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Sir Edward Elgar (1857-1934)

Organ Music

Robert Quinney (organ)
Download only
Label: Signum Classics
Westminster Abbey, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Adrian Peacock
Engineered by David Hinitt
Release date: July 2011
Total duration: 74 minutes 34 seconds

Robert Quinney performs a stunning recital of works by Elgar on the organ of Westminster Abbey. Quinney has been Sub-Organist there since 2004, performing for a variety of celebrated occasions including the Royal Wedding in April 2011.


'Thoughtfully programmed, compellingly played, Quinney's Elgar entices' (BBC Music Magazine)» More

'Robert Quinney's second outing on Signum—a recital of arrangements of music by Elgar—finds him exchanging the organ of Westminster Cathedral for that of its Anglican neighbour, where he has been sub-organist since 2004. As before, his playing is unerringly elegant and incisive, with a sensitivity to timbre and temperament simply unequalled by his peers. But with arrangements that largely accent the more plangent undertones of the Abbey's V/105 Harrison & Harrison, the result is something both sober and sepulchral—'Nimrod' sounding positively funereal. The early Sonata in G (the only work here written for the organ) fares best of all, Quinney subtly exploiting its quasi-symphonic mien to good effect' (Choir & Organ)

'Revel in Robert Quinney's superb, multifaceted, virile, eloquently expressive playing of Westminster Abbey's mighty Harrison & Harrison organ. The music is all by Elgar, but only the G Major Sonata, given a performance befitting the music's nobility as well as its thrilling tonal spectrum, was written for solo organ. Magnificent' (The Daily Telegraph)

Elgar wrote very little solo music for the organ, despite the fact that he was for a short time a professional organist. He encountered the instrument while watching his (not much loved) father, whom in 1885 he briefly succeeded as Organist of St George’s Roman Catholic Church, Worcester. Around the turn of the 20th century, the social status of an organist of a small provincial Catholic church was about as far away from Elgar’s eventual eminence—OM, Master of the King’s Music, what we would now call ‘a national treasure’—as a musician could hope to travel in his career; and Elgar certainly did hope. An expert manipulator of his public image, he sought to cover the tracks of his origins as a provincial jobbing musician, and it is perhaps significant that his connection with the organ reached its peak just before his first unequivocal national success—the Organ Sonata predates the Variation on an Original Theme Enigma by four years. As he began to achieve national and international recognition, Elgar maintained friendships with a number of (Anglican) organists, but these men were Establishment figures whose patronage could help to advance the composer, professionally and socially; it would be silly to pretend that Elgar’s friendship with, for example, Ivor Atkins, demonstrated a particular liking for the instrument Atkins played.

Most of the music on this disc has been arranged from orchestral originals. I have not included the smaller scale organ music, namely the early Vesper Voluntaries; the Sonata—which both technically and formally far surpasses all Elgar’s other writing for the organ as a solo or ensemble instrument—is the starting point of the programme rather than its apogee. As the work’s disastrous premiere suggested, Elgar’s writing pushed the technical capabilities of the late-Victorian organ to the limit—perhaps because his actual conception was orchestral. But the successful Elgar did not, it seems, utterly disdain the organ: there were sketches of a second organ sonata left at his death, and it has been suggested that he sometimes had recourse to the instrument to try out new works, perhaps in particular to hear the score ‘coloured in’ in quasi-orchestral fashion. Given the ambiguous nature of Elgar’s relationship with the organ, and with the church culture of his time, it seemed reasonable in constructing this programme to look beyond the works originally conceived for organ. In any case, the organ of Westminster Abbey, built three years after Elgar’s death and substantially rebuilt in the 1980s, is not an ‘authentic’ instrument for music composed in the 1890s; but it is brimming with colour, its tonal resources ranging from the delicate Swell strings to the commanding Tuba Mirabilis (1937) and brilliant Bombarde trumpets (1986).

