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Constructing A Recital Programme


Peter Clark

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While this board was down, I came accross another discussion list for organists (Viva Organ) in which I lurked. One thread was that of recital programmes and the inclusion of a "big" piece. My view is that where possible one should tailor one's programme to your anticipated audience, maybe including one surprise item (Barry Jordan on this forum says he does this and by coincidence he is including Glass's Mad Rush in a recital, which is what I did recently.)

 

When I gave a recital a few weeks back, I knew that the audience would be made up not so much of organ "buffs" but supporters of the parish and also of the charities for which the retiring collection would be taken. (This was one in a series of such recitals in which the recitalist names his/her charity.) It was also at lunchtime. I thus construced a recital of mailny shorter, lighter pieces, but included a Bach chorale prelude, a Brahms ditto and a Peeters ditto. I also introduced the already mentioned Glass, and included one of my own modest offerings. This mix seemed to work quite well. A programme devised for an audience where there were likely to be a number of organists would probably contain some more esoteric, and, dare I use the term "heavier" items.

 

Any thoughts?

 

P

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That sounds a good approach.

 

This is probably self-evident to everyone, but I think one rule of thumb with recital programmes is that the opening piece needs to function rather like an overture. It doesn't necessarily need to be loud, but it does need to be something arresting, cheerful and fairly short. If you are playing a specialist programme such as the whole of Nativité or wading your way through the Vierne symphonies, then obviously this doesn't apply, but otherwise I would consider it good practice.

 

On the question of "big pieces" I would agree that it can help to focus a programme, but I would suggest that many such pieces only work with an audience of the musically erudite and not even all organists regard themselves as musically educated. At least that is certainly the case around here and I cannot believe we are unique. I would be quite happy to chance a Rheinberger or Mendelssohn sonata - or any similar type of multi-movement piece - or one of the big Franck pieces, but a single, long wodge of sound like Ad nos, a reger Fantasia, or the Willan is, IMO, pushing your luck.

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That sounds a good approach.

 

This is probably self-evident to everyone, but I think one rule of thumb with recital programmes is that the opening piece needs to function rather like an overture. It doesn't necessarily need to be loud, but it does need to be something arresting, cheerful and fairly short. If you are playing a specialist programme such as the whole of Nativité or wading your way through the Vierne symphonies, then obviously this doesn't apply, but otherwise I would consider it good practice.

 

On the question of "big pieces" I would agree that it can help to focus a programme, but I would suggest that many such pieces only work with an audience of the musically erudite and not even all organists regard themselves as musically educated. At least that is certainly the case around here and I cannot believe we are unique. I would be quite happy to chance a Rheinberger or Mendelssohn sonata - or any similar type of multi-movement piece - or one of the big Franck pieces, but a single, long wodge of sound like Ad nos, a reger Fantasia, or the Willan is, IMO, pushing your luck.

 

This is sensible advice, Vox.

 

However, one possible risk, which I feel is worth taking, is to start a recital with the opening of Vierne's Second Symphony - this exciting movement has an arresting beginning, some quieter moments and a thrilling conclusion, and (at around seven minutes) is just about short enough to avoid frightening the audience right at the start.

 

I began a recital at St. Stephen's, Walbrook (City of London) last September, using this piece, and it seemed to go down fairly well.

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I look foward to the further views on this with interest, esp as i have got my first few recitals coming up at the end of august / begining of september.

 

These are aimed at a generally 'populist' market, though i know in 2 of the 3 locations i will be playing this music, there are normally musically educated (or at least knowledgable) members of the congregation. They are lunchtime recitals of an hour-ish in length (+- 25%) The program is below, but before reading it, i will comment that i am happy with all bar two of these pieces (which will need learning, but with the time i have avalible having finished college and not starting uni until september this is not a problem,) and if you think a piece is particuarly inappropriate, an alternative suggestion (either a piece, composer or style) would be appreciated.

 

<b> so the program </b>

 

Grand Choeur in D Maj - Guilmant

 

Knightsbridge March - Coates ( a quite fantastic arrangment, complete with some tuba solos)

 

Prelude, Fugue et Variation - Cesar Franck

 

Plymouth Suite - Whitlock

1. Allegro Resoluto 3. Chanty 4. Salix 5. Toccata

 

Trio Sonata No. 1 in E Flat Major - J.S.B

 

Rhapsody No 3 in C Sharp Minor - Howells (Somebody requested it, and having played this at services before have found it surprisingly popular)

 

 

So yes, honest opinions appreciated

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Guest Patrick Coleman
I look foward to the further views on this with interest, esp as i have got my first few recitals coming up at the end of august / begining of september.

