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Instrument And Repertoire (was: Save The British Organ Heritage)

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The story so far: Pierre Lauwers made a plea for the preservation of British organs, based on the idea that, to avoid the mistakes perpetrated on the continent, organs should be preserved for their unique qualities and characteristics. The discussion focused on the organs of Arthur Harrison as representing all that is best, or worst depending on your position, in British organbuilding.


Somewhere along the line, someone made the point that organists should choose repertoire to suit the instrument they are playing. This was promptly dismissed on the grounds that any repertoire suited to an Arthur Harrison was bound to be second-rate.


I think this is worth a separate discussion. The idea of quality in music (Bach, Mozart, Beethoven et al. at the top; everyone else in descending order thereafter) is familiar from music classes, but quickly leads to gridlock if applied too literally. In the field of organ music, it is especially dangerous since many of the "great" organ composers (Franck, Buxtehude, Widor) are considered second-rate in a wider context.


In my experience, it is often the "minor" composers of a given era that provide the most period flavour. Since any organ recital is basically a tour of the past, it makes sense to find repertoire that will allow the organ to shine, even if this involves playing music outside the accepted canon. And even if it means playing transcriptions, if they are authentic to the period, since they can actually improve the "quality" level. It seems a little harsh to insist on quality while banning transcriptions.


A hypothetical question: would you rather go to a recital to hear (for instance) Frank Bridge played on a Hope-Jones, or Bach played on a Willis/Harrison/NeoClassical Rebuild Co. with electro-penumatic action and 96 memory levels?


Benjamin Waterhouse


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It all depends of the circumstancies!


If we were say, in Neuenfelde, and had the chance to attend a recital there,

I would not even ask what would be played.

If a british player came in Namur, I would not tell him british music he should avoid

because our reed stops do not suit that music...

So in a Recital this matters little for me.

I am more "purist" by far with Cds. Of course, LPs and Cds I have already some,

but if you wanted to sell me a Bach integral more, you'd better record it on

my "pets" baroque german organs (Angermünde, Brandenburger Dom, Waltershausen,

Altenburg and of course Naumburg). Were it for Howells I would be rather difficult

as well.

Fact is, the typical 1970 LP with an ecclectic program on a tinkered with romantic organ

I have enough in my collection...

But now when the Casparini organ in Vilnius -an absolutely unique thing- will be restored,

I shall buy its first recording regardless of what will be played.

So as long as church service or Recital is concerned, I'll stay very cool, but not for Cds

(save very intentional "misfits", for example Bach played at St-Sernin by a Master in

order to learn us all some things!)

Again, the whole "Repertoire" concept needs....Updating!


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I would like to repeat what I said on the other thread:

From the purely musical point of view this style of organ is fundamentally flawed because it is intellectually dishonest in the same way that orchestral transcriptions are intellectually dishonest* - which is not surprising since, for all that organists may be the most intelligent of musicians, British organists are the most intellectually dishonest musicians I know - with the possible exception of singers.

I am surprised no one took me to task for this. It can't be because you all agree! :)


I totally agree that it is the minor composers that really lend an era its flavour. If you want to understand the historical context of a particular music properly you really do need to investigate them, even - nay particularly - the bad ones.


As I have also mentioned before, there is a natural tendency for us to believe that any music or composer we like must be great. It's a bit like having your sexual prowess or your driving challenged, isn't it? We ought to be more relaxed about admitting that the two are completely separate considerations and that there is nothing wrong with liking music that is less than great, or even not particularly good at all.


I am as guilty of this as everyone else. I have a particular fondness for the music of Clara Schumann and for the life of me I can't see why she is not ranked up there with the best of them, even if her taste does reek of the salon now and again. For my money her music is better than either Franck's or Widor's. By any reckoning these, and Howells too for that matter, are second-stream composers. I do not think their importance for the organ repertoire alters this. With Buxtehude I am less sure. His organ music is so unlike the rest of his output that has earned him the status of a minor master.


Oh and the recital? I'd probably go and hear the Hope-Jones - though I'd reserve the right to walk out!

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For me it's simple: either the concert is on an instrument of interest that I haven't heard yet and because it's interesting to hear 'the instrument', the 'repertoire' may be of minor interest, or the instrument is known and I want to hear a master/talent displaying it.


I'm not going to listen to 'Ad nos' at an 1960-ish neo-baroque pile of nails (say III/30/p), but I do like to hear a Bach/Vivaldi concerto at the RAH when Reubke is on the main dish by a worldclass performer (or Volodos perform Rach.3; listened to the cd a thousand time probably, but you just got to hear that one live, n'est-ce pas?).


So maybe going to make acquaintance with a HopeJones may be more insteresting (even if the repertoire may be rubbish) than a middle-of-the-road-thirteen-in-a-dosen-o-so-predictable recital whith 'standard' repertoire on a standard organ (which here in Holland go by the hundreds, because there are too much organists here playing in fact one and a half program on any organ they can get there hands on).


For cd's the same goes for me; either encyclopedic discs (period instruments etc. for all styles), or transcendent performers.


This remembers me I once attended a concert with organ an alphorns in the Bach church in Arnstadt; no Bach on the program, totally something different, but nice :)

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An interesting point.


I once possessed a copy of Kevin Bowyer's Bach CD, played on the H&H at St. Mary, Redcliffe. However, after listening to it two or three times, I gave it to a friend. I found that, however good Bowyer's playing was, the sound of the instrument seemed to me to be so alien to what I regarded as the spirit of the music, that I just found it irritating (and depressing) to listen to the disc.


For different reasons, I cannot listen easily to a CD I have of Bach and other Baroque music on the restored (?) organ of St. Jacobi, Hamburg. Hearing the C major Prelude and Fugue (BVW 547) in almost exactly D major drives me batshit.


A good player is an attraction. However, I really do not want to sit through the JSB 565, Widor's Toccata, Franck's Third Choral or the Liszt BACH - regardless of how stunning the player or the instrument might be.


On the other hand, I tend to be suspicious of music by composers of whom I have never heard. The type of composers whose music is apparently often performed by "MM" would not necessarily attract me, unless I had been forced to listen to some - and found that I quite liked it.

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One really has to differ between authentic interpretation and convincing* interpretation! (Though they can appear together, and that's very fine then :D )


*) sorry, my English does not offer a more fitting term - in German I take the word "schlüssig" for this,and coherent or conclusive might be better choice...


You know the limits of "authentic" interpretation - the instrument, the playing, and finally: the AUDIENCE?


But convincing or conclusive interpetation is to make some interesting music, showing many, maybe not all, of the visions and emotions a composer had in mind with his piece...

And an instrument which is just WELL-MADE makes the task easier, and its style is not so important any more, than is quality.


Almut Rössler, German organist and Professor in Düsseldorf, student of Messiaen, made a saying during a masterclass or an interview:


"The younger organists of today do know very well how to registrate this or that piece on this or that organ. But they do not know how to do it on THEIR organ

[of their regular duty/practise]"

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