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Carl Nielsen's Commotio


Nick Bennett
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A number of people mentioned it as a possible "greatest work not by Bach". I, too, think it's a great work - but what is it that makes it so great?

 

And why does it hardly ever get played? It's a piece I have known of for many years, but only last year did I get to hear it (Christopher Herrick's CD). And that's in spite of decades of going to recitals. Is it exceptionally hard (it looks it!) or are recitalists reluctant to programme it because it would frighten the horses?

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Guest paul@trinitymusic.karoo.co.uk

A number of people mentioned it as a possible "greatest work not by Bach". I, too, think it's a great work - but what is it that makes it so great?

 

And why does it hardly ever get played?

 

 

I can't speak for anyone else, but here are my reasons for not playing this in recitals:

1. It's clearly chock full of misprints and I know I don't understand enough Danish to be sure I've followed correctly the emendations suggested in the edition I have.

2. As a work, it is difficult to programme. It's long (i.e. suitable only for a full-length evening programme) and the opening (in particular) is not for the faint-hearted listener. Like Frank Martin's Passacaglia (a real masterpiece, in my opinion) outside a University or Conservatoire audience, I cannot think of who I would play it to. I suppose Messiaen's Livre D'Orgue and Reger's Variations and Fugue on an Original Theme also come into this category. Since recitalling is all about giving satisfaction to more-or-less whoever comes, this is a siginificant hurdle for me.

 

I have a number of recordings of it, and agree that neglect of this work may be unfair.

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A number of people mentioned it as a possible "greatest work not by Bach".  I, too, think it's a great work - but what is it that makes it so great?

 

And why does it hardly ever get played?  It's a piece I have known of for many years, but only last year did I get to hear it (Christopher Herrick's CD).  And that's in spite of decades of going to recitals.  Is it exceptionally hard (it looks it!) or are recitalists reluctant to programme it because it would frighten the horses?

 

The one and only time I heard this work played was by Gillian Weir at the RFH 2-3 years ago. I had low expectations, but actually was riveted from beginning to end.

 

Now you've reminded me of this, I would like to hear it again - can anyone recommend a recording? How is the Herrick, and which CD is it?

 

JJK

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A number of people mentioned it as a possible "greatest work not by Bach".  I, too, think it's a great work - but what is it that makes it so great?

 

And why does it hardly ever get played?  It's a piece I have known of for many years, but only last year did I get to hear it (Christopher Herrick's CD).  And that's in spite of decades of going to recitals.  Is it exceptionally hard (it looks it!) or are recitalists reluctant to programme it because it would frighten the horses?

 

I don't know about the horses but it certainly scares off record buyers, judging by the sakes of Great Cathedral Organ series No 11 Salisbury on which Christopher Dearnley programmed it, on a very different type of organ from that for which it was ostensibly conceived.

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I don't know about the horses but it certainly scares off record buyers, judging by the sakes of Great Cathedral Organ series No 11 Salisbury on which Christopher Dearnley programmed it, on a very different type of organ from that for which it was ostensibly conceived.

Well, I bought it! I now have Bowyer at Odense (on Nimbus), but I haven't compared them. I think I prefer the Bowyer from what I recall.

 

Paul

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Now you've reminded me of this, I would like to hear it again - can anyone recommend a recording? How is the Herrick, and which CD is it? 

 

It is on "Organ Fireworks V" and was recorded in 1993 at Turku Cathedral, Finland. Other pieces on that cd are Litanies, Mulet's Carillon Sortie, Mozart's Fantasia K 608 and Pomp and Circumstance No. 4.

 

The organ, though big (Virtanen, IV/81, tracker, Trompeteria), seems to be a bit on the lean side. It has much fire, however, and suits Herrick's articulate playing perfectly. See a nice virtual tour of the cathedral, including the impressive case, on

 

http://www.turunseurakunnat.fi/portal/turu...?kohde=8&mode=0

 

One good thing about Herrick's "Commotio" is that he doesn't just boom away from the start, but begins more in "poco forte" dynamics, allowing for the voice-leading structure to shine through the dense texture of the piece. I like this recording a lot.

 

Best,

Friedrich

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A number of people mentioned it as a possible "greatest work not by Bach". I, too, think it's a great work - but what is it that makes it so great? And why does it hardly ever get played?

 

I can't speak for anyone else, but here are my reasons for not playing this in recitals: ...

2. As a work, it is difficult to programme. It's long (i.e. suitable only for a full-length evening programme) and the opening (in particular) is not for the faint-hearted listener. … outside a University or Conservatoire audience, I cannot think of who I would play it to. I suppose … Reger's Variations and Fugue on an Original Theme also come into this category.

 

Then why not doing a «Flucht nach vorn» (a saying that means to tackle the enemy instead of fleeing him, even when seemingly being in the disadvantage)?

 

Your mentioning of Reger's op. 73 might give an idea here. Karl Straube, when performing it for the first time in Leipzig (5 March 1905, two days after the actual first performance of the work in Berlin by his student, Walter Fischer), he played the piece twice, in the beginning and in the end of his programme, with some lighter pieces in between. He earned mixed reviews, but definitely granted his listeners a chance to get a feel for the music. Some reviewers, by the way, wrote that it took Straube an astonishing 45 to 50 minutes to perform the piece.

 

So, if the performance is well-prepared, maybe with a short, spoken introduction and well-designed printed material, why not give it a try? I believe that Commotio, in a way, is much more accessible than Reger's op. 73.

 

Best,

Friedrich

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Much as I love the Herrick recording, I'd reccommend David Goode's from Christ Church Oxford (on Herald). The cleaner acoustic really helps.

 

There are a number of things which make this great music IMHO. Firstly, it's the sustained contrapuntal writing, and the way tension is built up/relaxed over the duration of the piece via a great variety of textures. Secondly (and this is what's especially distinctive, for me) it is that Nielsen's compositional 'voice' is to be heard in every bar: this is obviously the same man who wrote the Symphonies, Maskerade etc. (This seems to be an achievement few 'mainstream' composers pull-off when writing for the organ.) It's a profoundly beautiful and serious work.

 

I'm not sure it's that rare in recital. I heard a great performance at a free Westminster Cathedral Sunday-afternoon freebie (complete with obbligato votive coin-dropping) a while ago, which was fairly jaw-dropping.

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Friedrich - you referred to this piece as Ultra-Buxtehude in the previous thread. I wonder if you would like to expand on this description. I have certainly noticed its structural similarity to a Buxtehude Praeludium. Do you see any other parallels?

 

Nick

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