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Hyperion Records

CDA66605 - Organ Fireworks, Vol. 4
Dieppe, 14 July 1905: Night by John Duncan Ferguson (1874-1961)
Reproduced by courtesy of the National Gallery of Scotland / C Perth and Kinross District Council Museum & Art Gallery Department
CDA66605

Recording details: February 1992
St Bartholomew's Church, New York, USA
Produced by Paul Spicer
Engineered by Christopher Greenleaf
Release date: July 1992
DISCID: 9E11940C
Total duration: 72 minutes 39 seconds

'Hyperion's organ recordings are in a class of their own, and this wonderfully mixed bag of goodies … represents unparalleled value for money. I doubt whether any of these pieces has ever been played better' (Gramophone)

'Herrick's performances need no recommendation to those already acquainted with his dazzling skills' (The Good CD Guide)

Organ Fireworks, Vol. 4
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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
Lemare is certainly the most enigmatic, and possibly the greatest, of the organ virtuosi of the earlier part of this century. Whereas his contemporaries were part of the establishment, with church and academic appointments, circumstances conspired to force Lemare onto the treadmill of the travelling virtuoso. Just before Christmas 1900 he embarked on the liner Teutonic for New York and his first recital in the USA was on New Year’s Day 1901 when he played the 1893 Hutchings organ in St Bartholomew’s (which preceded the 1918 Skinner instrument). The critics were ecstatic about his playing, placing his improvisation above Guilmant’s, comparing his status as an organist with that of Paderewski among pianists, and remarking about his performance of music from Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel that ‘one could shut one’s eyes and hear an orchestra performing.’

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
The Star-Spangled Banner is the national anthem of the USA, the inspirational words of which were written in Baltimore by Francis Scott Key in 1814, and intended for the tune to which they are now always sung. This tune itself was written in England for the Anacreontic Society of London by a singer and composer of catches and glees called John Stafford Smith (1750–1836), the original song being ‘Anacreon in Heaven’.

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
Alexandre Guilmant was a concert organist and composer based in Paris, who was also a considerable musical scholar. He was born at Boulogne-sur-Mer into a family of organists and organ builders, and was largely self-taught. He undertook a brief period of formal study with the great Belgian organist Lemmens, practising for six to eight hours a day for a period of a month, after which, according to Joseph Bonnet, Lemmens proclaimed that he ‘could fly with his own wings’.

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)
Percy Whitlock was a popular English concert organist who came to fame when living in Bournemouth on the south coast of England. He was Director of Music at St Stephen’s church, and borough organist at the municipal pavilion which had a Compton pipe organ. His BBC broadcasts won him many friends.

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
Derek Bourgeois was a lecturer in the music faculty of Bristol University before becoming director of the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain. As a composer he is an accomplished symphonist and has a particular affinity with brass instruments. He was a composition pupil of Herbert Howells whose church and organ music claim a firm place in the repertoire of the Anglican cathedral tradition and who was born not far from Bourgeois’ home in the Forest of Dean. When Bourgeois was commissioned by the composer William Mathias to write an organ work for the 1984 North Wales Festival, Howells had recently died, so Bourgeois composed these variations in homage. The theme of the four variations is taken from the Elizabethan pastiche ‘De la Mare’s Pavane’, part of a collection which Howells called Lambert’s Clavichord.

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)
(Notice): ‘The pieces of the present selection are calculated so as to be played during the ordinary duration of an offertory. They are registered for an harmonium with four stops and a half, and for an organ with two key-boards and pedals of 18 to 20 stops.’

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
Léo Delibes, composer of the ballet Coppélia, knew Batiste as his uncle, but to students at the Paris Conservatoire he was the prodigy who had entered the institution himself at the age of ten and who had become Professor of solfeggio at sixteen. He became organist at the church of St Nicholas-des-Champs in 1842, then St Eustache in 1854, in an era when church worship and grand opera were genres not too far removed from each other.

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)
Shostakovich wrote the opera from which this Passacaglia is taken in his mid-twenties. It was an immediate success but was condemned, shortly after it was written, in a Pravda article headed ‘Muddle instead of Music’ which the composer believed was largely written by Stalin—who even vilified the opera as ‘leftish chaos instead of natural human music’! Stalin’s reaction to this opera set the seal on Shostakovich’s career in its turbulent development from then on.

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)
Bonnet was born in Bordeaux where he become organist of the church of St Nicholas at the age of fourteen. He had been taught by his father, but when he came to Paris to study at the Conservatoire his teachers were Tournemire and Guilmant. He won the Grand Prix Guilmant in 1906, the year in which he became organist at St Eustache. He made his American debut in 1917 on the great organ of the College of the City in New York, and spent much of his time in North America playing and teaching, dying in Quebec.

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)
On hearing the news of Lefébure-Wély’s death on the last day of 1869, Gounod and Cavaillé-Coll recommended that Widor should be appointed acting organist of St Sulpice in Paris immediately. There was some controversy over the appointment, partly because of his youth, and he was required to serve a probationary period. If Widor is to be believed, his appointment was never confirmed, so that he continued to be acting organist for 64 years.

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 was something of a child prodigy as an organist, giving his first recital at the age of eight. He followed his father as organist of St Roch, then was at the Madeleine church from 1847 to 1858 before becoming organist of St Sulpice in 1863. He took a particular interest in the harmonium, writing a number of pieces for it, and was famous in Paris for his organ improvisations with which he could draw the crowds. As with Batiste, his skills as a composer were influenced by the music of the opera house. A 1938 music dictionary described his skills as follows: ‘From the piquancy of his harmonies, the fertility of his imagination which pervaded all he did, he might be called the Auber of the organ’ (Auber is best known as the composer of the comic opera Fra Diavolo).

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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'Organ Fireworks, Vol. 1' (CDA66121)
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'Organ Fireworks, Vol. 2' (CDA66258)
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'Organ Fireworks, Vol. 3' (CDA66457)
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'Organ Fireworks, Vol. 12' (CDA67612)
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'Organ Fireworks, Vol. 13' (CDA67734)
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'Organ Fireworks, Vol. 14' (CDA67758)
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