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The Darwinian Organist?

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This is an impossible thing to settle, because we are on that impossible subject, taste, but it's still fascinating! I have to come clean, Brian,  and say that I would have the Fricker Pastorale burnt at the stake. However - I'm glad you like it! But the more pressing general question is - why should composers (or indeed any other sort of artist) always 'please' the audience? What does 'please' mean? Was Picasso arrogant to paint Guernica, or Shakespeare arrogant to write King Lear? Of course not. Not many people find Shostakovich 14 an easy listen, but it's an important, and unpleasant, masterpiece. Or the second scherzo of Mahler 10 - M's annotations in the score read  'the Devil dances with me - seize me, accursed one, that I may cease to exist... farewell my lyre...' it's not very pleasant music, but worthwhile and illuminating to the highest degree. Must the organ be excluded from all this? As for pitching your food at the broadest common denominator - tell that to Raymond Blanc or Ferran Adria. They may well get more punters through the door if they dropped the prices a bit, served chips with everything and put brown sauce on the tables, but something would be very wrong....

 

I entirely agree with you that taste is a personal thing, and I have said before that it would be a dreary world if we all liked exactly the same things in exactly the same quantities. Variety is indeed the spice of life.

 

I did not actually argue for the broadest common denominator: merely for one with adequate breadth. Presumably the gentlemen you mention are fully aware that they have to please those who can afford to, or are willing to, pay the prices they charge or their businesses will collapse

 

Also in suggesting that "pleasing the audience" is a factor that ought to be accorded some priority , I am not saying that audiences are only pleased by being anesthetized into comfortable somnolence by "nice", bland, completely undemanding music: sometimes you please by stirring the blood or even frightening, by challenging or provoking thought. In literature Dickens was rather good at getting the balance right but even The Old Curiosity Shop is not unremitting Mills and Boonish niceness from cover to cover. That is why I think the examples of successful film composers are quite illuminating, because they have to produce music that is "reasonably fit for its purpose" (Sale of Goods Act 1893, s14(3) and not the modern idiom some may believe it to be). That purpose of course is to complement the visual images and has to take its tone from them, so it is not unusual to find that the nastier scenes are accompanied by music that is far from relaxing and bland, but audiences seem able to cope. Pleasing the audience need not be as restrictive as some might fear it to be, and certainly does not mean eschewing everything but the bland.

 

As to King Lear , the considerable differences between the Quarto and Folio texts indicate that Shakespeare revised it more fundamentally than any of his other plays which have come down to us. Moreover, the reaction of at least some audiences is indicated by the fact that between 1681 and 1843 probably the most widely performed version was that rewritten by one Nahum Tate to give the play a happy ending ! As to Guernica , it is surely no more horrific in what it depicts than Goya or Leonardo had been earlier, and anyway visual art demands far less of an investment of time than is the case with music. The individual revolted by what he or she sees can turn away at once and go to seek out a more appealing image to view.

 

Finally isn't it the case that Mahler 10 is a bit like Elgar 3 in that neither is entirely (or in the case of the Elgar possibly even mainly) the work of the celebrated composer to whom it is atttributed ? Can we be completely confident that either composer would have left the work in this form if they had been able to complete it ?

 

Brian Childs

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David Briggs can certainly get away with speaking because of his wonderful, gentle sense of humour. At the reopening recital at Blackburn Cathedral, at which he had programmed the Toccata only from BWV 540, he recounted how he had performed the entire work from memory (!) on this organ at the age of 14, having arrived by train with his parents. He had, however, got lost in the fugue, and ended up missing out a large chunk of it. And that, he said, is why you are only getting the toccata tonight.

 

Were any of you in Cologne for the IAO Congress? We went to the weekly recital in the cathedral. It started at 8 and we were advised to arrive by 7 to be sure of a seat, and it was as well that we heeded the warning. To say that the cathedral was full would be an understatement. Not only was every seat taken, but many people had arrived with folding garden chairs to sit in the aisles - whether because the cathedral is always packed out or because the pews are uncomfortable I am not sure. At least a hundred failed to find seats and stood through the recital. There were three major works - Liszt's BACH, Durufle's Prelude et Fugue sur le nom d'Alain, and a set of variations by Reger that lasted a good 30 minutes, during which I admit I lost the will to live. And at the end - prolonged, wild applause and two (or was it three?) encores. Someone asked the cathedral staff how many people the cathedral holds, and were told three thousand. By comparison we do, indeed, live in Das Land ohne Musik. They don't seem to need gimicks there to get bums on seats.

