Jump to content
Mander Organs
MusingMuso

The Greatest Organ-work That Isn't By Bach?

Recommended Posts

Quite.  Organ music generally compares badly to the solo greats of other instruments.  Bach aside, organ composition doesn't really cut the mustard.  Probably part of the reason why the art of organ playing is disappearing in this country.

 

 

========================

 

Oh dear!

 

Let's just pop back to the baroque era for a moment shall we?

 

Not strictly "solo" organ music, I reckon the Handel Organ Concertos are among some of the greatest music written in the 18th century.

 

As a solo work, I would suggest that the Bruhns E-minor is top-drawer music from another composer who died very young, like Reubke and Alain.

 

I would also rate the music of Pachelbel, Froberger and Frescobaldi very highly.

 

In his day, Buxtehude's organ music must have seemed fantastic, to the extent that their fame travelled far and wide, and provided Bach the excuse for a long holiday.

 

I'm not a French specialist (I don't DO French, remember?) but "aye reckons" that Couperin and de Grigny must qualify as composers of great music.

 

Lest we forget, Sweelinck developed the English style and inspired a whole school of composition across Northern Europe.

 

IT IS IMPORTANT NOT TO LISTEN WITH "MODERN" EARS TO SUCH WORKS.

 

The Classical period may have marked the downfall of the organ, but the same is true of other instruments of the previous era such as the Viol, Harpsichord and Clavichord....at least the organ revived eventually.

 

Moving swiftly on to the Romantic era, isn't it also the case that like Bach and the organ, nothing QUITE compares to the music of Beethoven and Brahms?

 

If we lifted THOSE two out of the romantic repertoire as I lifted Bach out of our own, how then would music written for organ compare?

 

What I fine very interesting about the replies thus far, is the fact that English ears clearly favour vertical harmony and atmosphere over linear music, yet England's greatest musical moments were largely inspired by German romantic music: Mendelssohn, Brahms, Beethoven and Wagner, rather than Bach, who had to be re-discovered.

 

Were I to listen with "modern ears" I might be tempted to make an outrageous statement.

 

Resisting the temptation, I will throw a couple of questions into the arena, as a Roman might throw Christians into the ampitheatre.

 

Was Reger a greater organ-composer than Bach?

 

If Reger was great enough to enable that question to be asked at all, why do British organists have so little time for his music, by and large?

 

I can guarantee that these questions would be received quite differently in Holland and Germany, but flame away!

 

MM

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Alain Trois Danses

Nielsen Commotio

Tournemire 'improvisations' (Victimae Paschali if pushed)

Elgar Sonata (May not be easy to pull off, but when it works, it's awesome.)

Reubke Sonata

Reger Variations F#m

Messiaen Messe de la P.

Hindemith Sonatas (II?)

 

Now I've started to think about it, quite a bit more... tho' much Widor/Franck etc doesn't bear a lot of repetition. As a teenager I developed a crush on Durufle, but again I'm not sure the music really bears lots of scrutiny, except the gorgeous little Prelude Sur L'Introit De L'Epiphanie.

 

The Bairstow Sonata is pretty impressive too.

 

And I've just seen the Widor Symphonie Romane post. Absolutely agreed; this is in an utterly different class from the rest of his output. Didn't Schweitzer say that with this work Widor had produced 'Sacred Art' or something? :)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

"Was Reger a greater organ-composer than Bach?"

 

(Quote)

 

I do not want to rate them; both can have these senior ladies

in the back rows of the church stopping to chat about their

neighbours.

Deepness of mind is there, or not, and to me this is the point

with music.

Of course more lightheartly music may be excellent, but I do

not like it.

Pierre

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I think that would rather be K 594 which was written in 1790 immediately before K 608. The "other" F-Minor Fantasia starts out and ends with a lamento-bass figure, and has some fanfares in the middle section that were meant to point to the deceased's successes. I am not sure if K 608 was a mourning piece as well.

 

I think K 608 boasts the most exciting counterpoint next to Bach's own. It is as dramatic as it is moving.

 

====================

 

 

Sometimes I remain defiantly proud of my own ignorance concerning matters musical, if only as a means of retaining a sense of balance and sanity.

 

Incredibly, after years of fighting with the notes of the various "mechanical" works by Mozart, I wasn't actually aware of the story behind them, which saw me chuckling with laughter when I read about it.

