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John Furse

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  1. John Furse

    List of beautiful English Organs

    I, too, like this instrument. There are some beautiful, softer stops. However, I've always found the Great Mixture too 'big'. At the last recital I attended here, the organist played a lot of 'loud' music - giving me a headache by the end. There is a considerable amount of hard, reflective surfaces (much marble) in this lovely church and the sound can 'clang'. Next time, I would sit in one of the aisles.
  2. John Furse

    Easy Fanfares?

    Yet again you’ve requested information/assistance. This is an excellent forum for this. But, and with the best will in the world, I believe it would be good, before I and others spend (in some cases, considerable) time and effort thinking about and answering questions you have posed, if you were to acknowledge and respond to questions asked of you in another thread you began. I recall several volumes with similar titles to that heading this thread, which include some outstanding pieces. Francis Jackson's Archbishop's Fanfare is one of these - but does require a substantial (solo) reed.
  3. John Furse

    List of beautiful English Organs

    Mendelssohn's Wedding March: I have put a little additional info on my above post. It would have meant lots of awkward scrolling, otherwise. If other members get no further with the Leipzig Ausgabe, I suppose I could always email them. Even more spookily (see above), when I awoke this morning, I switched on Radio 3 in the middle of this piece - played by an orchestra, tho'. I wonder if this has owt to do with a solstitial event occurring soon.
  4. John Furse

    List of beautiful English Organs

    Following extensive internet research (!), I have patched together the following (spookily, whilst engaged in this, Radio 3 broadcast an arrangement of the Scherzo from A Midsummer Night's Dream !): 1826, 6 August: 17-year old Mendelssohn completes Concert Overture (Op. 21) to A Midsummer Night's Dream; 1827, 20 February: its first performance, Szczecin, Poland; 1829, 25 May: Mendelssohn conducts first concert in England, Argyll Rooms, London; 1829, 24 June: Mendelssohn conducts first British performance of his Overture to A Midsummer Night's Dream, Argyll Rooms, London; 1842, 6 March: Wedding March completed; 1843, 14 October: first performance of Incidental Music (Op 61) to A Midsummer Night's Dream, Potsdam, Germany; 1847, 2 June: first performance of Wedding March at a wedding, St Peter, Tiverton (arranged & performed by Samuel Reay*); 1858, 25 January (the ‘rot’ begins): played at wedding of Princess Royal (a daughter of Queen Victoria) to a Prussian prince, Chapel Royal, St James’s Palace. The rest is history, as they say. It is just possible that Our Felix ‘improvised’ this music on the (now Maldon) organ, well before (more than a decade) he completed it and inscribed it on paper, as David suggests. As I learned early on, the absence of a positive does not indicate a negative. It would be surprising, but not impossible, that the documentary evidence for this has not survived. BTW, David: I believe you mean west-facing, for the new Bishop case at Maldon. Addition (for further 'work' ?): I have been unable to penetrate the Leipziger Ausgabe der Werke von Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy, who may well be able to provide more info. (Hint ! Hint ! For those with more German than me.) *[An archive gave that Samuel Reay “obtained the pianoforte duet copy” and “arranged it for the organ”.]
  5. John Furse

    List of beautiful English Organs

    St Peter’s, Tiverton, is a glorious composition: http://www.stpeterstiverton.org.uk/organ/ and http://www.npor.org.uk/NPORView.html?RI=N10590 Even more so, when moved from the Chancel screen in 1826 to the west gallery, I should imagine. There is indifferent lighting in this church and decent images are few and far between. As can be read in the links, the carved cherubs are attributed to Grinling Gibbons; the 1696 incarnation by Christian and Bernard Schmidt (Smith). The first (organ) performance of 'The Wedding March' was given here in 1847. Some of the pipes appear to be original and, therefore, date from the late 1600s. Father Willis did a major rebuild in 1867; Noel Mander, another, a century later. It is, thus, a fascinating example of the syncretism of three different periods of organ design. The 19th century (wooden) Pedal and Great reeds are crowning splendours. I considered myself fortunate to preside over this magnificent instrument for a short while in the early 90s - my last church position, as the demands of teaching became more and more onerous and weekends had to be reserved for marking, preparation and LIFE.
  6. John Furse

    List of beautiful English Organs

    The acoustic is one of the most remarkable I have experienced. It is how I'd imagine an organ would sound if placed in the dome of St Paul's ! I wish I'd had the chance to hear (well sung) unaccompanied choral music here.
  7. John Furse

