Joseph Bonnet, one of Guilmant’s most important pupils, was born in Bordeaux in 1884 and held his first church appointment at the age of fourteen. In 1906, the year that he received his premier prix at the Conservatoire, as the result of a competition he was appointed organist of St-Eustache in Paris. Like his master, he made several highly successful tours of England and America and in 1940, as a refugee from the Second World War, he settled in New York. Bonnet created an organ department at the University of Rochester before moving to Canada and teaching at Montreal. He died in Quebec in 1944. Like Guilmant he took a keen interest in the promotion of early music: in print, with editions of Frescobaldi, Bach and several anthologies, and in concert, particularly a series he gave in 1917 at the Hotel Astoria Ball Room in New York entitled ‘The Story of Organ Music from the Early Composers to the Present Time’. He was also the first to record the music of de Grigny and Marchand. Variations de concert
, his opus 1, dates from 1908 and is dedicated to the American organist Clarence Eddy. A dramatic introduction, a striking call to attention, launches the work in suitably virtuosic mode but the mood soon subsides for the graceful sixteen-bar theme. The harmonic style is conservative but enlivened by occasional touches of modal piquancy. There follow four variations in which the theme is always clearly audible: (i) theme on voix celeste with ‘pizzicato’ pedal part; (ii) theme in the pedals beneath triplet figuration on manuals; (iii) a motet-style prelude where the theme is in the left hand on a trumpet stop with imitative interludes between the lines of the melody; (iv) the longest variation where the theme is harmonized with massive chords above a pedal descant in octaves. Christopher Herrick includes the composer’s optional pedal cadenza, a passage of prodigious difficulty, and the work ends with a brilliant toccata whose pedal tune is clearly derived from the opening of the main theme.
from notes by Stephen Westrop © 2004