Jump to content
Mander Organ Builders Forum

Popularizing The Organ


Justadad
 Share

Recommended Posts

This subject gets frequent outings but I don't recall seeing a dedicated thread lately.

 

Not so long ago there was much chatter about balloons and the nightclub generation. Now one man's efforts to reach a new audience are being reviewed in the YouTube thread. Rather than continue the discussion there I thought it worthy of being a topic in it's own right.

 

I'm sure many will disagree but it seems to me that those claiming to champion the organ and bring it, and its music, to a wider audience have done no such thing. Virgil Fox, for example, did not popularise the organ, clearly, as Arty Nobile is still trying to get that job done. Virgil Fox popularised himself. Mr Nobile (and it is probably unfair to judge him on his website and YouTube clips alone, but that's all I have to go on) doesn't strike me as having VF's basic talent so it's hard for me to imagine him doing a better job.

 

Is it not the case that music 'popularises' an instrument; not the player. In fact, isn't it the music that popularises itself rather than the popularising either the instrument or being popularised by the performer?

 

Which are popular instruments from the listener's point of view? I have no idea. Even people who like listening to violins probably don't like listening to all violins playing anything by anyone.

 

Which are popular instruments from the performer's point of view? I guess guitar, violin and clarinet (because of the relatively low entry cost) and piano because every primary school used to have one and starter keyboards are relatively cheap.

 

It seems unlikely to me that the organ will ever be popular from the musician's point of view because they are so big and expensive you can't have your own, and have to go to church to play one.

 

For the organ to be popular to the audience they have to hear the music. We know there's a lot of fantastic organ music that more people would like if they knew it existed, and that means getting more TV and radio time for organ music. But that means more air time for organ music as it exists; as the composers wrote it. Tarting it up or dumbing it down does nothing except provide tackier or stupider organ music that still doesn't get air time.

 

I'm only speculating but I imagine that if you asked the public about their favourite organ music they'd say the BWV 565 toccata, and the toccata from Widor 5 (or at least that's what they'd mean even if they couldn't name them). Why? Because someone jazzed them up or messed around with them? No. Because someone played them incredibly quickly? No. Because someone wore sequins while playing them? No. It's surely because they have heard them the most.

 

I suspect, therefore, that all attempts to 'spread the werk' via balloons, fusicianship and the like are unlikely to do the organ any favours and more likely to do it a disservice. Such stunts may grant the perpetrators a certain following they would not otherwise have had, but that's all.

 

I have noticed a distinct increase in the amount of organ music being played on Radio 3 recently, especially but not exclusively by Mr Cowans. Hurrah!

 

Best wishes

 

J

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Guest Cynic
This subject gets frequent outings but I don't recall seeing a dedicated thread lately.

 

Not so long ago there was much chatter about balloons and the nightclub generation. Now one man's efforts to reach a new audience are being reviewed in the YouTube thread. Rather than continue the discussion there I thought it worthy of being a topic in it's own right.

 

I'm sure many will disagree but it seems to me that those claiming to champion the organ and bring it, and its music, to a wider audience have done no such thing. Virgil Fox, for example, did not popularise the organ, clearly, as Arty Nobile is still trying to get that job done. Virgil Fox popularised himself. Mr Nobile (and it is probably unfair to judge him on his website and YouTube clips alone, but that's all I have to go on) doesn't strike me as having VF's basic talent so it's hard for me to imagine him doing a better job.

 

Is it not the case that music 'popularises' an instrument; not the player. In fact, isn't it the music that popularises itself rather than the popularising either the instrument or being popularised by the performer?

 

Which are popular instruments from the listener's point of view? I have no idea. Even people who like listening to violins probably don't like listening to all violins playing anything by anyone.

 

Which are popular instruments from the performer's point of view? I guess guitar, violin and clarinet (because of the relatively low entry cost) and piano because every primary school used to have one and starter keyboards are relatively cheap.

 

It seems unlikely to me that the organ will ever be popular from the musician's point of view because they are so big and expensive you can't have your own, and have to go to church to play one.