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It still comes down to a matter of taste.

 

As far as I am concerned, Eben could be joined by Ligeti, Sorabji and a number of others in his cell.... (That said, I do not, of course, condone that incarceration of anyone for their religious views.)

 

On the other hand, I do not particularly want to play (or hear) Boëllmann's Suite Gothique, Widor's  Vth, the Bach (or whoever) 565 or any number of Trumpet Tunes at an organ recital.

 

Even if one were to stick to the symphonies of Vierne or Widor, there is a wealth of material which is accessible to the general public, yet not that well-known. In my view, these works also have the advantage that their inspiration, or their roots, if you prefer, spring from a culture which is not so radically different from our own. However, much of the Eastern Bloc music which MM mentions, was born from a culture and a way of life somewhat different from our own - not just in terms of when Czechoslovakia was under the iron rule of communism, but also surely inasmuch as a substantial proportion of their 'national' music is rooted in folk and gypsy music - often totally different in style from that of our own culture.

 

Of course we have Vaughan-Williams and others who set about preserving the oral tradition of our own folk-songs and writing music based on many of these tunes. However, it seems to me that there is not, in this country, such a strong tradition of a whole swathe of 'national' music based on popular or folk-songs. No doubt someone will remind me of Finzi, Arnold Bax and the like; however, the point which I am trying to make (and finding it remarkably difficult clearly to articulate) is that much of the music which MM cites is linked with an entirely different cultural tradition and which fulfilled quite different needs.

 

I wonder if the reason that many British audiences find (for example) this type of music diffcult to appreciate is that, here our audiences look for a 'good tune' - often as a result of what I will call 'aural laziness'. Whilst such pieces as Franck's Third Choral, Boëllmann's Prière à Nôtre-Dame and the Vierne Berceuse each have the requisite 'good tune' (and varying degrees of sentimentality), mauch of the Eastern Bloc music to which I have bothered to listen appears to be rhythmically driven and, whilst there may be tunes there, they are hard to assimilate, because they appear to me to employ a different melodic shape and 'feel' and often seems to lack that emotive element with which British audiences seem to wish to identify. I suppose that I am saying that, to Western ears, much of this music can sound rather clinical and detached.

 

Yes, I realise that I have made some gross generalisations, here. However, I am trying (and probably failing miserably) to suggest a possible reason why English audiences (and organists) tend to shy away from such works.

 

We certainly have a reputation for sticking to what is 'safe', in this country. But as MAB, Jeremy Jones and otheres have implied, it is a brave performer (and presenter) who will programme largely unknown works regularly, in these days of dwinding audiences.

 

 

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

 

Where do I begin, except to suggest that this reply demonstrates only a partial knowledge of the repertoire?

 

Can anyone, including "pcnd" be blamed for this? I think not!

 

I'm sure "pcnd" writes from a very educated perspective, and much of what he states may sound all right, and may indeed contain truth, but much of it is actually very wide of the mark.

 

I have a similar problem, in that generalisations are often useful, but I suspect I would be very wrong to use them.

 

However, playing dangerously, I would suggest that organ-music from the old Eastern Bloc falls into certain broad categories; and most of those categories are not within the time scale of either individual country nationalism or the eventual absorption into the "common folk culture" of the communist years.

 

One may be forgiven for thinking that Poland only ever produced Chopin, but then, we discover that the Jesuits had taken music to Poland maybe as early as the 14th century; I am not absolutely sure, but the date 1325 springs to mind. Indeed, church and court music was the norm, as it was in other countries.

 

In the Czech region, there was the baroque proper, and the post-baroque-baroque, in which period the music of Bach was well respected by such as the Praha composer Seger.

 

Being catholic countries, organ-music has often been influenced by plainsong, and in the choral music of Zelenka, a certain expressive passion which challenges almost anything which Bach could achieve, if sung properly.

