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Monday, January 24, 2022

5 minutes to make you love the organ

We used to choose five minutes or so to play for our friends to love classical music, piano, opera, cello, Mozart, 21st century composers, violin, baroque music, soprano, Beethoven, flute, string quartets, tenors, Brahms , choral music, drums, symphonies, Stravinsky, trumpet, Maria Callas and Bach.

Now we want to convince these curious friends to fall in love with the greatness and colors of the organ – a complete orchestra in one instrument. We hope that you will find a lot of interesting and interesting things here; leave your favorites in the comments.

If I had a time machine, I would go back to 1740 to hear Johann Sebastian Bach play the organ in Leipzig, Germany. Bach is the best composer for this unusual, timeless instrument. Much of his organ music is intense, slowly revealing its multi-layered, life-affirming greatness through repeated listening. However, the beginning of his 29th cantata is growing rapidly with joy. There is something intuitive about listening to this music live, on a huge organ, in the vast space of the cathedral: the building shakes, the air flickers, and the music is felt as much as it is heard.

This piece stops me every time I hear it, conjuring up the phrases “tour de force” and “pièce de résistance”. In an incredible demonstration of a badass, DeMessier unleashes the full range of organ possibilities with all its sounds, timbres, colors and contrasts. Too often people associate this instrument with memorial services or eerie music; this piece is energetic and vibrant.

The middle section is like a slow jazz waltz sonic bath filled with luscious chords and an inverted texture that places the solo on the pedals and the bass line on the keyboard. As a performer, it is always a great adventure to take on the music written by a virtuoso composer to showcase your own instrument. Demesier knows exactly what this organ is capable of, and uses it all.

It can hardly be more grandiose than Saint-Saens’s Third Symphony, which he called “with organ.” And yet, with the right musicians, this giant romantic wedding cake exudes elegance, not overkill. After the first C major sound in the finale, the organ is so lovingly woven into the orchestra that it never seems to be used for simple effect; the instrument is treated like a gem to be placed in one of the most luxurious and exhilarating environments in the repertoire. A delightful bonus on this subtly detailed recording: a pair of prominent figures – father and son – organist and conductor.

One remarkable feature of the organ is its ability to generate acoustic sounds that appear to be electronic. Scottish composer Claire M. Singer explores this enthusiastically in Molendinar, a slow-paced 25-minute journey that intricately arranges beautiful, curving overtones over a simple ground bass through her manipulation of a mechanical stop of the organ. The Molendinar is a hidden watercourse over which the city of Glasgow was founded in the sixth century, but the grand glacial structure and the ghostly disappearance of music remind me of the Breton legend of Isa, its mythological cathedral rises and then plunges back into the water. Ocean.

If I represent someone, I can only present my most recent recording, since it is played on an instrument I have developed, the purpose of which is to demonstrate the capabilities of a modern organ. The digitalization of the instrument gives us an idea of ​​the part of it that goes beyond the moving parts. Combining Bach’s Goldberg Variations with Howard Hanson’s 1930 Symphony No. 2 Romance, I wanted to juxtapose two non-organ masterpieces. I did not interfere with any organ works that others understand better, and the clarity and color of the instrument helps us to re-understand these beloved works.

Although Cesar Frank wrote relatively few organ works, he was still arguably the greatest composer for this instrument since Bach, and it was in Bach’s shadow that he wrote three chorales in 1890, the year of his death. However, what Frank called the chorale bears little resemblance to the production of Bach’s hymns; these three are extensive 15-minute meditations on faith, no more spiritual than the second, Passacaglia, which hypnotically moves towards what the ear thinks will be an imposing statement of faith before it fades into a quieter and more peaceful form. personal hope.

Beethoven considered organists “the greatest virtuosos”. But if composing music with all four limbs is not enough, Lou Harrison also expects the soloist in his Concerto for Organ and Percussion to play loud keyboard shortcuts with soft felt plates – to match a full battery of percussion including Chinese cymbals for percussion. , an abundance of bells and gongs of oxygen cylinders. While I’ve always appreciated the organ’s supernatural ability to awaken our supernatural instincts, sometimes we just want to let our hair down. The irrepressible joy of the final movement will wake up the dead and make them dance.