 

I think a condensed version of the story is worth writing, and quite how it escaped the attentions of the film-maker of "Amadeus," I do not know.

 

The story starts with a bizzare gentleman by the name of Count Deym-Muller, who had started life as Count Joseph Deym von Stritez, but due to an unfortunate incident which resulted in a duel, he had run someone through and killed them. He left Vienna under a cloud, but later returned under an alias and set himself up in the entertainment industry.

 

One of his ventures was a waxworks exhibition, in which could be found a pyramid with a chimin clock, a singing clockwork canary. two life-size,wax models of boys playing flutes dressed in Spanish clothes, a lady dressed in a negligée seated at a player piano, and a bedroom scene in which an erotic wax model of a young girl lay on the bed, softly lit by artificial lights under the watchful gaze of the godess Venus.

 

Other exhibits included popular heroic figures, death-masks and the whole exhibition was enlivened by performances from mechanical-organs grimly churning out the notes of the masters, including some by Mozart. Appropriately, this mausoleum was situated on a street known as Himmelpfortgasse, which means "Heaven's Gate Alley."

 

In 1791, a special exhibition opened, which commemorated the life and death of one field-marshal Gideon von Laudon, conqueror of Belgrade, who had died in July 1790. Complete with a wax effigy, a coffin and artificial light, it was for this exhibit that Mozart composed K594, and quite probably K608 and K616 also. Unfortunately the organ cylinders ended up with Fr.Primitivus Niemecz, who was, I believe a master flute-clock maker and a friend to Haydn. As in all good stories, the cylinders eventually disappeared, leaving everyone with a mystery to solve.

 

Mozart, hard-up as usual, needed money, and the commission for K594 must have come as a welcome source of bread and wine. However, he absolutely hated the flute-clock and the flute player-organs; complaining bitterly about them and not really warming to the task. At his behest, it may be that the flute-organs were enlarged, but whatever the reality, he produced absolute masterpieces (especially K608) in spite of being "bored" (Mozart's own word) as he wrote them.

 

One wonders if Bach ever felt bored writing the Matthew Passion....who knows?

 

I would love to think that Mozart handed over the scores, took one look at the waxen exhibits and muttered, "Shit in your beds!" (A common ending in many of his family letters).

 

MM

 

Acknowledgements:

 

Sjoerd.J.Schaper

Martin Haselböck

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

As an Spanish, I like very much Iberian music. Perhaps Antonio de Cabezón is worth of beeing considered. Also, I like very much Jesús Guridi's work, above all, "Tríptico del Buen Pastor" (Good Shepherd's Triptic).

 

For not Spanish composers, I like also very much Mendelssohn... ;)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
As an Spanish, I like very much Iberian music. Perhaps Antonio de Cabezón is worth of beeing considered. Also, I like very much Jesús Guridi's work, above all, "Tríptico del Buen Pastor" (Good Shepherd's Triptic).

 

For not Spanish composers, I like also very much Mendelssohn...  ;)

 

=====================

 

I confess to not knowing enough about Spanish organs and music, but I have heard the organs at the cathedrals in Granada and Seville.

 

However, I have always admired the music of Jesus Guridi, and many years ago, Garth Edmondson recorded the "Offertoria" at St.Mary-Redcliffe, Bristol. It has one of the most beautiful pure melodies I have ever heard.

 

Now where can we get copies of organ-music by Manuel Torres?

 

 

MM

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Guest Andrew Butler
=====================

 

However, I have always admired the music of Jesus Guridi, and many years ago, Garth Edmondson recorded the "Offertoria" at St.Mary-Redcliffe, Bristol. It has one of the most beautiful pure melodies I have ever heard.

 

 

Not Garth Benson?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Guest acc
And I've just seen the Widor Symphonie Romane post. Absolutely agreed; this is in an utterly different class from the rest of his output. Didn't Schweitzer say that with this work Widor had produced 'Sacred Art' or something?  ;)

 

Here is the Schweitzer quotation, as translated by Andrew Thomson in his Widor biography: "I felt with him that in this work, the French art of organ playing had entered sacred art, and had experienced that death and that resurrection that every art of organ playing must experience when it wishes to create something new.".

 

 

Both these works [Gothique and Romane] were composed with particular organs in mind (Rouen and Toulouse), and I am sure they work best on those instruments. This seems to be a rather unique feature of organ, as opposed to other instrumental music.