 

Prague itself was an extraordinary melting-pot of musical and cultural exchange during the classical years, and Mozart travelled there as a matter of priority, due to the importance of the opera and symphonic music. Brixi is a fine example of the Czech absorption of the classical style, which he affixed to a remarkable grasp of things contrapuntal.

 

I would concede that nationalism played an important part in the romantic music of Eastern Europe, and everyone would immediately recognise a good native folk-melody or a Christmas tune like "Wenceslas". (Some of the finest Christmas music comes from the Czech region)

 

Is that much different to Vaughan Williams and his Tallis or Greensleeves themes?

 

It's only in the communist years that "popular culture" assumed elevated importance, but then consider the genius of Martinu, and what he did with it; not to mention other important composers.

 

The observation about "rhythmic music" is certainly valid; Petr Eben being a good example, but by no means an isolated one.

 

However, in the music of Wiedermann (some 340 works, still unpublished) and the Czech composers of the romantic years, there is a treasure chest, of which I have only just really started to explore. Many of these are works which really falls into the category of absolute music, and do not rely either on folk-song or rhythmic devices, but they remain elusive and somewhat obscure outside their native country.

 

For me, the interesting thing is the fact that the former Czechoslovakia is often rated as behind that of England (which I actually find difficult to fathom), and this may or may not be true. I am not sure whether the winning post is simply that of quantity, or whether there is qualatitive consideration, but of one thing I am sure. If we were to compare ORGAN MUSIC as a genre, I suspect that the former Czechoslovakia would knock spots off anything outside France and Germany, and just to remind ourselves, this was a country which had enormous musical, artistic, scientific and engineering talent; at one time becoming the 4th richest in the world, with a magnificently educated population.

 

As I have stated, I am still learning, and I do not think I am really in the position to provide the definitive view of the subject, but what I have discovered, and continue to discover, gives me ground in thinking that there is a very large corpus of superb and largely undiscovered music.

 

Perhaps what I find odd, is the fact that a single unearthed Bach manuscript will cause the entire academic world to go into paroxysms of excitement, yet there appears to be a treasure trove of music about which they remain largely indifferent.

 

Stephen Farr's mention of Milan Slavicky, and my comment about the father (?) of Milan, Klement Slavicky and his fine piano toccata, prompts the inclusion of the following link, which makes interesting listening.....fiendish is a word which springs to mind.

 

http://www.martinkasik.com/index.php?lang=en&page=3

 

Other snippets of music can be heard at the following URL links, as follows:-

 

http://www.haydnhouse.com/organ_loft.htm

You'll have to dig around a bit for the sound-sample of Klement Slavicky "Frescoes for organ no.3"

 

A few baroque and classical work from Seger (not perhaps his best works), as well as Cernorhorsky, Zach and Brixi, can be heard at the following:-

 

http://varhany.slansko.cz/ukazky/

 

http://organ.sonusparadisi.cz/nahravky.htm

 

And three other links of interest:-

 

http://www.sonusparadisi.cz/organs/zlkor/demos.0.asp

 

http://www.baroquecds.com/27Web.html

 

http://www.chaloupsky.op.cz/PCH-PRODEJ.htm

 

The Chaloupsky works are very interesting, and show great imagination. Note the compositions for Cello and Organ!

 

MM

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

 

Where do I begin, except to suggest that this reply demonstrates only a partial knowledge of the repertoire? 

 

MM

 

I could too be far of the mark but I think police constable ND's remarks were homing in on playing safe without playing too safe, and the notion of finding music which is equally acceptable to punter's ears as to punter's eyes upon concert posters. However worthy, "approachable" (Kevin Bowyer - "the point at which one can be bothered to make the effort to listen to something") the Eastern music might be, it ain't gonna get bums on seats in a market town organ recital.

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Sorry to backtrack a bit - I have not read the site over the weekend.

 

Can I add a few thoughts, from experience, regarding the question of talking to the audience / video screens ?

 

So far as talking to the audience is concerned, some people are very good at it, some are not. I think it is important to know which camp you fall into and tailor your act accordingly.

