24 March 2011

Asian Organ News

For all Asian organ fans, here are a couple of recitals I'm involved with which I hope you can attend.  The great news (for you) is that they are FREE, although you do need to collect tickets from the Box Offices at Dewan Filharmonik PETRONAS, Kuala Lumpur and The Esplanade, Singapore, beforehand.

On Sunday 3rd April at 11.30am I shall be joined by MPO Trumpeters John Bourque and William Day in the following programme;

Paul Dukas (1865-1935) - Fanfare from La Péri

With just 12 works to his credit, Paul Dukas must rank as France's least-productive composer, although his Sorcerer's Apprentice ranks as one of the best-known French works.  His ballet music for La Péri (“The Fairy”) was first staged in Paris on 22nd April 1912 and the scene is set by this Fanfare which portrays a great Arabian prince and his majestic caravan.

Georg Philipp Telemann (1681-1767) – Heroic Marches
No.5 - Bellicoso (TWV50:35)
No.10 – La Générosité (TWV50:40)                              

At the other end of the scale, Telemann was about the most prolific composer the world has ever seen, producing well over 3000 different pieces of music including a set of 12 Heroic Marches for two trumpets which were published in 1728.  He gave them French titles to make them sell better (which they did) and these two are "War-monger" and "Generosity".

Jehan Alain (1911-1940) – Choral Phrygien                                                   

The first of our two centenary tributes is to a French composer who wrote mostly for the organ.  This desperately sad piece, composed in 1938, has added poignancy when we realise that two years later, at the age of 29, Alain was killed by a German bullet whilst on active service during the Second World War.

Giuseppe Torelli (1658-1709) – Sonata in D (G1)
Andante – Allegro – Grave - Allegro

The son of a health inspector in Verona, Torelli was a significant composer for the trumpet producing around 100 works for the instrument including this Suonata con stromenti e tromba dated 1690.  Torelli wrote so much for the instrument not because he played it, but because of his friendship with the brilliant Italian trumpeter, Giovanni Pellegrino Brandi.

Alan Hovhaness (1911-2000) – Sonata No.1 for Trumpet (Op.200)

The second centenary celebrated today is of an exceptionally prolific composer who threw away 1000 works and then went on to write over 500 more including a whole range of sonatas for various instruments with organ.  The first of his two Trumpet Sonatas dates from 1962 and was written during a visit to Japan.

The Organ of St George's Hanover Suqare, London,
where Keeble was organist between 1744 and 1786

John Keeble (1711-1786) –
Double Fugue in C

We also celebrate a 300th anniversary in today's concert.  John Keeble was born in Chichester on England's south coast where he sung in the cathedral choir and trained as an organist.  He was one of the most skilled English composers of fugues during the 18th century and this example was published (along with 23 others) in 1778.

Georg Philipp Telemann (1681-1767) – Heroic Marches                            
No.2 – La Grâce (TWV50:32)
No.3 – La Vaillance (TWV50:33)
To end, two more of Telemann's Heroic Marches, "Mercy" and "Courage".

Then, on Sunday 17th April at noon I shall be giving a solo recital of works inspired by religious themes as part of the Tapestry of Sacred Music, a festival running over that weekend and based at the Esplanade in Singapore (see http://www.tapestryofsacredmusic.com/2011/).  My programme for that will be;

The Organ in Salzburg Cathedral on which Mozart played as a young organist

Karg-Elert (1877-1933): Marche Triomphale - Nun danket all Gott
Zsolt Gárdonyi (b.1946): Be
thou my vision
George Shearing (1919-2011): Amazing Grace
John Behnke (b.1953): Go tell it on the mountain
Mendelssohn (1809-1847
): Sonata No.6 in
0 minor
Chorale ("Vater Unser") & Variations - Fugue - Andante
Lefébure-Wély (1817-1869): Choristers' March
Bach (1685-1750): Chorale
Prelude - 'Wachet auf
' Guilmant (1837-1911): Prière et Berceuse
Easthope Martin (1882-1925): Evensong
t (1756-1791): Epistle Sonata No.
Mulet (
1878-1967): Tu es Petra