Purely by coincidence, the works that begin and end the disc were originally connected to the organ, if only through their dedications: ‘Pomp and Circumstance’ March No 3 is dedicated to Elgar’s friend Sir Ivor Atkins, who succeeded Hugh Blair as Organist of Worcester Cathedral in 1897, continuing in the post until his death in 1950; No 5 is dedicated to Percy Hull, Organist of Hereford and successor to Elgar’s friend George Sinclair, whose dog Dan is immortalized in ‘Enigma’ Variation XI. The third is the darkest of the marches, though the jaunty Trio provides light relief from its sinister surroundings, which are martial in every sense. The fifth march was sketched around the same time as the first four, but completed much later, in 1929-30–a fond return to old haunts. It is nearly a parody, or perhaps a satire, of a ‘Pomp and Circumstance’ March: it sets off briskly, apparently in the usual 2/4 metre, but the fourth bar reveals that the music is actually bowling along, rather raffishly, in 6/8; and the Trio is the biggest of Big Tunes, almost twice as long as its celebrated counterpart in the first march (universally known as ‘Land of Hope and Glory’). Perhaps, behind those bristling moustaches, the composer’s tongue is in his cheek.

The sub-standard first performance of Elgar’s Organ Sonata on 8 July 1895 was probably not down to the drunken state of Hugh Blair, as is often alleged. Blair had received the completed score only five days previously, and the Sonata makes considerable demands of the performer—not only in terms of keyboard and pedal technique, but also in its highly original and quasi-symphonic use of the instrument. The conventional three-manual Hill organ in the South Transept of Worcester Cathedral (not the Hope-Jones instrument into which it and another Hill organ were disastrously combined in 1896) afforded Blair only a limited number of ‘composition pedals’ and perhaps the hands of an assistant at his disposal; so it is perhaps no surprise that, given the severely limited time allowed for preparation, Blair’s performance was not a success.

The Sonata is symphonic in its formal plan as well as in its sound-world: two sonata form movements frame a linked pair of movements. The Allegretto is a lightweight character piece, from the same world as Chanson de matin and Salut d’amour, and perhaps originally intended for strings (the accompanimental writing is unusually unidiomatic for the keyboard); the first movement to be composed, it was initially entitled Intermezzo. The Andante espressivo is nearly of the scale and gravitas of a symphonic slow movement: a noble melody (originally a cello theme in a movement called ‘Träumerei’) alternates with a hushed tranquillo section, the latter first appearing in the distant key of F sharp major. The main theme of the third movement is reintroduced in the development section of the Presto finale, and later reappears (on ‘Full Organ’) as a bridge to the thrilling coda. The main subjects of the finale stand in stark contrast to each other: the first is tense, its jumpy repetitive rhythmic figure driven along by a pizzicato bass; the second subject is jaunty and confident; the two are combined in the coda. The opening movement, by far the best known of the four, displays another distinctive Elgarian quality: a yearning sadness not far beneath the bravura surface.

That yearning melancholy never found a better vessel than the beautiful miniature Sospiri (‘sighing’)—surely the most eloquent of Elgar’s many short orchestral works. It was originally scored for strings, harp and organ (an example of Elgar’s frequent use of the organ in ensemble); here the solo violin part is transferred to the flutes of the Abbey organ. The haunting, other-worldly quality of the piece derives partly from its modal harmony; indeed, the solo melody begins in a manner reminiscent of a plainchant incipit. This is an odd echo to hear in ultra-sophisticated late Romantic music—but, given Elgar’s early knowledge of chant, and his desire to incorporate it thematically into large-scale works such as The Dream of Gerontius and The Apostles, it is less distant than might be expected.

The Severn Suite began life as a brass band piece, in B flat major, composed for a competition in 1930 and scored from Elgar’s outlines by Henry Geehl. Elgar disapproved of Geehl’s work, and two years later orchestrated (and recorded) a new version in C major. The Suite’s dedicatee, George Bernard Shaw, on hearing the second version, wrote to Elgar, ‘What a transfiguration! Nobody will ever believe that it began as a cornet corobbery. It’s extraordinarily beautiful.’ The later version is the source for Iain Farrington’s transcription, which differs both in key and in a number of details from the arrangement made of the B flat version by Ivor Atkins and entitled Organ Sonata no 2 (Op 87a). Atkins omitted the fourth movement—perhaps regarding it as too fey for the manly, stiff-upper-lipped organ—and added a cadenza before the Coda. Much of the Suite has its origins in previously composed music, including the Fugue, initially sketched for piano but first performed by Atkins on the organ of Worcester Cathedral in 1925.