 

If I talk to the audience, I have a number of rules -

 

First, I will not talk before the first item. Let the music establish itself, then address the audience. I will talk once after the first piece, cover the first half of the programme, then once before the second half or group of pieces, otherwise they have forgotten what you said 40 minutes ago and you are bobbing up and down like an idiot.

 

Second, I do not mention any technical musical term. I have been to recent recitals where a very famous organist explained how the flute was voiced on the choir. Another organist, whose whole demeanour radiated embarrassment, described a Bach prelude as 'like a great upbeat to the fugue'. A third organist, who gave a stunning recital, delivered a thesis about the 'missing' bottom B in the Bach Fantasia. In each case, you could feel them lose the audience immediately. I know it is corny, but the audience wants human colour and to learn a bit about the composer. That way, the realise that a living person with real emotions just like them wrote what on the programme looks like some tedious piece of pre - Bach. An audience will yawn if you programme Buxtehude, but tell the story about his daughter endlessly being turned down and they will laugh and listen. If there is a musical feature to listen out for, I talk about it in everyday terms.

 

This may well be naff stylistically, but from my experience it works. You have got the audience on your side, and once you have got that, then you can play almost anything to them.

 

Third, I admit that I do have stock anecdotes and stories I attach to particular pieces. I also have a script which I memorise in advance. This simply reduces the worry factor. If I am playing a recital, I want to concentrate on the music, not have part of my mind in the last minute of the previous piece wondering what the hell I am going to say about the next piece.

 

Finally, on the subject of video screens, I have only done it once and am an absolute convert. When playing I was totally unaware of the camera on me, but the audience were clearly captivated. None of them were organ recital buffs, but all of them said that they would go to another recital.

 

Res ipsa loquitur, as I might say in my professional life.

 

I accept that careful judgement is needed to get the balance right but, as I say, if you get the audience on your side, you can go on to play a programme of high seriousness ; both aspects, for me, are what it is all about.

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I could too be far of the mark but I think police constable ND's remarks were homing in on playing safe without playing too safe, and the notion of finding music which is equally acceptable to punter's ears as to punter's eyes upon concert posters.  However worthy, "approachable" (Kevin Bowyer - "the point at which one can be bothered to make the effort to listen to something") the Eastern music might be, it ain't gonna get bums on seats in a market town organ recital.

 

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

 

Well, perhaps this is the reason why I choose my European market-town carefully.

 

I seem to recall stumbling among cheeses and market stalls on the way to hearing contemporary-music written by people with implausible sounding names.

 

I may be wrong of course, but I was always under the impression that people actually liked Liszt, Rheinberger, Mushel, Kodaly, Martinu, Dvorak, Glasunov and transcriptions of Prokofiev.

 

Just because some of these unfortunate Eastern Europeans have names which appear to be deficient in vowels and often end with the letter 'i', is no excuse for censure. Some even have names which begin with a silent 'z', which one assumes is the eastern equivalent of the silent 'p' we know so well from the word 'bathing'.

 

Putting this into perspective, I tried to get seats for the Prague Organ Festival, but I was politely informed that all seats were fully-booked until the year 2008, so I had to make do with a quick visit to the local "Sniff-along -n- pipes" marathon at the local methodists, which they laughingly called a "Flower Fest" consisting of things which resembled brightly coloured, rotting vegetables and organ-music from beyond the grave.

 

I'm looking forward to Prague in 2009!

 

:lol:

 

MM

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"MM" - you are no doubt correct in some of your assumptions, although it is nice to know that I am well educated! I fully admit that it is not an area of the repertoire which I have studied in depth - it would be a strange world if we all favoured the same things.

 

However, what I was attempting to do was to suggest a reason why many people tend to shy away from such music.

 

I suspect that it is probable that many people have also made these generalisations and consequenty have included much 'good' music with what they view as 'bad' music. In a way, my reply itself serves to illustrate what may be happening in the minds of many who attend organ recitals.

 

I know several people in my own church who, faced with a recital programme consisting of a number of obviously foreign (for example, Eastern Bloc) composers and pieces, would choose instead to become trapped in a defective lift with Nicholas Parsons. This is not to say that the music is bad - simply that many people prefer to play safe and not expose themselves to unknown music, perchance it may happen to sound unpleasant.