 

For the organ to be popular to the audience they have to hear the music. We know there's a lot of fantastic organ music that more people would like if they knew it existed, and that means getting more TV and radio time for organ music. But that means more air time for organ music as it exists; as the composers wrote it. Tarting it up or dumbing it down does nothing except provide tackier or stupider organ music that still doesn't get air time.

 

I'm only speculating but I imagine that if you asked the public about their favourite organ music they'd say the BWV 565 toccata, and the toccata from Widor 5 (or at least that's what they'd mean even if they couldn't name them). Why? Because someone jazzed them up or messed around with them? No. Because someone played them incredibly quickly? No. Because someone wore sequins while playing them? No. It's surely because they have heard them the most.

 

I suspect, therefore, that all attempts to 'spread the werk' via balloons, fusicianship and the like are unlikely to do the organ any favours and more likely to do it a disservice. Such stunts may grant the perpetrators a certain following they would not otherwise have had, but that's all.

 

I have noticed a distinct increase in the amount of organ music being played on Radio 3 recently, especially but not exclusively by Mr Cowans. Hurrah!

 

Best wishes

 

J

 

IMHO the best popularising goes on in some of our Town Halls and Cathedrals. You need

1. a decent instrument

2. audience-friendly players - a kind word and/or a sense of humour makes people glad they've come

3. encouragement/welcome by the venue itself - for instance, Chelmsford Cathedral lays on a sandwich lunch for those who turn up early.

4. respectable publicity. A decent-sized audience breeds/sustains itself. People are more likely to think they've had a good time if there have been plenty of other happy punters around.

 

I realise that some correspondents here don't like the 'big screen presentation' idea, but those (or a console on view) are very helpful if you want the recital to stimulate the 'floating voters'.

 

I don't think the actual pieces in the programme matter - the balance between items/styles/colours/volume etc. does, critically.

 

Several Organists Associations do a splendid job of spreading the word. What we have to get over is a situation where the majority of our public are un-churched and children frequently regard churches as spooky or mega dull. Go back twenty or thirty years and because churches still had children in their choirs, there were always a few bright youngsters who heard the instrument on a regular basis and felt like giving it a go. IMHO The death of the church choir has definitely contributed to our current and on-going shortage of organists, clergy, churchwardens, bell ringers etc. To confirm or deny this hypothesis, who on this forum took up the organ without being in a congregation or choir first? I shouldn't think there'll be many!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

encouragement/welcome by the venue itself - for instance, Chelmsford Cathedral lays on a sandwich lunch for those who turn up early.

 

And Paul himself is playing a varied and interesting programme at St. Thomas-on-The Bourne, Farnham, on Sunday 25 May at 4.00 p.m., on our fine Nicholson of 1990, preceded by Cream Tea! Retiring collection for Recital, small charge for Cream Tea.

 

Jonathan

Link to comment
Share on other sites

To confirm or deny this hypothesis, who on this forum took up the organ without being in a congregation or choir first? I shouldn't think there'll be many!

 

Me - twice. Once when I started playing as a teenager, and then when I took up playing again in my mid forties having not playing anything (even a piano) for twenty years. My exposure to the instrument and its repertoire was, in the first instance, through Radio 3, then through records and later CDs and recitals. Fat chance of any teenager hearing much organ music on Radio 3 these days, unless he's prepared to listen all night on the off chance of the odd short piece turning up. Things have improved recently, but there is still a crying need for a regular slot for organ music.

 

The Halle are currently raising £1,500,000 to try and bring orchestral music to school children. Mark Elder's view is that youngsters' indifference to classical music is not due to antipathy to the music, but lack of exposure to it. Organ repertoire is in the same sort of hole, only much, much deeper.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

It’s very difficult to reply to something which clearly contains a hidden agenda of personal prejudice; especially since the opinions are not backed by the facts.

 

Even the term “popularity” assumes that the organ and the music written for it deserves a special place in the affections of music-lovers; yet no-one would ever claim the same for the glass-harmonica, the harpsichord or the ocarina. In order to “popularise” something, it is necessary to proselytise a cause as if it were something extraordinary, which people should not be without in their lives.

