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Vox Humana

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  1. But that's a slightly special case, isn't it? I believe there was some consternation on the part of the King's Scholars when Parry incorporated their traditional acclamation into his anthem. Previously it had been shouted over whatever else was going on.
  2. I'm still trying to get a feel for how acceptable Latin would have been in the C of E at the beginning of the twentieth century. Was it even legal outside the Oxbridge universities? Since my original post I've read Timothy Day's excellent book I Saw Eternity the Other Night. I thought I remembered reading there something about Latin that hadn't sunk in properly, but I've just had a quick flip through without finding anything specific. I wouldn't mind betting that it was in the universities that the language first began to infiltrate the Anglican choral repertoire. One certain example is Edward Naylor's Vox dicentis, written for King's, Cambridge, in 1911. How unusual or not that was at the time I don't know. Early Music didn't figure very much there at that time. According to Day, Mann was a committed Romantic without much enthusiasm for Tudor music: Milner-White had to encourage him to include it in the services at King's. Whether any of it was in Latin the author doesn't say. Ord, on the other hand was different. He was keen to include as much sixteenth-century polyphony as possible in the repertoire, having been enthused by a quartet called The English Singers, who in the 1920s were singing lots of Fellowes's editions, including Latin motets. At King's, Ord introduced several Latin motets by Byrd and music by Palestrina, Victoria and Philips and of course Willcocks kept that flag flying. One of the messages in Day's book that comes across very clearly is how generally poor and resistant to improvement the standard of singing was in cathedral and collegiate choirs until Mann (and then Ord) forged the example to which other choirs felt they had to aspire. I would guess that it was Ord's tenureship from 1929 that prompted the more general acceptance of Latin in C of E choirs - but of course I'm making lots of assumptions and I know nothing of public school choirs c.1908.
  3. Before someone else does it, I'll remind us that Gottfried Silbermann was an early maker of pianos. Bach was critical of them at first, but found the later ones acceptable. It doesn't follow that the piano would ever have been an instrument of Bach's choice - I don't think we have that information. In any case these early pianos were effectively an entirely different instrument to a modern grand, so this is all a bit of a non sequitur. I'll admit that I don't automatically disapprove of Bach played on the piano, but it does depend on how it is played. I thought that Sir AndrĂ¡s Schiff's performances of the '48' at the Proms in 2017-8 were immensely tasteful and moving. Unfortunately, the eliciting of such depth and poetry in Bach is rare. Give most pianists a page of Bach's semiquavers and off they'll dash like a greyhound out of a trap, determined to despatch the poor man with all the bravura they imbue Prokofiev and Bartok. If you really want 'spinning-wheel Bach', these are your people. It's at times like this that I'm uncertain whether to reach for the off switch or the meat cleaver. Sadly, when I was a student, virtually all the Bach performances I heard from pianists were like this and things haven't changed much in the intervening years (although I should also admit that I don't go out of my way to listen). It's difficult to produce poetry like Schiff's on the organ without pulling the music around and I'm rather allergic to rubato in Bach's organ works (at least of the more obvious type). When I was young one of the things that used to impress me so much about Simon Preston's playing was his invariable knack of playing every note with absolute mathematical precision, but without ever sounding boring. A case of different instruments needing different approaches?
  4. She was a couple of months shy of 23 when she wrote it so I wouldn't call it a juvenile work, but, yes, it's not really worth the bother. I've never considered Fanny half the composer Clara Schumann was.
  5. I shouldn't be so hasty. I found this: https://www.free-scores.com/download-sheet-music.php?pdf=57845
  6. For some reason I am unable to post a link, but if you Google you can find a 1985 MA thesis by Eugene Murray Gates entitled Towards an Authentic Interpretation of Mendelssohn's Organ Works. On pages 122ff he has this to say about the A Major Sonata: According to Gates, the autograph of Fanny Mendelssohn's Prelude for Organ in F major is in the Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. Is there a published edition?
