Continuing with Clare Orrell’s programme notes for our concert on the 29th of February 2020, here we hear about the organ and organ & choir pieces which will be gracing our programme. The links take you to a number of YouTube posts. We’d like to thank their originators for sharing these wonderful videos.
At our concert the two organs, at Christ Church, West Didsbury, will be played by Richard Lead and Robert Woods. The choir performances will be conducted by Keith Orrell.
The Grande Chœur Dialogué from Six Pieces d’Orgue by Eugène Gigout (1844-1925) may well be his best-known organ piece. Born in Nancy, he studied at the school of sacred music, the École Niedermeyer, with Saint-Saens. The piece exploits the contrasts in the various departments of the organ with an antiphonal dialogue reminiscent of the work of Gabrieli in St Mark’s, Venice. Originally for solo organ, the two organ version, to be performed at our concert, gives us a truly triumphant dialogue between two instruments.
Prelude on ‘Picardy’ Op. 55 was written by John Joubert in 1967 as a result of a commission for a volume of Simple Organ Works by Oxford University Press. The meditative opening surrounds the melody (the tune we know as ‘Let all mortal flesh’). Joubert uses the same melody in his St Mark Passion of 2015.
Alexandre Guilmant (1837-1911) wrote his Sonata No. 1 Op.42 in 1874 which was published in 1875 in his early years as organist at the Église de la Sainte Trinité in Paris – the church which held the funerals of Rossini, Berlioz and Bizet, whose future organist would be Olivier Messiaen. The Pastorale is the second movement of the sonata. In A major and in 12/8-time, it follows a typically pastoral style using a lot of fragmented, imitative writing, above a chorale-like melody. Originally for solo organ, tonight’s performance is an adaption for two organs.
Louis Vierne (1870-1937) wrote his Messe Solennelle op.16 in 1899 and was first performed in Saint-Sulpice in Paris. Vierne had been encouraged by César Franck to learn the organ and soon began lessons with him at the Paris Conservatoire. Franck died in a traffic accident, so Vierne continued with his successor Charles-Marie Widor.
Quickly, he became Widor’s assistant, both at the Conservatoire and Widor’s church Saint-Sulpice, having access to the impressive Cavaillé-Coll organ. Vierne became good friends with Widor, who even played at Vierne’s wedding there.
Built on the styles of Franck and Widor, Vierne conceived the piece for choir and orchestra but Widor thought it more practical for two organs. In the first performance in December 1901, Widor played the great organ and Vierne the choir organ. Although a Messe Solennelle, the Credo was omitted, which more accurately makes it a Messe Brève.
It was likely to have been written for liturgical performance, as the intonation at the beginning of the Gloria is missed out, ready for the priest to sing. The work is a solemn and extended setting of the mass, with creative use of the contrasting organs. Its dramatic passages and grandiose style meant that the piece did not become a regular of liturgical repertoire, even when a version for one organ was arranged. Nevertheless, the mass is a climax of French choral and organ repertoire for the church, a compositional style which was extended and developed well beyond this in the twentieth century by his students, Lili and Nadia Boulanger, and Marcel Dupré.
Vierne took up the post at Notre-Dame in 1901, and indeed it was Dupré who was at his side at the organ there when he suffered a stroke and died whilst improvising in a recital.
We hope to see you at our concert, Dona Nobis Pacem.
Tickets can be bought on the door or before the concert via Eventbright