Elgar was a brilliant composer of Preludes: the opening movements of large-scale choral works such as The Dream of Gerontius and The Apostles are so evocative, and formally so well proportioned, that they stand perfectly well on their own. In the oratorio The Spirit of England (1915-17) he achieved this again in the third and final part of the work, ‘For the Fallen’ (though in this case the piece played here was not originally a discrete movement, the chorus entering halfway through). The Solemn Prelude is a grandiloquent elegy without a trace of triumphalism; Elgar repudiated the jingoistic anti-German sentiment prevalent in the UK during the First World War. The mood is restless, with distant, sinister trumpet fanfares provoking a long, trudging crescendo toward a climax at which no harmonic or thematic goal is reached. Elgar’s image as the nationalist composer par excellence is belied by music such as this, where the emotional power is not a function of some banal pride, but lies in an intense inner conflict.

Robert Quinney © 2011

The Harrison and Harrison Organ of Westminster Abbey
(1937 / 1982 / 1986)

Great organ
Double Geigen 16’
Bourdon 16’
Open Diapason I 8’
Open Diapason II 8’
Geigen 8’
Hohl Flute 8’
Stopped Diapason 8’
Octave 4’
Geigen Principal 4’
Wald Flute 4’
Octave Quint 2 2/3’
Super Octave 2’
Mixture V
Harmonics IV
Sharp Mixture 29.33.36 III
Contra Posaune 16’
Posaune 8’
Octave Posaune 4’
Choir to Great*
Swell to Great*^
Solo to Great*
Bombarde to Great*

Choir Organ
Upper Choir (enclosed)
Claribel Flute 8’
Stopped Flute (tuned sharp) 8’
Viola da Gamba 8’
Gemshorn 4’
Flauto Traverso 4’
Nason (tuned sharp) 4’
Gemshorn Fifteenth 2’
Mixture 19.22 II
Cornopean 8’

Upper Choir on Swell ##
Upper Choir Shutters on Swell #

Lower Choir

Bourdon (prepared for) 16’
Open Diapason 8’
Rohr Flute 8’
Principal 4’
Open Flute 4’
Nazard 2 2/3’
Fifteenth 2’
Blockflute 2’
Tierce 1 3/5’
Mixture IV
Cremona 8’

Swell to Choir*
Solo to Choir*
Bombarde to Choir
Lower Choir on Great ##
Manuals I & II exchange #

Swell Organ
Quintaton 16’
Open Diapason 8’
Viole d’Amour 8’
Salicional 8’
Vox Angelica 8’
Lieblich Gedeckt 8’
Principal 4’
Lieblich Flute 4’
Fifteenth 2’
Twenty Second 1’
Sesquialtera 12.17 II
Mixture V
Contra Oboe 16’
Oboe 8’
Vox Humana 8’

Double Trumpet 16’
Trumpet 8’
Clarion 4’
Unison Off
Sub Octave

Solo to Swell*

Solo Organ Contre Viole 16’
Viole d’Orchestre 8’
Viole Céleste 8’
Viole Octaviante 4’
Cornet de Violes 10.12.15 III
Harmonic Flute 8’
Concert Flute 4’
Harmonic Piccolo 2’
Double Clarinet 16’
Clarinet (from 16’) 8’
Cor Anglais 8’
Orchestral Hautboy 8’

French Horn 8’
Orchestral Trumpet 8’
Contra Tuba 16’
Tuba (from 16’) 8’
Tuba Mirabilis (unenclosed) 8’

