Season after Pentecost, 2023
Right now I am boarding a plane with a few (40) colleagues from work. We are embarking on a two-week European Tour. The choir and I will be visiting Ely Cathedral, Westminster Abbey, Chartres Cathedral, and Notre Dame, Paris.
The blog @ Sinden.org will publish again in mid-August.
This is incredible press for a summer camp that changes lives.
They have a great organ too. Check the slide show for a view of the pump room in the chapel.
I'm also happy to say that this year's head camper, Michael Gratkowski, was a fine chorister in his earlier years.
Don't miss When do we bifurcate? at Musical Perceptions.
Also, don't miss First Communion on the Moon Episcopal Cafe (yes, I filed this under my "liturgical space" tag).
Don't have the budget for Aaron Copland's Fanfare for the Common Man? No worries -- just write your own.
It's easy! The U.S. Department of Energy shows you how in the beginning of this film from 1980.
Happy 50th birthday to Scottish composer James MacMillan.
Since first singing his sumptuous The Galant Weaver, I have had great appreciation for MacMillan's compositional skill and style. The choral music -- much of it sacred -- is a real delight.
For your reference, the organ works include:
There's also A Scotch Bestiary, a work for organ and orchestra.
David Diamond wrote his Symphony for Organ in 1987, thus culminating the tradition of the American "organ symphony" in the last century. The beginning of the American tradition dovetails nicely with the late Symphonies of Louis Vierne.
Warning: There's a doctoral thesis here somewhere. If you write it, you owe me $20. If you are already writing it, sorry I spilled the beans.
With regard to the title, the term "organ symphony" has always been a bit of a colloquialism. Widor and Vierne simply titled their large multi-movement solo organ works "Symphonies". Only in America do we then pound the term "organ" into the title of symphonic works for the solo instrument. This becomes either a descriptive title ("Symphony for Organ") or a full-fledged proper name ("Organ Symphony"), a term that brings to mind the Saint-Saëns Symphony No. 3, the orchestral symphony that prominently features loud organ chords in the final movement.
No American composer has actually given their work the title Organ Symphony, but this is the title that Gunther Schuller will use when referring to Leo Sowerby's Symphony for Organ.
The strands of the organ symphony movement in America begin with Aaron Copland. His Symphony for Organ and Orchestra (1924) was in many ways the first major work of his career. While not a solo organ work, it does of course feature prominent writing for the instrument. There are also obvious ties to the French organ symphony genre. The organist for the work's premiere was Copland's composition teacher Nadia Boulanger. Boulanger studied organ with Louis Vierne, and composition with Charles-Marie Widor, the two titans of the French organ symphony.
In the same year that Vierne wrote his last symphony, Leo Sowerby wrote his first: the Symphony for Organ. Written in 1930, the work was published in 1932 (See Robert Parris's dissertation). Vierne's final symphony, written after a tour of the United States, maintained his favored five-movement structure. The "Dean of American church music" left us with a non-traditional, three-movement work with a quintessentially American character. The first movement begins "very broadly" outlining the expansive sweep of the American landscape. The second movement is marked "fast and sinister", arguably description of the frenetic pace and character of American life. The third, composed first, is a telestic passacaglia.
Eventually this article/dissertation will have to be expanded to include a study of F. Scott Fitzgerald's Tender is the Night, published two years after Sowerby's Symphony for Organ. Common themes: Americans in France, American Francophilia in the early Twentieth Century, acting, love, etc.
Gunther Schuller's Symphony (1981), the fourth work titled "symphony" that he composed, is scored for solo organ. In his Musings you can read that he was describing his own forthcoming work a "four-movement Symphony for Organ" and says that it is "perhaps the first of its kind since Sowerby's Symphony for Organ Symphony of 1936."
Discounting Sowerby's own smaller Sinfonia Brevis (1965), Schuller is likely correct in his assumption. The intervening years were largely devoid of organ symphony composition, but the 1980s saw a flurry of activity; beginning with Schuller's three such works composed by major composers.
Schuller is, however, misinformed about some of the details of the larger Sowerby work. First of all, Sowerby called the work "Symphony for Organ" not Organ Symphony and the work was written in 1930. This errant date seems to have popped up in the New York Times a few years later.
Mr. Schuller believes that his symphony may be the first essay in this form since Leo Sowerby's Symphony in G (1936); he may well be right. In any event, this is a major work.
Mr. Schuller seems to have built his symphony around the pattern established by Charles-Marie Widor, complete with a toccata finale. He has neither Widor's gift for melody nor the French composer's ability to create irresistible musical sequences that, heard once, are impossible to forget. But Mr. Schuller's harmonic sense is sure, his conception grand, and he displayed an acute understanding of the organ's innate power and possibilities.
Page, Tim. "RECITAL: NEW MUSIC IN VILLAGE" New York Times 22 April 1985. Emphasis added
Here again there are problems. The Sowerby Symphony for Organ is called "Symphony in G" and the date again is given incorrectly as 1936.