Young Aaron Copland wrote his Symphony for Organ and Orchestra at the request of his teacher Nadia Boulanger, who played the solo part at the 1925 premiere. Copeland’s friend and colleague Virgil Thomson later described the symphony as “America’s voice to the world.” our generation “. He was right. Looking back on European symphonic heritage, Copeland’s ambitious piece is fresh, straightforward, unsentimental and sassy in a way that sounds American in some way, especially a feisty, downright dissonant ending. And I love Andante’s brooding intro that glows and sighs on this live recording.

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Handel is best known for his operas and oratorios. But his organ concerts contain some of the brightest and most playful pieces. A gifted instrument virtuoso, he performed several of these pieces as entertainment for the public in between the performances of his oratorios. The Fa-Fa Organ Concerto, which premiered in 1739, was nicknamed “The Cuckoo and the Nightingale” because of its merry motives. Marie-Claire Alain plays with precision and enthusiasm, gliding over a variety of improvisational pieces.

An organ in a church can be like a piece of beautiful architecture or a beautiful sermon: sometimes this is taken for granted. And playing with the chorus is a subtle art; the organist must struggle with the acoustics of the room to make sure everything is aligned, as the musician is often quite far from the singers and the trumpets can be practically miles away.

An excellent challenge is the “Glee” of Herbert Howells’ morning service for the King’s College Cambridge Choir, as well as the extraordinary and specific acoustics of the chapel. Even when the organ is under the choir, Howells masterfully doubles voices, weaving them in and out of them, predicting small themes or repeating them after. The acoustics of space transforms a simple counterpoint into something deliberately blurry, but somehow precise, like a night house, illuminated from the inside, but visible from the outside, with shimmering forms that appear and disappear from the field of view.

The beginning of the piece begins with the organ in its simplest form, simply holding an E flat minor chord. In the last phrase of the text, “world without end, amen,” the chorus sings in unison, and the organ, in this case the main voice, unfolds a long melody, witty but ultimately directed downward towards the resolution of E flat major.

You can’t help but appreciate too much of the organ. Its extreme works in both directions: it can whisper or shake the ground you are standing on with the awe-inspiring sound of a full-voiced choir. Both ends of the spectrum coexist in Samuel Barber’s 1960 Toccata Festiva. About two-thirds of the piece, after the discovery of romantic excess and concert flair, is followed by a cadence that rises from ominous depth to episodes that in turn are mobile, flamboyant, and on the verge of outrageousness, but arrive at a mysterious pacification. When the orchestra returns to the finale in a crowded dash, all of its power is needed to meet the grandeur of what may be our most extravagant instrument.

It’s hard not to admire the power that a pipe organ can produce, but it is also an instrument with an amazing ability for beauty and sensitivity – characteristics that are often overlooked when talked about. We hear this subtler side in Robilliard’s transcription of Sicilian Fauré, performed here by Thomas Hospitale at the Church of St. Eustathius in Paris. It is in this kind of music that the building becomes integral to the success of the performance; when we hear a single flute stop dancing in space, the acoustic brilliance becomes an architectural support pedal.

When the Los Angeles Philharmonic wanted to order organ music from Terry Riley, they let him hang out all night playing the Hurricane Mama, a powerful musical instrument at the Walt Disney Concert Hall. Some of Riley’s improvised material was included in his 2013 concert “At the Royal Majestic”. One of his greatest works at the end of his career, it is sharp, mystical and magnificent. (It’s also a reminder that his artistic development didn’t stop at the early minimalist touchstone “In C.”)

The completion of the first movement, titled “Negro Hall”, designed by late-century Swiss artist Adolph Welfli, sometimes hesitates between sweet-sweet orchestral motifs and darker organ beats. Riley presents such contrasts not with postmodern irony, but with tangible, genuine delight. Even after the climactic turn to frenzied rhythmic patterns, his joyous sensitivity is always noticeable, and the final chords are thrilling.

April 15, 2019: The entire world was horrified to find images of Notre Dame burning. A few weeks earlier, I had been at the cathedral recording this “Little” fugue in G minor for an album called “Bach Into the Future.”

“Small” – but still great Bach! A few minutes later, the Leipzig cantor tells us the following story. I love the fragility that shines through all this work, the fragility that takes us back to our human condition before current events: the Notre Dame fire, health conditions, climate change. Let this music make us realize our defining role in humanity.

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