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Vierne Messe Solennelle


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I have to play this in a concert next month. This will be the first time I have played it (it wasn't repertoire stuff in the bygone days when I used to play in church regularly). Only one organ, so I am having to conflate the two organ parts. I can't quite make up my mind about how best to treat a couple of passages in the Gloria.

 

In a sense I am batting on a losing wicket in that the choir will be in the chancel, the audience will be in the nave and the large four-decker organ is situated between the two parties, divided between the two transepts. There is the added disadvantage that the organ sounds louder in the nave than it does in the chancel, so any sustained chords on anything louder than Great Open II plus Full Swell (perhaps with Gt Principal for can belto passages) is going to drown the choir - though this is quite normal for organs of this size. However, I figure I can get away with momentary interjections on louder combinations - the drowning of the choir for the odd brief instant is not going to matter too much.

 

So, to the specific problems.

 

1. Just after Quoniam tu solus sanctus, where I anticipate I will be playing the Grand Orgue part on the said Open + Full Swell. At Tu solus altissimus is it better to play the Orgue de Choeur part and interject the off-beat pedal from the GO or forget about accompanying the choir and just play the off beat chords of the latter? I'm inclining towards the latter. I suppose another possibility is to play the left hand from the OdC and the right hand and pedal from the GO - is that too fussy?

 

2. Just after this at cum sancto Spiritu (and similarly at the beginning at Laudamus te) I shall be playing the OdC part on Full Swell. I reckon I can get away with playing the two-chord interjections from the Grand Orgue on Full Organ, or at least something approaching it, but how best to handle them? Is it better to keep sustaining the left hand of the OdC part and just do the interjections with right hand and pedal, or is it better to break the sostenuto and play the GO chords with both hands?

 

All tips gratefully received!

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1. Just after Quoniam tu solus sanctus, where I anticipate I will be playing the Grand Orgue part on the said Open + Full Swell. At Tu solus altissimus is it better to play the Orgue de Choeur part and interject the off-beat pedal from the GO or forget about accompanying the choir and just play the off beat chords of the latter? I'm inclining towards the latter. I suppose another possibility is to play the left hand from the OdC and the right hand and pedal from the GO - is that too fussy?

If you listen to the Cochereau recording, the off beat chords have great gravitas against the choir....therefore, I suggest playing the OdC part on the Swell and the off beat chords, when they occur, with LH on full Great with pedal...it gives much the same effect.

 

2. Just after this at cum sancto Spiritu (and similarly at the beginning at Laudamus te) I shall be playing the OdC part on Full Swell. I reckon I can get away with playing the two-chord interjections from the Grand Orgue on Full Organ, or at least something approaching it, but how best to handle them? Is it better to keep sustaining the left hand of the OdC part and just do the interjections with right hand and pedal, or is it better to break the sostenuto and play the GO chords with both hands?

Similarly here, keep the OdC part on the Swell but play the interjections when they occur with RH on full Great with pedal.

 

Doing it this way, is less intrusive to the player than lifting all fingers off and jumping to another manual lock, stock and barrel, so to speak!

 

A

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If you listen to the Cochereau recording, the off beat chords have great gravitas against the choir....therefore, I suggest playing the OdC part on the Swell and the off beat chords, when they occur, with LH on full Great with pedal...it gives much the same effect.

Similarly here, keep the OdC part on the Swell but play the interjections when they occur with RH on full Great with pedal.

 

Doing it this way, is less intrusive to the player than lifting all fingers off and jumping to another manual lock, stock and barrel, so to speak!

 

A

 

Well put!

I do more-or-less the same, and was thinking about how to word it as I scrolled down to Adrian's answer. If you've got any sub octave couplers that makes life easier too as with a little redistribution of the notes within the chords you can create the effect of playing with all four hands!!

 

If you play it in the style of ND/Cochereau you'll have to play the GO chords ever-so-slightly late too... :)

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In a sense I am batting on a losing wicket in that the choir will be in the chancel, the audience will be in the nave and the large four-decker organ is situated between the two parties, divided between the two transepts.

 

Oh, THERE! :blink:

 

Bad luck, mate! :unsure:

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:blink:

 

The really lamentable thing is that there isn't any better organ round here on which to do it, though I must admit I'd prefer one that kicks you in the crotch a bit instead of smiling "More tea, vicar?"

 

Thanks very much, one and all, for the comments and advice, and especially to Adrian for giving me such an eminently sensible solution to my first problem and confirming my feelings about the second.

 

I may be back for some further advice later!

