Hyperion Records

Sunday Music

'Eben: Organ Music, Vol. 4' (CDA67197)
Eben: Organ Music, Vol. 4
'Organ Fireworks, Vol. 8' (CDA66978)
Organ Fireworks, Vol. 8
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Movement 1: Fantasia I
Movement 2: Fantasia II
Movement 3: Moto ostinato
Movement 3: Moto Ostinato
Track 5 on CDA66978 [5'09] Archive Service
Movement 4: Finale

Sunday Music
‘Habent sua fata libelli’ (‘Books have their own fate’) wrote Ovid. And the same certainly applies to music: compositions have their own destinies that can never be anticipated. I wrote Sunday Music for organ between 1957 and 1958 at a time when few people showed any interest in organ music. Indeed, concerts in churches were generally not allowed, and concert halls with an organ were comparatively rare. All my colleagues shook their heads and said it was a nonsense. But I felt deeply that I had to write something for the organ, even though I was aware that the work might languish in the drawer of my desk. But contrary to all expectation, it was not long before the piece received its first performance, was published and soon appeared on record in many different countries – thus becoming, quite unexpectedly, my most frequently performed work.

I intended the title ‘Sunday Music’ – Musica dominicalis – to imply that this was not everyday music but a work of celebration. From a formal point of view, it is an organ symphony in four movements. The first movement adapts in a highly concentrated way a Gregorian theme, ‘Ite, Missa est’, that is played every Sunday of the year and therefore lends itself to Sunday music. I use both motifs of this theme to form a stark contrast: ‘Ite’ is first played tutti, ‘Missa est’ piano; and later in the piece the ‘Ite’ is played on the pedals, and the ‘Missa est’ on the manuals. It goes without saying that I treated the Gregorian themes freely, enabling me to employ quicker rhythms. The movement ends with a bitonal cadence, after which the theme is heard once more, played tutti and with thick chords. The slow and quiet second movement features two themes which, although they are not quotes, resemble Gregorian music. The movement moves to a mighty climax, and after a few chords the theme from the first movement rings out once more like bells.

Just as the two Fantasias are linked by a common theme, so the final two movements are connected through mood. The third movement of a symphony is usually a scherzo. The third movement in this piece is characterized throughout by a pronounced rhythm: the wars and struggles described in the Sermon on the Mount and the Apocalypse wash over humanity. A new theme to the same rhythm is heard alternately in the descant and on the pedals. The Finale is based on a free adaptation of the first subject of sonata form, with its exposition, development and recapitulation. The virtuoso bass figure at the outset depicts the gradually receding noise of battle, which is followed – also on the organ – by a dramatic trumpet fanfare that summons the survivors after the battle. The ‘Kyrie, lux et origo’ from the Easter Mass is heard pianissimo as a secondary theme. Sometimes I adapt a Gregorian theme, increase the intervals and use them in different tonalities.

The distant sound of battle is heard again in the development section, the first theme appears again in the recapitulation, powerfully this time on the manuals and later on the pedals; and a new theme appears in the coda, symbolizing all positive aspects of existence. The beginning of the celebrated Marian antiphon ‘Salve Regina’ brings the work to a hymn-like close. It is nothing less than the victory of good over evil, culminating in a hymn-like praise of the Creator.

from notes by Petr Eben © 2005
English: Roland Smithers

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