 

I’m not such a great historian that I can identify specific moments in ancient history when the organ may have been popular, but I suspect that it gained certain popularity in ancient Rome; possibly due to its size, ingenuity, loudness and spectacle. As an instrument, it certainly travelled, and the remains of a hydraulus-organ turned up as far away as Hungary. I don’t even know enough about the Renaissance to know if there were hot-spots of uncontrolled enthusiasm, when people begged Thomas Tallis for his autograph.

 

It is when one travels to Germany and Holland that the full flowering of the baroque organ is there in abundance for all to see. Easily the most complex of human-made machinery at that time, the very best craftsmen and artisans worked on these magnificent instruments. Not only that, in otherwise plain buildings, the organ took special pride-of-place, with magnificent casework made form the finest materials, carved by master carvers and often decorated with old-master paintings. Indeed, a country such as Germany, which could barely muster a competent artist, had many superlative organ-builders who remain as famous to-day as they were in their day. This did not come cheap, and whole communities dug deep into their pockets to furnish the churches with noble instruments; and not simply on the basis of some whim or personal dictat.

 

When the church authorities in the Netherlands sought to simplify church-music, and restrict the use of the organ to the accompaniment of the metrical psalms, it caused great distress and not a little political wrangling. Perhaps the best known example of this is the Haarlem,Bavokerk, where the town owned the organ and paid the piper, so to speak. With characteristic legal flair, the argument was made that divine-worship began at the appointed hour, and ended when the ministers closed their books and said “Amen” at the conclusion. Therefore, before and after divine-worship, there could be no possible objection to organ-music because it was not heard during the service, except as accompaniment to the metrical-psalms.

 

It says much, that not only was a vast amount of money and expertise thrown into organ-building and organ-provision, it had the backing of town councils. They in turn, must have felt it politically expedient to fight the cause, which suggests that the people themselves wanted to hear the organ. Indeed, the organ was justifiably famous at Haarlem, and its reputation spread all over Europe; drawing musicians such as Handel and Mozart on special visits to hear and play it.

 

We must therefore ask ourselves why the organ was so beloved by the local population?

 

I don’t think that it is very difficult to understand the reason why. At that time, music was very much restricted to two places: the church and the court, to which ordinary people only had access to church. So the organ, plus a choir or two, in addition to a few wandering street-musicians, were about the only musical things to be heard by ordinary folk. They did not have expensive musical-instruments in the home, which were very much the preserve of the wealthy.

 

Of course, it goes without saying, that much of the music heard in church was of fabulous quality; even among lesser musicians and composers rather than the Bach’s and Buxtehude’s of this world.

 

However, if the organ gained in popularity, it was entirely due to the fact that religion was a vital component in the lives of ordinary people, rather than the preserve of clerics merely administering the mass. Everyone went to church, and everyone would hear the organs and be impressed by a machine which, without doubt, was the most imposing and sonorous sound they would ever hear in their lifetimes.

 

That still leaves the question of the chicken and the egg, because would people have ever adored the organ without religion?

 

We do know that once the organ gained in popularity, it was quite capable of drawing audiences in its own right; so we may draw our own conclusions as to musical attraction and musical worth.

 

If England enjoyed a splendid choral tradition in the cathedrals and collegiate churches, that was barely the case elsewhere. Even where the choral traditions flourished, the congregations certainly didn’t, with only a handful of people bothering to turn up for the Easter morning service at Westminster Abbey in one particular year, during the 18th century. The organ and church music were very much the sole preserve of a social elite. Around the land, in country churches, most thing were either sung unaccompanied, or may have been led by a barrel organ grimly churning out hymns.

 

The only other place where the organ found favour, was in the theatre and in places such as Vauxhall Gardens, where the gentry and nobility took their pleasure, to the accompaniment of orchestras or perhaps Mr Handel playing the organ. The Handel Organ Concerti; far from being popular entertainment, were again the preserve of the wealthy elite, who attended the fashionable theatres in London.