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.......and if you follow the Cochereau recording even more faithfully, don't worry about drowning the choir - if they want to be heard above the organ then let 'em sing louder! :blink:

 

To go one stage further - listen to the Cochereau recording; drowning that choir (without wishing to upset Msgr. Jehan Revert) might be considered advantageous.

 

For that matter, Cochereau may not have been entirely sober when he made the recording....

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To go one stage further - listen to the Cochereau recording; drowning that choir (without wishing to upset Msgr. Jehan Revert) might be considered advantageous.

 

For that matter, Cochereau may not have been entirely sober when he made the recording....

 

And... for all its imperfections it still has to be the most exciting recording of this work ever made. The new one (made last year?) is 'better' in some ways, but not as successful in raising hairs on the back of the neck!!

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And... for all its imperfections it still has to be the most exciting recording of this work ever made. The new one (made last year?) is 'better' in some ways, but not as successful in raising hairs on the back of the neck!!

 

I totally agree. The singing on the Lefebvre recording is easily the best of the three recordings I have, but the sheer exuberance and power of the Pierre Cochereau disc simply isn't there.

 

The recording from Sacre-Coeur is good and the final chords of both the Kyrie and the Benedictus with that huge 32' Bombarde do tingle the spine quite nicely but the PC version wins hands down for me for the atmosphere.

 

I burned a CD of it for my car last week and while waiting for Mrs T outside Boots in Stratford-upon-Avon did attract a few querying looks as I played it at quite a high level. Maybe if I had been wearing a baseball cap as if unsure which way my head was attached, nobody would have taken any notice.....

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I totally agree. The singing on the Lefebvre recording is easily the best of the three recordings I have, but the sheer exuberance and power of the Pierre Cochereau disc simply isn't there.

I've been very happy with the Westminster Cathedral recording. So much so, it's been one of the CDs I've taken with me when trying new speakers before purchasing them. The opening bottom C sharp is the true test... :blink:

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The Westminster Cathedral recording is the one I've got. I noticed it the other day in a record shop I didn't quite succeed in passing and it looked so lonely I felt obliged to give it a good home. I have to say that both the organs and the singing are simply stunning. Even my wife was impressed enough to ask what the music was. The rest of the programme on the CD is excellent too with the Widor Mass and motets by both men and by Dupré. Currently one of my desert island discs.

 

I've not heard any of the French recordings yet, so perhaps I should reserve judgement, but, without wishing to be jingoistic in any way, you can't tell me that any French choir is ever going to be a match for Westminster Cathedral. :lol:

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The Westminster Cathedral recording is the one I've got. I noticed it the other day in a record shop I didn't quite succeed in passing and it looked so lonely I felt obliged to give it a good home. I have to say that both the organs and the singing are simply stunning. Even my wife was impressed enough to ask what the music was. The rest of the programme on the CD is excellent too with the Widor Mass and motets by both men and by Dupré. Currently one of my desert island discs.

 

I've not heard any of the French recordings yet, so perhaps I should reserve judgement, but, without wishing to be jingoistic in any way, you can't tell me that any French choir is ever going to be a match for Westminster Cathedral. :lol:

 

Possibly not - but Handsoff does have a point regarding the atmosphere of the Cochereau/N.-D. de P recording.

 

Presumably Cochereau did not like the choir of Nôtre-Dame, either.

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The Westminster Cathedral recording is the one I've got. I noticed it the other day in a record shop I didn't quite succeed in passing and it looked so lonely I felt obliged to give it a good home. I have to say that both the organs and the singing are simply stunning. Even my wife was impressed enough to ask what the music was. The rest of the programme on the CD is excellent too with the Widor Mass and motets by both men and by Dupré. Currently one of my desert island discs.

 

I've not heard any of the French recordings yet, so perhaps I should reserve judgement, but, without wishing to be jingoistic in any way, you can't tell me that any French choir is ever going to be a match for Westminster Cathedral. :lol:

 

 

Me too! The Westminster Contra Bombarde is a real snorter!

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To go back to the original question, I accompanied single performances in Tewkesbury Abbey & St Mary Redcliffe 2 years ago and did pretty much what your original suggestions were, ie:-

 

bars 133 - 150 - just play the GO part, OdC is just doubling the choir and wont be missed.

bar 154 & 158 - sustain OdC left hand & play right hand and pedals GO chords

 

As a rule I would suggest that, if the 4-manual organ allows it, you should aim not to use full swell for OdC if you're also using this coupled as part of the GO because you need to try to find two contrasting sounds ideally coming from different locations within the instrument. Therefore if its possible to create a second full swell effect from the solo organ this can work better. The same thinking applies throughout, hence if you can contrast soft swell strings with solo or choir strings, etc. this will help to create the illusion and effect of the original 2 organ scoring.