    Composing SATB

    OOTH now needs to say with more clarity exactly what s/he needs in the way of assistance. SATB covers a multitude of sins. How good is the choir ? King’s/John’s/Trinity/BBC Singers ? A struggling village/community choir, just about managing four parts ? In between ? Single/mixed sex ? An ‘ideal’ choir ? “A simple piece” ? Vaughan Williams’ O taste and see [ http://petruccilibrary.ca/files/imglnks/caimg/2/2d/IMSLP392196-PMLP634687-Vaughan_Williams_O_Taste_and_See.pdf ] is a masterpiece of simplicity: solos, chorus and the most effortless of uncomplicated counterpoint. It could hardly have been for a more prestigious occasion, either: the 1953 Coronation. Is this the sort of thing desired ? Or, only homophony ? If so, Tallis’s Canon is a good exemplar: similarly compact and an almost syllabic setting of its text, with interesting changes of metre (in modern notation): [ https://www.cpdl.org/wiki/images/b/b8/Tunes_for_Archbishop_Parker%27s_Psalter-_3.pdf ] On the face of it, Messiaen’s O sacrum convivium [ http://sitarte.phpnet.org/sitarte2/AM12/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/Messiaen-O_sacrum_convivium.pdf ] is ‘simple’. Again, substantially syllabic, but with easy melismas, simple echos and repetitions and an extended melisma for the “alleluia”. Far from easy to sing: chording is crucial, here.
  8. John Furse

    Composing SATB

    The (admittedly not very many) undergrads with whom I have contact are mostly satisfied - some, very. Perhaps they are fortunate in being at institutions with good lecturers. I have heard no tales such as those related by several above. It is obviously a matter of luck. To return to my 'incident', it changed the direction of my life for the next five years and even nudged me into the ‘wrong’ master’s course - fortunately, at the right university (music) department. I gradually regained confidence in my abilities and once more began composing - both on request and when opportunities presented themselves.
  9. John Furse

    Composing SATB

    COMPOSING #2 . . . and ‘questions’. Many questions are - and should be - posed, before beginning. These might be answered in the brain instantly, or become part of the actual compositional process and need working on, sometimes at some length. Sinto, a neat, concise poem of Lorca, was a thank you gift to someone who loved Japan and its culture. Campanillas de oro. Pagoda dragón. Tilín tilín sobre los arrozales. Fuente primitiva, fuente de la verdad. A lo lejos, garzas color de rosa y un volcán marchito. My translation: Little bells of gold. Dragon pagoda. Ting, ting ! Ting, ting ! Across the rice fields. Primal fountain, fountain of cool truth. In the distance, egrets tinged with pink and a spent volcano. When setting words so atmospheric, should one reflect any of the country’s ‘sounds’ ? Does one reflect the so-Spanish author ? I attempted to do both and incorporate Flamenco and Japanese scales. After not too long, I found this not working and abandoned the (‘pink bird’) idea. I ended up using the insen (a 5-note) scale, with which I was long familiar. This was simultaneously constraining and liberating. However, before that, this composition proved to be one where I employed detailed sketching of each phrase (of the text). I have attached a scan of how I 'notated' this. Rhythms and, in some cases, relative pitches, readily presented themselves - to the extent that it became one of those pieces I largely completed in one day (14 hours). I knew it would be sung; but by which voice ? I began with a high soprano; soon realising that there could easily be two registers, in this poem of the air and the earth. I added a baritone. Accompaniment: piano, or something more exotic ? A small ensemble, with ‘ethnic’ instruments ? I ‘heard’ a piano in my mind’s ear, tinkling. So be it. This became a structural device: framing the work. Obviously, it helps when a text, in and of itself, conjures up images, which can be musically presented: glistening, tiny bells; a pagoda; gently waving fields of rice; a fountain; birds; a volcano. I used to tell my students that, if they could not see in their mind’s eye a vivid picture of what they were attempting to convey to listeners, these listeners had no hope of ‘seeing’ it. Sometimes, one is in the fortunate position to be able to choose this; at other times, one is given a text and asked to get on with it.
  10. John Furse

