Monday, June 16, 2008

ARCHIVE  •  2008  •  SUN 15  •  MON 16  •  WED 18  •  FRI 20  •  SUN 22

Saint Michael & All Angels Church, 8 p.m.

Organ Recital

Timothy Howard, organ
John Thiessen, trumpet

Louis-Nicolas Clérambault (1676-1749)
Suite du Deuxième Ton

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)
Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme, BWV 645
Chorale Prelude

Hugo Distler (1908-1942)
Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme, Op. 8, No. 2

Giuseppe Torelli (1658-1709)
Trumpet Sonata in D, G 5


Giuseppe Torelli (1658-1709)
Sinfonia con Tromba, G 8

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)
Toccata in F, BWV 540a

Franz Liszt (1811-1886)
Fantasia & Fugue on B–A–C–H


This recital is offered in loving memory of Carolyn Gendreau (1928-2007).

An organ recital invites the player to plumb the resources of an instrument in order to use its many different timbres or tone colors for creative expression. In the Baroque era, composers such as Johann Sebastian Bach normally would not bother to specify exact “registrations” in their scores for organ pieces because of the wide differences among instruments. However, French composers, who were interested in achieving particular tone colors, would often specify on their published organ scores exactly which keyboards or “manuals” to use and which particular “stops” to pull.


Louis-Nicolas Clérambault, who was highly regarded in his time as one of France’s finest organists, began learning violin and harpsichord at a very young age. He went on to be employed as a musician by the royal household of Louis XIV at the parish and school of St. Cyr near Versailles, and then, having been succeeded there by one of his two sons (three children survived seven births), he served in his native Paris at the church of the Jacobins in the Rue St. Jacques and at the magnificent St. Sulpice, which to this day has been the titulaire seat of many famous organists. He wrote numerous secular cantatas, a large collection of sacred and secular choral music, chamber music, and pieces for clavecin (harpsichord) plus two suites for organ.

Church and chamber styles were for the most part indistinguishable in Clérambault’s day, so this Suite du Deuxième Ton, with the names of its movements based on the various tonal choices provided for each one, might well have been played during church services. The abundance of its French ornamentation (trills, mordents, turns, and so forth) was a cultural norm, as heard in music of Couperin, Rameau and others French composers of the Baroque era. Plain jeu meant full flue pipe sound without any reeds, while the Grands Jeux included trumpets and other organ reeds. BACK


Bach’s chorale prelude on the well-known Advent hymn tune “Sleepers Wake!” is one of more than 150 organ pieces he wrote in various forms and musical textures that, while originally intended simply as introductions to the congregational singing of chorales, provide us with some of the master’s most wonderful and endearing compositions. This organ setting, a reflection of the beloved tenor chorale in the church cantata of the same name, offers a consistent texture of three lines, with the famous melody clearly heard over a repeated counter-melody and a supporting bass. BACK


Hugo Distler led an artistically productive but personally difficult life during one of the 20th century’s most grueling periods of political upheaval. Born in Nuremberg in 1908, he trained in piano, conducting, composition and organ at the conservatory in Leipzig, where he became steeped in the tradition of Bach and also studied earlier Baroque styles. After serving as both organist and conductor at the Jacobikirche in Lübeck and teaching there and at the church music school in Spandau, he moved to Stuttgart in 1937 to take up an appointment as professor of church music and university choral conductor at the Württemberg College of Music. His last move was to Berlin in 1940, where he was a professor of composition and organ.

During the last half-decade of his career, Nazi pressures were growing against those dedicated to the church and to church music. Increasing aerial attacks, the loss of friends, the constant threat of being recruited into military service, and the strains of overwork all led to his depression and eventual suicide in 1942. This “partita” is a set of thematic variations with Baroque formal antecedents but in a 20th-century harmonic language.

The Wachet auf melody never is heard in its entirety, but its “gestures” pervade throughout: an ascending triad (the first three notes of the tune) and an ascending-descending interval of a fourth. June 24th marks the centennial of Distler’s birth. BACK


The 350th birthday this year of Giuseppe Torelli inspires us to include more of his brilliant music for trumpet on either side of the intermission in this evening’s program. (See also the notes for Sunday’s concerto program.)

This evening’s Sonata in D (almost all Baroque trumpet music was in D major!) begins in the sonata da chiesa tradition with a brief slow movement, here without the soloist who enters for the Allegro, playing the theme that was introduced by the organ only in his second phrase. After this typical ritornello form, with its ostinato bass, an ensuing Adagio provides a rest for the soloist’s embouchure. The final Allegro begins with the trumpet’s introduction of a jolly tune heard then in both parts half a dozen times before the all-too-brief movement concludes somewhat abruptly. BACK


Torelli’s very attractive Sinfonia con Tromba begins allegro with the rhythmically vital theme tossed back and forth in expected fashion. The staccato Adagio allows the trumpet to take a breather, in typical fashion. A high trumpet/bass line duet characterizes the penultimate Allegro. The final Allegro introduces a theme that is expected soon to be the trumpet’s, but which doggedly evades the soloist all the way to the cadence. BACK


Bach’s Toccata in F illustrates well the meaning of the title (from toccare, to touch), obviously written to show off both his own formidable technique and youthful delight in dance rhythms. He slips in three references to his own name in the pedal line, using the melodic outline on the notes B–A–C–H (in the German notation system “B” is B flat and “H” is B natural), even though it does not start on the pitch B flat. BACK


F ranz Liszt was the most famous and flamboyant piano virtuoso of the 19th century, and also both a renowned lover (he fathered, by one of his mistresses, a daughter who went on to marry Richard Wagner) and a religious figure who, after taking minor vows in Rome, wore ecclesiastical garb and was known as the Abbé Liszt even after he resumed his very secular life. His remarkably extensive output of compositions includes many songs, dauntingly difficult pieces for piano solo and piano with orchestra, a huge list of sacred choral pieces, orchestral and chamber works, and a dozen compositions for the organ.

In Dr. Howard’s thinking, Liszt’s neo-Baroque Fantasia and Fugue on the notes of Bach’s name was written “in the best, angst-ridden 19th-century tradition, with wild swings of tempo, dynamics and registration. In some places, Liszt’s writing crosses over the boundary into what can be found in his bravura piano works.” The spirit of Johann Sebastian himself pervades Liszt’s monumental work in dramatic fashion through constant references to the pitches B–A–C–H. BACK

Notes by Burton Karson


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