 

I note that you also did not attempt to deal with the point I made regarding the emotive aspect of music. I realise that this is open to a wide range of responses and that it would be unwise to make generalisations about this. Nevertheless one of the perceived problems which many people have with such music as you mention is that they often feel unable to identify on an emotional level with that which they may have heard. As I said, either through 'aural laziness' or some other reason, many of those who attend recitals in the area in which I live do so because they wish to hear a 'good tune' and something which they recognise. Again, this is partly due to cultural differences and influences.

 

I also suspect that this wil be a difficult matter to resolve in this country.

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"Build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door."

 

As every successful businessman knows and most inventors find out the hard way, Ralph Waldo Emerson's famous advice is utter crap. The world will only beat a path to your door if it actually wants a better mousetrap. If it's perfectly happy with the one it's got you'll starve.

 

In business the golden rule is to supply the market with what it wants. Organ recitals are really no different. In a place like London - heavily populated and with all sorts of specialist enthusiasms readily on tap - you could get away with a single-composer programme. In a place like Plymouth where musical tastes are predominantly low-brow it would get a luke-warm reception at best. Years ago, I'm told, a visiting organist here gave a recital of nothing but French music. I understand the playing was well up to par, but the audience was bored. Horses for courses.

 

As for talking about the programme, I suppose the same goes. Personally I would be perfectly happy just hearing the music, but most people here seem to appreciate a bit of chit-chat - it shows that the player is human. And that is all that is really necessary. There has been a tendency in Plymouth for pre-recital talks to get longer and longer. One recently lasted ten minutes and the audience went to sleep. Frankly I doubt they care what the organist says so long as he says something - they just want to be entertained.

 

Last week I was in a little seaside village on the east coast, miles from any real centre of population, though there were a couple of small towns a few miles on either side. Outside the little parish church I was surprised to see a large board advertising a series of Wednesday lunchtime organ recitals by local worthies, including a couple of minor "names" (though unfortunately neither was billed for last week). Curiosity got the better of me and I went. The audience numbered 30+, which I thought was pretty good going for a weekday lunchtime since, at the evening recitals at St Andrew's, Plymouth, the big cathedral names draw no more than around 50.

 

The programme was a mixture of arrangements of lollipops (Clarke's "Trumpet Voluntary", Berceuse from Fauré's "Dolly" suite, Liberty Bell etc) interspersed with genuine organ music - but even that included Guilmant's wretched March on a Theme of Handel, the theme of which stood a fighting chance of being familiar. The player introduced the pieces very minimally: his introduction to the Trumpet Voluntary was little more than "On my copy it says the composer is Purcell, but the piece is now thought to be by Jeremiah Clarke". But it was really all he needed to say for the type of audience he had (though I wish he'd been a bit more accurate!) It was a strictly an unpretentious, amateur event, but it all seemed to go down a treat.

 

Being a holiday area, I wondered whether holiday makers had boosted the attendence, but from the fact that both the resident organist and the vicar made a beeline for me and my wife after the concert, the others would seem to have been local stalwarts. Nice to see this sort of support in a relatively out-of-the-way place.

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Last week I was in a little seaside village on the east coast, miles from any real centre of population, though there were a couple of small towns a few miles on either side. Outside the little parish church I was surprised to see a large board advertising a series of Wednesday lunchtime organ recitals by local worthies, including a couple of minor "names" (though unfortunately neither was billed for last week). Curiosity got the better of me and I went. The audience numbered 30+, which I thought was pretty good going for a weekday lunchtime since, at the evening recitals at St Andrew's, Plymouth, the big cathedral names draw no more than around 50.

 

The programme was a mixture of arrangements of lollipops (Clarke's "Trumpet Voluntary", Berceuse from Fauré's "Dolly" suite, Liberty Bell etc) interspersed with genuine organ music - but even that included Guilmant's wretched March on a Theme of Handel, the theme of which stood a fighting chance of being familiar. The player introduced the pieces very minimally: his introduction to the Trumpet Voluntary was little more than "On my copy it says the composer is Purcell, but the piece is now thought to be by Jeremiah Clarke". But it was really all he needed to say for the type of audience he had (though I wish he'd been a bit more accurate!) It was a strictly an unpretentious, amateur event, but it all seemed to go down a treat.

