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Christmas - Flor Peeters - Robin Milford - etc


Martin Cooke
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1. I don't play very much by Flor Peeters - (though I once heard him play a recital on the 'old organ' in Bath Abbey in the 70s) - but I always wonder about him and his chorale preludes for pre-service Christmas music. Does anyone have unmissable favourites? I want to tackle the 'How brightly shines' one this year for Epiphany, but what about Christmas?

2. How much do you think congregations might appreciate/enjoy any of Robin Milford's Christmas organ music? I have an old Novello volume entitled 'Seven Seasonal Sketches based on Carol tunes' They're not difficult - his piece on the Sussex Carol is considerably more demanding than any of them. Is it worth playing them? I always try to think that at any servcie there may be, in the congregation, a retired organist, or an organist on holiday, or another interested party who will appreciate a few bits from the less obvious highways and byways of repertoire before carol services etc.

3. And speaking of 'etcetera'... any other good tips for Christmas organ music this year? What do other forumites regard as unmissable/essential pre-carol service music to set the scene and the atmosphere? (I can't manage Messiaen!)

 

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13 hours ago, Martin Cooke said:

... any other good tips for Christmas organ music this year?

Are you lumping Advent in with Christmas here?  I have sometimes played two short chorale preludes on the same words (i.e. with the same title) consecutively, the first by Buxtehude and the second by Bach.  Examples:  Nun komm der Heiden Heiland (BuxWV 211 followed by BWV 599); Herr Christ, der einig'ge Gottes-Sohn (BuxWV 192 followed by BWV 601).  In the first example I play them both quietly, before the service.  In the second I play the Buxtehude quietly while everybody processes out at the end, then launch into the Bach using a more assertive registration and tempo - as Helmut Walcha did on one of his recordings when he played it fff.

Or sandwich something else inbetween the pair.

Note that I'm a fan of John Furse's idea which he mentioned above, of introducing Buxtehude perhaps more often than others might.

Another suggestion is Bach's In dulci Jubilo, the BWV 608 version being played quietly before a service (if you have a suitable stop for the pedal solo), and the BWV 729 version played more loudly at the end.

13 hours ago, Martin Cooke said:

 I always try to think that at any servcie there may be, in the congregation, a retired organist, or an organist on holiday, or another interested party who will appreciate a few bits from the less obvious highways and byways of repertoire before carol services etc.

Yes, I keep that in mind as well.  Occasionally it happens that someone will stay behind at the end until one finishes playing.  Once I noticed that the gentleman in question then nodded to himself, apparently appreciatively, before rising from his pew.  But in general I suspect that most people who go to church at Christmas enjoy hearing the 'usual' repertoire rather than anything too way out.  We don't really like the Christmas experience to change too much, do we, and in these darker times perhaps it's almost a public service organists can offer by giving people a reminder of something eternal and changeless which they can hang onto  ...

 

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Buxtehude is a gem.

When I lived in Holland, at the Christmas services when my wife's church "borrowed" the local, and very ancient, church in Voorschoten, I got into a habit of playing Buxtehude's In Dulci Jubilo, an obvious choice maybe, a couple of others from the Complete Works which I had with me, and his passacaglia BuxWV161. The latter was simply because I like it, and when played gently it creates a lovely mood. It helped that I was able to play on an organ built in 1718, which really does provide the required solo voices to bring out the melodies so nicely, which with familiar and non-familiar tunes alike do contribute to the mood of congregants that Martin and Colin mention.

FWIW my liking of the Buxtehude passacaglia really is pure. I read "Demian" by Hermann Hesse as a teenager, but it was only when I re-read it a couple of years ago (40 or so years later, still a strange book, even by Bildungsroman standards) that I realised that the protagonist, the equally strange Demian, was playing this very passacaglia in a church while the unnamed narrator was listening. A coincidence, probably ..... But I never tire of playing it.

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23 hours ago, Colin Pykett said:

Occasionally it happens that someone will stay behind at the end until one finishes playing.  

After a recital I gave in a glorious Spanish church, a distinguished-looking chap introduced himself to me. It was the (now) 88-year old Francis Chapelet.

I agree with Colinyou never know who might be listening !

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