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Hyperion Records

CDA67198 - Eben: Organ Music, Vol. 5

Recording details: June 2004
Hedvig Eleonora Kyrhan, Stockholm, Sweden
Produced by Chris Hazell
Engineered by Simon Eadon
Release date: January 2006
Total duration: 71 minutes 17 seconds

'Hyperion captures the organ of Stockholm's Hedvig Eleonora Church superbly—an object lesson in harnessing clarity and spaciousness in that trickiest of acoustics, the church. Eben is now in his 76th year, and though it's possible his intégrale may yet be incremented, these five volumes of organ music document a highly original voice of our times. In short, they demand to be heard' (BBC Music Magazine)

'Schiager has certainly proved his credentials as an advocate of Eben's music … his impeccable articulation, deft handling of the splendid three manual, 58-stop Grölunds organ of Stockholm's Hedvig Eleonora Church and complete grasp of each score, establish this entire series as a matchless point of reference to Eben's organ music' (International Record Review)

'Halgeir Schaiger's performances on the fine organ of Hedvig Eleonora Kyrkan, Stockholm (Grölunds Orgelbyggeri, Gammelstad, 1975-76), are probing and, where need be, electrifying. He is at all moments at the service of a quite extraordinary composer. Percussionist Eirik Raude and trumpeter Jan Fredrik Christiansen are splendid, and Schiager is at the top of his estimable game. I await the next volume' (Fanfare, USA)

Organ Music, Vol. 5
Agitato  [3'53]
Moderato  [3'35]
Allegretto  [3'57]

Those who have been following Halgeir Schiager’s pioneering survey of Petr Eben’s extraordinary organ works will find any words of recommendation for this new disc unnecessary; for the newcomer, the programme offers an array of accessible riches, including two works where the organ is combined with other instruments to thrilling effect.

Petr Eben is one of the foremost composers from the Czech Republic. Also known as an organist, he primarily performs his own works, but is also highly sought-after as an improviser on both the piano and the organ. His works for organ are among his most popular.

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Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
Petr Eben is a most loved and highly respected figure in Czech cultural life and is his country’s internationally best-known composer. In Great Britain his reputation also stands high, being well known as a composer and organist, as well as a master of the art of improvisation. For the academic year of 1977–8 he was a visiting professor of composition at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester, of which he is a Fellow, also being composer in residence at Dartington for the first Czech Week there in 1993 and at Aldeburgh in 1997. He is an Honorary Fellow of the Royal College of Organists and of the Royal Academy of Music, as well as Patron of the British Dvorák Society for Czech and Slovak Music.

He was born in 1929 in Zamberk, north-eastern Bohemia, but his childhood years were spent in the historic South Bohemian town of Ceský Krumlov. Here he found his early keyboard talents pressed into service during the war, playing the organ of the church of St Vitus, even though initially his feet could not reach the pedal-board. Although the family was devoutly Catholic, the fact that his father was born a Jew meant that, in 1943, he was expelled from school and spent the rest of the war years in the concentration camp at Buchenwald. For such an intelligent lad, these formative and impressionable years brought an early maturity of thought and conscience, many aspects of which have remained with him to this day. On the musical side, one of these is his total understanding of the organ, both as a composer and performer, from the hours he spent alone exploring its wonders in the organ loft at Krumlov.

After the war, Petr Eben resumed his schooling and entered the Prague Academy of Music in 1948, studying piano with František Rauch and composition with Pavel Borkovec. After graduation in 1954 he was appointed a lecturer in the history of music at Charles University where his popularity and success with his students ensured that he was retained for thirty-five years, although all due and clearly deserved promotion was denied him because of his refusal to join the Communist Party and his open continuation of attending church with his family Sunday after Sunday. After the 1989 Velvet Revolution, he was immediately appointed professor of composition and President of the Prague Spring Festival among other important positions in Czech musical life. Awarded his country’s highest honour for artists, since his retirement and in spite of the onset of debilitating illness he has continued to compose, mainly works for organ and choral pieces for church festivals, while living quietly in the Motol district of Prague.

Landscapes of Patmos is one of a number of works where Petr Eben has successfully combined the organ in partnership with different instruments (other than with the fuller orchestra of his two organ concertos of 1954 and 1982), works which include Okna (with trumpet, 1976), Three Jubilations (with two trumpets and two trombones, 1987) and Two Invocations (with trombone, 1988). Landscapes of Patmos was written in 1984 and commissioned by the Heidelberg Bach-Gesellschaft for the 1985 Bachfest. It was given its first performance on 31 May 1985 in the Lutheran Church in Heidelberg by Wolfgang Dallmann with the percussionist Wieland Junge.

In his introduction to the score the composer has written:

The combination of organ and percussion is one of the ensembles in which the organ can display the whole richness of its sound with no restriction to the softer stops. On imagining the sound effect of this combination, an atmosphere both festive and dramatic came to mind. This in turn led me to the Book of Revelations but I soon became aware of the difficulties of expressing all the richness of its contents in a few movements for two players. Therefore I narrowed my horizon to some single images from the Apocalypse – hence the title ‘Landscapes’. These events and symbols, which are inspired by the abstract and expressed pictorially, are diffused by the music into an analogical representation rather than pictorial.
The main, solemn movement, Landscape with Temple, is placed centrally – the third of five movements. Two shorter movements frame it, both sharing the same thematic material and having as their subjects symbols that are close to the throne, i.e. the Elders and the Rainbow. The outer ‘animal’ movements – the Eagle and the Horses – provide the dramatic elements to the work. Only in the last movement have I used two plainsong quotations: the fateful Horses are characterized by the descending Dies Irae motif which eventually gives way to the redeeming Victimae Paschali at the end of the Finale which, with its ascending melody, appears almost as an inversion of the falling Dies Irae melody.
As for the percussion instruments, my choice has been determined by my appreciation of the difficulties, all too often encountered, of finding suitable spacious organ galleries, often approached by narrow winding staircases. Therefore I refrained from using bulky instruments such as timpani, vibraphone and marimba.
The three main movements concentrate on three contrasting timbres: the first the drum head with tom-toms and drums, the second on metallic sounds with the tam-tam, cymbals, bells and glockenspiel, and the last on wooden sounds with temple blocks and xylophone. In the other movements the colour range is mixed.