 

Being a holiday area, I wondered whether holiday makers had boosted the attendence, but from the fact that both the resident organist and the vicar made a beeline for me and my wife after the concert, the others would seem to have been local stalwarts. Nice to see this sort of support in a relatively out-of-the-way place.

 

'Interesting this - I have had similar experiences in a medium sized east coast town with a long running summer organ recital series. Maybe not quite so 'home grown' in feel as VH's with some quite well known names featuring (in the past at any rate) but usually with a reasonable sized audience. The local (very!) beer is also excellent. Incidentally Margaret Phillip's recitals at Milborne Port draw a good number too.

 

AJJ

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"MM" - you are no doubt correct in some of your assumptions

 

 

I note that you also did not attempt to deal with the point I made regarding the emotive aspect of music. I realise that this is open to a wide range of responses and that it would be unwise to make generalisations about this. Nevertheless one of the perceived problems which many people have with such music as you mention is that they often feel unable to identify on an emotional level with that which they may have heard.

 

 

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

 

Sorry, but I don't think I understood the point.

 

Which emotions do you want?

 

Percy Whitlock's Folk Tune? :lol:

 

Any Hindemith Sonata :lol:

 

Transcription of Mozart's Leipziger Gigue :lol:

 

Will o'the wisp - Nevin :lol:

 

Reubke Sonata on the 94th Psalm :lol:

 

Vierne "Berceuse" :lol:

 

Ligeti "Volumina" :lol:

 

 

 

 

Aren't most of them by foreign composers?

 

MM

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"Build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door."

 

As every successful businessman knows and most inventors find out the hard way, Ralph Waldo Emerson's famous advice is utter crap. The world will only beat a path to your door if it actually wants a better mousetrap. If it's perfectly happy with the one it's got you'll starve.

 

In business the golden rule is to supply the market with what it wants. Organ recitals are really no different. In a place like London - heavily populated and with all be perfectly happy just hearing the music, but most people here seem to

 

 

I wholeheartedly agree with these sentiments. Concert organists perhaps ought to remember that like clowns they are in the entertainment industry and church musicians are in no different a position when they venture onto the concert circuit. The entertainment may be delivered by a different means but that does not mean that being entertaining is not the object of the exercise. Taking a more elevated view of one's status and function is quite likely to lead to disappointment. I think it might be beneficial for some players (no one here ,of course) to remember that they are privileged that the audience gives up its time to come to hear them:not the other way round.

 

Brian Childs

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Art not entertainment.

 

Leave entertainment to Messrs Curley and Olivera. I rather wonder what Bairstow would have thought of these two 'artists'. I suspect his verdict would be the same as when Francis Jackson played John Ireland's Villanella.

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

 

Sorry, but I don't think I understood the point.

 

Which emotions do you want?

...

Any Hindemith Sonata    :huh:

...

Ligeti "Volumina"     :wacko:

Aren't most of them by foreign composers?

 

MM

 

Yes, but apart from the two I have left in this quote, most people I know who attend recitals in my area would be able to identify on an emotional level with each piece. The Hindemith would leave them (and me) entirely untouched. I suspect that the same would be true of the Ligeti - or else it would have the effect of producing 'negative' emotions.

 

The point which I was trying to make was that, with the music which you mention, there seems to be the lack of that element which would engender an emotional response (of any kind) in the type of audience which we have here. They are unlikely to know any melodies which are included from this culture and the way much of this music appears to be written, is with (as I said before) with a greater reliance on rhythm and structure - rather than melodic shape or, for want of a better description, sentimentality. This latter word, I use with caution - it is not ideal, but I am still partly asleep, so I cannot think of a better word.

 

Yes, MM, I know that I have indulged in more generalisations, here. However, it is difficult to answer your point without resorting to this method to some degree.