Sigfrid Karg-Elert
Zsolt Gardonyi

The Leipzig composer Martin Rinckart (1586-1649) wrote the great tune which is sung in German to the words Nun danket alle Gott ("Now thank we all our God, with hearts and minds and voices"). 300 years later another Leipzig-based composer, Sigfrid Karg-Elert used this melody as the basis of one of his Chorale Improvisations published in 1909. Of even greater antiquity is the Irish folk tune Slane which dates from the 5th century, and of similar vintage are the words of the ancient Irish hymn Rop tu mo baile, a Choimdiu cride ("Be thou my vision 0 Lord of my heart") but they were never put together until 1927, and it was not until 2003 that the Hungarian composer Zsolt Gárdonyi prepared his Improvisation on the melody. One of the very best-known Christian hymns is Amazing Grace, which was composed by John Newton in 1779. Just as Newton is often thought to be Scottish (he was actually an English clergyman), the blind jazz pianist George Shearing, who died on 14th February this year, is usually regarded as an American, although he was born in south London. He composed his improvisation on Amazing Grace in 1977. Originating from the African slaves held captive in the cotton and sugar plantations of America during the 19th century, the Spiritual was a song expressing religious faith making use of simple pictorial language and melodies with strong rhythmic patterns. Go tell it on the Mountain ... that Jesus Christ is Born was one of the original Negro Spirituals which the contemporary American composer, John Behnke, has used as the basis of a jazz improvisation.
John Behnke


Sir George Shearing

Martin Luther wrote the chorale version of the Lord's Prayer, Vater unser im Himmelreich ("Our Father in Heaven"), and the German composer Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy, born a Jew but converted to Christianity as a boy, wrote a glorious set of variations on it in his Sixth Organ Sonata in 1845. The chorale is first given out in solemn chords, and the following variations reflect the verses of the prayer. The first variation (the melody singing out gently above a rippling accompaniment) represents "Give us this day our daily bread", the second (above a dancing pedal line), "Lead us not into temptation", the third (the theme in the trumpet surrounded by jagged chords), "Deliver us from evil", the fourth, a dazzling toccata with the theme thundering out in the pedals, "The Power and The Glory", while a quiet fugue and a gentle Andante close the Sonata with a peaceful "Amen".



As organist at two of Paris's most important churches, the Madeleine and St Sulpice, Louis James Alfred Lefébure-Wély was called upon to write a vast amount of music for use in the church services. His jovial Choristers' March comes from a set of pieces designed to be played during divine service published in 1861. Probably the most important composer of sacred music in the history of the Christian church, Johann Sebastian Bach, composed several hundred organ pieces reflecting on the texts of various chorales. His Chorale Prelude on Wachet auf, ruft uns die stimme depicts the parable of the virgins awaiting the bridegroom at a wedding feast as given in Matthew 25. Bach imagines the sound of the wedding festivities coming from behind closed doors while the hapless virgins call forlornly from outside. This year marks the centenary of the death of one of the most important French composers in the history of the organ. Alexandre Guilmant composed a vast amount of sacred and secular music for the instrument, his Prière et Berceuse ("Prayer and Cradle Song") dating from 1870 and contemplating the scene in the stable at Bethlehem as Mary looks lovingly at her child as she rocks him gently in his cradle.

Bach's Tomb inside St Thomas's Church, Eipzig, where he served as Organist from 1723 to 1750

Easthope Martin at the keyboard

Musically, the most important service of the Anglican church is Evensong. Since the 1662 revision of the Book of Common Prayer, music has been at the heart of this service held in English cathedrals on a daily basis. Often the organist introduces the service with a piece of reflective improvisation aimed to set the mood of tranquillity and reflection. In 1910 the English organist Easthope Martin (who toured the USA as a recitalist under the pseudonym John Morrow) wrote Evensong just for that very purpose, and it went on to become a classic, one of its more popular arrangements being for brass band. Although we don't generally think of him as an organist, Mozart was not only regarded as the greatest organist of his age, but appears to have enjoyed playing the organ more than any other musical instrument. Unfortunately during his lifetime the Catholic Church issued strict guidelines on the use of music and Mozart had few opportunities to write anything of substance for sacred use. He did, however, compose a number of short pieces designed to be played between the readings of verses from the Old and New Testaments during the Mass, and these have become known as his "Epistle Sonatas". The first of these was composed for a Sunday morning Mass in Salzburg Cathedral, where Mozart was organist, in early 1772; some sources suggest the Epistle for the day was drawn from St Paul's Epistle to the Romans, chapter 12; "Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love". Those travelling into Paris from the north will not fail to have seen the marvellous white church high on the hill overlooking the district of Montmartre. That church, the Sacré-Coeur ("Sacred Heart") is held up as one of the finest examples of Byzantium architecture outside Turkey. As a boy Henri Mulet knew it well - his father was choirmaster there - and in later life he recalled the building in his suite of Byzantine Sketches, the last of which is a thrilling toccata headed with a quotation from St Matthew's gospel; "Tu es petra et portae inferi non praevalebunt adversus te" (Thou art the rock and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it").

The Sacre Coeur inspired Mulet's "Byzantine Sketches"

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