'An organ, the mere sound of which can send shivers down the spine ... breathtaking ... another splendid disc as thrilling and truly spectacular as they, or anyone else for that matter, have so far produced' (Gramophone)
Frygde Song [1'14]
Movement 3: Alla Sarabanda [2'12]
Finale: Allegro con brio [5'47]
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Finland became largely Lutheran at the time of the Reformation, resulting in the introduction of the chorale and the organ into church worship. Instruments were imported from Germany in the following centuries, and the organ established itself in Finland as an important ingredient of art music. A lively and active interest in the organ continues today, as indeed elsewhere in the Scandinavian region, where organists receive remuneration fitting to their employment as full-time professionals and where they can expect high quality instruments on which to play.
Jehan Alain (1911–1940) Litanies
Litanies began as an organ piece called Phantasmagorie from which Alain drew some material for the later work which he originally called Supplications. The plainsong phrase which opens the music is repeated continually, propelled by a locomotive rhythm to an ecstatic climax. Alain once wrote about how to play Litanies. ‘You must create an impression of passionate incantation. Prayer is not a lament but a devastating tornado, flattening everything is its way. It is also an obsession. You must fill men’s ears with it, and God’s ears too! If you get to the end without feeling exhausted you have neither understood [Litanies] nor played it as I would want it.’
The score itself is headed with a quotation which can be related to the death of one of Alain’s sisters in 1937, the year in which it was written: ‘When the Christian soul is in distress and cannot find any fresh words to implore God’s mercy, it repeats the same prayer unceasingly with overwhelming faith. The limit of reason is past. It is faith alone which propels its ascent.’
Jean Sibelius (1865–1957) Finlandia Op 26, arranged Herbert A Fricker (1868–1943)
Herbert Fricker was a British-born organist who spent the latter part of his career in North America where he established himself as a choral conductor, and whose noteworthy achievements included directing a broadcast performance of Bach’s B minor Mass from the 1939 New York World’s Fair. His arrangement of Finlandia was published in 1907, at a time when he was city organist in the northern English city of Leeds.
Bjarne Sløgedal (b1937) Variations on a Norwegian Folk Tune
The theme of the Variations is a chorale familiar in Norway from the hymn book, and derived from a Norwegian folk tune whose short-breathed phrases give it a particularly expressive quality. It was both the melody and the words which inspired the composer. The opening line begins: ‘Å hvor salig det skal blive’ (‘O how glorious will it be for the children of God’). The first three variations emphasize the folk origins of the tune, casting it as a song in variation 1, then as a flute melody over a hurdy-gurdy-style drone bass in the second variation. The title of the third variation, Langeleik, is the name of a Norwegian zither-like folk instrument which has one melodic string and up to seven drone strings. The music echoes its timbre, creating an interesting registration challenge. The final variation is an apotheosis of the melody. The composer dedicated the variations ‘Mine foreldre tilegnet … ’—‘to my parents’.
Henri Mulet (1878–1967) Carillon-Sortie
He wrote Carillon-Sortie during the time prior to 1917 when he was organ professor at the Ecole Niedermeyer and organist of the St Roch church in Paris. It is a brilliant final voluntary in toccata style, imitative of a melodic set of bells, and dedicated to one of the leading virtuoso organists of the day, Joseph Bonnet, who played at the Paris church of St Eustache (where Christopher Herrick recorded).
Oskar Lindberg (1887–1955) Alla Sarabanda & Allegro con brio from Sonata in G minor Op 23
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756–1791) Fantasia in F minor K608
Mozart’s F minor piece for Deym did not gain the title ‘Fantasia’ until it was arranged for piano duet during the last century. However, it is a totally appropriate name for a piece which is even more fantastic than the machine for which it was created. It begins, rather as Handel’s Messiah opens, with a serious overture in French style, then there is an Andante worthy of the finest string quartet before the serious overture returns. Both parts of the overture explore the device of fugue—a reminder that Mozart had studied the music of Bach. Mozart’s technique and invention in this medium rival the mathematical precision which created the interlocking gears of the mechanism for which the Fantasia was written.
Louis James Alfred Lefébure-Wély (1817–1870) Marche in C major from L’organiste moderne Book 12
This march for organ opens with a melody in the tenor register—music which would transcribe well for the euphonium in a brass band. Each return of this melody is prepared by some of the convoluted chromatic progressions which bring private delight to organists, and the music proceeds with an almost balletic lightness of touch, giving no hint along the way of the switch to triumphalism on the final page.
Carl Nielsen (1865–1931) Commotio Op 58, FS155
He was inspired to write for the organ in his last days by Emilius Bangert, the organist of Roskilde Cathedral. Nielsen wrote of Commotio that ‘None of my other works has demanded such great concentration as this.’ The title implies the currents which excite motion in music, and Nielsen saw this as an objective piece. ‘In an extended work for that mighty instrument the organ the composer must try to repress all personal and lyrical feelings. The task … demands a kind of severity instead of sentiment, and must rather be judged by the ear than seized on by the heart.’
Although Commotio was ‘an attempt to recreate the one true organ style’ (of Buxtehude and Bach perhaps), the writing at times seems to be in the same sphere as some of Beethoven’s great contrapuntal piano sonatas—Op 110 for instance. The opening has a similar sense of the fantastic combined with solemnity to that which characterises Bach’s G minor Fantasia for organ, and it is followed by an Andante which flows as if it were a siciliano, from where an angular fugue quietly emerges at a change of key. An ‘Andante sostenuto’ follows, which develops rhapsodically but inevitably to a full close, out of which steals the subject of a jig fugue, the source of a great river of music which sometimes flows furiously, and sometimes with tranquillity, but whose current is relentless.
Sir Edward Elgar (1857–1934) Pomp and Circumstance March No 4 in G major Op 39, arranged by G Robertson Sinclair (1863–1917)
The marches were composed during the first decade of the twentieth century, the Edwardian era when the British Empire enjoyed its greatest spread of colour in the world atlas. Elgar once declared that part of the role he saw for himself as a composer was to write music which stirred the popular imagination, tunes to accompany pageantry, and to have, as Shakespeare had Othello say, ‘all the quality, pride, pomp and circumstance of glorious war.’
Elgar himself conducted the first performance of the fourth Pomp and Circumstance March in 1907. The famous nobilmente melody of the central trio was a product of the same year, but other sections had their origins in music he wrote for a family play (The Wand of Youth) when he was only twelve years old. He dedicated the piece to George Robertson Sinclair, organist of Hereford Cathedral at the time, and one of the conductors associated with the Three Choirs Festival where choral works by Elgar and his contemporaries were performed.
It was not the first piece to be dedicated to Sinclair, although the eleventh of the ‘Enigma’ Variations (‘G.R.S.’) has more to do with the antics of the organist’s bulldog than the man himself. Sinclair arranged his friend Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance March so that he could enjoy it in the organ loft as well as in the concert hall.
Ian Carson © 1994
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