DFP Organ Recital News

For those attending the Organ Recital on Sunday 19th September at Dewan Filharmonik PETRONAS, here’s the full programme I intend to play provided the DFP Klais holds up (which is by no means an odds-on certainty). I’ve also provided some programme notes; I don’t hold the copyright to several of these, so please don’t use them yourselves without first checking with me. At the bottom of the page I also include a list of publishers and my recommendations for recordings, which I have also uploaded on to the blog for you to get a foretaste of what’s in store.

J.S.BACH (1685-1750) – Toccata and Fugue in D minor (BWV565).
One’s tempted to say “back by special request” here, because this is the one work that I’m always being asked to play and it does, when all is said and done, sound extraordinarily good on the DFP Klais. The story of the work is not quite straightforward, however, and here’s the note I wrote about it for the 2008 BBC Prom when Simon Preston performed it at the Royal Albert Hall;
When Peter Williams suggested in 1981 that the Toccata and Fugue in D minor might neither have been written by Bach nor originally conceived for the organ, it was as if he had doubted the authenticity of the Turin Shroud or the validity of England’s win in the 1966 World Cup final; the one thing everybody knew about Bach was that he had written Toccata and Fugue in D minor, which was also the only piece of organ music most people had ever heard. It is the most recorded organ work of all time and, as any organist will confirm, it is, alongside Widor’s Toccata, the most frequently requested organ piece. But Williams made a convincing case for the Toccata having originally been written as a violin solo in A minor, while pointing out that the Fugue was full of solecisms. Only last year in his new book on Bach he revisited the matter; “Too little is demonstrably reliable or even authentic about this famous piece for it to have anything certain to do with, or to say anything certain about, the young organist J.S.Bach.”

Whatever its true origins, somewhere along the line Bach seems to have worked his magic, possibly in using someone else’s ideas as the basis for a free improvisation which was subsequently written down. Whether that original improvisation was devised as a means of testing an organ (the mighty sustained pedal Ds underpinning slowly expanding diminished sevenths in the Toccata put even the newly-restored RAH organ’s wind supply to the test) or as a display of personal virtuosity (in which we can be certain Simon Preston will not fail to impress) is beside the point, it has defined Bach’s organ music since the time of the great Bach revival spearheaded in the 19th century by Mendelssohn.

Indeed Mendelssohn himself performed the work on a visit to Goethe in Munich during 1830. “I let loose with the D minor Toccata by Bach, remarking that this was both learned and for the people; that is, for some people. But behold! Hardly had I started to play when the superintendent sent his servant to say that the organ playing should stop at once, since it was a weekday and the noise prevented him from studying.” Here in London it’s a Sunday afternoon and, whether it’s by Bach or not, the noise from the organ should interrupt nobody’s studies. (©BBC 2008)

John Behnke (b.1953) – Two Pieces: Linstead Market and Siyahamba
There is quite a lot of cross-fertilization between my work as a critic and my role as an organist, and it was one of Christopher Herrick’s marvellous Organ Fireworks CDs (Hyperion CDA67458) sent to me for review which set me off in the direction of these pieces. I played them first in 2004 on which occasion I wanted one of the MPO percussion players to join me with the optional percussion Behnke has written into the score. It was decided that, technically and musically, the demands of the percussion parts were more suited to my baby daughter than a professional, so we missed that out, which was a shame!
Professor of Music at Concordia University in Mequon, Wisconsin, USA, where he teaches organ and directs a handbell ensemble, John Behnke describes himself as “a frequent organ recitalist, handbell clinician, and festival director who enjoys composing and arranging.” For the last six consecutive years he has received the Association of Contemporary American Composers Award, the 1999 award coming shortly after the publication of his Global Songs for organ and optional percussion.

Each of Behnke’s Global Songs is an arrangement of a folk tune drawn from various cultures around the world. The first makes use of the popular Jamaican Song “Linstead Market” which is believed to have originated in one of the Folk Games popular amongst rural communities at major festivals. These games took the form of dances accompanied by songs led by a single singer but with a chorus in which the entire group joined in. Behnke captures the dancing character of “Linstead Market” with his light-hearted organ arrangement. (And if any member of today’s audience understands the words they can join in too – “Mi carry mi ackee go a Linstead Market/Not a quattie worth sell”.) The second uses a Zulu folk song which became synonymous with the Anti-Apartheid movement in South Africa during the latter half of the 20th century, “Siyahamba”, and is an exuberant march