    Composing SATB

    Now, to COMPOSING ! I fear we have been doing OOTH a disservice. We have strayed from our ways like lost sheep and OOTH may still feel unable to safely graze, nay gambol, in the green pastures of creativity. Let us take three texts, in three languages: one to a post. Without some kind of serendipitous inspiration (from my ‘Muses’), I would word process then print the text on to a blank piece of paper, in landscape format, with double-spacing between each line. Usually, I would have a phrase at a time, centred. Ave verum corpus, natum de Maria Virgine, vere passum, immolatum in cruce pro homine, cuius latus perforatum fluxit aqua et sanguine: esto nobis praegustatum in mortis examine. O Iesu dulcis, O Iesu pie, O Iesu, fili Mariae. Miserere mei. Amen. Translation: Hail, true Body, born of the Virgin Mary, who having truly suffered, was sacrificed on the cross for mankind, whose pierced side flowed with water and blood: May it be for us a foretaste [of the Heavenly banquet] in the trial of death. O sweet Jesus, O pious Jesus, O Jesus, son of Mary, have mercy on me. Amen. I would attempt to understand and picture the text; say it, out loud, in various ways: loud, soft, fast, slow. It would be unusual if, by now, (musical) ideas hadn’t started to form, if greyly. Now, some composers would use the first Ave as a refrain; in fact, I have done this with another text (Miserere). Here, the Latin word is repeated by an upper voice semi-chorus before, during and after the phrases of the English translation of the same text. This is an invocation, a litany. One needs to ask questions (of oneself or students): how much, if at all, does the scene need to be captured ? The wooden cross; the agonised, tortured body of Our Saviour; the still-flowing bodily fluids ? This could be in contrast with and relief to the plea for mercy. In my setting, the whole movement is downwards; the phrase fluxit . . . recurs, lower and lower, until it almost runs out of space - and the ‘blood soaks into the ground’. It is mainly imitative (contrapuntal), with a homophonic central section. Whilst not SATB (SSAATTBB. I had the luxury of the ‘use’ of one of the best professional choirs, at the time of composition.), it serves as a possible example. Is it necessary/desirable to hear other settings of the same text ? For most students, I’d say ‘No’. Why ? Because it could unduly influence their setting. They may think there is a compunction to sound like so-and-so. After completion, it’s an excellent idea: for their next efforts.
  11. John Furse

    Composing SATB

    It is obvious that, for the vast majority of human (and therefore music) history, compositions were neither inscribed not recorded in any meaningful way. Even now, in many cultures, this is the case - and there is no requirement to so do. Skalds, griots and the like memorised vast tracts of history (personal, familial, tribal - they had to: it wasn’t written down) and improvised the accompaniment each time, much as did the early blues/jazz musicians. This does not negate their validity as ‘music’. In other cultures, compositions were more fluid, but not for lack of training. In South Asia, students/disciples would learn/live with their teacher (ustād) and not perform in public for up to fifteen years. I have read that students may not even touch an instrument for two years, but spend that time learning by rote the hundreds of rāgs. In Indonesia, some Gamelan pieces are almost ‘community composition’, with pieces gradually evolving. Their performances are memorised, by repetition. By this performance-repetition, mistakes are eradicated (hopefully) and the sense of a ‘finished/polished whole’ can emerge. Moreover, it is only in Western music since the Renaissance that compositions have become immutable. And, as we organists well know, even into the second half of the 18th century there was a sizeable improvisatory component to performance. To do a Monty Python and state the bleedin’ obvious, each time a piece was performed, it was somewhat different. This persisted into the next (19th) century, with the cadenzas in concerti. Also, and solely in Western high-art music, there is a particular type of expressive/emotional content and intention absent from almost all other cultures and genres - including pop/rock. As I’ve previously said, ‘Music is sound organised by people’; and, as Zimbelstern says about Wagner’s process, there is a ‘focussing’ and honing of ideas to achieve a ‘result’. I recognise the description of Wagner’s mode of working as one I have usually employed. The beginning with the kernel of an idea; its expansion and development; the many hours/weeks/months/years of work. But, there have been others: a few times, I have felt like an amanuensis, with the notes flowing from me in a constant stream and my struggling to keep up and ‘write it down’. Subsequent to this, all that was needed was tidying-up. Although I say it myself, these have been some of my ‘best’ works. There can (must ?) not be one way. Whilst I inculcated a ‘corporate’ way of working in my younger students (for purely practical reasons), I always allowed individuals to compose in their own way, in their own time. Lennon & McCartney did what a lot of pop musicians do: often evolving lyrics and accompaniment simultaneously. Stravinsky and Elgar often composed at the piano; Britten apparently worked out everything in his head (!) - the only time taken with pen/cil in hand was in its writing down on manuscript. I heard the most fascinating descriptions of ‘the process’ at educational (secondary, music) conferences, where practitioners demonstrated how they facilitated their students to approach, initiate, further, then finalise their work. These are now infrequent: cost, diminishing number of music teachers/advisors/institutions. What’s the point, anyway ? What the students need to learn is in a slim book/online course, often devised by the examiner of their course. The majority of secondary teachers learn ‘on the job’, what that school wants them to teach (!). Teaching colleges and university departments of education, whilst they still exist, are a vanishing breed. They, and the staff within, were too ‘troublesome’. Governments believe it’s much more preferable to have everyone singing from the same hymn-sheet, without a contrary view in sight - as we see across The Pond.
  12. John Furse