 

These are aimed at a generally 'populist' market, though i know in 2 of the 3 locations i will be playing this music, there are normally musically educated (or at least knowledgable) members of the congregation. They are lunchtime recitals of an hour-ish in length (+- 25%) The program is below, but before reading it, i will comment that i am happy with all bar two of these pieces (which will need learning, but with the time i have avalible having finished college and not starting uni until september this is not a problem,) and if you think a piece is particuarly inappropriate, an alternative suggestion (either a piece, composer or style) would be appreciated.

 

<b> so the program </b>

 

Grand Choeur in D Maj - Guilmant

 

Knightsbridge March - Coates ( a quite fantastic arrangment, complete with some tuba solos)

 

Prelude, Fugue et Variation - Cesar Franck

 

Plymouth Suite - Whitlock

1. Allegro Resoluto 3. Chanty 4. Salix 5. Toccata

 

Trio Sonata No. 1 in E Flat Major - J.S.B

 

Rhapsody No 3 in C Sharp Minor - Howells (Somebody requested it, and having played this at services before have found it surprisingly popular)

So yes, honest opinions appreciated

 

Would you like to come and do it here?

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Well, David... The pieces look fine, but is this the best order, I wonder? It seems to me that you would only have to swap the Franck and Whitlock around and you will have a straight-line descent into seriousness. Personally I would not end with a brooding, minor-key piece like the Howells; it would be much better to send the audience away with a spring in its step.

 

I only know the Coates very vaguely - it's not my sort of music - but I think this sort of light-heartedness is better reserved for later in the programme when your audience's attention might be wilting a bit. Does it end loudly? - I can't remember. If so, why not make this your finale?

 

In that event a suitable order might be:

 

Guilmant

Bach

Whitlock

Franck

Howells

Coates

 

Alternatively, how about:

 

Guilmant

Bach

Howells

Franck

Coates

Whitlock

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I would agree with Vox - but I would also go further and ditch the Howells.

 

I have only once played a piece by Howells in a recital and it was received about as well as a bag of Hula Hoops in a Bar Mitzvah.

 

I also think that this piece is, for the average recital audience, heavy and somewhat unaccessible.

 

If you wish to avoid symphony finales by either Widor or Vierne, how about Dubois' Toccata, Mulet's Carillon-Sortie - or even the penultimate or final movement from Mendelssohn's Sonata No. 2? Or, for that matter, the whole of a Mendelssohn sonata.

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The problem with Mendelssohn sonatas is that his final cadences are so appallingly weak. Time and time again he writes a whole movement of very satisfying (or at least perfectly acceptable) music and what happens? He ends with a damp squib of an "Amen"! In my book that puts him out of the running for a finale, though I'd be very happy to feature him in the middle of the programme.

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thanks for that so far guys...

 

Vox i like your 'first' program, (especially as the Whitlock does end in a fanfare-ish way) and Sean, the Mulet might work well as a finale ( my slight reservation is that at one of the churches, i have played it for a few major services over the past year, so not sure it might not seem 'same again' type material.) The Dubois just annoys the hell out of me, theres something about *That* piece (though a number of his minatures are quite good.)

 

If i could remove my finger and learn the end of Vierne I in a month though...

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While this board was down, I came accross another discussion list for organists (Viva Organ) in which I lurked. One thread was that of recital programmes and the inclusion of a "big" piece. My view is that where possible one should tailor one's programme to your anticipated audience, maybe including one surprise item (Barry Jordan on this forum says he does this and by coincidence he is including Glass's Mad Rush in a recital, which is what I did recently.)

 

When I gave a recital a few weeks back, I knew that the audience would be made up not so much of organ "buffs" but supporters of the parish and also of the charities for which the retiring collection would be taken. (This was one in a series of such recitals in which the recitalist names his/her charity.) It was also at lunchtime. I thus construced a recital of mailny shorter, lighter pieces, but included a Bach chorale prelude, a Brahms ditto and a Peeters ditto. I also introduced the already mentioned Glass, and included one of my own modest offerings. This mix seemed to work quite well. A programme devised for an audience where there were likely to be a number of organists would probably contain some more esoteric, and, dare I use the term "heavier" items.

 

Any thoughts?

