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Christmas Improvisations


AJMOS
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Down here at Holy Trinity Cathedral in New Zealand, the congregation was treated to a French-style Toccata form improvisation with the theme of "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" in the en chamade Fanfare coupled to the Pedal. This was a welcome treat from our Asst. Organist and was not even frowned upon by the Director of Music who generally tries to avoid such themes...!

 

Anybody else have some interesting improv themes on (or around) Christmas?

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Sounds fun.

 

I did a few improvisations - probably the largest being a Prelude and Fugue on Noël Nouvelet after our Carol Service. This was, curiously, incorrectly spelled in the service sheet, despite me spelling it very carefully over the telephone to the church secretary. Ah well.

 

One year, I did play the choir in to Matins with I'm Dreaming of a...etc - with Messiaen-esque chords on strings and sub octave coupler, the tune being played on the Pedal 2p Nachthorn plus all the Positive mutations. Irritatingly, only about two of the choirmen noticed. I think that I must have disguised it too well....

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One year, I did play the choir in to Matins with I'm Dreaming of a...etc - with Messiaen-esque chords on strings and sub octave coupler

 

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

 

I did once improvise on "I found mummy kissing Santa Claus"....let's not go there!

 

My anarchic streak knew no bounds when I played for a shared Anglican/Methodist church.....usually drinking songs.

 

MM

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I once played a bride in (at her request let it be said) to the theme from 'Star Wars', and another to 'Lady in Red' (it was during the 80s).

 

From the ridiculous to the sublime, does a realisation exist in print of a Cochereau improvisation on 'Alouette', or have I dreamt this?

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From the ridiculous to the sublime, does a realisation exist in print of a Cochereau improvisation on 'Alouette', or have I dreamt this?

 

No, you did not dream this. I have a copy. DB transcribed it from the Philips recording*. It is published by United Music Publishers Ltd. (UMP)The catalogue detalis (as far as I know) are: UMP Organ Repertoire Series - No. 21. The most recent contact detials I have for them are as follows:

 

42 Rivington Street

London EC2A 3BN

 

Telephone: 020.77.29.47.00

Facsimile: 020.77.39.65.49

 

(I have not verified these numbers.)

 

Alternatively, probably any good music retailer would be able to order it for you. I purchased my copy from Blackwell's Music Shop, Oxford. I cannot now recall the price.

 

Hope this helps.

 

* Philips Classics 454 655-2

PY 924

 

Collection Grandes Orgues

Volume 16

joue Improvisations 1

Pierre Cochereau aux Grandes Orgues

de N.-D. de Paris.

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I once played a bride in (at her request let it be said) to the theme from 'Star Wars', and another to 'Lady in Red' (it was during the 80s).

 

From the ridiculous to the sublime, does a realisation exist in print of a Cochereau improvisation on 'Alouette', or have I dreamt this?

I managed to slip in Darth Vader's march from star wars one day into Nimrod for the entrance of a very insistant bride. I warned her I was going to do it, she laughed and said she would kill me if I did it. Thankfully, it was quite subtle.

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Themes from Harry Potter - Sunday before Christmas during communion - the kids liked it anyway!

 

AJJ

 

Another organist friend of mine (the Asst. Organist of Wellington Cathedral, N.Z.) invested in an entire book of Harry Potter songs so he could use them to full effect during improvs...! Again, the kids loved it!

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Guest Lee Blick

Be careful fellow organists!

 

There are some here who believe you are dumbing down by playing frivolous popular melodies! We should be aspiring to art of the highest order! Do you really want to incur the wrath of the those who's lofty heights reach higher than the highest organ loft for the sake of high art! Of course it was fine for Mozart and the other fine composers, but not for us mere organist underlings....

 

... personally I couldn't care less what people played in the comfort of their own organ.... ;)

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Be careful fellow organists!

 

There are some here who believe you are dumbing down by playing frivolous popular melodies!  We should be aspiring to art of the highest order!

 

We do not use 'popular melodies' for every improvisation, far from it! As I mentioned in the first post, our Director of Music frowns upon such things. But here in New Zealand, we do find it more difficult than other places perhaps to encourage more younger organists and by showing the organ in a slightly different light by incorporating well-known tunes into services on the odd occasion, it shows people the diversity of the instrument. We have had themes of God Save the Queen for services such as the Queen's Jubilee Celebration and these have all gone down very well!