    Composing SATB

    By 'shackled', I meant by the what the courses consisted of: there was no original creation - solely pastiche. (Bach chorale settings, counterpoint, Haydn/Mozart string quartets, Schubert songs, etc.) My two music masters at school were very good at all this, but had no training in composition and no idea how to foster it. I am sure that what occurred in my tutoring session would not now be countenanced.
  13. John Furse

    Composing SATB

    I recall a fiendish sine tone generator. Each note could be adjusted up or down by fractions and we (undergrads) were to say whether one of the notes in, say, a 3-note chord had been sharpened or flattened. It was always my intention with young people first to develop the EAR. They have to be excited, enthralled and enthused by (all) musics - and (guided to) wish to explore further other musics than just the current pop genres with which the vast majority are familiar and like. Terms, titles and labels put them off straight away. Play them something, ask them ‘into’ it and, providing one’s approach is open, they will usually react with few preconceptions. Rules ? Schmules ! Certainly not to start with. My ‘method’ guided them to ask whether what they had composed could be bettered/was an appropriate response to whatever stimulus was given (visual, literary, mood, combination, etc.). To shackle them, as my generation was for years, with no outlet for any original creativity and within constraints established centuries before (many of which have become superfluous), was wholly inappropriate - and would have instantly ‘turned off’ the majority. [ Following the 'tossing aside' of my little song (an above post), I composed nothing else, for the whole of my first year - believing my slight offerings worthless. This should have been one of the most exciting and stimulating times of my life, compositionally. “we weren’t even ‘allowed’ to compose until the second year of my undergraduate course”) In some degrees, there was NO composing; this was begun at Master’s level. Presumably, students weren't believed capable until then. ] That is not to say that models were not introduced and ‘explained’ - as a natural concomitant of what they had composed. This way of doing things naturally and gradually incorporates more and more ‘rules’ (which, of course, are fluid, according to various criteria), rather than starting with them. Two examples: the prohibition of various ‘solecisms’ is meaningless in serialism/dodecaphony/12-note music; similarly, if applied to much Penderecki. I proffer the contrasting equine enjoyments of a blinkered horse on a racecourse, with its rails and fences and free riding in the open countryside. Which is the more enjoyable - for both rider and animal ? I repeat, ‘we have moved on’. Only by starting with an open canvas can we, once more, strive to regain the ear of a child - as Paul Klee said, ‘to draw like a child’. Ruskin’s “innocence of the eye”; “A child sees everything in a state of newness” of Baudelaire and his “genius is nothing more nor less than childhood regained at will.” These are artistic and literary paragons and geniuses; why should music not strive for the same. There have been cul-de-sacs: the above serialism (not without its having engendered masterpieces. Some might disagree !), then total serialism and most minimalism - to name three. We have got lost. We flounder in a sea of the worship of commercialism and administrative negativity. We have lost sight of 'soul'. It is no wonder that (some) organised religions are at threat; organs and their builders, as a result, too. (Re some other recent threads.) The increasingly prescriptive nature of the curriculum in our 'academies' and its denial of opportunities for creativity amounts to the criminal abuse (neglect) of our people on a national scale.
  14. John Furse

    Composing SATB

    I cannot recall when a thread on this forum occasioned such lengthy posts (many of great interest and erudition); it is one of the most interesting for some time. OOTH is to be congratulated for provoking such enlivened discourse. Please, also, let there be no misunderstandings: were I to appear on Love Island Streaming (or, whatever Roy Plomley’s programme is now called) and had to choose just the one disc for my desert island, it would be by Bach. Preferably played by him. Parallels, documented in Western music since the days (and long, dark, cold nights) of organum, seem to have become beleaguered and have attracted unfavourable mention. Colin’s mention of this style made me wonder how much Léonin and his immediate predecessors actually understood the scientific theories behind parallelism, since their understanding was based on the ancient Greek theorists - Pythagoras and his chums. These organists just did it. Hearing organum performed well, in an appropriate acoustic and with its full richness of doubled octaves and fifths, is an experience which induces awe. Marcel Pérès has made outstanding recordings of this.
  15. John Furse