 

P

 

 

======================================

 

 

I never pander to popularity, or try to "work the street" and give them what you think they want.

 

I really do not think there is need to do this.

 

Apart from the fact that I was playing (and the auience were hearing) a recital under very difficult circumstances during a recent flower-festival, with old biddies clanking around with their zimmer-frames and all shouting at each other as they struggled to converse over the cacophony of music and colliding crockery, the programme which included the Reubke and largely former Eastern Bloc music caused a great deal of interest and enthusiasm, with people rushing up to ask more about it.

 

I have certain rules for programming, which is always to achieve a sense of balance and proportion. Thus, if I include a major work, I leven it with much lighter and shorter stuff, because there is nothing worse than a bombardment of like-minded music. (I think one of the most boring recitals I ever attended consisted of 4 Mendelssohn Sonatas, with a couple of Mendelssohn transcription thrown in as extras.........OMG)

 

I always make sure that there are entertaining programme-notes, with lots of little jokes and pithy comments, which keeps people entertained if they don't like a particular piece. (It stops them walking out, or escaping for a fag on the gravestones at least).

 

The trick, I think, is to include lots of nice melodies, :wub: which people can remember, and that was very much the case with my recent effort, which included Peeters (ever so lyrical), Cernohorsky (ever so unknown; possibly because most of his music perished in a fire), and various tid-bits from Poland, Russia and the rather mystical Preludium by Kodaly. In the programme notes, I linked them all together in such a way that it told a story.

 

Had I know what mayhem the pollen-sniffers could wreak, I would have written a special march...."The March of the killer bees" or a set of variations on "Greensleeves" entitled "Greenfly on your leaves".....but I must not be bitter and twisted! ;)

 

Balance and lyricism should be the key to programme planning, but also, I believe that one should never play-down to people. Often, it is those "ordinary souls" who once sang "Messiah" from memory, or who may have written a book about the "Kalmuc Tartars" or "Practical counter-insurgency for the over 70's"........you never quite know.

 

But as Dr Francis Jackson always said, "Always put one in for the old ladies."

 

Of course, if it were not for audiences, we could play what we liked!!!!

 

MM

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The problem with Mendelssohn sonatas is that his final cadences are so appallingly weak. Time and time again he writes a whole movement of very satisfying (or at least perfectly acceptable) music and what happens? He ends with a damp squib of an "Amen"! In my book that puts him out of the running for a finale, though I'd be very happy to feature him in the middle of the programme.

 

If we are to be strictly technical here, Vox, with the exception of Sonata No. 3*, they all end on a perfect cadence (albeit a dominant seventh to tonic). Not a plagal cadence in sight.

 

In addition, they are also considerably more cheerful than the Howells piece - and probably easier on the ear.

 

 

* This ends with a slightly ambiguous plagal cadence - with chromatic passing notes.

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If we are to be strictly technical here, Vox, with the exception of Sonata No. 3*, they all end on a perfect cadence (albeit a dominant seventh to tonic). Not a plagal cadence in sight.

One of us is showing our age! Probably me. A flip through Hymns A&M (standard edition) will reveal countless Amens sung to a perfect cadence. Anyway, you should know me well enough by now to allow for the odd bit of hyperbole. :wub:

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One of us is showing our age! Probably me. A flip through Hymns A&M (standard edition) will reveal countless Amens sung to a perfect cadence. Anyway, you should know me well enough by now to allow for the odd bit of hyperbole. :wub:

 

Well, indeed. However, when teaching A' level harmony I (and most of my colleagues) refer to plagal cadences as 'Amen' endings. There are also quite a few which utilise this progression - if the juxtaposition of but two chords at the end of a section can be called a progression.

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I would agree with Vox - but I would also go further and ditch the Howells.

 

I have only once played a piece by Howells in a recital and it was received about as well as a bag of Hula Hoops in a Bar Mitzvah.

 

 

I presume from this that you would wish to ditch Howells generally. In my experience, I have found that the Psalm Preludes programme well, especially when the reference is written in the recital leaflet, or, even better, quoted by the recitalist in a spoken interlude. This can communicate something extra to an ecletic audience.

Can I ask why you have an avoidance of Howells. Is it because you don't like the organ music, the composer's output generally, or for some other reason?

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I presume from this that you would wish to ditch Howells generally. In my experience, I have found that the Psalm Preludes programme well, especially when the reference is written in the recital leaflet, or, even better, quoted by the recitalist in a spoken interlude. This can communicate something extra to an ecletic audience.