 

To be able to improvise is a wonderful gift which not everybody can do and I feel that by being able to also use these popular tunes, we are drawing the organ closer to the congregation since they can directly relate to what is being played, instead of, perhaps, a Franck Chorale which, although absolutely stunning music which the average listener may indeed enjoy, is not something they can 'hum along to'! I do believe that this art does have a time and place where it is very appropriate to be played...! ;)

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Be careful fellow organists!

 

There are some here who believe you are dumbing down by playing frivolous popular melodies!  We should be aspiring to art of the highest order!

Quite! It all depends what you do with them, doesn't it? Nothing wrong with a bit of levity, but if your treatment is no more adept than that of the average worship song, well, 'nuff said! :D

 

I must admit - oh the shame of it! - that I once improvised the choir out to "Happy birthday to you" when one of the choirmen had a birthday. But I did disguise it in 4/4 time and used it as an introduction to the Fugue from Mendelssohn's second in order to make people wonder whether they'd really heard what they thought they had. Didn't fool the choirman, fortunately.

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Guest Nigel ALLCOAT
I do believe that this art does have a time and place where it is very appropriate to be played...! 

 

I always think Christmas is always a good moment in the year to enliven pre and post ceremonies with properly wrought improvised works - but so long as they are pertinent to the occasion. Do a Balbastre! Be a Wely (just)! Go D'Aquin!

 

You might be interested to know that in the last century one of my kids insisted that he improvised all (about 20 mins) of the pre-Christmas Eve broadcast music at K. C. Cambridge whilst all were gathering and awaiting for The Once. He worked long and hard at it and the result was in the true historical sprit of the afore-mentioned. He had fun and demonstrated the organ as no liturature could. Those below, had a true musical treat that was totally 'home-grown'. But - call me a kill-joy if you like - I totally bawk at Happy Birthdays etc. as being part of the Liturgy. In my own Parish I sometimes have to hear frivolities hidden in the Gospel procession music. Not for me is it the time for a wry smile or to produce a titter from the tenors. And as for daft themes coming out of an envelope at the end of a perfectly respectable literature concert - not my scene either. Okay for the Salon I feel. But of course this is just a point of view from a stick-in-the-mud! (I know we have naughties from Paris Masses from many centuries ago - but .....)

NJA

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Guest Nigel ALLCOAT
No, you did not dream this. I have a copy. DB transcribed it from the Philips recording*.

 

Just a snippet to make a fuller picture - I had a phone call one Sunday afternoon (in around 1986 I think) from David when he was at Kings asking if I could put him in touch with P.C.'s family in France as he wanted to transcribe these variations and wished to gain their permission.

 

NJA

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.... But - call me a kill-joy if you like - I totally bawk at Happy Birthdays etc. as being part of the Liturgy. In my own Parish I sometimes have to hear frivolities hidden in the Gospel procession music. Not for me is it the time for a wry smile or to produce a titter from the tenors. And as for daft themes coming out of an envelope at the end of a perfectly respectable literature concert - not my scene either. Okay for the Salon I feel. But of course this is just a point of view from a stick-in-the-mud! (I know we have naughties from Paris Masses from many centuries ago - but .....)

NJA

 

 

I totally agree.

 

I always try to match the mood of the service when I improvise the Gospel procession back up the nave. Or, if the reading strongly lends itself to a musical illustration, I will try to 'comment' on it.

 

I could not agree more regarding daft themes coming out of envelopes. I have a colleague (a well-known and good interpreter in his own right) who has a number of hang-ups regarding improvisation. He maintains that it is 'cheating' - especially if one does not have a theme handed over two seconds before commencing to play; his argument is that one might have practised the improvisation....?!. This is simply nonsense. I did once ask him if he would go to do a recital in a cathedral and attempt to sight-read a major piece of repertoire. Un-surprisingly, he answered in the negative.

 

I also made the point that providing themes from envelopes is a little like giving Beethoven a theme for his 'new' Ninth Symphony - I suspect that he was happier to find his own theme.

 

There is also the point that many composers wrote prodigious quantities of music. For example, JS Bach, Mozart, Mendelssohn and Reger - in the case of the last three, none of them lived particularly long lives. I asked my colleague if he really thought that these composers had spent many hours agonising over every bar of music which they wrote. Surely - particularly in the case of Mozart - it was more likely that the music 'dripped straight off the quill' - as it were. I then asked him why he could believe that someone could write a superb piece - a fully-formed composition yet he did not believe that a gifted improviser could do the same.

 

Honestly, some people....!

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