 

I also have a copy of the American Huntington edition transcribed for single organ, but I really couldn't recommend it. Its an awful edition with voice parts reassigned (1st tenor parts given to the altos and the like), numerous mistakes in the performance instructions, and the entire last section printed in the wrong key.

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As a rule I would suggest that, if the 4-manual organ allows it, you should aim not to use full swell for OdC if you're also using this coupled as part of the GO because you need to try to find two contrasting sounds ideally coming from different locations within the instrument. Therefore if its possible to create a second full swell effect from the solo organ this can work better. The same thinking applies throughout, hence if you can contrast soft swell strings with solo or choir strings, etc. this will help to create the illusion and effect of the original 2 organ scoring.

Thanks for the suggestions. Good point about the antiphony. I had been pondering this. In theory it is possible because the Gt and Sw are in north transept and the Ch and Solo are in the south (with the pedal divided between the two cases) and, since the nave is quite wide, the separation is pretty good. However the Choir Organ is a very delicate department so the Solo would probably have to do the donkey work.

 

I was already planning antiphony for the most of the Kyrie, the Benedictus (contrasting the Solo and Sw celestes) and the Agnus. Some sort of substitute Full Sw on the Solo might be possible using the Orchestral Oboe and/or Clarinet, but I doubt it will be very incisive and it certainly won't deliver the molto crescendo needed on the penultimate page of the Kyrie, so I suspect that bit will have to be Gt + Sw. Antiphony doesn't seem to be a strong feature of the Sanctus and since I'm going to be playing mainly the OdC part there I figured I'd just play it on Sw and Gt. I'll have to think again about the Gloria - especially the softer central section.

 

The main trouble with all this is that, whatever registrations I work out, I often find that I have to change them when the choir arrive and I find that the balances are all wrong! But c'est la vie.

 

Going back to the last section of the Kyrie, I mentioned that I think this will have to be Gt + Sw. I'm planning to use first the right hand on the Full Sw playing the OdC treble stave and the GO left hand on the Gt Open II (adding the Principal where it goes into octaves) and then, where the off-beat GO chords arrive, moving both hands to the Great and playing the GO chords with RH + pedal while the left hand plays the OdC bass stave. Does this sound reasonable? (If the electrics are working OK, an alternative possibility for this last bit that maintains the antiphony might be to play the OdC part on the Solo 16' French Horn + 8ve coupler, but that might be a little oppressive.)

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Thinking back, I would suggest that the Benedictus and Agnus Dei need at least as much thought and preparation. It would, for example, be very easy to play the opening of the Benedictus on a single swell registration through until at least bar 25, but I feel this would be wrong. The entry at bar 9 needs to be a different sound to the opening bars, and then it must be different again at bar 13.

 

The colours called for in the Agnus are specific and exquisite. In a single-organ performance this, I believe, would be difficult to manage without the availabilty of preset general pistons or, even better. a stepper. The changes from the OdC passages to the GO, as at bar 24, are difficult to engineer without these facilities. Again, ideally, the RH sound in the GO at bars 24-30 needs to be quite different to the OdC sounds that have gone before.

 

I think its a case of "Know your instrument", but I strongly feel that the need to contrast the sounds of the OdC from the GO are essential to maintain some flavour of the original intention.

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Thinking back, I would suggest that the Benedictus and Agnus Dei need at least as much thought and preparation. It would, for example, be very easy to play the opening of the Benedictus on a single swell registration through until at least bar 25, but I feel this would be wrong. The entry at bar 9 needs to be a different sound to the opening bars, and then it must be different again at bar 13.

My thoughts exactly. Provisionally I am planning to begin on the Choir in the south transept (maybe the Open Diap, but the conductor will probably want a 4' in there somewhere to help the choir - he usually does!) with the following GO passage from the north transept on Sw 8' + 4' flutes as marked. Ch again with something added (or changed) at bar 13. Sw again (probably same stops) at bar 21. Then at bar 25 Solo Viol d'orch, Celeste + 8' flute 8', answered by the Sw celestes (maybe with 8' flute). The danger here is that the Solo may sound "bigger" than the Sw, but there's a Vox Angelica on the Ch as an alternative. I've been toying with the idea of some triple pedalling in the Osanna to represent the GO chords, but I think that might be a bit OTT!

 

The colours called for in the Agnus are specific and exquisite. In a single-organ performance this, I believe, would be difficult to manage without the availabilty of preset general pistons or, even better. a stepper. The changes from the OdC passages to the GO, as at bar 24, are difficult to engineer without these facilities. Again, ideally, the RH sound in the GO at bars 24-30 needs to be quite different to the OdC sounds that have gone before.