 

Widor's symphonies no doubt work best on Cavaillé-Coll organs generally, but I don't think the dedications should be seen as making the Gothique or the Romane sound "better" at St-Ouen or St-Sernin, respectively.

 

First, the titles refer to the styles of the church buildings (each a masterpiece in its own style), rather than the instruments.

 

Then, there are a number of registrations on the score that can't be applied literally on these two organs - surely, Widor would have taken care of that, had he felt that those works were somehow "more ideally" suited to them than to a "generic" Cavaillé-Coll organ.

 

Please don't misunderstand me: I don't mean to say that the lack of particular stops should be an obstacle to playing these works there - but I think they can work equally well on many other (large) Cavaillé-Coll organs.

 

So in my opinion, Widor's dedications are just that: dedications, viz. to two of the last masterpieces of his old friend Aristide.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I would rate Healey Willan's Introduction, Passacaglia and Fugue highly.

Also worth mentioning are works from the 'North German' organ school by Lubeck, Bohm and Bruhns.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
I would rate Healey Willan's Introduction, Passacaglia and Fugue highly.

Also worth mentioning are works from the 'North German' organ school by Lubeck, Bohm and Bruhns.

 

 

=======================

 

Indeed, the Healey Willan is a wonderful work. The final Fugue may not be quite so well worked as many by Reger, but it is one of the few works by British composers which can hold a candle against the bigger works from France and Germany.

 

I previously mentioned the Bruhns E-minor as a contender for greatness.

 

 

MM

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I think Jongen's Sonata Eroica must be a contender for the title.

 

Some really fluent writing for the instrument, music with a strong sense of direction and a fine fugue that leads to it to a truly overwhelming coda.

 

Is Jongen's music under-appreciated or are there other JJ fans out there ?

 

H

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Now where can we get copies of organ-music by Manuel Torres?

MM

 

 

Did you mean Eduardo Torres? If so, you can purchase some of his organ works here:

 

Boileau

 

At least, some of his most famous works, such as "Saetas" (I sent them to one member of this forum some time ago).

 

If you have some issue related to Spanish language or similar, do not hesitate to ask me. Ok? ;)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

BTW, I suppose you know some of the most famous Spanish composers such as Cabezón, Cabanilles, Correa de Arauxo... don't you? They are well known in the organ world, more that 20th century (more or less) composers such as Guridi, Torres,...

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Did you mean Eduardo Torres? If so, you can purchase some of his organ works here:

 

Boileau

 

 

 

The Saetas by Torres are also available in this rather good anthology (sorry - a bit off topic for this strand - not the greatest music but some very good stuff for services etc.):

 

A Treasury of Organ Music for Manuals Only: 46 Works by Bach, Mozart, Franck, Saint-Saëns and Others

Ed. Rollin Smith

ISBN: 0486435822

Dover Publications

 

I got it via Allegro Music in Birmingham but you can buy direct from the Dover website.

 

AJJ

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
The Saetas by Torres are also available in this rather good anthology (sorry - a bit off topic for this strand - not the greatest music but some very good stuff for services etc.):

 

Yes, perhaps it is the most straightfoward ways to get it! ;)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
BTW, I suppose you know some of the most famous Spanish composers such as Cabezón, Cabanilles, Correa de Arauxo... don't you? They are well known in the organ world, more that 20th century (more or less) composers such as Guridi, Torres,...

 

========================

 

I think I'm losing the plot!

 

First Garth "Edmondson" at St.Mary-Redcliffe, and now a new composer by the name of Manuel Torres.

 

I did, of course, mean Eduardo Garcia Torres....thank you for interpreting this so expertly Jose.

 

I think Spanish music is often neglected in the wider Europe, but that is also true of music from Eastern Europe, as I have discovered. I suppose there will come a day when organists grow tired of endless impressionism and French toccatas, but I am beginning to think that I may never live to hear it!

 

Cabezon and Cabanilles are well enough known of course, though I don't think I have ever played any. I do play Lidon however and one or two other works. One of my favourites is a Pasquini set of variations on the "Folia" which never fails to delight, so long as one uses a bit of imagination and "bends" the original a little.

 

Spain has such a unique culture, which includes the organ, and every once in a while, I stumble across something of great interest. Having studied harpsichord to some extent, and the work of Scarlatti and Soler, I really wish I knew more about Spanish music.

 

There seems to be something of a communication black-out between Spain and the rest of Europe when it comes to the organ, and I'm not quite sure why this should be.

