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Morwenna Brett

The "Ten Pieces" for organ

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You may well be aware of the BBC's recent initiative for UK primary schools, to inspire them to enjoy and understand classical music. For the project "Ten Pieces" have been chosen to represent western classical music. If you haven't seen it, here's the list:

 

John Adams: Short Ride in a Fast Machine
Beethoven: Symphony No. 5 (1st movement)
Britten: "Storm" Interlude from Peter Grimes
Grieg: In the Hall of the Mountain King (from Peer Gynt)
Handel: Zadok the Priest
Holst: Mars (from The Planets)
Mozart: Horn Concerto No. 4 (3rd movement)
Mussorgsky: A Night on the Bare Mountain
Stravinsky: The Firebird ­ suite (1911) (Finale)
Anna Meredith: Connect It

 

More on the project here:

http://www.theguardian.com/music/2014/jun/16/bbc-ten-pieces-classical-music-primary-school-children

 

If we were going to create a similar list just for the organ, what would it be? I'm going to make the blindingly obvious first choice of the Widor Toccata, but after that....?

 

Seriously, this could be a project in itself.

 

Morwenna

 

 

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How about these:

 

Buxtehude - Praeludum in G minor

Bach - Passacaglia & Fugue in C minor

Bach - CP 'O mensch bewein dien sunde gross'

Mozart - Fantasia in F minor

Mendelssohn - Sonata VI

Franck - Chorale No 3

Reger - Phantasie & Fugue on 'BACH'

Messiaen - L'Asenscion

Ligeti - Volumina

Swayne - Rif Raff

 

Bonus tracks...BWV 565 & Widor V

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I suppose that it's rather predictable that not one of the pieces chosen by the BBC is for organ!

 

As for your list, Paul, I'm not sure about the Messiaen. I think that would just confuse most children!

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You might be surprised at what children will listen to, enjoy and understand, so long as they are not told that it's 'hard'. For a long time I used the noisiest bits of 'The Rite of Spring' as a basis for a Yr 7 (age 11) composition project.

 

Comments after first hearing included,

 

'That's really scary. I like it'.

 

'Was that from "Jaws"?'

 

'That can't be right. Cavemen didn't have violins.'

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My daughter, aged 4, sat on the floor with me and listened intently to Bartok's Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta, pronouncing it "hilarious".

 

My son was addicted to organ music at an earlier age, probably having heard his first organ music while still in the womb. At that time we had Rediffusion radio and television with a switch to select channels. When just old enough to stand he learned to turn this on to the channel which played organ music as a pre-programme filler each morning. I think that the rather limited selection of pieces included a good selection of Bach and Buxtehude, and he had the advantage of hearing the same pieces often enough to become familiar with them.

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This list is my suggestion:

 

Uppon la mi re - Thomas Preston
"Verbum caro factum est" - Hans Leo Hassler, played by Leo vn Doeselaar on the mean-tone organ in the Pieterskerk Leiden.
The Emperor's Fanfare - Soler, arranged by E P Biggs
Prelude and Fugue in F# minor - Buxtehude
The Cuckoo and the Nightingalr (organ concerto) - Handel
Prelude and Fugue in D major BWV 532 - J S Bach
CP 'O mensch bewein dien sunde gross' BWV 622
Fantasia for Mechanical Organ KV 608 - W.A.Mozart
Improvisation on Psalm 42 - John Propitius
Vers l'espérance - Thierry Escaich
I am sure that the Escaich would frighten many adults, but I suspect that many children are more open minded.

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A few weeks ago, my son's class teacher asked the children if they knew any French words or phrases. My son (aged 7) volunteered 'Jeux de combinasion'.

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Maybe the best approach is just to try various numbers. Paul Morley obviously has done (see #4), and as he apparently teaches children his opinions carry some weight. I have only more limited experiences as a parent and grandparent to go on, but my daughter went on to love Vierne's 'Berceuse' at the age of about 12 after I told her he had dedicated it to his own daughter. My son when in his late teens was bowled over by Poulenc's organ concerto and pronounced it "wicked". Both are now much older and not particularly interested in 'classical' music, but I would lay money on it they would remember those pieces from their youth.