Can I ask why you have an avoidance of Howells. Is it because you don't like the organ music, the composer's output generally, or for some other reason?

 

I like a lot of the choral music - Take him, earth, for cherishing is a fantastic piece, as is the Requiem and many of his canticle settings. Having said that, this coming Sunday evening the Gentlemen of the Choir are due to sing Howells, in E - which is fairly tedious.

 

With regard to the organ music, it simply does not have that same effect. A lot of the psalm-preludes sound similar; most are in parabolic arch-form. However, they can make quite good mood-setters before an evensong. I just do not regard them as recital material.

 

In addition, some of his works can be quite depressing - not that this is necessarily an acceptable argument for exclusion - but it is not something I wish to do to my audience.

 

I am not sure that reading-out the psalm quotation really helps. It is true that he captures the overall mood of the verse(s), but, apart from this, I do not find them to be particularly descriptive.

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I like a lot of the choral music - Take him, earth, for cherishing is a fantastic piece, as is the Requiem and many of his canticle settings. Having said that, this coming Sunday evening the Gentlemen of the Choir are due to sing Howells, in E - which is fairly tedious.

 

With regard to the organ music, it simply does not have that same effect. A lot of the psalm-preludes sound similar; most are in parabolic arch-form. Hwever, they can make quite good mood-setters before an evensong. I just do not regard them as recital material.

 

In addition, some of his works can be quite depressing - not that this is necessarily an acceptable argument for exclusion - but it is not something I wish to do to my audience.

 

I am not sure that reading-out the psalm quotation really helps. It is true that he captures the overall mood of the verse(s), but, apart from this, I do not find them to be particularly descriptive.

 

 

===============================

 

 

 

Everyone knows by now how much I detest the music of Howells.

 

Erm.....confession time........ :huh:

 

There I was bowling along down the M5 and heading for deepest Wales, when I joined Classic FM in one of their full-length concerts. It was a Piano Concerto, and I was racking my brains (what few there are) trying to think who this French composer was. It SOUNDED like Ravel, but without the discipline, and yet, it was actually rather good in an odd sort of way.

 

I gave up in the end, and just enjoyed the music. B)

 

When the music finished, the presenter said, "Make of it what you will. That was the Piano Concert by Herbert Howells." :o

 

Please don't tell anyone off-board.

 

MM

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===============================

 

 

... When the music finished, the presenter said, "Make of it what you will. That was the Piano Concert by Herbert Howells." B)

 

Please don't tell anyone off-board.

 

MM

An illuminating comment by the presenter....

 

I must get to hear this piece.

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Howells's instrumental and orchestral music is quite unlike either the choral or organ music. I confess to finding a lot of it aimless and shapeless and full of hot air to little effect (like Reger, but in a totally different way). There are some gems though. I wish someone would record Sine nomine for solo soprano, tenor and orchestra. It's an absolutely ravishing piece.

 

Personally, as I have said before, I think the best of Howells is in his songs. The variety there will surprise those who think he only has one style.

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Guest Cynic
===============================

Everyone knows by now how much I detest the music of Howells.

 

Erm.....confession time........ :huh:

 

There I was bowling along down the M5 and heading for deepest Wales, when I joined Classic FM in one of their full-length concerts. It was a Piano Concerto, and I was racking my brains (what few there are) trying to think who this French composer was. It SOUNDED like Ravel, but without the discipline, and yet, it was actually rather good in an odd sort of way.

 

I gave up in the end, and just enjoyed the music. B)

 

When the music finished, the presenter said, "Make of it what you will. That was the Piano Concert by Herbert Howells." :o

 

Please don't tell anyone off-board.

 

MM

 

What an honest and revealing post. Thanks, MM.

 

I think the problem with Howells is that a little goes a long way. I studied with Howells for an hour every week for three years at The RCM and got to know him and his methods pretty well. He freely admitted then (in his 80s) that he no longer found inspiration 'came' as it had done when he was young. Frankly, he had to 'work at it'. I both respected this comment and saw the truth of it for myself.

 

There are patently some early works that just poured out by themselves, a classic example being the carol 'Here is the little door' which he said he wrote leaning up against the fireplace in the Farjeon household after supper, and immediately upon being given the text.

