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Robert gower's organ arrangement of "Popular Song" from Walton's Facade Suite

Malcolm Kemp

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I have a student who is preparing this piece for Grade 7. I have talked through with her the difference between the England of Bridge's Adagio in E (which she can play extremely well) and the England of time the Walton pece was composed, in order to give her a bit of help with style.


Obviously the organ arrangement cannot replicate the whole of the orchestral score - notably the percussion - but I want this student to be able to portray the piece as near to the original as is reasonably possible. Listening to recordings and studying the full score are, of course, helpful. I am very aware that an examiner (usually a non-organist) will almsot certainly be familiar with it in its original form.


Rather like Howells with his original compositions, Robert Gower gives hardly any registrational suggestions apart from indicating distribution between two manuals. I can see why he did this because we have a colourful piece, needing lots of contrasts &c., which are dependant on the size and specification of the organ and the registrational aids available. I'm trying to organise it so that she takes the exam on an instrument that will be well able to do full justice to the piece and on which she can have lots of practice beforehand.


I should be grateful for any comments - particularly from Board members whose own students have played this piece for Grade 7 - about how much she might be expected to follow Gower's arrangement to the letter, how she might improve it and what registrational schemes work well.





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I've played it a few times, always in "lollipop" recitals and sometimes even as an encore. (It's perfect when used as such!)


If you have an instrument with enough resources, you can go to town on this arrangement: Martin Neary played it at my 2004 recital series in Clifton College using Solo 16' Bassoon (with Tremulant, octave coupler and unison off) and Choir 8' Flute plus 1&1/3', accompanied by Swell Open Diapason and Pedal Open Wood. "Let's see if we can find any funny sounds," he said!


Inspired by that approach, I've used various different mutations for the solo lines according to availability on the organs to which I've brought it. The accompaniment can also be subjected to whimsical treatment - a well-placed Vox Humana with or without tremulant can elicit giggles from the audience; the various off-beat motifs can likewise benefit from a squeaky enclosed Trompette or Oboe plus double reed if available.


Probably the "ne plus ultra" of my experiments was at Bath in 2008, when I took advantage of the newly-installed Glockenspiel amongst other things.


Of course, if playing the piece for an examination it might be better to behave oneself and stick to plainer colours.......!

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