Although the short Prelude 1 carries the subtitle ‘Happy Birthday’, this was a misunderstanding on the part of the composer, since it was among a number of works written to mark the retirement of the American concert artists manager Karen McFarlane, when a number of her artists either wrote or performed works for that occasion. Nevertheless, it is a brilliant occasional piece, demonstrating the composer’s ability to condense into a comparative trifle an amazing variety of elements relevant to a more significant composition. It was given its first performance by Susan Landale, another of McFarlane’s artists, at the Peabody Conservatory, Baltimore, in September 2000.

Petr Eben’s devout catholicism has brought him, especially through his music, into contact with many figures, great and small, of the Catholic Church, particularly in the Czech Republic and Germany. This has resulted in many requests and commissions to mark special anniversaries of both churches and church leaders. The Gloria (Prelude 2) is one such work, written in 2000 to mark the sixty-fifth birthday of the Bishop of Mainz, Cardinal Karl Lehmann. Based on Gregorian chant, it was first performed at the cathedral in Mainz by the organist there on 16 October 2001.

Triptychon was written in 2000 to a commission from the Hofkirche in Lucerne on the initiative of its organist, Wolfgang Sieber. It was first performed there in the church of St Leodegar on 9 November 2001 by Astrid Ender. Wolfgang Sieber had introduced Petr Eben to the organ tablature of Johann Benn, who was born c1590 in or near Messkirch, Baden, where he worked as organist and choirmaster until 1638 when he was appointed organist of St Leodegar, Lucerne. In 1657 he entered the monastery of Muri in the Aargau region north of Lucerne and died there c1660.

Petr Eben took as his source for Triptychon Benn’s Three Ricercari which he found to be of particular thematic interest, setting this material in the context of his own contemporary musical style, at the same time being amused by the fact that ‘Eben’ was almost an anagram of ‘Benn’. Eben also commented that the themes that he chose appear in set intervals, yet not as overt statements but merged in a many-layered stream of his own harmonic language.

Campanae gloriosae was written in 1999 as the result of a commission from the Cathedral of Trier to mark the occasion of the twenty-fifth anniversary of the cathedral organ built by the distinguished firm of Johannes Klais of Bonn, an instrument of four manuals and sixty-seven stops. The work is a colourful fantasy based upon the notes of the five bells of the cathedral which strike the hours in a descending sequence a´, e´, f#´, c#´, a, plus the two small bells sounding a third – c´´´ and ab´´ – of the neighbouring church of St Gangolf. The work, dedicated by the composer to the Cathedral in Trier, was given its first performance on 11 May 1999 during the Trier International Organ Days, played by the cathedral organist Josef Still.

Of the considerable repertoire for trumpet and organ, Eben’s Okna (‘Windows’) remains the leading work of the twentieth century, finding a regular place in recital programmes. Petr Eben says that the listener may take the title to represent windows as the source of light. However, for him this cycle has deeper significance, from the impact on him of seeing pictures of Marc Chagall’s stained-glass windows, each of which has its composition dominated by a particular colour. He chose four of the twelve windows, representing the twelve tribes of Israel (Ruben, Issachar, Zebulon and Levi), which are in the Hadassah Medical Centre in Jerusalem, although it was not until some years later that he was able to go to see the windows at first hand for himself. In expressing the powerful spirituality of these windows, Eben chose to intensify their effect in sound by adding the brightness of a ‘real’ trumpet to the many colours available from the organ.

The Blue Window represents the ever-moving waves of the sea, with its richness of fish and circling bird life. The Green Window is pastoral in contrast, with the donkey (with the human expression so typical of Chagall’s animals) in the meadow, rich in flowers and vines. The Red Window blazes with sunlight, again the sea being central but now alive with leaping marine life. The Golden Window is rich in light, the candles of liturgical ceremony and the fruit of the earth. Eben sees this setting as more religious in content, marking also Chagall’s Russian and Jewish origins. This he does by introducing a hymn from the Russian Orthodox liturgy into the first part, given out on the organ’s 8-foot Principal stop. It can be recognized also as that which Tchaikovsky used in his festival overture 1812. The trumpet’s contribution, cantor-like, makes use of elements of the synagogue songs.

To compensate for the practical problems of the mechanical and acoustic delays often experienced between an organ playing with other instruments, Eben cleverly introduces a degree of improvisation or free rhythm which he also sees as something which ‘brings out a slight change of light with each new performance’, so ‘creating the same impression as that generated by stained-glass windows, varying according to the angle at which the glass is penetrated by the rays of sunlight during different parts of the day’. The first performance was given on 31 March 1977 in the Smetana Hall, Prague, with Vladislav Kozderka (trumpet) and Milan Šlechta (organ).

Graham Melville-Mason © 2006

Other albums in this series
'Eben: Organ Music, Vol. 1 – Job' (CDA67194)
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'Eben: Organ Music, Vol. 2 – Faust' (CDA67195)
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'Eben: Organ Music, Vol. 3' (CDA67196)
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'Eben: Organ Music, Vol. 4' (CDA67197)
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