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As there seems to be some cross-referencing between two recent threads (BBC Organs and Organ Recitals : Audience Preferences) I thought I'd start one off which might be worth debating. There seems to be some consensus that there is some repertoire which we might consider to be less than attractive for general audiences. I'd suggest there is also quite a lot of music which is also overplayed and I'd like to kick off by suggesting my nomination for Room 101, a piece I'd be glad never to hear again in a recital.

However, I'm also suggesting that we should suggest something we consider more worthy to take its place, let's try to be positive

I'm mindful that there are some sacred cows out there in print which should remain forever but here is my own nomination for the abattoir – Widor's ubiquitous Toccata. Now, I realise that its sheer sonic impact alone is almost a reason for including it. I remember (as many others will) the impact it had upon playing the Germani/Selby LP for the first time. But, as time passes I came to realise that its not really a very good piece at all. I'll pass on the 'it's the prototype for the French Toccata' on the grounds that if it is then it could have been a lot better. What is there to admire in a piece that relies heavily on an over-repetitious RH figure which is then doubled by the pedals as a so-called pedal theme? And on and on it trundles, with such predictability that even a first-timer at an organ recital knows what's going to happen next. Even the (probably) easier Boelmann Toccata has much more variety and certainly more interesting harmony and modulation - it seems to have fallen out of favour as well and I don't know why, it's a fine Toccata. Just before I pull the lever on Widor I might also mention I attended a recital a few years back where it was played on this organ (!)

 

https://www.npor.org.uk/NPORView.html?RI=D06838

 

Anyhow – my own nomination to replace the Widor would be Franz Schmidt's Toccata in C. It's one heck of a technical challenge and I suspect that's why it's not programmed more frequently. But what a delightful piece. Clearly delineated themes, a logical Sonata form structure which I think is pretty straightforward for an audience to follow and some very interesting and taxing tests of dexterity (it would be fun for the audience to watch on a big screen, I think they'd be impressed).

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In defence of Widor

Well, we discussed this on an earlier thread, principally about Widor’s much slower tempo in his recording of the Toccata at St Sulpice when he was well into his 80s.  Some of us here (maybe a minority) felt that Widor’s interpretation (of his own music!) imparted a dignified grandeur which other performances simply don’t achieve or come near.  Although he didn’t observe the rule at Selby, Fernando Germani was on record as saying that individual movements from the organ symphonies should not be played alone; they were part of the whole and to be heard in the context of the other movements.

BWV 565 and the Toccata from Symphonie 5 (on its own) have undoubtedly become the most hackneyed.  Where organists, and the likes of Classic FM, aren’t succeeding is shown by the fact that the public at large knows little, if any, of the rest of the organ repertoire.  

I’m afraid I couldn’t pull the lever on Widor!   A fascinating man and life; lived through the Franco-Prussian War with dreadful privations, was effectively Minister of Beaux Arts with responsibility for evacuating the Louvre in WW I, Knight of the Legion of Honour, organist of St Sulpice for almost 64 years, etc., etc.  Now if you had nominated Léfebure-Wély  ...  ...

I can’t bring myself to nominate a replacement for Widor V, but highly recommended would be Vierne’s Symphonie III, with its haunting Adagio and simply stunning Finale.

 

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Widor is becoming a divisive character!  Whatever his administrative and socialite achievements, I don’t think we can escape the fact that much of his music isn’t considered to be any good.  Widor lived alongside Delibes, Massenet, Debussy, and Ravel, and even overlapped Poulenc for 34 years; his non-organ music (and there’s plenty of it!) hasn’t found a place in the canon amongst the works of these other composers.  (And it is possible for organist-composers to have to done so; Saint-Saëns has a number of widely-performed non-organ works, and Franck’s Symphony still gets an airing often enough, although less so since the height of its popularity in the 60s).  We hold up Widor’s symphonies as the epitome of organ composition in the French Romantic style, whilst admitting that very few of them, if any, are consistently successful all the way through to be attractive to musicians and listeners away from the organ world.  If, as Germani suggested, they should only be performed in their entirety, then we’d have to subject our audiences to some fairly second-rate music.  Pretty much all of it could go in Room 101, I think.

