Jump to content
Mander Organ Builders Forum

William Mathias - Organ Works


timothyguntrip

Recommended Posts

With a forthcoming house move, I recently set about the task of boxing up all my scores - among which I found many which had sat forgotten on the shelves for quite some time. In particular I found quite a few by Mathias, namely:

- Fantasy
- Fenestra
- Three Pieces (Invocations, Carillon, Antiphonies)

Having only ever played a few out of the Organ Album, I had a listen to them on Spotify and think, overall, they're quite good stuff.

A few questions for those who are more familiar with this music than myself:

- Is Mathias' music out of fashion? I certainly can't remember the last time I heard any of his organ output in recital. They certainly seem to demand a resourceful instrument and a fairly generous acoustic to bring off well.
- How approachable are these pieces? I'd like to choose just one of them for now to work on.
- I've heard some rather dismissive comments before about his music before - are they justified or not?

Best regards to all

VA

Link to post
Share on other sites

There is a fantastic set of Priory recordings of the complete organ works of Mathias played by Richard Lea at Liverpool Met. which could convince anyone totally of the merit of the music. The playing is electrifying and the organ sound likewise. Quite a lot of the music of this era seemed to have gone out of favour but is being recorded a bit currently - there is also a disc of similar music from Coventry played by Kerry Bishop and the Hurford Dialogues appeared recently on a recording from St Albans. The organ music of Leighton also could be similarly considered.

Having said that I play the Mathias Processional occasionally - and that's about it - similarly the Leighton Paean and Fanfare and the first of the Hurford Dialogues.

 

A

Link to post
Share on other sites

I've always liked Mathias - that sort of spiky rhythms, fourths and fifths, medievalesque touches and so on always appealed to me. I think that, like Rutter, he perhaps wrote too much and some of it fell into a routine, but when he's good he's very, very good.

 

I don't actually play much of his music, but I wish I played more.

 

On a tangent, his Christmas cantata 'Ave Rex' deserves a lot more performances than it seems to get. Apart from the ubiquitous 'Sir Christemas', 'Alleluya, a new work is come on hand' is very fine and not too difficult, and the other movements are well worth performing. The whole thing is very listenable and not too long.

Link to post
Share on other sites

David sums it up neatly: "he perhaps wrote too much and some of it fell into a routine". (I would add, 'an occasional Messiaenique splash'.) Even if you play all of his organ music, it is sometimes difficult to identify individual pieces, on hearing just a bar or two. But, it did all coalesce into a characteristic style that people would say, 'that's a bit Mathias'.

 

However, the pieces are well written (for organ) and quickly learned. When his "Jubilate" Op. 67, no. 2 was published in 1974, I was successfully playing it at an interview within days. "Invocations" and "Variations on a Hymn Tune (Braint)", much longer works, are favourites of mine, and illustrative of his more extended writing.

 

I also agree with David about his "Ave Rex"- a super piece, joyfully performed by choirs. It should be remembered that he was patronised by the Royal Family.

 

This sympathetic obituary repays reading, for those unfamiliar with aspects of his life: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/obituary-professor-william-mathias-1536526.html.

 

Perhaps we are still a little too close to his death, for his true musical significance to be measured; but he was one of the more significant British composers of the second half of the 20th century and leaves a most varied legacy, which repays listening.

Link to post
Share on other sites

A slight personal tangent: when I was in Orkney, the St. Magnus Festival commissioned an anthem for the cathedral choir, Thus saith God the Lord. It was admirably suited to our circumstances - the vocal parts challenging but not unreasonably so and the organ part rather more complicated but approachable. After an initial setback when OUP sent photocopies of the manuscript in which the lines of the staves did not appear (and then had the nerve to try and charge us for them), we learned it in good time and the first performance was broadcast by the BBC. Mathias wrote me a nice letter saying that he had enjoyed listening to it and a few years later, when the Cathedral Organists' Association met at St. Asaph, he spoke to me kindly about it. Lesser men might not have bothered.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Perhaps we all ought to learn a piece of Mathias in the next few weeks. I think I'm going to! Processional is good fun and was enhanced for me by the late 60's recording from St Paul's with Christopher Herrick using the Trompette Militaire for the main tune throughout. I think I'm going to revisit Toccata Giocosa, Postlude and Jubilate. At a school concert last night, one of the pupils played Andante Cantabile from his flute Sonatina and previously I have heard the first movement which is really quite exciting. It's on Youtube here. A babe is born is a great favourite - I've grown a bit tired of Sir Christèmas and find A babe is born a bit more grown up, if you know what I mean!

Link to post
Share on other sites

"Chorale", from Oxford 'Easy Modern Organ Music' is nice and very playable.