George Shearing (b.1919) – Two Improvisations:
Amazing Grace and Come Away
A few years ago the excellent Boosey and Hawkes music store in London’s Regent Street closed down and, calling in for the last time, I rifled through the stock remnants on sale and stumbled across some George Shearing in the organ section. I was amazed to discover that these were original organ pieces by this legend of the jazz piano world, so I snapped them up, little realising what true gems they were. The work comprises nine improvisations based on Early American Hymn Tunes and date from 1977. Here’s an extract from the foreword to the score;
This publication, which is available in both piano and organ editions, is a rather
remarkable venture in many ways. London-born George Shearing has created an international reputation for his musical talent as pianist, arranger, and composer of over 100 works. Yet these SACRED SOUNDS FROM GEORGE SHEARING are his first published works in the idiom of classical music.

Shearing spends an average of nine months away from his home in San Francisco each year, performing throughout the Unites States and abroad. During a recent eleven-week tour (whenever he could find a few quiet moments and a piano), Shearing would record these settings on tape with incredible speed. The slow and tedious task of transcribing the notes from tape to paper was assigned to Marcia and Michael McCabe (Major McCabe serves the United States Army as an anaesthetist at Ft. Meade, Maryland). Following this tour, George Shearing visited The Sacred Music Press editorial offices at The Sea Ranch, California, to hear the work and make corrections with the Executive Editor, Dale Wood.

Later, and while again on tour, he visited with the McCabes on the East Coast to
complete the final settings. Shearing actually created the organ arrangements as well. Wood spent hours at the organ console while Shearing suggested “Let’s solo out that line … I think we need to use a warmer registration … Full organ might do just as well as soft celeste stops … Can’t you come up with a brighter nasard?”
(©The Sacred Music Press 1977)

William Mathias (1934-1981) – Processional
My first full-time organist’s post was as sub-Organist at Bangor Cathedral in Wales. It was a wonderful time for me and while I never saw eye to eye with the then organist, Andrew Goodwin, I had a wonderful choir at my disposal (which included, briefly, the young Aled Jones and, more significantly, a tremendous baritone, Gareth Cowell, who has remained a lifelong friend) and came into frequent contact with William Mathias, who was then Professor of Music at the University. Mathias inspired me intellectually, musically and socially, and I owe him a great debt of gratitude. I wrote this note for a wonderful recording of the piece made by Huw Williams on the organ of St Paul’s Cathedral. (Guild GMCD7304)
William Mathias was Welsh by birth – he was born in Whitland, south west Wales on 1st May 1934 – and spent virtually his entire life in the Principality, serving as Professor of Music in Bangor University from 1970 until 1987. After his retirement he remained in North Wales and died near Bangor on 29th July 1992. He did have a close association with St Paul’s Cathedral, however – not least because his anthem Let the People Praise Thee O God was performed in the cathedral to a worldwide television audience of millions when it was sung at the wedding of HRH The Prince of Wales and The Lady Diana Spencer on 29th July 1981 – and four months after his death a Service of Thanksgiving for his life and work was held in the Cathedral.

A prolific composer in virtually every genre, he was particularly highly regarded for his organ music and of the 16 pieces he wrote for the instrument, the infectious Processional dating from 1965, with its spiky rhythm and witty tune, remains by far and away the most popular.

Zsolt Gárdonyi (b.1946) – Mozart Changes
A couple of years ago I did a mini-Gárdonyi festival. It was inspired by the sheer number of Hungarians in our orchestra and built around a work Gárdonyi had written for cello and organ which I was very anxious to perform with the MPO Co-Principal cellist, Csaba Kõrös (yes’ he’s Hungarian). In the end, due to other MPO commitments, we could not perform that work, but lots of people enjoyed Gárdonyi’s solo organ pieces and this one, in particular, took the fancy of a number of students who were in the throes of learning the Mozart on which it is based for their Trinity diploma.
It was Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart who is first believed to have coined the phrase “the King of Instruments” to describe the organ (although some sources suggest it was one of his Salzburg predecessors, Georg Muffat). Unfortunately, that was about the most valuable legacy Mozart left for the instrument for, although he was reputed to be the finest organist of the age, in Mozart’s day the organ was confined to church use and its scope necessarily restricted. Mozart improvised brilliantly at the instrument, but wrote virtually nothing down for it. But those who love Mozart need not feel too disappointed; to mark the bicentenary of Mozart’s death the Hungarian composer Zsolt Gárdonyi composed his Mozart Changes which takes the rondo theme from the last movement of Mozart’s Piano Sonata in D (K576) and turns it into a piece of true organ music; although, as the title suggests, it does not remain true to its original guise.