 

Despite this, I would probably suggest keeping the Symphony 5 Toccata - it isn’t a great piece, but it is popular with non-organists, and if it is a way of introducing the general public to good organ music, then jettisoning it would be an own goal.  In addition to the Toccata, I’d keep the first and last movements of Symphony 6, the Moderato cantabile from No. 8, and the Andante sostenuto from the ‘Gothique’ symphony.

 

I agree that Vierne’s third symphony is his best, but I’m not sure of its appeal beyond the organ loft.  I’m not even sure I’d want to hear the whole thing in one concert. 

 

My own pet hate is the Reubke Sonata, which sounds to me like 25 minutes of interminable, dreary diminished chords.  I can’t be unbiased about it, but I suspect when non-organists say that they find organ music ‘boring’, this is exactly the kind of piece they have in mind.  To replace it, I submit the third of Karg-Elert’s ‘Symphonische Kanzone’, with its gently unfolding fugue, serene Kanzone, and an ethereal epilogue with a violin and female singers.  It’s still ‘serious’ music, but I have a gut feeling that it would appeal to any general public looking to explore organ repertoire further.

 

 

 

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I’m not sure what you mean by Widor’s ‘socialite’ achievements.  He was thought of highly enough as a musician to become Minister of Beaux Arts.  I can’t think of an organist having held an equivalent office in this country.  (Before anyone mentions Edward Heath, I discount him in this context.)

But as we are being brave today, I fully share your view of the Reubke Sonata, but would never have dared to say that here.   But then, the big Reger works are anathema to some members here, as inexplicable to me as ‘our’ view of Reubke would be to them.

 

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2 hours ago, Brizzle said:

Widor is becoming a divisive character!  Whatever his administrative and socialite achievements, I don’t think we can escape the fact that much of his music isn’t considered to be any good.  Widor lived alongside Delibes, Massenet, Debussy, and Ravel, and even overlapped Poulenc for 34 years; his non-organ music (and there’s plenty of it!) hasn’t found a place in the canon amongst the works of these other composers.  (And it is possible for organist-composers to have to done so; Saint-Saëns has a number of widely-performed non-organ works, and Franck’s Symphony still gets an airing often enough, although less so since the height of its popularity in the 60s).  We hold up Widor’s symphonies as the epitome of organ composition in the French Romantic style, whilst admitting that very few of them, if any, are consistently successful all the way through to be attractive to musicians and listeners away from the organ world.  If, as Germani suggested, they should only be performed in their entirety, then we’d have to subject our audiences to some fairly second-rate music.  Pretty much all of it could go in Room 101, I think.

 

Despite this, I would probably suggest keeping the Symphony 5 Toccata - it isn’t a great piece, but it is popular with non-organists, and if it is a way of introducing the general public to good organ music, then jettisoning it would be an own goal.  In addition to the Toccata, I’d keep the first and last movements of Symphony 6, the Moderato cantabile from No. 8, and the Andante sostenuto from the ‘Gothique’ symphony.

 

I agree that Vierne’s third symphony is his best, but I’m not sure of its appeal beyond the organ loft.  I’m not even sure I’d want to hear the whole thing in one concert. 

 

My own pet hate is the Reubke Sonata, which sounds to me like 25 minutes of interminable, dreary diminished chords.  I can’t be unbiased about it, but I suspect when non-organists say that they find organ music ‘boring’, this is exactly the kind of piece they have in mind.  To replace it, I submit the third of Karg-Elert’s ‘Symphonische Kanzone’, with its gently unfolding fugue, serene Kanzone, and an ethereal epilogue with a violin and female singers.  It’s still ‘serious’ music, but I have a gut feeling that it would appeal to any general public looking to explore organ repertoire further.