 

I think it was only last year or so, that I discovered the existence of a 6-manual organ in Spain, at the Montjuich Palace, Barcelona.

 

Ignorance is not always bliss.

 

MM

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

"There seems to be something of a communication black-out between Spain and the rest of Europe when it comes to the organ"

(Quote)

 

As far as I know, there as been a flemish and north-european influence on the spanish organ towards the beginning of the baroque period.

This is especially the case in Catalogne and the Baleares islands, where the tradition

encompasses many northern traits.

In other areas too german builders were known; think of the Faro's Schnitger

(Portugal) for example.

As Mr Grenzing showed with his article I linked to on another thread here, there has

been something like a technology transfer from Jordi Bosch, or what we may name Bosch's school, to the Cavaillés and then Aristide Cavaillé-Coll, a family that lived

and worked both sides of the frontier.

The french romantic organ owes much to the spanish baroque organ. Aristide did not

talk about it too loudly, but...

Even the british could have herited the Swellbox from Spain or Portugal, where it

existed probably before 1712 (St-Magnus London).

Later in the 19th century, french and german influences were important in Spain, with Cavaillé-Coll and Walcker building many organs, not to forget Merklin and his little-nephew Albert/Alberto Merklin who settled in Madrid as an organ-builder.

So Spain is indeed a piece in the european jigsaw, and a quite interesting one.

 

Best wishes,

Pierre

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Guest acc
Later in the 19th century, french and german influences were important in Spain, with Cavaillé-Coll and Walcker building many organs, not to forget Merklin and his little-nephew Albert/Alberto Merklin who settled in Madrid as an organ-builder.

 

May I add Stolz to that list (San Pedro Apostól of Bergara, Santa María of Tolosa).

 

If I am not mistaken, the concentration of such organs seems to be especially high in the Basque region.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
========================

 

II There seems to be something of a communication black-out between Spain and the rest of Europe when it comes to the organ, and I'm not quite sure why this should be.

 

IMM

 

 

One possible explanation for this is that the heyday of Spanish organ music would seem to have been in the 16th -18th century predating romanticism. The decline in interest seems to have paralleled the decline of Spain as a major European power, and interest in the organ and its development seems to have largely evaporated. Most of the celebrated Spanish instruments known to me pre-date 1800, whereas the majority of organist composers whose work is played come after that date. Bach, Buxtehude, Handel are more like exceptions than the general rule. Thus the Spanish composers join a host of German, Scandinavian and other European composers of this period in enjoying a state of relative obscurity as far as the average music lover and even the average organ enthusiast is concerned. (There are, of course, always exceptions to every generalisation, including this one)

 

Furthermore, the development of the organ in other European countries does not seem to have been replicated in Spain. I know of no Spanish Instruments dating from the 19th century which match in scale what was being done in Germany, France and England. I suspect at the end of the day money (or the lack thereof) will prove to be a significant part of the explanation. In nineteenth century Spain there was no equivalent of the English merchant princes who used the profits of Empire to produce the English Town Hall organ and to fund successive rebuilds and enlargements of church organs the length and breadth of the land. In Spain neglect seems to have been the order of the day, by no means an unmixed blessing since much has survived which would otherwise undoubtedly have been swept away. But in the absence of the development of suitable organs , it seems that Spain developed no significant culture of Romantic organ music. As a lover of much that Spain has contributed to the literature of the guitar, I would dearly like to know what might have happened if that generation had had available to them modern organs suitable for secular music making (but what are battle pieces if not a precursor of storm fantasias ?) but as far as I am aware they did not.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
BTW, I suppose you know some of the most famous Spanish composers such as Cabezón, Cabanilles, Correa de Arauxo... don't you?
The Faber Early Organ Music series has some impressive pieces by Pablo Bruna. Now there's a composer I'd like to know better. His Tiento de falsas de 2o tono is a wonderful essay in suspensions with the most gut-wrenching ending (in an understated, Renaissance kind of way).

 

But I'd have to be honest and say that, while I consider it absolutely first rate, it falls short of being "great".

 

But then again, I wonder how rigorous contributors here are being about distinguishing between pieces they particularly like and ones that are great? I absolutely love loads of organ music, but, like I said before, I don't think that much of it can really stand shoulder to shoulder with the best of Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms...

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I would love to enter the debate here but I do not understand the rules. How is "great" defined and by whom , and who invested them with the authority to produce this definition ?

