the church’s string bass was leaning in the corner, ready to be called into service (with its 18th century case , too). Meanwhile, Dongsok made the interesting discovery (from bronze plaques on the wall) that the Michaelerkirche was the place where the first performance of (parts of) the Mozart Requiem took place, on Dongsok’s birthday (five days after Mozart’s death) on December 10, 1791. Later that day, we visited the keyboard instruments in the Technisches Museum. (We skipped the important collection in the Kunsthistoriches Museum since we’ve both been there just last year). We were amused to see that the (perhaps) Walter fortepiano action that was displayed separately in a lucite case had an important element displayed backwards, and lying down instead of standing up! They had interesting instruments, but some were roped off and impossible to get close enough even to read the accompanying placard. Still, that museum is a great place to visit. Other displays include things like washing machines from the past 100 years, exhibits on ship building, toys, cars, modern biotechnology...I’ve been there twice and have only seen a small fraction of the exhibits. That evening, we cooked a sort-of Mexican meal for Augusta’s daughter Francesca – her request for her “last meal at home”. Francesca had a year in America as an AFS transfer student, out in Washington State, where she and her friends hung out at the local Taco Bell every night. We tried to replicate a Taco Bell burrito, but I’m afraid ours might actually have been better! Saturday, some rest in the morning, then more practice and my concert at 8 pm. The last performance – I was sad to be finished. Following the performance, the audience was invited to the organ loft, where I explained (in English, my German is nowhere near enough) about the organ, its special characteristics, and my choice of program. The organist of the church, Manuel Schuen, and his girlfriend Marina Ragger, were very welcoming to me and complimentary. I hope I will be able to play there again many times! After the concert, Dongsok and I treated ourselves to a ride on the giant Ferris Wheel in Vienna’s Prater Amusement Park. Although it moved slowly, it was a real thrill to be above the city at night, looking down at all the sights. A beautiful end to a nice day.

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