 

It would be a mistake to assume that the organ was promoted a couple of centuries later in churches and town-halls. In point of fact, the 19th century was an example of “trickle down art” and “trickle down religion” combined, and which gathered enormous momentum with the backing of the Oxford Movement and passionate religious revival across the land. Leeds Parish Church, serving a large slum parish South East of the city centre, was one of the pioneers in spectacular choral-music: hence the appointment of S S Wesley. The whole movement was one based on the fear of revolution and social collapse, at a time when infant mortality was astronomical and life expectancy somewhat less than 40 years for an adult. By way of comparison, the wealthy lived well and long very often, and the marked contrast between a super-rich class of entrepreneurs and their pitifully poor workforces, was so great, that no sense of social justice prevailed until religion gathered pace, and social reform brought dignity to the slum parishes.

 

This was nation-building on a grand-scale, and as England prospered; with that prosperity came great attempts at civilisation, with religion as the standard bearer. Part of that civilisation was municipal-pride, and that of course brought great institutions, new seats of learning and the town-halls. If the Victorian era could be isolated musically by three things, it would be choral music (especially Handel’s “Messiah”), organ-transcriptions and brass-bands; the latter the working-class answer to high-art, and possibly the most professionally competent of all.

 

So once again, the popularity of the organ was the by-product of other things; in this case, municipal-pride, religious-revival and the national pastime of choral-singing, when whole communities travelled to music festivals on the new steam-trains. In fact, the choral tradition was self-fulfilling to a considerable extent, for it drew to it people of outstanding ability, which brought even ordinary parish church music close to that of cathedral level. Even 45 years ago or so, when I was but a small boy, it was not uncommon to see a choir of 24 boys and 15 adults, while RSCM festivals attracted four-figure attendances at the cathedrals.

 

The popularity of the organ having been established, and possibly for all the wrong reasons as a solo instrument, it remained close to the hearts of the public until the big orchestras were established, and things like “The Proms” brought world-music to the attention of the masses. At this point, the organ moved more towards being a solo instrument with its own repertoire, which by then, had attracted many first-rate performers.

 

Was this chicken or egg?

 

In the 20th century, a quite different set of influences emerged. In 1914 came mobilisation, conscription and 4 years of savage altercation with Germany. That took away our youngest and finest, and the memorial plaques are littered with the names of the great and the good; no doubt as much in Germany as in the UK. With the strictures of war, and deep economic crisis, the organ emerged as one of the few musical instruments still to be heard in public. That guaranteed a degree of popularity for the instrument; further boosted by the early silent-films of the 1920’s, when the first church-style instruments were installed or utilised in the early cinemas or halls converted to cinema use.

 

What had started as a transcription-instrument in the town-halls, or as accompaniment to the huge church choirs by then commonplace across the land, the organ became an essential component in the showing of early Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton films. Only in the most prestigious new cinemas did orchestras play, but to rival them came the Unit Organ, by Hope-Jones, Wurlitzer, Christie and Compton.

 

Once again, it was a question of chicken and egg.

 

Not only were these wonderful machines ideal for film accompaniment, they coincided with the era of dance-bands, up-tempo rhythms combos and the growth of interest in light-music from America. By the outbreak of World War Two, not only did every town have its own cinema, it had its own cinema organ. Inevitably, a number of real stars emerged; such as Reginal Dixon, Ena Baga, Sandy MacPherson, Sidney Torch, Quentin Maclean and many, many others. They became the pop-celebrities of their day; earning huge amounts of money compared to even the professional classes such as doctors and lawyers. £4,000 per annum in 1940 was not bad going, and the very best of them were not only household names, they were stupendously good at what they did; especially masters such as Sidney Torch and Quentin Maclean; the latter a pupil of Max Reger and Karl Straube, and Assistant Organist at Westminster Cathedral. (Osborne Peasgood at Westminster Abbey was another, but he changed his name when he played at a cinema in Acton, unlike Norman Cocker at Manchester, who couldn’t have cared less when he appeared at a cinema in Altrincham, Cheshire).

 

So again, a question of chicken and egg.

 

As I grew up in the next era, I know something about what happened. Even as a young teenager, I recall the dire warnings about a secular society and people turning away from church. To counteract this, the clergy decided to “popularise” religion, and within a few years, church-music was in serious decline. At the same time, the best organists (still popular to a certain extent), tried to purify organ-playing; placing a special emphasis on quality repertoire and “cleaner” sounding instruments. Thus were born the Bach specialists (Geraint Jones,Peter Hurford), the French experts (Francis Jackson, Nicholas Kynaston), the German romantic exponents (Brian Runnet and Melville Cook), and a host of others who carved a special niche for themselves.