There are some notable omissions in the organ symphony movement. Ned Rorem studied composition with Sowerby and might have been a logical torch-bearer for the American organ symphony. His "organ books" fall short of symphonic stature, but share the genre with William Albright, another composer of the American livre d'orgue movement. Albright has also composed a Symphony for Organ.
The Symphony for Organ, which arguably occupies a dominant position in Albright's oeuvre, was commissioned by the University of Evansville and the Friends of UE Music with the support of the Indiana Arts Commission and the National Endowment for the Arts. The work, completed in July 1986, was premiered by Douglas Reed (to whom the work is dedicated) on the Holtkamp organ in Wheeler Concert Hall at the University of Evansville on 4 November 1986. Percussionist Ted Rubright assisted. This thirty-minute work consists of four movements in which an overall conceptual simplicity contrasts with a richness of subtle musical detail. In the booklet accompanying his recording of Chasm (William Albright, Music for organ and Harpsichord [Arkay Records AR6112]), Reed notes:
The work grows out of the genre of large multi-movement compositions for solo organ developed primarily by the late nineteenth and early twentieth century French composers, Charles-Marie Widor and Louis Vierne. Each movement explores a primary color: principals (first movement), flutes (second movement, ["Cantilena"]), reeds and mixtures (third movement, ["Tarantella macabra"]), and foundation stops including strings and celestes (fourth movement, ["Ritual"]).
Mary Ann Dodd. "Symphony for Organ: Organ Solo with Percussion." Notes Sept 1997.
Albright's addition of percussion in the final movement of what is otherwise a typical organ symphony is analogous to Saint-Saëns use of the organ at the end of his Symphony No. 3 or the use of trombones in Beethoven's choral and orchestral Symphony No. 9. In all these cases, the introduction of a "foreign" element expands the boundaries of the work as it draws to a close. Like Sowerby's Passacaglia, a teleological goal is evident.
Percussion is a natural ally to the organ as many organs include percussive effects including the classic zimblestern, and those effects associated with French storm fantasies: the rossignol, the effet d'orage, and, rarely, the rain machine. Lou Harrison's earlier Concerto for Organ and Percussion (1973) makes full use of the relationship.
This article will be continued.
If you don't know György Ligeti's Continuum, I thought you might enjoy this performance from John McKean. Heck, even if you do know the piece you might enjoy this fine performance.
The temperament is clearly wrong, but John and I are working on this.
Today is the Feast of St. Benedict of Nursia (from whom we have "Benedictine" monks) who wrote in his Rule:
No one, however, should presume to sing or read unless he is able so to perform this office that the hearers may be edified.
Labels: St. Benedict
American composer David Diamond was born on July 9, 1915 and died only four summers ago.
It may interest readers to know that the increasingly popular Eric Whitacre was one of his composition students.
Diamond was prolific, writing eleven symphonies (take that Beethoven!), various concertos, instrumental works large and small (including one of my favorites Rounds for String Orchestra), and even a smattering of choral music. He never achieved the fame of his contemporaries Leonard Bernstein or Aaron Copland, but his voice, like theirs, is authentically American.
Because of this hiding in plain sight, there are some blind spots in his oeuvre. Conductor Gerard Schwartz championed David Diamond and recorded the symphonies with the Seattle Symphony. But only eleven of them.
There is another.
And, as you may have guessed, it is an organ symphony. It's a great big mammoth organ work -- an American version of a late Widor symphony, maybe.
It has all of the hallmarks of Diamond's style, and some great moments. I'm enjoying getting to know this major work of American organ repertoire which, to the best of my knowledge, has never been recorded.
The work was premiered by Leonard Raver in 1988 and reviewed not entirely favorably in the New York Times.
Eby Mani has been adding Caleb Simper scores to the Choral Public Domain Library; there are three so far.
And now, some organ music.
A number of new Simper resources have emerged since I last searched. In particular, the folks at St. Andrews Uniting Church in Footscray, Victoria, Australia have taken the time to make recordings of a few of his works available to us.
Not to be outdone by that pesky Tallis, Simper wrote his own "If ye love me" setting.
St. John the Baptist Church, (actually an Anglican church masquerading as a Baptist one) in Barnstaple, England is set to celebrate the music of Caleb Simper later this month.
Simper, largely forgotten now, was once a wildly popular composer of music for the church. More than five million copies of music by Simper have been sold.
'Forgotten' Caleb scores a hit once again (thisisnorthdevon.co.uk)
In this country, a setting of the Nicene Creed by Caleb Simper is sung daily at Lake Delaware Boys' Camp, Delhi, New York. The camp also has something to celebrate this summer: it's 100th year. Most of those years (if not all of them) have included Simper.
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conjectural navel gazing: jesus in lint form
Friday Night Organ Pump
Halbert Gober Organs, Inc.
in time of daffodils
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Musings of a Synesthete
My Life as Style, Condition, Commodity.
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That Which We Have Heard & Known
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Yes, but they're not the kind you buy on Wheel of Fortune.
the owner of a bower at Bucklesfordberry?
Full daintily it is dight.
interested in touch lamps?
And fountain pens.