    Composing SATB

    We seem to have strayed from the title of this thread: OOTH did not say ‘Composing SATB in the style of J. S. Bach’. I believed our ‘brief’ was to shortcut this ‘process’, offering tips for her immediately to plunge into the business of ‘composing’. It is Eurocentric in the extreme to delude oneself that the only way to learn how to create original music is to begin from pinnacles of Western high-art music and sexist to continue to use only dead white males as exemplars. We have moved on. I would posit that Bach-style SATB settings are hardly ‘composing’: what goes before and after (the chorales - e.g. arias, choruses) is of a markedly higher ‘quality’. Remember that Our Johann was criticised for his (I simplify) too complicated harmonies and that (most of) his chorale settings would have been performed with the congregation singing the (chorale) melody in octaves - harmonic ‘rules’ (not codified until after his death), and the harmony itself, thus being sundered. I defy even the utmost musical genius (Stravinsky, say) to write stylish SATB chorale pastiches of Bach without guidance. This process last several years, for most. And Igor did not sound like himself for years, but his teachers and favoured composers. The situation in the visual arts is somewhat different. There are childhood works from Picasso and Michelangelo which are of astonishing precocity and point to how these artists would develop and display elements of their later style/s. Music is the most time-based of the arts - needing time in various ways to be perceived and assimilate. Whilst some compositions could be labelled as ‘written-down improvisations’, most have to be worked at; to misquote Wordsworth: ‘corrected in tranquillity’. In the 60s, O and A level, and the first years of most undergraduate, courses were ineradicably stylistic pastiche, pre-1850. This prepared us to be musicians of more than a century earlier ! And, of course, this was in the style of dead, white, male composers ! There was probably no time to tackle anything else; certainly not the way it was done then. And, we weren’t even ‘allowed’ to compose until the second year of my undergraduate course. Leaping forward to the 90s and 00s: in my Key Stage 3 (11-14 years) curriculum, for instance, compositional styles (other than conventional ‘Western’ ‘harmony’) broached included medieval and ‘ethnic’ drones (using parallel 5ths, octaves and other intervals), Japanese melody/harmony, Minimalism, African rhythms, South Asian melody/accompaniment and Gamelan. Performing materials of similar and widely different genres supplemented and extended the above. Techniques I (dis)covered during my master’s were happily utilised by Y7 students ! Composers such as Messiaen, Langlais, Reich, Glass and Cage have all been influenced by one or more of the above. Hearing the Gamelan was ear-catching, revelatory and profoundly style-changing for Debussy. The ears of the young, if ‘captured’ and ‘tuned’ early on, are more non-discriminatory than we might imagine. By avoiding a diet of the standards (orchestral, etc.), they could be enthused. This is why, thanks to enlightened music educators, and from the onset of the new GCSE approach and the National Curriculum, the numbers of students learning instruments and taking Music at 15-16 years soared. This would not have happened with the ‘take out your Riemenschneider’ approach. I wish I’d had this kind of music education: I’m sure I’d be less conventional. It is almost as if some wish this hadn’t happened: the ‘Music is expensive’ (as is D&T, also heavily threatened) approach of educational accountants. I had been fortunate to do my ‘teaching cert’ (PGCE) in middle age and at the exciting, visionary development and implementation of the National Curriculum. Sadly, so, so sadly, this did not even last for a single cohort of students, let alone a generation, until revisions commenced - with more and more prescriptions. Yes, it may have been slightly inaccurate to claim that I learned little from these (Riemenschneider) exercises: obviously, they instil a certain type of discipline. That discipline, however, is very much vertical and four-square. Do we want all new music to be so ? We’d be writing new hymn books ! When I first went up to university, I showed a song-setting of poem, on which the ink was hardly dry, to my tutor - a famous composer, known to all on here. HE PUT IT TO ONE SIDE, without looking at it and proceeded to ‘other business’. He did not talk about it for the rest of the hour. This setting was very much influenced by Britten’s recently completed Winter Words cycle and I was most proud of it - believing it a mini-jewel of near perfection and encapsulating the mood of the poem. (Still do.) I was aghast and perplexed - vowing never to do that to one of my students. My respect for him was never regained.
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