 

For a couple of decades, they rode on a wave of success created by a combination of church and cinema, and playing an instrument for which many still had real affection. Unfortunately, as they played, the writing was already on the wall. Churches were emptying, the young had discovered Elvis Presley and the secular society was gathering momentum. TV was a further factor, which grabbed the attention of almost everyone, and made live concerts disposable to the majority. Slowly but surely, the older generation started to die away, and their interest and enthusiasm never found a replacement among the younger generation.

 

So this blows away the argument that the organ was ever popular because of the quality of performance and that of the music, because the playing standards throughout the 1960’s and 70’s was nothing short of marvellous from the top players. Apart from the above, there were (and still are) performers such as Simon Preston, Gillian Weir, Jennifer Bate, Jane Parker-Smith, Roy Massey etc., as well as regular recitals and broadcasts from visiting virtuosi such as Fernando Germani, Louis Marchand, Jean Langlais, Flor Peeters, Jiri Ropek , Heinz Wunderlich, Anton Heiller and many others.

 

While all this was going on, the audience numbers dwindled.

 

Now against that historic background and, I hope, fairly accurate assessment, let’s compare the comments of “just a dad”.

 

Quote:

 

I'm sure many will disagree but it seems to me that those claiming to champion the organ and bring it, and its music, to a wider audience have done no such thing. Virgil Fox, for example, did not popularise the organ, clearly, as Arty Nobile is still trying to get that job done. Virgil Fox popularised himself.

 

This is complete and utter nonsense. As I’ve stated before, Virgil Fox was probably the archetypical homosexual narcissist; outrageous, attention-seeking and quite blatantly predatory. (He liked ‘em young and pretty). A person of incredible energy and vitality, that was perhaps as much a draw as his virtuosity and musicianship. Forty years on, people still talk about him and about some of his legendary performances; especially the Bach recording made on the Skinner organ at Boston Symphony Hall, which by any standards, were simply stupendous; at the same time as being uniquely Fox.

 

As a person, he was just a little louder and brasher than most, with a good line in rude sayings, but as a musician, he was never very different from people like Stokowski and maybe even Bernstein. He was simply a part of American musical expressionism, which allowed the performer a fairly free reign, and which has at its source, the pianistic expressionism of Busoni and his one time tutor Middelschulte.

 

So I offer no apology in marking down Fox as a great artist in the expressionist-style, and if people don’t like or understand that, then they don’t know much about the history of performance. I personally love it for what it is, but it doesn’t mean I either worship it or seek to replicate it….my legs aren’t long enough!

 

Then we got the following comment:-

 

Is it not the case that music 'popularises' an instrument; not the player. In fact, isn't it the music that popularises itself rather than the popularising either the instrument or being popularised by the performer?

 

No music can exist without a degree of interpretation, which can even border on parody.

There are those who try to guess as accurately as possible, (such as the Ton Koopman’s of this world), those who play it straight (like most of us), those who like Fox take things to a new level, and those, (even such as Florence Foster-Jenkins), who are so wrong as to be star turns by default. Unfortunately, music-notation is not so precise that a composer can set-out exactly what he wants a work to sound like. Just as no two singers are ever the same: so too with organists, pianists and ocarina players.

 

I’m not sure that a summing-up is either necessary or desirable, but I just cannot find anything in “just a dad’s” comments which strike a note of truth with me, except perhaps the comment about BWV565 and the Widor Toccata.

 

It could be worse……it could be Howells!

 

MM

Link to comment
Share on other sites

The Halle are currently raising £1,500,000 to try and bring orchestral music to school children. Mark Elder's view is that youngsters' indifference to classical music is not due to antipathy to the music, but lack of exposure to it. Organ repertoire is in the same sort of hole, only much, much deeper.

 

 

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

 

 

I would repeat my previous comments about the RC Diocese of Leeds, and a very extensive music-programme working in the churches and schools.

 

This will be the next source of choristers and organists, while other denominations founder.

 

As for my own introduction to the organ, this was entirely down to photography. I heard an organ for the first time at the age of eleven, and thought, "Mmmmm! I think I'll teach myself how to play that."