 

 

 

Oddly, I  find the Reubke sonata about the only memorable German Romantic piece, amongst enormous swathes of WBD (worthy but dull...) The entirety of Rheinberger's solo organ output springs to mind, which is a pity, as his concerti are well worth hearing, and his music for organ and strings is great. Believe me, I have REALLY tried to like Rheinberger's sonatas, but...

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I don’t like the Reubke either, but, as my teacher would have said, that’s my problem, not Reubke’s. I just dislike heavy Austro-German Romanticism as a genre – a result of having had a friend at the RCM who used to drag me to hear Wagner operas and Bruckner symphonies (amongst other things; I got my own back by dragging him to David Munrow’s gigs). I have much more time for the ‘classical’ German Romantics like Schumann and Brahms. At least the Reubke is a very fine work, which is more than I can bring myself to say about the bulk of Liszt, whose music is a triumph of effect over substance (pace some gems among the softer piano pieces). Yet Liszt, Wagner, Bruckner, Mahler and the rest of them are exceedingly popular with many concert goers, so I hesitate to consign any of them to room 101. If I were to make an exception it would be Liszt’s grotesquely bombastic and vacuous piffle on BACH.

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Not wishing to be intentionally disagreeing, but I love the Reubke sonata.  One of my favourite pieces.  As I understand it, he died before his time and had he lived for longer I'm sure he would have produced many more brilliant pieces.

As for Widor, he wrote an excellent mass.  Again, one of my favourites.

Still, as they say, there's no accounting for taste!

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John's final sentence is exactly the point. Human tastes in all things are entirely subjective and opinions are just that; opinions. It was recently said in another thread that Dupre's music was, to paraphrase, mostly poor and shouldn't be played at public recitals. A personal opinion and one with which I strongly disagree but nonetheless as valid an opinion as anyone else's. Most organists I know don't like the first movement of Vierne 1 but I simply love it; brooding, dark and hugely atmospheric, and  part of a cohesive symphony.

One could ask 50 organists for their thoughts on any piece and probably get 51 opinions. It's a very interesting discussion though.

PS  I'm not fond of that toccata by JSB but the fugue is, in my opinion, thrilling.

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12 minutes ago, handsoff said:

John's final sentence is exactly the point. Human tastes in all things are entirely subjective and opinions are just that; opinions. It was recently said in another thread that Dupre's music was, to paraphrase, mostly poor and shouldn't be played at public recitals. A personal opinion and one with which I strongly disagree but nonetheless as valid an opinion as anyone else's. Most organists I know don't like the first movement of Vierne 1 but I simply love it; brooding, dark and hugely atmospheric, and  part of a cohesive symphony.

One could ask 50 organists for their thoughts on any piece and probably get 51 opinions. It's a very interesting discussion though.

"One could ask 50 organists for their thoughts on any piece and probably get 51 opinions. It's a very interesting discussion though."

Yes, it is interesting, and the same seems to apply to any other discipline.  Physicists and mathematicians are regularly asked to vote for their most beautiful equation.  (FWIW, Euler's identity often comes out top or very near to the top of the list ... ).  'Beauty' pervades all human experience.  It's fascinating that even in something so apparently black-and-white as physics or maths, exactly the same emotions are aroused as they are in music and all other endeavours.

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Someone said, in the audience preferences thread, that the general public have largely been ignored, and I wholeheartedly agree.  I think we’re probably at the stage where we need to concern ourselves less with what we think is good and want to play, but what our audiences want to hear.  Given that the Classic FM yearly poll contains broadly the same repertoire each year, we ought to be able to identify some organ repertoire that the general public (and not just other organists) want to listen to.  It’ll probably be the Widor Toccata and BWV 565 to start with, but if we can follow it up with well-written and attractive music that stands up to comparison with the best of music in other genres, then we might be able to begin to address our low audiences and the general disdain shown toward the organ and its music. 