Born in Budapest, Gárdonyi has been living in Germany since 1968 and has been Professor of Musical Theory at the Würzburg State Conservatoire since 1980. His music, which includes several organ works as well as chamber and vocal compositions, is often flavoured by jazz idioms and that is, indeed, the case with Mozart Changes. As Gárdonyi himself points out, Mozart’s original ideas “transform themselves before our eyes – as well as our ears – and disclose in their cheerful metamorphosis an additional dimension for the word ‘changes.” The piece is dedicated to the American organist Eleanor Whitsett who gave the first performance during the Oklahoma Mozart Festival on 15th June 1995.

Louis-James-Alfred Lefébure-Wély (1817-1870) – Sortie in B flat
I never really wanted to play this piece in public. I once castigated in no uncertain terms in the press an organist who had described it as “one of the great pieces of 19th century French organ music”, and felt it would be hypocritical for me to play it publicly. But pressure was brought to bear from the most surprising quarters. MPO Orchestra Manager, Mervyn Peters, walked into the hall one day while I was playing it for fun and actually sat down, listened, and then told me what a great piece it was. Then MPO Associate Conductor Kevin Field asked me to play it at a concert he was conducting. How can one resist such pressure? I couldn’t; this will be the 12th time, now, that I’ve performed it at a public recital! Here’s an extract from the Editor’s foreword to the edition I am using;
The two works by Lefébure-Wély which I now make available do not belong to the category of forgotten masterpieces; this is indeed a property which they have in common with the entire output of the composer.

That I have nevertheless edited them, is for two reasons: in the first place it is a misunderstanding to suppose that an editor, by publishing a text, thereby makes an implicit declaration concerning the quality of the same. It is my opinion [that] the lesser gods of the past too should be generally accessible; for only through their visible and audible presence is it possible to sketch the historical perspective within which the real masters have their rightful place. In addition, many contemporary organists are very interested in noisy 19th century organ pleasure. An understandable reaction to a too puritanical past, but on the other hand a movement which also has its doubtful side. The interpreter who occupies himself with minor figures does well to realize that he is dealing with lesser gods. I often detect in players (and indeed in editors) a painful lack of feeling for relativity in this respect.
© Dr. Ewald Kooiman 1984

Bach – J S Bach Organ Works Vol.6 (ed.Bridge, Higgs; rev. Emery) – Novello 7212 (1948)
Behnke – Three Global Songs – Hope Publishing Co 8057 (1999)
Shearing – Sacred Sounds from George Shearing for Organ – Sacred Music Press SSGSO-5 (1977)
Mathias – Modern Organ Music Vol.1 – Oxford University Press (1965)
Gárdonyi – Mozart Changes für Orgel – Möseler Verlag Wolfenbüttel M19.948 (1996)
Lefébure-Wély – Incognita Organo Vol.30 – Harmonia-Uitgave, Hilversum 3626 (1984)

Bach – Nicholas Danby/Lübeck Cathedral – CBS: MDK45807 (1990) 1
Behnke – Marc Rochester/Dewan Filharmonik PETRONAS, Kuala Lumpur – MPO: 170504 2
Shearing – No recordings have been made of this work 3
Mathias – Huw Williams/St Paul’s Cathedral – Guild: GMCD7304
Gárdonyi – Zsolt Gárdonyi/Uppsala Cathedral – Collegium Cantorum: 7320470 027264
Lefébure-Wély – Christopher Herrick/Hong Kong Cultural Centre – Hyperion: CDA66978

1 This disc has been deleted from the catalogues, but it’s worth looking out for
2 Available for download only
3 We are seeking sponsors for the first commercial recording of the DFP organ. Two programmes have been drawn up of the organ with members of the strings and brass sections of the MPO. There will be some solo pieces for organ included on both discs. Whoever offers some sponsorship will get a chance to choose an items for the discs. Contact me if you are interested.


1 Response to “DFP Organ Recital News”

  1. 1 FK Lee
    September 20, 2010 at 4:07 pm

    What a delight to come across someone who has actually met William Mathias in this part of the world! Bill Mathias was my harmony lecturer at Bangor University between 1966-69. A brilliant musician, he would shred our harmony excercises to bits within seconds by improvising on what we could have done instead, and inevitably they would sound nothing short of perfect. Reginald Smith-Brindle was then professor of music, and he would have backed you up at your performance of Mathias’ organ piece in the catherdral at Guildford, where he took up his next professorship after Bangor.

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