Hyperion Records

Okna 'Windows'

'Eben: Organ Music, Vol. 5' (CDA67198)
Eben: Organ Music, Vol. 5
Buy by post £10.50 CDA67198 
No 1: Blue Window 'Ruben': Con moto
No 2: Green Window 'Issachar': Andantino pastorale
No 3: Red Window 'Zebulon', Risoluto e drammatico
No 4: Golden Window 'Levi': Festivo

Okna 'Windows'
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).

from notes by Graham Melville-Mason © 2006

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