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Organ Pieces Which Started Life As Improvisations

Paul Carr

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I had heard that Norman Cocker's Tuba Tune was originally an improvisation.




Oooo, really - I hadn't heard that, had anyone else? :unsure:



Thanks for all of the other responses fascinating - and plenty to think about! B)



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I might be quite wrong, but the recollection that is flitting around the back of what I fondly imagine to be my mind is that Willis first gave the theme to Vierne as one for improvisation at Westminster Cathedral and that Vierne later asked Wilis to send him a copy.

Utterly wrong. According to Rollin Smith (Louis Vierne: Organist of Notre-Dame Cathedral, pp.557-8):


"Vierne's connection with the theme of the chime of the clock of London's House of Parliament can be traced at least to December 20, 1916, when he asked the owner of a clock shop in Le Locle, Switzerland to send him the music of "le carillon Westminster" played by one of the clocks in his office. The manuscript sent to Vierne, consisting of only three quarters (in A major), was written by one Albert Piguet, a local clockmaker, and may or may not represent the correct chime of the particular Swiss clock that Vierne heard: the second quarter is composed of the last two phrases of the third quarter.


"It has been noted, not infrequently, that Vierne has misquoted the second quarter, first heard in mm. 8-11 ...


"There has long been a legend, apochryphal or not, concerning this difference and one version was told to Alexander Schreiner by Henry Willis III: "One day Vierne called me by long-distance telephone across the English Channel from Paris and asked me for that melody. Either I whistled it to him incorrectly, or he wrote it down incorrectly.""


It was not Vierne who was given the theme for an improvsation at Westminster Cathedral, but Dupré - who also promptly proceeded to misquote it. Smith quotes Andrew Freeman's very disparaging review in The Musical Times, April 1932; it makes interesting reading.

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