 

I did!

 

MM

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I'm only speculating but I imagine that if you asked the public about their favourite organ music they'd say the BWV 565 toccata, and the toccata from Widor 5 (or at least that's what they'd mean even if they couldn't name them). Why? Because someone jazzed them up or messed around with them? No. Because someone played them incredibly quickly? No. Because someone wore sequins while playing them? No. It's surely because they have heard them the most.

 

 

J

 

 

Mnay years ago along with others I did some voluntary work - proud new grads doing their bit for society I suppose, and it possibly seems a bit patronising now but it didn't then. I worked in a hostel/rehabilitation centre for homeless young men aged 18-25, with a maximum residency of 12 plus a resident staff memebr. I got free acciomodation and food and the place was but 20 mins from where I played the organ. I started a "music appreciation" meeting in which the residents would be played music and encouraged to say what it meant to them. I played them the 565 (can't remember whose recording) and then I played them the Jacques Loussier verson, recorded live in the RFH. I asked them to do a compare and contrast and all of them preferred the organ version - more power. A little later I did a recital as a fund-rasier for the project (it was substantially a charity) and included as the final piece the 565. Many of the lads were there and said how much they enjoyed hearing it "live" and "that thing chucks out some bass!".

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Dear MM

 

I don't know what hidden agenda or prejudices you imagine, but I'm not aware of any.

 

I was simply saying that I don't think there is any evidence to suggest that tampering with the music has made the organ more popular.

 

Best wishes

 

J

 

 

It’s very difficult to reply to something which clearly contains a hidden agenda of personal prejudice; especially since the opinions are not backed by the facts.

 

MM

Link to comment
Share on other sites

This is a really interesting thread with a lot of insightful comments made. For me one of the problems with the organ is that it is almost never subject to the same level of PR as other musical instruments. This is partly the fault of the concert promoter and partly the fault of the organist him/herself. Hans Fidom, one of the artistic leaders of the Orgelpark in Amsterdam, (which presents the organ in every imaginable artistic combination) told me that he was shocked how badly organists' PR material is compared to the jazz musicians, sax quartets, dance groups, even mainstream 'classical' musicians.

 

The question of whether the church is a 'good' or a 'bad' element in promoting the organ's future is a vexed one. I find it interesting that THE growing audience for the organ is surely in Japan, (where an organ recital in a concert hall is as popular as a piano recital) where the 'stigma' of the organ as a church instrument is less. This implies no judgement at all from my side, (I grew up in the church and work, as do most organists, for it still).

 

The Netherlands could learn a lot from the UK about friendly presentation of concerts in the sense of the sandwich lunch at Chelmsford mentioned by MM, that kind of 'joining-the-dots' thinking is sadly lacking here. On the other hand I prefer the simple fact of the organist being invisible here, especially when both organ and music are wonderful. In the Nieuwe Kerk in Amsterdam it is even impossible for the organist to acknowledge the applause, the instrument and the music become, by default, more important. I accept that this doesn't work everywhere. In NL there are also a growing number of good projects for primary school children, for example those run by Frank van Wijk in Alkmaar, using the organs there.

 

Another thought, perhaps controversial. Hans Davidsson once commented to me that he thought the reason for the decline in interest in the organ was primarily because the standard of playing on the organ, in general, was much lower than public performances on other instruments. To a certain extent I think he has a point. I would extend the point and say that in too many places there are performances on poor instruments.

 

I agree with 'Justadad''s point about Virgil Fox, that kind of eccentric re-interpretation of the literature only won fans for himself, not for the organ in general. In Holland we had Feike Asma, (who won lots of fans to the organ who now only go to concerts by people who try to play like he did. One Asma was more than enough). On the other hand I am hugely impressed with the artistry of the Swedish organist Gunnar Idenstam. He studied with Marie-Claire Alain in France and won the improvisation competition in Chartres. Now he works primarily in the fields of folk and rock music. He has composed (and recorded for BIS on the big Klais in Iceland) a series of virtuosic pieces called "Cathedral Music" which combine a variety of stylistic elements of the French Symphonic repertoire with a lot of very specific rock influences. The idea sounds tacky, but Idemstam does it SO well, (balance, form, everything just works!). He has made another CD of improvisations with a folk musician which is also brilliant. When he performs with the folk musicians he sells out churches in Sweden, (I have a colleague who says they get treated like rock stars). Surely when such things are done really really well, this is a way to 'popularise' the organ legitimately.