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Well, as an alternative to Widor V (and breaking the rule about playing individual movements from organ symphonies) how about the Finale from Vierne’s Symphonie 3, already mentioned?  The big pedal entry there is, I suggest, as exciting as Widor’s - possibly more so as it comes so dramatically following a gradual build-up on manual reeds.  But, of course, this requires a large cathedral or concert hall organ with the necessary resources.

People who dislike transcriptions might like to reconsider in the case of W T Best’s arrangement of Mendelssohn’s Overture to “St Paul”.  Again, it needs a suitably wide-ranging organ - and a virtuoso player!  I have heard it three times played by Thomas Trotter.  The same thing happened every time - there was an immediate audience reaction to the opening section.  Twice was at Birmingham Town Hall, where much of the audience would be aficionados (and, incidentally, always runs into several hundreds - a full house is one thousand, and I experienced that once with people standing!), but perhaps the more telling experience was at the opening of the new Tickell organ at Manchester Cathedral, attended by all the great and the good of the north-west, Lord-Lieutenant and every mayor from Lancashire it seemed.  It was a ticket event and I sat in the ‘additional seating’.  I’m pretty certain that organists were very much in the minority in the audience of several hundreds.  My impression was that many people were out of their depth, possibly slightly bored, until the opening bars of “St Paul”.  The audience visibly stirred, and sat up!  And listened!

The drama comes towards the end of the Vierne, but at the very beginning of the Mendelssohn.  Either recipe might catch people’s  imagination.

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handsoff wrote:  Most organists I know don't like the first movement of Vierne 1 but I simply love it.

Thank you.  I thought I was the only person in the world who liked this movement!

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3 hours ago, Rowland Wateridge said:

Well, as an alternative to Widor V (and breaking the rule about playing individual movements from organ symphonies) how about the Finale from Vierne’s Symphonie 3, already mentioned?  The big pedal entry there is, I suggest, as exciting as Widor’s - possibly more so as it comes so dramatically following a gradual build-up on manual reeds.  But, of course, this requires a large cathedral or concert hall organ with the necessary resources.

People who dislike transcriptions might like to reconsider in the case of W T Best’s arrangement of Mendelssohn’s Overture to “St Paul”.  Again, it needs a suitably wide-ranging organ - and a virtuoso player!  I have heard it three times played by Thomas Trotter.  The same thing happened every time - there was an immediate audience reaction to the opening section.  Twice was at Birmingham Town Hall, where much of the audience would be aficionados (and, incidentally, always runs into several hundreds - a full house is one thousand, and I experienced that once with people standing!), but perhaps the more telling experience was at the opening of the new Tickell organ at Manchester Cathedral, attended by all the great and the good of the north-west, Lord-Lieutenant and every mayor from Lancashire it seemed.  It was a ticket event and I sat in the ‘additional seating’.  I’m pretty certain that organists were very much in the minority in the audience of several hundreds.  My impression was that many people were out of their depth, possibly slightly bored, until the opening bars of “St Paul”.  The audience visibly stirred, and sat up!  And listened!

The drama comes towards the end of the Vierne, but at the very beginning of the Mendelssohn.  Either recipe might catch people’s  imagination.

Mentioning Mendelssohn, War March of the Priests seems to get a lot of thumbs ups on YouTube, probably because of the famous film...

For anybody who DOES like Wagner, it seems to work pretty well on the organ. The Act I prelude to Lohengrin springs to mind..I know it's a thorny issue to broach, but I often think concert hall / town hall recitals will pull bigger audiences, most likely because audiences are already familiar with them as a local orchestral venue. Sad to say, but there are some people who will avoid a church at any cost. Make of that what you will...

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10 hours ago, Rowland Wateridge said:

perhaps the more telling experience was at the opening of the new Tickell organ at Manchester Cathedral, attended by all the great and the good of the north-west, Lord-Lieutenant and every mayor from Lancashire it seemed.

Just an aside, but I was at that event when a nice lady asked me where the speakers are!

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