  7. What terribly sad news. I didn't know David, but he always came across here as a thoroughly nice person and I always enjoyed reading his posts. His apparently encyclopaedic knowledge of British organs will be keenly missed.
  8. I'm fairly sure it was. I can't find it now, but I recall reading some online interview around the time he was retiring in which he mentioned the high level of transposition and other keyboard skills that his organ scholars needed to have. I also seem to recall him making some oblique comment about giving them a day or two's notice of such gymnastics - for the trickier stuff, I suppose. He must have known his organ scholars' capabilities and I feel sure that he was far too much of a professional to risk courting disaster.
  9. Just a heads up. Anyone thinking of rolling up to this 'on spec' would be well advised to book. The abbey doesn't seat as many as you might think. The nave seats are sold out and tickets are now available only for the quire and transepts - where you won't be able to see the player. https://www.buckfast.org.uk/music (scroll down for details)
  10. In my city our first Borough Organist, who died in 1899, clocked up over 2,000 pubic recitals, here and there. His successor was so popular that he habitually gave two recitals per week at the city Guildhall (and, in the 1930s, broadcast several from both his church and the Guildhall). But I gather that, even before the war, audiences were falling off. At one point the council decided to abolish his civic post, though the ensuing outcry caused them to relent. But the decline in audiences wasn't just at organ recitals. The audiences at bandstands were also dwindling - and I think this was true around the country. The whole pattern of public entertainment was changing. Maybe it was because, with the rise of the wireless, television and 78 rpm records, people didn't feel the need to go out so much. Maybe that's another factor to consider. Again it doesn't explain why things are different in other countries - unless the English weather has something to do with it!
  11. Not necessarily. There was something of the enfant terrible about the late Prof Peter Williams. He was fond of challenging people to distinguish between what was fact and what they merely assumed was fact. He wrote an article pointing out that one can't trust a word in the phrase "Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D minor for organ" and then went on to explain how there was no proof that (a) the piece is by Bach, (b) the original title was 'Toccata and Fugue', (c) the original key was D minor, or (d) it was originally written for the organ. Regarding the last point, he merely pointed out that a lot of the figuration and other writing was more idiomatic of a stringed instrument. He suggested the violin, but others since have suggested the violoncello piccolo and even, I think, the lute. Nobody seems to doubt that the title must be later than Bach - such bipartite titles didn't appear until after he was dead - but there's no proof that his points are either right or wrong. His aim wasn't to prove or disprove anything, but just to point out that nothing about the piece was certain.
  12. In the case of Germany, I'm pretty sure that it's because they are very aware of their fine musical heritage and take music education much more seriously than we ever have. I think it must be "in their bones". I may have told this story before, but many years ago I went to Aachen to play harpsichord continuo along with other English musicians in Bach's St John Passion. The harpsichord was borrowed from the local Gymnasium. It was languishing in a cupboard there as the school had never used it. It had been provided when the school was built not many years previously because the government (or whoever) thought it was the sort of thing a school should have. They hoicked it across the road to the church and set it up for the rehearsal. Apart from one note it was perfectly in tune, yet they swore they hadn't tuned it. Can you imagine that happening in Britain? I have no idea about anywhere else.
  13. I can't really comment on that, I'm afraid. It's something you will need to ask mainstream players. They are the ones who need convincing. Maybe I've just known the wrong musicians...
  14. I don't think it's the religious associations particularly. Orchestral players are generally quite relaxed about playing Viennese masses in church, for example. In my experience, players of 'mainstream' instruments simply regard the organ as at best inferior and at worst downright unmusical. The usual objection is to its inexpressiveness -- to the unyielding evenness of its tone and the player's inability to shape phrases with nuances of touch. Rubato and swell pedals simply don't cut it. Compared to their own instruments, the organ lacks subtlety. We organists tend to be a bit sensitive about such comments, but it's no good sweeping them under the carpet by pretending that it's just the player's fault. The fundamental problem is that the organ isn't really a Romantic instrument. It's one that's had Romanticism thrust upon it. Do early music enthusiasts regard it more sympathetically, I wonder?
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