 

As for my grandson, nearly 2, he loves playing the organ here at home and can now even switch it on at the mains. He now knows how to manipulate the stops and pistons to change tone colours and knows not to turn the latter round and thus break them. He thoughfully explores the sonorities across the keyboard and particularly likes the bottom note! However he can also hear the top note on the Tierce, which I can no longer do, and is clearly fascinated by the range of frequencies which make up human musical experience. Therefore perhaps it will not be too long before he begins to express preferences for particular pieces.

 

CEP

 

 

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As for my grandson, nearly 2, he loves playing the organ here at home and can now even switch it on at the mains. He now knows how to manipulate the stops and pistons to change tone colours and knows not to turn the latter round and thus break them.

 

My two-year old loves to play my house organ and on occasion has very excitedly shown my one year old the different sounds that come from high and low notes from different keyboards. But at home I have Hauptwerk, controlled from a touchscreen. The first time he sat at a "real" cathedral pipe organ with drawstops he was mightily confused by them, as he thought you had to touch them to activate them and couldn't understand why Daddy kept pulling them out and so he kept pushing them back in again! Oh dear.

 

As for repertoire, I'd include a snippet of Messiaen too, but I'd probably go for Dieu Parmi Nous (probably just the last section) with its pulsating rhythm - to me it's more accessible. I'd also want to fit in a transcription of a familiar orchestral piece e.g. Midsummer Night's Dream or Aida march, to show how the organ can substitute for an orchestra.

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You might be surprised at what children will listen to, enjoy and understand, so long as they are not told that it's 'hard'. For a long time I used the noisiest bits of 'The Rite of Spring' as a basis for a Yr 7 (age 11) composition project.

 

 

 

I used to use Peter Maxwell Davies "Eight Songs for a Mad King" - the last three songs, as a stimulus for a Year 7 Composition Project - and very successful it was too! I absolutely agree that young people are far more receptive than a lot of the 'older generation' would think!

 

I agree with the suggestion that Dieu Parmi Nous might be better - but there is so much music to choose from I wouldn't know where to start!

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I gave much thought to the BBC’s list, which I considered disappointing and unsatisfactory- a lost opportunity, for something possibly once-in-a-generation. I don’t know who drew it up (a committee?), but it reminded me of the limiting AB choices, when I was a kid: nothing before -, nothing after -. It almost made me angry, despite the obviously good intentions; the realisation is flawed.

 

With primary teachers stretched too much, as it is, it would not be unusual for no other pieces to be ‘on offer’. This would inevitably give many students a skewed idea of the character of Western high art music. (Why is ‘classical’ music still being used as a term, when it is so inaccurate ? This is sheer laziness.)

 

After many revisions, I came up with the following list of works, which I feel should be offered to children from 5 to 11 years:

 

Anon.: “Sumer is icumen in”

Gibbons: “The Silver Swan”

Purcell: “Sound the Trumpet” Z323 (duet)

Bach: Toccata in D minor BWV565 (not Fugue)

Mozart: "Sing to the mighty Pasha” (Seraglio)

Beethoven: Symphony No. 5 (1st movement)

Britten: Young Persons’ Guide

Shostakovich: Piano Concerto No.1 (3rd mvt)

Judith Weir: “On Buying a Horse”

Messiaen: Turangalîla Symphony (excerpt)

 

My rationale was quite simple: the list must be representative of most major periods of music. Although the 19th century is there, including something Romantic proved, most unfortunately, impossible, given only ten.

 

There should be an emphasis on British music, but examples from other nations a sine qua non. The pieces chosen should be iconic, in some way, and include examples of as many forms of music as possible. They should also lend themselves to extension listening and learning: it is, primarily (!), a selection for schools.

 

Each piece should be enjoyable, excite and intrigue- with an intention of encouraging each child to listen further.