 

Chorally, apart from 'Ave Rex', 'Lift up your heads, O ye gates' is fun and absolutely blue-print Mathias. 'Make a joyful noise' is a touch more demanding but a good rouser nevertheless.

Link to post
Share on other sites

I always had a penchant for W M's Wassail Carol. Anyone perform it nowadays ?

 

H

I haven't sung it since school days - so 40 years ago and I somehow doubt if it is in use very much. I played through Jubilate and Postlude yesterday in a spare 10 minutes. The former needs a bit of work but Postlude's coming up soon.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Funny you mention the Wassail Carol... It was recorded by St Johns Cambs a few years ago 'On Christmas Night' (Chandos.) Whilst cataloguing a new series of music we've been 'gifted' I found 21 copies at church - after giving it to the boys to have a little sing through, they thoroughly enjoyed it - they were big fans of Sir Christemas last year, so I think we'll do Wassail this year instead of the planned a Babe is Born - it seems considerably easier...

Link to post
Share on other sites

I played through Jubilate and Postlude yesterday in a spare 10 minutes. The former needs a bit of work but Postlude's coming up soon.

 

Postlude is pretty easy really, once you've got to grips with the standard Mathias hallmarks - I'd even say its easier than Processional, but not quite as fun. I like a bit of a Tuba honk towards the end (as in Processional). I've also used the Fanfare from Oxford's 'Ceremonial Music' album a couple of times.

 

I've never looked at Jubilate, thinking there were far too many notes in it for my liking! The piece of his I'd really like to play is Recessional, but again the middle bits have put me off spending proper time on it.

 

We did Sir Christemas a couple of years back and I think the choir quite enjoyed it. A babe is born is a lot more interesting, but also a lot more difficult!

Link to post
Share on other sites

Just been rummaging on itunes and the Richard Lea recording from Liverpool Met, as alluded to earlier, is there, of course. There is a Prelude, Elegy and Toccata listed which I don't think I've ever heard of before - I certainly don't recall it being published by OUP as (all?) other Mathias organ music has been. The Toccata is most exciting! Does anyone know about this?

Link to post
Share on other sites

There is a Prelude, Elegy and Toccata listed which I don't think I've ever heard of before....

 

I seem to recall that this is not published but that WM's daughter passed on the music to Richard Lea - 'may be mistaken though!

 

A

Link to post
Share on other sites
  • 3 weeks later...

Many thanks for all your responses.

 

I'll be using the Processional as an opener to a forthcoming recital. I think I'll have a crack at the Invocations as and when time allows.

 

We'll be doing the loved / loathed Sir Christemas this year too.

 

VA

Link to post
Share on other sites

There is a story that, many years ago in a certain cathedral in Kent (not Canterbury), the lay-clerks had a bit of a run-in with the organist before a carol service and, at the end of 'Sir Christemas' the boys shouted 'Nowell!' and the men shouted 'Bo***ks!'

Link to post
Share on other sites

“Bo***ks!” Counting the number of asterisks, David, I can only conclude that the missing letters were ‘sti’: giving ‘Bostiks’.

 

This is slightly odd. Perhaps the gentlemen of the choir were rather confusedly looking forward to some seasonal Glühwein, in an attempt to drown their sorrows and forget about the ‘issue’ !

 

I wonder how many know that Mathias, in fact, co-designed (with George Guest) one of the organs at Bangor to include a Trompeta Real- University ceremonials no doubt in their minds: http://npor.emma.cam.ac.uk/NPORView.html?RI=N11677

 

It is a matter of some perplexity that there was no knighthood for him, after The Wedding. There was, of course, for Sir Elton Hercules John. (Neither was there for that other similar worthy from one of our marginal countries, Kenneth Leighton- not after any nuptials.)

Link to post
Share on other sites

It is a matter of some perplexity that there was no knighthood for him, after The Wedding. There was, of course, for Sir Elton Hercules John. (Neither was there for that other similar worthy from one of our marginal countries, Kenneth Leighton- not after any nuptials.)

 

Isn't the prerequisite for a higher honour an appeal to a wide public taste and thus more a political question of what the public will appreciate than what an individual deserves, or am I being too cynical? These things are decided by committees of civil servants anyway, starting at a local level, and, if your locals haven't heard of you, you are going to be at a disadvantage from the start..

Link to post
Share on other sites

It's possible that both Leighton and Mathias might have got knighthoods if they'd lived longer. Both died relatively young. Then again, a knighthood might have been declined if offered (e.g. Vaughan Williams and Herbert Howells). But it may well be the case that musicians aren't fashionable candidates for such things any more.

 

I believe S.S. Wesley turned down a knighthood and took a pension instead. That's a thought....

Link to post
Share on other sites

Archived

This topic is now archived and is closed to further replies.

×
×
  • Create New...