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I wholeheartedly agree with these sentiments. Concert organists perhaps ought to remember that like clowns they are in the entertainment industry and church musicians are in no different a position when they venture onto the concert circuit. The entertainment may be delivered by a different means but that does not mean that being entertaining is not the object of the exercise. Taking a more elevated view of one's status and function is quite likely to lead to disappointment. I think it might be beneficial for some players (no one here ,of course) to remember that they are privileged that the audience gives up its time to come to hear them:not the other way round.

 

Brian Childs

Brian - Is the audience not just a tiny bit privileged to have the opportunity to listen to Bach or Beethoven? I agree wholeheartedly that it's not up anyone who is playing to feel smug that they have an audience - but surely both parties (player and listener) need to remember what the point of the exercise is - ie, the music, for which of course the player is just a conduit. Are Mariss Jansons and Brendel, Martha Argerich and Maxim Vengerov, Rostropovich and Carlos Kleiber also on a footing with clowns in the circus? If not, why is it only the organ which has to be 'entertaining' in the way I think you mean? I wonder if it might be this attitude to it as a tool for serious music making which has put us where we are. Once again, I would say that I can't imagine a group of pianists having this idscussion. I recently saw the DVD of Abbado conduct Mahler 9 shortly after his recovery from cancer - nothing less 'entertaining' can be imagined, but my God what a privilege to hear it. Kleiber's last recorded Brahms 4, on DVD from 1996 ( I think) - gruelling and far from entertaining - he's a wreck by the end of the slow movement - but again, an extraordinary experience. I would be surprised if anyone in the hall (maybe there were even a few organists there) felt that the purpose of the evening was to sit back and fold their arms and let it all roll over them with an ice cream to hand....so what's the difference?

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Stephen, I am not certain, but I suspect that it is linked to the reason why there are considerably more people attending orchestral concerts than there are organ recitals.

 

One of the recitals which I gave after Evensong a couple of years ago was preceded by several of my musical friends helping to play their stringed instruments at the service (Purcell, in G minor, etc). I was slightly nonplussed to find that, despite knowing me quite well and knowing of the recital, they all left as quickly as possible - not wishing to stay for the organ music.

 

Whilst this could be a reflection on my abilities as an organist, I suspect that it is likely that they viewed an organ recital as slightly boring. Why this should be, I do not know. Certainly, one of their number has (on her own admission) never been to an organ recital. Again, it serves to illustrate the unwillingness people have to take risks. It may also have something to do with the fact that there is, in this area at any rate, some social snobbery in attending the regular concerts of our local (good) orchestra.

 

It seems that people attending orchestral recitals here would find sitting through a performance such as you recall to be a privilege. However, the same people would find sitting through an organ recital an experience commensurate with enduring bowel surgery performed in the woods - with sticks.

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The world will only beat a path to your door if it actually wants a better mousetrap.

So part of business is to persuade the world that it does want a better mousetrap - i.e. marketing!

 

In business the golden rule is to supply the market with what it wants.

Then you can do this on your own terms. Well, it's worked for Microsoft, and to a considerable extent for the HIP movement.

 

Paul

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Stephen, I am not certain, but I suspect that it is linked to the reason why there are considerably more people attending orchestral concerts than there are organ recitals.

 

One of the recitals which I gave fter Evensong a couple of years ago was preceded by several of my musical friends helping to play their stringed instruments at the service (Purcell, in G minor, etc). I was slightly nonplussed to find that, despite knowing me quite well and knowing of the recital, they all left as quickly as possible - not wishing to stay for the organ recital.

 

Whilst this could be a reflection on my abilities as an organist, I suspect that it is likely that they viewed an organ recital as slightly boring. Why this should be, I do not know. Certainly, one of their number has (on her own admission) never been to an organ recital. Again, it serves to illustrate the unwillingness people have to take risks. It may also have something to do with the fact that there is, in this area at any rate, some social snobbery in attending the regular concerts of our own local (good) orchestra.

 

It seems that people attending orchestral recitals here would find sitting through a performance such as you recall to be a privilege. However, the same people would find sitting through an organ recital an experience commensurate with enduring bowel surgery performed in the woods - with sticks.

 

 

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

 

I'm not quite sure why it is that in Europe (especially central and eastern Europe, plus Holland) organ recitals tend to be very well attended; at least in the better venues, but often in quite remote ones.