 

www.idenstam.org (you can listen to bits of his recordings under 'music', including excerpts from Cathedral Music and Latar, the folk music CD). Happy listening!

 

MM wrote:

"At the same time, the best organists (still popular to a certain extent), tried to purify organ-playing; placing a special emphasis on quality repertoire and “cleaner” sounding instruments."

 

Yes, but this was simply an unavoidable part of a much wider musical and artistic tendency.

 

Greetings

 

Bazuin

Link to comment
Share on other sites

This is a really interesting thread......

 

The Netherlands could learn a lot from the UK about friendly presentation of concerts in the sense of the sandwich lunch at Chelmsford mentioned by MM.

 

It wasn't me!

 

 

 

I agree with 'Justadad''s point about Virgil Fox, that kind of eccentric re-interpretation of the literature only won fans for himself, not for the organ in general.

Say what you will, but he was the only person who drew people to himself AND the organ. As for eccentricity, it didn't come any better than Florence Foster Jenkins, Victor Borge or P D Q Bach, and we all enjoy them just a little bit.....surely?

 

Of course, the FACTS are rather different, because Virgil Fox inspired a whole generation of his "dear young;" many of whom went on to become outstanding organists in their own right. A certain Carlo Curley springs to mind, but that's only one name among many. Actually, Virgil Fox raised the bar, and demonstrated just what was possible in terms of technique, and it is that to which many young American organists aspire to-day.

 

At least Virgil Fox wasn't like Simon Cowell, who criticised a pianist for his "ridiculous" piano part in that "Song to the moon" thing by Grieg, when it was played exactly as it appeared on the (Banks & Sons) copy. Even musical accuracy has its critics, it would seem.

 

 

In Holland we had Feike Asma, (who won lots of fans to the organ who now only go to concerts by people who try to play like he did. One Asma was more than enough).

 

Ignore this man's comments! :P

 

They're such musical snobs in Holland, and even worse than their British counterparts. They didn't even like Pete van Egmont, just because he got gigs at the Albert Hall and could play a theatre organ, when they couldn't.

 

 

On the other hand I am hugely impressed with the artistry of the Swedish organist Gunnar Idemstam.

 

I've never heard of him, but the same comments would apply to Barbara Denerlein, and our own board-member Simon Nieminsky was heard on Radio 2's "Organist Entertains" this week, playing a jazz inspired piece for organ on the new RC organ in Edinburgh. He spoke awfully well about the new organ and the music.

 

 

 

MM wrote:

"At the same time, the best organists (still popular to a certain extent), tried to purify organ-playing; placing a special emphasis on quality repertoire and “cleaner” sounding instruments."

Yes, but this was simply an unavoidable part of a much wider musical and artistic tendency.

 

Well I'm awfully glad they didn't avoid it. It inspired the pants off me, and some of the performances and interpretations were simply breathtaking. If people stayed away, that was their misfortune. Only rarely do we hear performers and recitals like these to-day.

 

MM

Link to comment
Share on other sites

"It wasn't me!"

 

Apologies to MM and to cynic.

 

"As for eccentricity, it didn't come any better than Florence Foster Jenkins, Victor Borge or P D Q Bach, and we all enjoy them just a little bit.....surely?"

 

more than a little bit but I never thought of any of them as championing classical music. Did I miss the point? To get the PDQ humour you need quite a bit of musical knowledge in advance...

 

"Actually, Virgil Fox raised the bar, and demonstrated just what was possible in terms of technique, and it is that to which many young American organists aspire to-day."

 

I'm not sure. Virgil Fox played fast but not very accurately, (listen to the Riverside Ad Nos recording as one of many examples). Carlo Curley is actually a better organist I think, (though I can only listen to him playing Wagner transcriptions...)

 

"They're such musical snobs in Holland, and even worse than their British counterparts. They didn't even like Pete van Egmont, just because he got gigs at the Albert Hall and could play a theatre organ, when they couldn't."

