David N Johnson (1922–1988): Trumpet Tune in A major
‘The trumpet shall sound … and we shall be changed.’ The trumpet has from ancient times been an instrument which heralds occasions of great importance, and this particular Trumpet Tune emblazons the acoustic of St Bartholomew’s with overtones of celebration and ceremony, music to bring praise worthy of the exhortation of the psalmist … ‘Praise him with trumpet’ … and to bring a sense of awe at the revelation of the majesty which inspired the builders of great places of worship.
Its composer was Professor of organ studies at the Arizona State University in Tempe. He has taken the seventeenth-century English trumpet tunes as his model, refashioned with the heraldic harmonies of the present age.
Edwin H Lemare (1865–1934): Toccata di Concerto Op 59
At the centre of his technique was the desire to give the organ the flexibility and subtlety of the orchestra. He absorbed all he could of orchestral playing and orchestral music, and made some spectacular arrangements of popular orchestral pieces. The Toccata di Concerto is an original organ piece whose manual parts have a superficial resemblance to the French toccata style. But beneath, on the pedals, strides an epic theme worthy of a place in a great Romantic opera or tone poem, music crying out for a Richard Strauss orchestra. At the centre of the piece the heroics subside after a pedal passage marked ‘furioso’ and there is a soft-focus romantic interlude, rich in ascending chromaticism, before the volcanic energy of the original theme erupts again, even more vigorously than before.
This is the piece which the organist and journalist Harvey Grace (1874–1944) found ‘a terribly difficult affair’ because of the virtuosity required, although he did concede that there is ‘more good stuff in it than such works are wont to have.’
Dudley Buck (Snr) (1839–1909): Concert Variations on ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ Op 23
Dudley Buck was born in Hartford, Connecticut, and travelled to Europe to study music in Leipzig, Dresden and Paris. On returning to the USA he toured as a concert organist and also held a succession of church organist appointments, at St James Chicago, St Paul’s Boston, and at several churches in Brooklyn where he settled in his mid-thirties. He was assistant conductor of the Theodore Thomas Orchestra, and composed mainly vocal music including The Legend of Columbus and Paul Revere’s Ride.
These concert variations became a very popular item in organ recitals and consist of the theme, four variations, and a fughetta. The third variation is noteworthy in terms of the pedal virtuosity required, and the writing suggests that the composer knew his Bach fugues. The fourth variation follows convention by being cast in the minor key, but departs from it with a sly enharmonic modulation for the repeated part of the tune. The finale works out some of the fugal possibilities of the tune before the inevitable triumphant metamorphosis, proclaiming the spirit of those who kept the American flag flying over Baltimore’s Fort McHenry in the face of the British bombardment in 1814 and so inspired Francis Scott Key.
Alexandre Guilmant (1837–1911): Paraphrase on a chorus of Judas Maccabaeus by Handel ‘See the conqu’ring hero comes’ Op 90
He became organist at La Trinité in Paris but achieved fame in the concert hall. He gave the inaugural recitals on many organs in France, including that of the Paris Trocadéro whose Cavaillé-Coll instrument he employed for many years to popularise good music. He was received by Queen Victoria at Windsor Castle and during the course of his career received many honours.
He founded, with Vincent d’Indy and Charles Bordes, the Schola Cantorum in Paris, a musical academy deeply imbued with the charisma of César Franck and whose courses of study were closely related to plainsong and the classics. This philosophy led to Guilmant editing much organ music from the past. He also seems to have taken a particular interest in Handel’s oratorios, writing for organ a Grand choeur alla Handel plus a march based on ‘Lift up your heads’ from Messiah and this paraphrase on the triumphant chorus from the final act of Judas Maccabaeus, as the hero of the oratorio returns to Jerusalem after defeating the Syrians.
The piece is dedicated to an American pupil of the composer, Mrs Saenger, who lived in New York.
Percy Whitlock (1903–1946): Paean (No 5 of Five Short Pieces)
He wrote this Paean (song of exaltation) in 1930, the concluding climax of a set of five pieces. It is written with an English orchestral organ in mind, one whose crowning glory is a gloriously overwhelming tuba stop, matched here by the reeds of the Skinner organ.