 

For me, some works hit the spot like nothing else of the period. The anthem, 'Like as the hart' is just a sublime setting of an already moving text, the Mag and Nunc settings (and it's hard to choose between the top five for me) are IMHO the only output of this genre to compare with those of Stanford. I like M&N's to have character, and yes, these sometimes sound rather similar..... but then they are romantic and (above all) emotional responses to the same text.

 

I play quite a bit of Howells's organ music but I would very definitely not play a whole programme of Howells because so often, in fact virtually always, these pieces are essentially the same - as 'same' as Scarlatti Sonatas taken en masse, maybe. Broadly speaking, they are of two kinds: the piece that starts soft, grows and then subsides and the piece that starts and finishes loud with a contrasting softer section in the middle. Howell's organ pieces are all best played one-off as a lead in, or follow-up to Choral Evensong.

 

He was a very fine improviser. He once claimed to me (and I have no reason to doubt the truth of it) that once he gave an entire organ recital in Australia and faked every work (by a given list of compsers) by improvising it off the cuff. He could certainly improvise Bach, because he showed me this on the piano. He told me that while he was looking after the music at St.John's College, Cambridge during WW2, he improvised every voluntary.

 

I can sympathise with anyone who cannot enjoy Howells, but I defy them to deny that they would probably be happy to go down in musical history as the composer of at least one of his works. How about 'A Spotless Rose' or the hymn-tune Michael?- to name two very short compositions amongst so much.

Now, I cannot bear Wagner. I might enjoy the odd organ-transcription, but I cannot imagine ever enjoying sitting down (having forked out half the national debt for a ticket) and being dragged through OTT melodrama, featuring singers with voices deformed by the unrealistic demands of a megalomaniac self-taught composer. However, I am prepared to respect anyone who sincerely likes this music. We simply disagree, that's all.

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It's always enlightening to hear the music of composers known only for their organ music. Howells string music is worth listening to - especially the Elegy for Viola, Quartet and String Orchestra. Stanford's orchestral music is good; try the Irish Symphony. I also have a CD of excellent chamber music by Vierne.

 

All organists should take every opportunity to listen outside the 'organ box'!!

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He was a very fine improviser. He once claimed to me (and I have no reason to doubt the truth of it) that once he gave an entire organ recital in Australia and faked every work (by a given list of compsers) by improvising it off the cuff. He could certainly improvise Bach, because he showed me this on the piano. He told me that while he was looking after the music at St.John's College, Cambridge during WW2, he improvised every voluntary.

Thanks for this fascinating post, Paul, and especially for this bit. The St John's anecdote has been doing the rounds for years and it's good to have it confirmed.

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======================================

I never pander to popularity, or try to "work the street" and give them what you think they want.

 

I really do not think there is need to do this.

 

Apart from the fact that I was playing (and the auience were hearing) a recital under very difficult circumstances during a recent flower-festival, with old biddies clanking around with their zimmer-frames and all shouting at each other as they struggled to converse over the cacophony of music and colliding crockery, the programme which included the Reubke and largely former Eastern Bloc music caused a great deal of interest and enthusiasm, with people rushing up to ask more about it.

 

MM

 

I think this is my point, partly, MM. The Mad Rush inclusion caused interest with one or two people wanting to know more about it and its composer. One member of the audience - an organist - asked to see the score. But in general I think if you are expecting people to pay, whether you personally or as in my example to give money to charity you have a responisbility to make people believe that it is money well spent - and it might also encourage those who wold not normally attend a recital to come again!

 

Peter

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Guest Patrick Coleman
Now, I cannot bear Wagner. I might enjoy the odd organ-transcription, but I cannot imagine ever enjoying sitting down (having forked out half the national debt for a ticket) and being dragged through OTT melodrama, featuring singers with voices deformed by the unrealistic demands of a megalomaniac self-taught composer. However, I am prepared to respect anyone who sincerely likes this music. We simply disagree, that's all.

 

Wagner is sublime only in the opera house when the whole effect can be experienced, and you can be drawn into the emotional roller coaster. I suspect the same is true of most music - it works in its proper context. This is the danger of an organ recital, where the music has often to be taken out of context and given a different magic - a very fine art, I think you'll agree. A clever recital with no soul - :huh: . An emotional recital with no technique - equally :o . It may sound a little simplistic,, but I think - very long-winded pieces apart - that you could play anything at a recital as long as you use it to make the instrument sing. This provides a proper context for the music to work its magic and the recitalist to be recognised for his/her skill.

 

BTW - this is why I hate Classic FM - because I can't bear bits of music fitted in among banal adverts and smug chatter. B)

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