 

:P Its important to distinguish between Piet van Egmond and Feike Asma. The latter didn't even have a formal training and it shows:

Van Egmond, at least now, is admired by even the most conservative Dutch organists, (at least the ones I know!). There is a beautiful biography about him by Gerco Schaap (I think he contributes here sometimes?) unfortunately only in Dutch. He was a much more talented and versatile musician than Asma.

 

"I've never heard of him, but the same comments would apply to Barbara Denerlein, and our own board-member Simon Nieminsky was heard on Radio 2's "Organist Entertains" this week, playing a jazz inspired piece for organ on the new RC organ in Edinburgh. He spoke awfully well about the new organ and the music."

 

Great, but Dennerlein is a jazz musician who happens to play the organ (primarily Hammonds, sometimes 'normal' organs), while Simon Nieminski is a fantastic organist who happened to play a jazz piece. Idenstam is a prize-winning French Conservatory educated organist who is also a professional rock and folk musician. Listen to his stuff, I think it would be hugely popular in the UK.

 

Greetings

 

Bazuin

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Whilst the organ had fascinated me since I joined a church choir at the age of 8, it was in 1962 at the age of 14 that I finally decided to persuade my parents to let me have lessons. This decision was influenced, in no small way, by someone - a work colleague of my father - lending me an LP. I recently bought a second hand copy of that LP and thought it was awful in so many ways. Yet - at an impressionable age, all those years ago - that recording of Virgil Fox at the Riverside Church inspired me to start learning. Rather like if I hadn't sung the most dreadful Victorian anthems by Sullivan, Stainer, Smart &c., (apologies to Barry Williams who says he loves them!) as a choirboy I may never have moved on to loving and performing Palestrina and Mozart Masses later.

 

I agree entirely with one comment already made about standards of performance on the organ and perhaps many - or even most - of us have been guilty at some time or other. To give a piano, clarinet, violin recital or whatever you have to be really very good both musically and technically. Yet I have heard many organ recitals over the years by people whose standard of playing was barely adequate for playing a simple service let alone claiming to be good enough to give recitals. The person who lent me that LP was - and remains - a case in point yet he contributed, in another way, to getting me started on the organ.

 

Malcolm Kemp

Link to comment
Share on other sites

MM wrote:

"At the same time, the best organists (still popular to a certain extent), tried to purify organ-playing; placing a special emphasis on quality repertoire and “cleaner” sounding instruments."

 

Yes, but this was simply an unavoidable part of a much wider musical and artistic tendency.

An underlying agenda, as I remember at the time, was to raise the status of the organ, its repertoire and its performance to a par with that of other instruments. It seemed to be going well at the time. I often wonder what went wrong.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Swedish organist Gunnar Idemstam. He studied with Marie-Claire Alain in France and won the improvisation competition in Chartres. Now he works primarily in the fields of folk and rock music. He has composed (and recorded for BIS on the big Klais in Iceland) a series of virtuosic pieces called "Cathedral Music" which combine a variety of stylistic elements of the French Symphonic repertoire with a lot of very specific rock influences. The idea sounds tacky, but Idemstam does it SO well, (balance, form, everything just works!). He has made another CD of improvisations with a folk musician which is also brilliant. When he performs with the folk musicians he sells out churches in Sweden, (I have a colleague who says they get treated like rock stars). Surely when such things are done really really well, this is a way to 'popularise' the organ legitimately.

 

www.idenstam.org (you can listen to bits of his recordings under 'music', including excerpts from Cathedral Music and Latar, the folk music CD). Happy listening!

 

Now there is a blast from the past, many years ago I decided to go to the Festival hall 5.55 recital, ( after hitching from Weatheby for 4 days holiday) did not know who was playing or anything else, but what i saw was brilliant, a young Gunnar Idemstam playing amongst other things, the Reubke and G.T.B.'s paganini pedal variations, it was really well played, good registration, note perfect, I think, oh, and all from memory too. I still have the programme.

Regards

Peter

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Please sign in to comment

You will be able to leave a comment after signing in



Sign In Now
 Share

×
×
  • Create New...