Derek Bourgeois (b1941): Variations on a theme of Herbert Howells Op 87
The first variation is a dynamic exercise in rhythm, and the second a siciliano. The third variation has the solemnity appropriate to an act of homage, but the fourth (‘very jolly’) is a modern Mephisto waltz, of Bacchanalian irreverence, which attempts to quote on the pedals a tune which proves to be a close relative of the pavane, namely ‘For he’s a jolly good fellow’. Decorum is restored with a toccata-style finale, although the gentle clavichord theme ends the work, transformed into a vehicle grand enough to carry the weight of full organ.
Louis Vierne (1870–1937): Divertissement (No 11 of 24 pieces en style libre Op 31)
These pieces were published in 1914 and, as the above notice by the composer reveals, were intended for a very different organ to the one which Vierne had played as organist of Notre Dame since 1900. The collection was designed for practical liturgical use and written in such a way that the music could also be performed on the harmonium, which had enjoyed a vogue in France since the time of Lefébure-Wély.
The Divertissment is the one piece in the set which stretches elementary technique, as if Vierne temporarily forgot the purpose for which he was writing. It has the character of a study in perpetual motion, enjoys some not-too-distant echoes of Lefébure-Wély, and was dedicated to an organist who would have made light of its technical difficulties, Joseph Bonnet.
Antoine Edouard Batiste (1820–1876): Grand Offertoire in D
This Grand Offertoire opens with solemn and pompous grandeur and leads into a stormy Allegro whose theme entwines the sharper angles of the harmonic minor key before an unashamedly naked cadence takes the music into an Andante maestoso aria, an exercise in organistic bel canto with coloratura decoration. The next Allegro plunges straight into another operatic cataclysm before the vox humana sings out serenely below flute decorations in another Andante maestoso. This operatic digest has a happy ending, regally Grandioso.
Dmitri Shostakovich (1906–1975): Passacaglia (from Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk Op 29)
The heroine of the opera, Katerina Ismailova, becomes by her situation and actions the ‘Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk’ of the story from which Shostakovich drew his libretto. She is trapped in a loveless, heirless marriage, and takes a lover who is caught and flogged by her father-in-law. In revenge she doses the latter’s mushrooms with rat poison and he dies, but not before naming her to the priest as his murderess. As this scene ends (Act II, Scene 4) the Passacaglia crashes in, a massive evocation of the forces in which Katerina is entangled. This arrangement of the Passacaglia for organ is by the composer.
Joseph Elie Georges Marie Bonnet (1884–1944): Etude de Concert (No 2 of Douze pièces nouvelles Op 7)
The Etude de Concert is part of his Op 7 set of organ pieces, published in 1910. The set also contains the popular Elfes, as well as a Clair de lune which shines less hauntingly than Debussy’s. An In memoriam Titanic in his next set of pieces might suggest a certain opportunism in his compositions, but this Etude in the style of a gigue is a brilliant whirl of notes designed to captivate a concert audience.
Charles-Marie Jean Albert Widor (1844–1937): Allegro (from Symphony No 6, Op 42)
His presence in the organ loft was to become something of a social occasion to the extent that at one stage ‘Society ladies were behaving with so little decorum that the Archbishop of Paris forbade ladies to go up to the organ’.
The organ symphonies follow the lead given by Franck’s Grand Pièce Symphonique. Widor’s scheme was to compose eight, the first in the tonality of C, then working up the scale. But he decided to write both 4 and 5 in F, so No 6 is in G minor. Its first movement has a wholly original structure. The main theme has the affirming certainty of a chorale, and its appearances are interspersed with variations to give the character of a fantasia. This is Widor writing not so much for the demoiselles brave enough to defy the Archbishop, but more to honour the spirit of the one composer whose bust graced his room in the organ loft—J S Bach.
Louis James Alfred Lefebure-Wely (1817–1870): Sortie (from L’organiste moderne Book 11)
Lefébure-Wély flourished in an era when the streets of Paris could be charged with a politically explosive atmosphere, but as the faithful left at the end of the mass they could face the conflagrations charged with joyous musical feux d’artifice of which this exuberant Sortie is a giant firecracker.
Ian Carson © 1992
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