Please wait...

Hyperion Records

CDA66676 - Organ Fireworks, Vol. 5
Recording details: June 1993
Turku (Abo) Cathedral, Finland
Produced by Paul Spicer
Engineered by Paul Niederberger
Release date: February 1994
Total duration: 73 minutes 42 seconds

'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)

Organ Fireworks, Vol. 5
Koral  [1'07]
Song  [1'14]
Langeleik  [1'05]
Frygde Song  [1'14]
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
Jehan Alain was a near contemporary of the great composer and organist Olivier Messiaen, possibly rivalling his vision and genius, but Alain’s life was cut short when he was killed in action at the age of 29, just five days before France withdrew from World War II. He had received his first organ lessons from his father, and then progressed to the Paris Conservatoire. He became a brilliant keyboard player and a compulsive composer, who saw music as revelatory of states of the soul, and who was drawn to music’s power to create a sense of mystery rather than express emotions.

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)
At the end of the last century Finland was a part of the Russian dominion and subjected increasingly to political repression. In 1899 its right of self-government was removed and freedom of speech was severely restricted. A series of events was arranged in Helsinki for November of that year, ostensibly to raise money for the Press Pensions Fund, but they became more of a political rally. The climax was a gala performance at the Swedish Theatre which included a series of six tableaux depicting events in Finnish history. Sibelius wrote the music, and it was the last movement, called ‘Finland Awakes’ which he later adapted as an overture for the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra to play at the Paris World Exhibition. The title Finlandia came from an admirer, although it was some time before the music bore that name, first having alternative titles less likely to attract the attention of the Russian censor. The music depicts Finland’s emerging national consciousness, its artistic awakening, its folk culture, its material progress, and its legends. It includes the famous ‘Finlandia’ melody which has been widely adopted as a hymn tune.

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
Bjarne Sløgedal is organist and conductor of Kristiansand Cathedral in Norway, where he also directs an international Church Music Festival. He studied in Oslo, then at the Juilliard School in New York and at Kooninglich Conservatorium in the Hague. He composes for choir and orchestra in addition to the organ, and is a collector and arranger of Norwegian folk music.

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
Mulet was the son of the choirmaster at the basilica of Sacré Coeur in Paris and was involved in the music there from boyhood. He progressed to the Paris Conservatoire where he was a major prizewinner both on the cello and the organ, and then pursued a musical career which in its earlier years brought him church and academic appointments in Paris.

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 Fireworks III).

Oskar Lindberg (1887–1955) Alla Sarabanda & Allegro con brio from Sonata in G minor Op 23
This Sonata was composed some six years before Nielsen’s Commotio (also on this CD), but fits much more comfortably into the Romantic mould. Its composer was Swedish and is famous in his own country for a fetching little piece, much played at weddings and funerals, based on a psalm melody from Dalarna. He established himself as a conductor and organist in Stockholm who wrote more for the orchestra than for the organ. The third movement of the G minor Sonata is a Sarabande ‘aged’ by parallel fifths, and the finale is a muscular ‘Allegro con brio’ haunted in places by the spectre of Rachmaninov.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756–1791) Fantasia in F minor K608
This is a wonderfully intricate piece of music, written for an amazingly complex piece of machinery. Until the beginnings of the industrial revolution the most complicated machine devised by man was the organ, closely followed by clock-type mechanisms. In Mozart’s time one Count Joseph Deym was an enthusiast for ‘mechanical clocks’, clockwork devices which caused pipe organs to play. He set up an exhibition presenting tableaux after the manner of waxworks displays, which made use of these instruments from among his collection of automata.

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
Lefébure-Wély was something of a child prodigy as an organist, giving his first recital at the age of eight. He succeeded his father as organist of the Paris church of St Roch (a post Mulet was to hold in a later generation), then moved to prestige posts, first at the Madeleine church, then at St Sulpice. He became particularly famous for his improvisations, some of which were inspired by topical events, and which drew large crowds. He lived in an era when the music redolent of the opera house was in vogue in the house of God, and when the harmonium (for which he wrote extensively) played a significant role in church music.

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
Commotio is one of the last works written by the great Danish composer Carl Nielsen. By then he enjoyed recognition in his homeland as its leading composer, and was more widely established as one of the major symphonists of the first part of this century. He had climbed to preeminence from a childhood background of extreme poverty. His musical career began when he joined a military band in his teens, from where he progressed to become an orchestral violinist in Copenhagen, the city in whose music he was to become a leading figure. In his later years his health was increasingly undermined by heart attacks, which affected more than just his physical well-being.

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 most famous of Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance Marches is the first of the five, which has the melody ‘Land of hope and glory’, but the fourth contains a tune which lingers in the memory and arouses deep patriotic emotions to a similar extent.

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

Other albums in this series
'Organ Fireworks, Vol. 1' (CDA66121)
Organ Fireworks, Vol. 1
'Organ Fireworks, Vol. 2' (CDA66258)
Organ Fireworks, Vol. 2
'Organ Fireworks, Vol. 3' (CDA66457)
Organ Fireworks, Vol. 3
MP3 £6.00FLAC £6.00ALAC £6.00Buy by post £13.99 (ARCHIVE SERVICE) CDA66457  Archive Service   Download currently discounted
'Organ Fireworks, Vol. 4' (CDA66605)
Organ Fireworks, Vol. 4
'Organ Fireworks, Vol. 6' (CDA66778)
Organ Fireworks, Vol. 6
'Organ Fireworks, Vol. 7' (CDA66917)
Organ Fireworks, Vol. 7
'Organ Fireworks, Vol. 8' (CDA66978)
Organ Fireworks, Vol. 8
MP3 £6.00FLAC £6.00ALAC £6.00Buy by post £13.99 (ARCHIVE SERVICE) CDA66978  Archive Service   Download currently discounted
'Organ Fireworks, Vol. 9' (CDA67228)
Organ Fireworks, Vol. 9
MP3 £4.00FLAC £4.00ALAC £4.00Buy by post £13.99 (ARCHIVE SERVICE) CDA67228  Archive Service   Download currently discounted
'Organ Fireworks, Vol. 10' (CDA67458)
Organ Fireworks, Vol. 10
MP3 £4.00FLAC £4.00ALAC £4.00Buy by post £10.50 CDA67458  Download currently discounted
'Organ Fireworks, Vol. 11' (CDA67577)
Organ Fireworks, Vol. 11
MP3 £4.00FLAC £4.00ALAC £4.00Buy by post £10.50 CDA67577  Download currently discounted
'Organ Fireworks, Vol. 12' (CDA67612)
Organ Fireworks, Vol. 12
'Organ Fireworks, Vol. 13' (CDA67734)
Organ Fireworks, Vol. 13
'Organ Fireworks, Vol. 14' (CDA67758)
Organ Fireworks, Vol. 14
MP3 £6.00FLAC £6.00ALAC £6.00Buy by post £10.50 CDA67758  Download currently discounted
   English   Français   Deutsch