French Organ Music

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French Organ Music

In addition to eight substantial organ sonatas, Alexandre Guilmant left a considerable number of shorter works, many of them characteristically crafted and all immensely idiomatic. Of these several have become favourites with both players and audiences. The Grand Choeur finds its composer at his ceremonial best, inspired by the Handelian style (as in his popular March on a theme of Handel.) A broadly sweeping triple-time lilt is sustained throughout the main thematic material, with a vivacity maintained even in the quieter episodes. The pedal writing is of particular interest and energy.

Founded on the rhythm of the traditional child's lullaby \Do, do, l'enfant do", Louis Vierne's Berceuse is the most celebrated of his 24 Pieces in Free Style for harmonium or organ. Dedicated to his daughter Collette, the piece unfolds tenderly - chordally and melodically by turn. The string and flute registers of the organ are to be used in alternation.

In its original form, the Prelude to Charpentier's Te Deum is scored for solo trumpet and orchestra, a medium which provides an effective organ solo. This noble music has achieved considerable fame by its use as an identifying signature-tune for the Eurovision network.

Three main motifs are deployed by Jean Langlais in his Trois Meditations, published in 1962. God the Father is represented by the undulating plainchant Pater Noster melody, God the Son by the delightfully evocative carol tune Noel Nouvelet and God the Holy Spirit by the expansive Pentecost hymn Veni, Creator Spiritus, heard in long notes, massively harmonised at each appearance. Pervading all three portions of this expressive and ingenious triptych is the theme from Bach's Fugue in E fiat 'pro organo pleno' from the end of the Clavierübung, Part III. In England, this subject is immediately recognisable as the opening of Croft's celebrated Hymn Tune "St. Anne", sung universally to Watts' paraphrase of Psalm 90 beginning "O God, our help in ages past". In France, what is consequently known in Britain as the St. Anne Fugue is known as the Trinity Fugue, because of its three sections, hence its important place in Langlais' Meditations. Each movement has precise instructions for registration, and every portion of the work after the first incorporates references to music already heard, thus representing in music the inclusive nature of the theological concept of the Sacred Trinity.

If Vierne's Berceuse represents the wistful, then his Epitaphe shows us something of the melancholy which pervaded his character. The C sharp minor tonality and the close harmony combine to yield a pervading pathos which never fails to make a profound impression on the hearer.

Born in Bordeaux, Joseph Bonnet, a pupil of the great Guilmant, achieved widespread fame as a brilliant recitalist, travelling the world from his home base at the Parisian church of St Eustache. His many organ solos serve to keep his name alive, and this delicious Romance sans Paroles is decidedly in the vein of w hat the late Sir Thomas Beecham would have referred to as a 'lollipop'.

Subtitled Four Paraphrases on Hymns to the Virgin, Maleingreau's Suite Mariale was written in 1935 during his period as a Professor at the Brussels Conservatoire, where he had been a student before the First World War. He was one of the first Belgian organists to play the complete Bach canon, and was an indefatigable champion of early music at a time when such propagation was less in demand than today. His musical style, though less individually developed than, say, that of Charles Tournemire, owes a similar debt to that of Cesar Franck. The four sections which form this glorious Suite are economic of texture and secure in utterance. Probably the most typical is the bustling Toccata which serves as a fine Finale.

Judging by the quality of his extensive output for solo organ, and by the increasingly regarded Symphonic Variations for cello and orchestra, the death of Leon Boëllmann at the very early age of 35 probably deprived French music of one of its most promising figures at the close of the last century. The Suite Gothique is his most famous single work, and its four movements encapsulate much of the essence of the French romantic style -massive antiphonal effects in the Introduction/Choral, light-hearted momentum in the Menuet Gothique, soaring melody in the Prière, and in the perpetuum mobile of the rumbustuous Toccata Boëllmann sets a striding pedal motto beneath manual parts of great brilliance.

It was this Stele which Vierne included in his final recital at Notre Dame, and after the playing of which he collapsed at the console, mortally ill. The musical language is much more sophisticated than in the earlier movements from the Pieces en style libre. In the Stele, the composer seems to pour his heart out on to the page in a much more intense way than does Ravel in a similar essay, his Pavane pour une infante defunte.

Affectionately dedicated to his father, Guilmant's Cantilene-Pastorale is a duet for oboe and flute registers, by turns antiphonal and simultaneous. Much of its colourlul effect is obtained by sustaining one timbre on one keyboard and 'thumbing down' to a lower manual to obtain the other (all with the right hand, the left being allotted the accompaniment).

Always popular in its own right, the Toccata from Widor's Fifth Organ Symphony achieved universal acclaim almost overnight exactly thirty years ago by virtue of its inclusion as the Postlude at the Wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Kent in York Minster. There are several different printed editions dating from the lifetime of the composer, who revised the metronome marking at least three times. The Toccata is distinguished as much by its melodic force as by the brilliance of the manual writing.

The Organ at Leeds Parish Church

The Organ at Leeds Parish Church is one of the finest in Britain. As it survives today it is, essentially the instrument as left by Harrison and Harrison in 1913, in which year it was completely rebuilt to the specification of Dr (later Sir) Edward Bairstow, Organistat Leeds from 1906 to 1913 and of York Minster from 1913 until his death in 1946. The instrument is notable by virtue of a substantial amount of pipework by Edmund Schulze added in 1859 to the instrument installed in the new Parish Church in 1841. (Nearly all the Schulze pipework survives). Last rebuilt by the Leeds firm of Wood & Wordsworth a quarter of a century ago, the Leeds organ had received earlier attention from Harrison's in 1927 and 1949. The quality of the voicing is especially impressive in a building without the advantage of natural resonance. There are four manuals and some eighty stops. The instrument is presently in the care of Andrew Carter, Organ Builder of Wakefield, who has undertaken recent important renewal of the action.

Simon Lindley

Simon Lindley's many recitals, recordings and broadcasts have established his reputation as a player of distinctive style. He is Organist of Leeds Parish Church and of Leeds Town Hall. His duties at the Church include the direction of its world-famous Choir, and he has given over 200 recitals since his appointment as City Organist in 1976. He came to Leeds early in 1975 to succeed Dr Donald Hunt at the Parish Church, and now combines his work there with a senior post in the Ci
Disc: 1
Organ Symphony No. 5: Toccata
1 Grand Choeur
2 Berceuse
3 Prelude (arr. for organ)
4 1. Pater Noster
5 2. Noel Nouvelet
6 3. Veni, Creator Spiritus
7 Epitaph
8 Romance
9 Paraphrase I
10 Paraphrase II
11 Paraphrase III
12 Paraphrase IV
13 Suite Gothique
14 Stele pour un enfant defunt
15 Cantilene-Pastorale, Op. 19
16 Organ Symphony No. 5: Toccata
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