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Themes submitted for improvisation


DouglasCorr
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Any chance of a bit more commentary on the recital itself and S-V C-C's playing and use of the St Paul's instrument? I presume she used the dome console.

 

It was interesting for me to be at St Pauls last Thursday as on the previous Sunday I had been at the Grand Recital in St Sulpice to mark the 150th anniversary of the installation of the Cavaille Coll organ. I thought that S-V C-C made St Pauls speak with as French a voice as possible, with conspicuous use of the chancel reeds - but St Pauls has such a refined English sound there are definite limits as to how far it can go in a French direction IMO.

 

The Dome choruses provided the basis of her performance of Boëllmann's Suite Gothique. It was a performance vastly acoustically scaled up from what we are used to hearing. In effect the Chancel organ became the "Swell" and the Dome became the "Great". I think it was the Solo strings that made such an impact in the Prière (such a relief compared to hearing the usual feeble English strings).

 

 

PS at the end of the Saint Sulpice recital Daniel Roth provided an improvisation on themes of his own choice in a "Rhapsodie, évocation de la tradition musicale de Saint-Sulpice" where bits of Lefébre-Wely (including the Machine â Grèle) stood side by side with extracts from Dupré and others!!

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One problem is if a very recognisable 'formula' (as opposed to musical 'form') for an improvisation is regularly used by a player. I have heard one such player ('first rate musician and very nice person too - I hasten to add) on a number of occasions and one can almost predict what they are going to do - made all the more obvious as said player also happens to issue improvisations on CD. I really agree with Nigel Allcoat in that improvisations should tease out musicianship and not just formulaic showmanship. Get hold of some of Nigel's CDs and you'll hear what he can achieve. I also like the idea of the player deciding on the theme or even structure to be used rather than the 'masses' in the audience - as the mood, inclination, season etc. takes.

 

A

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I have a couple of recordings of improvisations made by Edwin Lemare (presumably cut on to rolls). The theme given on one was just six notes in (IIRC) g minor. From that he created all sorts - including a fugal exposition. I have to say that I thoroughly agree with many contributors to this thread that many of the themes given for so-called improvisation are terrible. I was at Bridgewater Hall when (I think it may have been) Naji Hakim was giving what was I think the opening recital. One of the themes was La Marseillaise, together with a bunch of other things which I've forgotten now. Other so-called improvisations have been on Gershwin themes and the likes and I'm not sure if it's really improvisation that we're hearing or some other kind of extemporaneous hullaballoo! I could certainly happily live without a lot of it! LOL

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I agree with much of what has been written about the triviality of themes submitted for improvisations but would mention a performance from Coventry Cathedral last year. Kerry Beaumont played on two themes, 1) the Coventry Carol (submitted by me) and 2) "Sur le Pont d'Avignon", a simple, well-known and easily dismissable tune probably on a par, in France with the Archers tune. The resulting improvsation was amongst the best I have ever heard. It was a typically French work much influenced by Cochereau (with whom KB studied) ranging through quiet scherzi, a fugal section, a cantabile and a huge toccata to end. I think virtually every stop on the instrument was used as some point and showed what can be done with an ordinary theme.

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  • 2 weeks later...
Guest Voix Mystique

I would tend to agree that the submission of trivial themes is perhaps inappropriate. I hesitate to use as strong a term as insulting.

 

HOWEVER, there are two particular examples of which I can think where it works spectacularly well. Kalevi Kiviniemi's improvisation on "Waltzing Matilda" on the fabulous Hill, Norman & Beard organ of Melbourne Town Hall - available on YouTube - is simply stunning. Whether it was a submitted theme or one of his own prior choice I cannot say.

 

One which I think was submitted on the spot was David Briggs' improvisation on Old Macdonald Had a Farm. This too is on YouTube, in three parts. It explores just about every corner of the Gloucester organ and exploits the acoustic to the full. Talk about 'floating notes out on an acoustic'... but what makes it stand up to scrutiny is, I think, its timing. This was at the height of the 2001 Foot & Mouth disease outbreak, a time when the suicide rate amongst farmers and labourers had exploded. David Briggs took what might seem a trivial theme and made it in places really quite achingly sad. I urge everyone here to go and listen to it. My only quibble with it is that it seems to stop rather than finish, with a sudden pair of large fortissimo chords after a quiet passage.

 

Naturally, Cochereau was a genius when it came to improvising on 'silly' themes. I don't always care for his style but he always applied his enviable technique and evident flair to it, producing something utterly musical.

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