Unison Off
Sub Octave

Bombarde to Solo

Bombarde Organ
Violone 16’
Open Diapason 8’
Principal 4’
Fifteenth 2’
Mixture IV–VI
Grand Cornet IV–V
Bombarde 16’
Trumpet 8’
Clarion 4’
Contra Posaune (from Great) 16’
Posaune (from Great) 8’
Octave Posaune (from Great) 4’
Tuba Mirabilis (from Solo) 8’
Bombarde Chorus on Great

Pedal organ
On the Screen
Open Diapason 16’
Geigen (from Great) 16’
Bourdon (from Great) 16’
Principal 8’
Octave Geigen (from 16’) 8’
Bass Flute (from 16’) 8’
Fifteenth 4’
Rohr Flute 4’
Open Flute 2’
Mixture IV
Contra Posaune (from Great) 16’
Posaune (from Great) 8’
Octave Posaune (from Great) 4’

In the Triforium
Double Open Wood*^ 32’
Open Wood I 16’
Open Wood II (from 32’) 16’
Violone 16’
Viole (from Solo) 16’
Double Ophicleide*^ 32’
Ophicleide (from 32’) 16’
Tuba (from Solo) 16’
Clarinet (from Solo) 16’
Trumpet 8’
Clarion (from 8’) 4’
Choir to Pedal*
Choir Octave to Pedal
Great to Pedal*^
Swell to Pedal*
Solo to Pedal*
Bombarde to Pedal*

Manual: CC – c (61 notes)
Pedal: CCC – g (32 notes)

Combination Coupliers
Great and Pedal combinations coupled#
Generals on Swell Foot Pistons#
Pedal to Swell Pistons#
Generals on Great Thumb Pistons#

10 toe pistons to Pedal Organ
10 thumb pistons to Choir Organ
10 thumb pistons to Great Organ
10 thumb pistons to Swell Organ
10 toe pistons to Swell Organ (duplicating)
10 thumb pistons to Solo Organ
6 thumb pistons to Bombarde Organ
10 General thumb pistons with stepper facility

Next and Previous thumb and toe pistons
Reversible thumb and toe pistons to * and ^
Rocking tablets to #
Motorised, settable rocking tablet to ##

512 memory levels for General Pistons
16 memory levels for Divisional Pistons

The Harrison and Harrison Organ of Westminster Abbey was installed for the Coronation of King George VI in 1937. With four manuals and 84 speaking stops, it incorporated some of the pipework from the previous five-manual instrument, built by William Hill in 1848.

The earliest evidence of any organ in the Abbey dates from 1304, referring to ‘a pair of organs’ in the Lady Chapel. From the late sixtenenth century there was an organ in the quire, of which no accurate details survive, but it was certainly played by John Blow and Henry Purcell – two of the most eminent names among the list of distinguished Organists of Westminster Abbey. A new organ, built for the Coronation of George II in 1727, was relocated and placed on the central screen at the entrance to the quire. This was replaced in 1848 by the Hill organ, built on the north and south sides of the nave screen where the Harrison and Harrison instrument now stands. The two organ cases, built originally for the Hill organ in 1895 by the architect J.L. Pearson, were coloured and reinstated in 1959.

No significant changes were made to the original specification until a major overhaul in 1982. A second, unenclosed choir division was installed in the north case, and new stops added to the Great and Pedal divisions. At the console, a fifth manual was added in preparation for the Bombarde division located in the north triforium. Completed in 1986, this new department comprises fanfare reeds and a robust chorus, giving the organ a greater presence and supporting large congregations on major occasions.

2006 saw a complete overhaul of the console. The memory capacity was doubled to 512 channels; ten thumb pistons serve each of the four main manuals; new reversible thumbs pistons are in place for 32’ stops; and the music desk is now fully adjustable. In 2008 a new rank of pipes was added in the North Triforium: a Violone 16’, playable on the Bombarde and Pedal.

The organ plays a central role in the Abbey’s daily liturgy, accompanying the choral music with distinctive colour and sensitivity. It is also a powerful and versatile solo instrument. Organrecitals take place every Sunday, given by the Abbey organists and visitors from across the world, and each year the Summer Organ Festival brings leading international performers to the Abbey.

Robert Quinney © 2011

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