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Eppur si muove for organ


Composed in 1985 and dedicated to the celebrated Danish organist Svend Aage Spange and his wife Annalise, Eppur si muove (Ricercar e Passacaglia) is Simpson’s only work for organ and is cast in one enormous movement. The title (in translation ‘But it does move’) refers to the words Galileo is said to have muttered on being forced by the Church to recant his view that the earth revolved round the sun. The concept of ‘movement’ is crucial to Simpson’s art, and one is tempted to draw a further parallel here with Nielsen’s single movement organ work Commotio.

Eppur si muove consists of two large sections, Ricercar and Passacaglia, both of which are derived from a circling pattern of notes heard at the outset. In this sense the structure shows some similarity to the Sixth Symphony. The Ricercar falls into three parts, the first of which suggests the character of a chorale prelude with the chorale lines stated fortissimo on pedals. Simpson’s polyphony is at its starkest and most austere here. After a long diminuendo on a single chord, the next section emerges fluente, as gentler, rippling figures come to the fore, interspersed with fragments from the chorale prelude. This in turn leads to the third section which compresses the bars from 3/4 to 3/8 as the contrapuntal lines gain further intensity. It reaches an animated climax before subsiding into the soft beginning of the Passacaglia.

The main Passacaglia subject is strongly influenced by the opening notes, though here rearranged so that two sets of intervals are pervasive: rising fourths and perfect fifths. There are forty-one statements of this bass, during the course of which the composer traverses all twelve pitches, beginning on C sharp and ascending by semitones.

Perhaps the most serene music is contained in the opening variations where the texture is spare but spacious, as a new sense of calm evolves. An explosive outburt occurs (Variations 13 to 20) before the tranquillity is resumed once more for Variations 21 to 29. Some of the writing here is amongst Simpson’s simplest, frequently sustaining a lean, two-part texture. Tension builds once more at Variation 30, and the melodic contours become increasingly florid and densely woven until the initial chorale appears in the pedals at Variation 36. By this point the Passacaglia theme has reached C natural. Soon afterwards a quicker coda steers the music back to C sharp, on which the final climax is founded.

from notes by Matthew Taylor © 1998


Simpson: Canzona, Media morte in vita sumu, Tempi & Eppur si muove


Movement 1: Ricercar
Movement 2: Passacaglia

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