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Vaughan Williams' Organ Music


TimEyles
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As part of the Vaughan Williams 50th anniversary celebrations churches are being asked to use as much VW music as possible in their services on 12th October, which was VW's birthday (in 1872). There are obviously lots of anthems to choose from and several hymn tunes, but NOT much organ music. However, in my quest to play something different I discovered, in my extremely untidy music cupboard, a copy of VW's Prelude and Fugue in C minor. Is anybody out there familiar with it? It was written in 1926 and, whilst not finding it immediately wonderful, have persevered with the prelude and I think it's wonderful. It's not like any organ music I've ever played before. I've never seen it on a recital programme or CD, but it definitely deserves more airings, especially in this anniversary year.

 

Best wishes,

Tim

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As part of the Vaughan Williams 50th anniversary celebrations churches are being asked to use as much VW music as possible in their services on 12th October, which was VW's birthday (in 1872). There are obviously lots of anthems to choose from and several hymn tunes, but NOT much organ music. However, in my quest to play something different I discovered, in my extremely untidy music cupboard, a copy of VW's Prelude and Fugue in C minor. Is anybody out there familiar with it? It was written in 1926 and, whilst not finding it immediately wonderful, have persevered with the prelude and I think it's wonderful. It's not like any organ music I've ever played before. I've never seen it on a recital programme or CD, but it definitely deserves more airings, especially in this anniversary year.

 

Best wishes,

Tim

 

Wonderfully characteristic piece, and recorded a fair bit. Particularly splendid performances being those by Christopher Nickol at the Caird Hall on Priory and a certain contributor to this board, at Eton.

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Wonderfully characteristic piece, and recorded a fair bit. Particularly splendid performances being those by Christopher Nickol at the Caird Hall on Priory and a certain contributor to this board, at Eton.

 

 

In complete seriousness, I am indebted to the gentleman above for promoting my CD like this!

 

I first met the V-W Prelude and Fugue in C minor at the age of sixteen. A very eccentric Australian organist (for many years a lay clerk in Winchester Cathedral Choir) bet me I couldn't learn it in a month. I won the bet, but it was hard work. At the time all I had was a photocopy of his score, which I have since replaced with a genuine copy scrounged from someone else. It is quite shameful that such a splendid and serious work should be still out of print*. Years later I worked on it again with Richard Popplewell whose knowledge of romantic organ repertoire is as wide as anyone's.

 

It's quite tough meat for the listener as well, but there is a majesty in the Prelude especially that matches almost anything by JSB not entirely accidental since the work was deliberately structured after the model of JSB's Great C minor. I don't play it often in recitals, but it is about as impressive an '8 minuter' as you will find anywhere in English organ music. V-W must have though pretty highly of it himself since he went to the bother of orchestrating it later; however, I shouldn't think that the orchestral version has ever had more than one or two (?possibly Three Choirs?) outings.

 

*Don't get me going on the subject of decent British organ works that are rarely played and are out of print! I have a composer friend who maintains that things go out of print because they're not worth playing. Well, he may live long enough to see his own works become unobtainable - let's see if he maintains the same chauvinist attitude when this happens. Compositions go out of print because the demand appears not to exist for them. These things go in phases. There was time when Whitlock was unobtainable, Bairstow etc. ...they are coming back now, fortunately. David Patrick's set-up does well for forgotten works, and Adrian Self looks after living composers who seem unable to find takers amongst the major names of the publishing world. Thank God for such kind and efficient people who work in the cause of good organ music. There is a gap between them however - something out-of-print within 70 years of the composer's death can fail to find performances for obvious reasons and can get completely forgotten as a result.

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As part of the Vaughan Williams 50th anniversary celebrations churches are being asked to use as much VW music as possible in their services on 12th October, which was VW's birthday (in 1872). There are obviously lots of anthems to choose from and several hymn tunes, but NOT much organ music. However, in my quest to play something different I discovered, in my extremely untidy music cupboard, a copy of VW's Prelude and Fugue in C minor. Is anybody out there familiar with it? It was written in 1926 and, whilst not finding it immediately wonderful, have persevered with the prelude and I think it's wonderful. It's not like any organ music I've ever played before. I've never seen it on a recital programme or CD, but it definitely deserves more airings, especially in this anniversary year.

 

Best wishes,

Tim

 

It will be getting an outing at Kendal PC this Sunday - at least, the Prelude will. (I do also play the Fugue, but there isn't much time between morning services, hardly anyone would be there to hear it after Matins, and we tend to favour quieter Final voluntaries at Evensong, so it will have to wait for another occasion.) I find that the two movements work just as well apart as they do together, which isn't really surprising as Vaughan Williams composed them separately - Fugue first, in fact!

 

It does seem a pity that Vaughan Williams, being so steeped in church music despite not being a regular church-goer, never wrote all that much for the organ. The hymn tune preludes are incredibly useful, but hardly in the same league as the Prelude and Fugue. Perhaps he thought it would get more performances if he orchestrated it - hence we also have that version, which is also seldom heard nowadays!

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Wonderfully characteristic piece, and recorded a fair bit. Particularly splendid performances being those by Christopher Nickol at the Caird Hall on Priory and a certain contributor to this board, at Eton.

 

As it happens, it was on the first organ CD I ever got hold of: "The Archbishop's Fanfare" (Priory) played by James Lancelot at Durham Cathedral. A wonderful marriage of music, musician and instrument, in my humble opinion.

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