 

I am familiar with measures of distance, mass, volume etc all of which purport to be objective. Is there a similar objective definition of "greatness" or is it simply a question of received wisdom/ long tradition/"everybody agrees that..."? In which case a story concerning an emperor and some new clothes comes to mind.

 

I think for the moment I shall continue to adopt the same approach to music as I do to food and aim for a balanced diet, enjoying both the substantial main course and the light and frothy dessert until someone can explain to me why Eric Coates Dam Busters March or "White Christmas" or even "We'll meet again" are not great music.

 

BAC

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
I would love to enter the debate here but I do not understand the rules. How is "great" defined and by whom , and who invested them with the authority to produce this definition ?
That's a very good point!

 

until someone can explain to me why Eric Coates Dam Busters March or "White Christmas" or even "We'll meet again" are not great music.
I'm not entirely sure they're not!

 

At least, I'm fairly confident about discounting the last - but maybe if I heard a decent performance of it... :lol:

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
I would love to enter the debate here but I do not understand the rules. How is "great" defined and by whom , and who invested them with the authority to produce this definition ?

 

I am familiar with measures of distance, mass, volume etc all of which purport to be objective. Is there a similar objective definition of "greatness" or is it simply a question of received wisdom/ long tradition/"everybody agrees that..."? In which case a story concerning an emperor and some new clothes comes to mind.

 

I think for the moment I shall continue to adopt the same approach to music as I do to food and aim for a balanced diet, enjoying both the substantial main course and the light and frothy dessert until someone can explain to me why Eric Coates Dam Busters March or "White Christmas" or even "We'll meet again" are not great music.

 

BAC

 

 

=========================

 

 

I don't think I would like to define "greatness," but I know what it is when I hear it.

 

There are those who collect paintings and posters by Andy Warhol, but one assumes that these are not the same people who collect paintings by Rembrant or van Eyke, unless they are investors.

 

Whatever the merits or demerits of Warhol's work, it is unlikely that anyone would ever discuss the techniques of execution and production, whereas an art-expert, in discussing an old Dutch-master, could probably spend a lifetime describing the techniques, brush-strokes, the exact composition of oils, the blend of natural colouring agents and the type of board or canvas utilised.

 

Nevertheless, each can have an immediate and powerful effect at the emotional level, and if there's one thing which can be said about Warhol's works, it is that they are memorable.

 

Is a great sounding organ a great organ if it falls apart after twenty-years?

 

Could a well built organ which sounds awful, ever be considered great?

 

Perhaps this is moving closer towards a definition of "greatness." Perhaps it is that which is concerned not only with "effect" or "gut reaction" or that which merely amuses or delights, but that which, beneath the surface has both depth and breadth.

 

I recall gasping at the eloquence of Shakespeare, when referring to a battle, in which he compresses multiple meanings into the space of a few words. I can't recall the exact quotation, but it goes something like:-

 

"twixt Wye and Dean, the battle ended, the victors did depart singing both "Magnificant" and "Nunc Dimittus."

 

17 words or so, and we know that the battle was on the Welsh border, that there was a victorius body of men, and Skaespeare captures the feelings of weary soldiers celebrating the paradox of war, as they both glorified God in their victory and yet yearned for peace as they left the battlefield. (That took about 55 words to explain just 17)

 

What we see here is great economy, fabulous eloquence, references to well known

canticles, very precise meaning and, in the process, a beautiful rhythm to the prose.

 

Perhaps we are closer still to some sort of definition........that of depth and breadth, in addition to re-defining the boundaries and points of reference.

 

When we listen to the St.Matthew Passion by J S Bach, our listening pleasure can be instinctive and emotional or scholarly and analytical; perhaps a combination of all at the same time. In the great brush-strokes of this particular old-master, we hear the total mastery of compositional technique, the perfection of the counterpoint, the cross border elements of French and Italian so perfectly welded and shaped to the German Lutheran. Yet these things alone cannot explain the whole, which mocks, scorns, terrifies, uplifts, inspires and can move people to tears like no other work.

 

I don't suppose that is by any means a definition of greatness, but then, I am the sort of person who listens to an old recording of Sidney Torch playing the "Teddy Bear's Picnic," on a Wurlitzer, and then refers to it as "a great performance."

 

 

MM

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Please sign in to comment

You will be able to leave a comment after signing in



Sign In Now

×
×
  • Create New...