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The Art of Organ Improvisation in England


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This was an improbable project! By its nature, improvisations did not use written music, and only occasionally were organ improvisations written down afterwards. Recording only started at a time when, with a few exceptions, improvisation was only for filling in. The organist is a young Bavarian, so how can he be well informed on the history and techniques of improvisation in England over the last 500 years, and does he speak intelligible English? So how did the project succeed? Brilliantly on all counts!


Ronny Krippner talks about and demonstrates improvisations in the style of Tallis, Byrd, Purcell, Handel, Sawyer, Howells, Mathias, and Leighton, using appropriate organs. The project would be just as useful as a history of the styles of English organ building, using the Wetheringsett organ, Adlington Hall, St Lawrence at Little Stanmore, Bristol Cathedral, Liverpool Cathedral and Kingston Parish Church.


The DVD contains an 85 minute film, with the talk inevitably containing only parts of some improvisations, but there is another 35 minutes at the end with the improvisations complete. This is one of the new style DVDs, without the usual style of label - both sides look as though they are the wrong way up! In fact it is dual sided; put it in the player one way up and it is PAL, and the other way is NTSC. The music is also included on a separate CD.


This project was up against some stiff competition. Michell Chapuis' DVDs on French Baroque, French Romantic and German Baroque are exemplary, while the previous Fugue State Films have been of exceptionally high standards. The set on English Improvisation is not inferior to the others.


My one complaint is about the packaging. Dozens of DVD producers have designed different ways of fitting two disks into a box. This set uses yet another, the worst that I have seen. It's not unusual for disks to be very tightly held on their pegs, but in this case the CD has to be levered off to get to the DVD - any attempt to remove the DVD on its own is likely to scrape the lower playing surface.


They cost £28.50, and full details can be found at http://www.fuguestatefilms.co.uk/extempore/default.html

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I have this really excellent DVD; it arrived a couple of days ago. It is superb (apart from the packaging, as has already been mentioned). Surely this DVD is a must for all organists interested in any way in extemporisation. The on-line shop of Fugue State Films is well worth investigation, particularly the contributions from Daniel Moult.


I was fascinated that Ronny Krippner is a Bavarian who seems to have taken the whole English church music and organ scene so much to heart and become part of it. Not only that; his English, with barely a foreign accent. is superb.


Those members of this forum who are also friends of mine on Facebook will be aware that recently I have commented more than once about how much I have learnt in the past couple of years from DVDs of masterclasses etc., on organ, singing, choir training, choral and orchestral conducting as well as piano playing. The DVD is a marvellous medium for this, especially for the organ, where you can see the player's technique close up. Another thing I have found most inspiring and informative over the past week is a series of three programmes on Sky Arts 2 called School of Listening, about orchestral conducting, featuring Barenboim, Boulez and a very talented young English conductor called Robin Ticciati working with the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra at the 2007 Salburg Festival.


For the price of a DVD, or for free if you are watching television, you can get superb musical tuition whilst sitting in your home. Don't just watch organ programmes; I've learnt a lot about organ playing (keyboard playing in general, in fact) by watching the singing masterclasses of Thomas Quasthoff at the Verbier Festival.



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