This is going to be tricky. I might have to reverse the OdC and GO roles here. Oddly - very oddly, in fact - the Sw has no 16' flue and the only manual 16' flute on the whole organ is on the Solo, which is also where the Clarinet is. So for the passages where the Clarinet is accompanied by 16' + 4' flutes I can have one or the other, but not both! If the pistons are working properly (big "if"!) I can get the 16' + 4' flute effect from the Ch Rohr Flute, Piccolo, Sub 8ve and Unison Off, but I have a feeling that it will all sound too delicate and ethereal for the GO effect needed. Don't think I can work this one out in advance - I'll need to experiment on site.

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The really lamentable thing is that there isn't any better organ round here on which to do it, though I must admit I'd prefer one that kicks you in the crotch a bit instead of smiling "More tea, vicar?"

:lol:

 

The Westminster Cathedral recording is the one I've got. I noticed it the other day in a record shop I didn't quite succeed in passing and it looked so lonely I felt obliged to give it a good home. I have to say that both the organs and the singing are simply stunning. Even my wife was impressed enough to ask what the music was. The rest of the programme on the CD is excellent too with the Widor Mass and motets by both men and by Dupré. Currently one of my desert island discs.

Likewise. Found it on eBay a couple of months ago. I think I've worn a groove in it already...

 

The liner notes said that there were few performances during Vierne's lifetime, due (as far as I remember) to the demanding nature of the music. Is it really that challenging (not seen the score) or were Parisian choirs just not that capable at that time?

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I've not looked that closely, but the choral parts do not strike me as being difficult. The problem was almost certainly with the poor standard of the Parisian choirs at the beginning of the twentieth century.

 

There is something about this in Frazier's book on Duruflé. He doesn't mince his words: "Certainly the choral tradition in France has always been mediocre." Albert Schweitzer, in an article entitled "Why is it so difficult to Organize a Good Chorus in Paris?" reported that singers coming to a choral rehearsal had little interest in ensemble and discipline, and were only interested in having their own voices heard. In 1895 Joris-Karl Huysmans wrote that "Most choirs, when they intone [plainsong], like to imitate the rumbling and gurgling of water-pipes, others the grating of rattles, the creaking of pulleys, the grinding of a crane, but, in spite of all, its beauty remains unextinguished, dulled though it be by the wild bellowing of the singers." At St Étienne-du-Mont, which had an insignificant musical history until Duruflé arrived, "you might think yourself in a kennel, where a medley pack of sick beasts were growling." And so on.

 

At the end of 1905 the French government passed a law separating the church and state. This ended the state's involvement in the appointment of Catholic ecclesiastics and the payment of their salaries. Church property was taken over by private corporations. A year later Widor was complaining that churches were closing and choirs and organists were being abolished. Vierne, in Mes Souvenirs, reports that at Notre-Dame de Paris the budget for the music was reduced. The minor seminary of Notre-Dame-des-Champs, which had supplied 80 voices for the cathedral choir moved away leaving the cathedral to soldier on with hired singers and a few volunteers. The maître-de-chappelle scraped together enough funds to engage four paid singers for important feast days and the choir managed Widor's Mass, Saint-Saëns's Mass in G minor and some motets, but only ever the Kyrie of Vierne's Messe Solennelle - "they never went any further". The first performance of Vierne's mass was at Saint-Sulpice in 1901.

 

To put this in context one might question how much better the standard was elsewhere at this time. I can only cite the Sistine Chapel choir - and this left a lot to be desired. They can be heard on one or two tracks on the CD that collects together the extant recordings of Alessandro Moreschi (that unique - or should I say eunuch? - voice!) It has to be said that they are pretty abysmal. The voices themselves are not unpleasant tonally and they are not unblending, but their sense of ensemble and discipline is no better than an amateur, undirected, parish choir. It really does sound very lazy. At the end of one piece, I always have to smile at the way they gradually coalesce onto the final chord!

 

Of course another practical problem that Vierne and Widor must have faced was the business of co-ordinating a west-end Grand Orgue several hundred feet distant from the musicians at the other end of the building. A titulaire is inevitably going to have to play ahead of anything he is accompanying - as Olivier Latry does so expertly in this YouTube clip. And here I rather suspect we hearing the east end sound through a PA system. I would expect even more of a time lag without one. Actually it's surprising how easily you can get used to playing ahead of a choir when you do it every day, but you are nevertheless always having to anticipate what the choir is going to do. In Notre-Dame in Vierne's (and Cochereau's?) time co-ordination over the long distance involved must surely always have been rather unpredictable.

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