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Alexandre Guilmant


Vox Humana

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This is just an idle query, of no musical moment.

 

Today I had the pleasure of rummaging through a wooden box of music that one of my pupils found abandoned inside his church organ. It was a mixed bag of stuff, a lot of it choral (“Jesu, joy”, “The Lost Chord” etc.), but with some organ music of old vintage (Batiste, Lefebure-Wely, Gounod arrangements etc, a couple of Schott's "coloured" albums of 20 pieces, etc.) One of the organ items was a slim volume from Guilmant’s L’Organiste Practique in an original French edition. The front cover bore what looked to be his signature. I also have an original Guilmant volume with a similar signature. It is clearly not part of the original engraving since it is in a different colour ink (black) to the cover, which is printed in brown.

 

I have seen other instances of this on IMSLP:

http://conquest.imslp.info/files/imglnks/usimg/a/a7/IMSLP245334-PMLP397679-AGuilmant_Idylle__Op.38_BDH3505907.pdf

 

http://javanese.imslp.info/files/imglnks/usimg/3/36/IMSLP290158-PMLP471061-Opus_23-1_en_2__Receuillement_et_Valse__Harmonium___A.G.2_.pdf

 

http://petrucci.mus.auth.gr/imglnks/usimg/0/0a/IMSLP290626-PMLP471809-Opus_26__Pastorale__duo_pour_Harmonium_et_Piano___A.G.3_.pdf

 

To my eyes, these “signatures” appear to be identical to each other and also to the signature on my volume, which would suggest that they were done with a rubber stamp. They are not all from the same publisher, so the stamp was either passed around or there was more than one. If anyone has further information I would be interested to read it. Did any other composer do anything similar?

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Now that a thread on Guilmant has been opened, may I ask for opinions on an aspect of his work which has perplexed me for a long time?

 

It seems to me that the quality of his output is more than a little variable, to the extent of being not much more than 'good in parts' as the curate said of his egg. On the one hand we have his Sonates, at least some of which must surely be in the first rank (personally I love playing them, at least those which fall within my technique). Yet on the other there seem to be books full of shorter stuff, much of which strikes me as little more than note spinning. Taking an example at random (I've just opened one of these volumes) is his 'Prayer in B flat', op. 47 no. 4, and dedicated to M Aloys Klein. Were Guilmant's name not on it, I would not have been surprised to find it in that deplorable mass of 'Novello's Original Compositions' or similar, written by the unknown and compositionally-challenged a century or so ago.

 

Does anyone agree or am I being too unkind?

 

CEP

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Hi

 

I've got a couple of volumes of Guilmant - one is of sonates - and I've not tackled them yet!! The other is of Christmas music - a set of suites of short pieces, which I find very attractive - aided by the fact that some of them are scored for organ or Harmonium! (And very well written for Harmonium, with a good understanding of the instrument's possibilities).

 

I included a couple of these in my Christmas concert:-

 

& two more I recorded whilst the Mustel was still in the church:-

 

Every Blessing

 

Tony

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Thanks for these perspectives Tony. Aside from the musical issues, I am impressed by your mastery of the 'Expression' stop, which has confounded me every time I've tried it! I have not yet been able to develop sufficient treadle/bellows control to overcome an audible judder each time I transfer from one foot to the other.

 

And what an interesting collection of instruments you have there - pipe, harmonium and (presumably) electronic, all within easy reach. Was this a shot of a corner of your church or are they all in your home?

 

(Tell me to mind my own business if you like!)

CEP

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Guilmant wrote an awful lot of music and I would have to agree that I find quite a bit of it a wee bit too facile. However many of his noëls are very attractive. I feel bound to point out that Guilmant's metronome mark for the Noël Écossais is crotchet = 50. He probably meant it, too since he marks the piece "Adagio", but, if so, I can't help feeling that he didn't understand Scottish musical culture well. Sometimes you just have to conclude that a composer got it wrong. Tony's speed is surely more acceptable.

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There is an extremely useful and comprehensive website devoted to the music of Guilmant, run by a chap who is extremely enthusiastic and helpful if you contact him. Quite a bit of unpublished music including some early unpublished short Mass settings although of course the well known big Mass in E flat is published by a commercial firm. Well worth looking at the Guilmant website.

 

Malcolm

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Hi

 

Thanks for the comments.

 

As to playing a Harmonium with Expression - I've been doing it on and off for nearly 50 years - I was fortunate that when we first got a Harmonium, there was a chap I knew who showed me how to do it properly. There was a series of articles in Organists' Review about 11 or 12 years ago by Anne Page on Harmonium playing - well worth a look (and if you get the chance to her Anne playing Harmonium, take it - she's a remarkable player).

 

As to the Noel Eccossais (Sp?) - my suspicion is the tempo was to get it past the Priest - after all, playing "secular" music in church was rather frowned on! Whatever the reason, I think the faster tempo works better (I had noticed and tried Guillmant's tempo marking).

 

Thanks for the comments.

 

Every Blessing

Tony

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I think that his influence upon French music was his passionate and correct influence within the Schola Cantorum (which he founded) and his collection Archives des Maîtres de l'Orgue. These are still perfectly usable with the players' present knowledge of 18th century registrations. His advice for sounds was based upon the symphonic organs of the day - and was really no different to the Novello publications of Bach that proclaimed all manner of British suggestions for performance.

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