 

Criticism of the BBC list mentioned the lack of ‘slow, soft’, instrumental and vocal music; I, too, found the first problematic. In our present cultural climes, nothing overtly religious was possible. There must be pieces incorporating language: most kids are fascinated by words.

 

Are we saying that younger children are unable to listen ‘quietly’ ? Or that they cannot/should not be taught to do so ? This ‘evasion’ is lamentable and an almost cowardly desertion of educational responsibility.

 

I would issue TWO CDs to each school (primary & secondary sectors), with both a ‘classic’ and an ‘authentic’ recording, where possible. This would provide a launch-pad for discussion about classic and historically-informed performances and orchestral technique, etc. 2nd CD to include extension listening: e.g. medieval estampies, Mozart’s other Janissary-influenced music (thus including positive references to Islam).

 

One, possibly, two alternative lists could be issued, with ten works so manifestly not enough.

 

I will now apply myself gradually (it takes some time for me to deliberate) to the present task, presenting my ideas presently.

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A few weeks ago, my son's class teacher asked the children if they knew any French words or phrases. My son (aged 7) volunteered 'Jeux de combinasion'.

 

Would I be correct in assuming that the teacher had no idea about this one....?

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While I applaud the BBC for their initiative to get young kids to get interested in classical music, I do take an issue with trying to boil down Western Classical music to a selection of only 10 pieces......and not one by them is by Bach(!!!), who was so influential and inspirational on so many composers who came after him.

There is nothing from before Handel, even though there is plenty of music that could have been chosen here, particularly from these very shores. No Purcell either :(

 

But if this makes more young kids interested in classical music then go for it, better than nothing I suppose.

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Over a lifetime I've rather gone off the BBC, especially as they tax us on pain of imprisonment for the dubious benefit of the utter drivel which is most of their output today.

 

I'd have been more impressed with their Top Ten if they demonstrated that music and a reasonable level of culture more generally permeates the organisation as a whole. It clearly does not, because they roll out only about three 'tunes' as background to all their TV programmes: Zadok the Priest for anything remotely 'regal', Also sprach Zarathustra for 'space', and Land of Hope & Glory for 'patriotism'.

 

It's a good indicator of the dismal level of musical literacy among the ranks of their producers.

 

But why do they think they can then preach on musical taste to the upcoming generation, and why should we (and they) accept it?

 

CEP

 

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...and not one by them is by Bach(!!!), who was so influential and inspirational on so many composers who came after him.

 

I agree. I would happily trade in the tedious grind of Zadok for the last movement of Brandenburg 2, which, when I was at grammar school, we all heard regularly and which we all seemed to enjoy. It's fairly easy listening, so I don't see why younger children couldn't also take to it.

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How about these:

 

Buxtehude - Praeludum in G minor

Bach - Passacaglia & Fugue in C minor

Bach - CP 'O mensch bewein dien sunde gross'

Mozart - Fantasia in F minor

Mendelssohn - Sonata VI

Franck - Chorale No 3

Reger - Phantasie & Fugue on 'BACH'

Messiaen - L'Asenscion

Ligeti - Volumina

Swayne - Rif Raff

 

Bonus tracks...BWV 565 & Widor V

That's a pretty good list. Can I be provacative and suggest that if we want to inspire children about both classical music and the organ as an instrument we should be prepared to include transcriptions?

 

How about (in alphabetical order):-

 

Bach: Toccata and fugue in D minor

Frank: Piece Heroique

Holzmann: Blaze away

Lefebure-Wely: Sortie in E flat

Messiaen: Transport de joie

Mulet: Tu es Petrus

Rheinberger: Introduction and passacalia, sonata no. 8

Souza: Liberty bell march

Vierne: Finale from Symphony no.1

Wagner: Ride of the Valkyries

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That's a pretty good list. Can I be provacative and suggest that if we want to inspire children about both classical music and the organ as an instrument we should be prepared to include transcriptions?

 

 

Fair enough. How about on my list substituting a Wagner transcription (preferably by a 19C German organist) for the Reger? Also, if one wished to make my list less Franco-German, a transcription of an Elgar P&S or one of Walton's coronation marches could replace the Mozart.

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