 

I suspect that in the Netherlands, it is a historic/artistic/heritage thing in any case, and certainly, I recall a school-trip to Rotterdam, when a seemingly endless sea of little blonde heads surrounded me at the console and gaped in awe at the strange, dark-haired Englishmen making all the noise. They loved it even more when I talked to them all in English and became the focal-point for an English pronunciation lesson.

 

I think that in eastern Europe, there is a strong tradition of church-going, which means that children are infused with catholic hymns and the rites, as well as the sound of the organ; but perhaps more importantly, they have an education system which doesn't demean the arts and reduce everyone to the lowest common denominator. Incredible though it may seem, they still actually respect intellect in parts of Europe, and aspire to it.

 

In Holland, people don't just turn up to listen to an organ being played; they do their homework and prepare. Afterwards, people talk at some length about what they have heard, and share their reaction to it, whereas in England, people tend to shuffle in, shuffle out and say almost nothing.

 

The last time I went to the opera (which is not my first love) my enjoyment of Mozart's "Don Giovanni" was greatly increased by the fact that I read about it beforehand, and it then made some sense. It's something I would recommend.

 

There's an interesting demographic fact to consider about UK recital audiences, which tend to be elderly, and therefore in the romantic/sentimental vein. They like their Howells and their Whitlock, and their Bach with Ophicleides and Trombas, but I do not find many "thinking" people at recitals, unless they are organists themselves.

 

One could take a wider philosophical view of all this, which may well be related to the fact that in many countries, church and church-music is still a part of a strong local community; certainly in Eastern Europe, where music-making often includes local musicians and choirs, as they once did in this country. I haven't been, but I'm told that Latvia, for example, is like England used to be.....everyone singing in choirs and competing in music festivals....and it is wonderful.

 

Maybe it was a fluke, but over the weekend, I was talking to a Czech lady who is doing a cleaning-job here in the UK. She didn't strike me as particularly educated or in any way sophisticated ("thick" is another word I could use), but she had heard of Petr Eben, for God's sake!

 

England is an odd place in many ways, for the young seem to universally gravitate towards drink, loud pop music and films, plus anyone they may care to share a bed with as a consequence. When I dare to mention that I play the organ, there is a 99% complete groan from people, as if I were something from a musical leper colony; yet these are the freaks who will while away their time with mashed heads, listening to "Organ Bass" and "Trance" music is crowded bars and clubs; all of them emotionally detached islands in a sea full of hormones, and dedicated to "being like everyone else". Even without the drugs and the drink, what they have is just horrible, and I cringe to think what sort of rubbish they will hum when they eventually find themselves in an old folk's home.

 

Maybe, we have just lost the art of community culture and practical involvement in music-making, and consequently, we live in a country of niche activities; at the mercy of marketing people and commercial interests.

 

I think it was Alan Bennett, who said that the English have only one great shared pastime left......shopping! (To that I would add football).

 

There are many things I like about England, but half the time, I wish I didn't have to live here.

 

MM

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I regret to say that you are almost certainly correct in everything you say, MM.

 

If I could get a job as Titulaire in a nice Parisian church, belive me, you would not see me for dust.

 

If this country has not yet gone to the dogs, then it is exercising them regularly - and it buys their Pedigree Chum.

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I do agree with MM's comments regarding general societal "dumbing down". However, surely the main reason for poor attendance at organ recitals is more to do with the fact that the organ is so closely associated with the church, and church attendance continues to decline steadily. The organ, I imagine, is widely viewed as an instrument on which hymns are (badly) played, and I also imagine there is widespread ignorance as the enormous range of repertoire available. The place to increase its popularity is outside the church - there is a wide range of music to suit all tastes, and several suitable instruments outside of churches and cathedrals on which to play it. To what extent is this being done?

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Art not entertainment.

Entertainment through art.

 

Just to clarify, because I think there is some confusion in recent posts, I mean entertainment in its widest sense. In this sense I believe it is essential. It comes in many forms. Musicians don't have to behave like The Two Ronnies to entertain, but they do have to impart a rewarding experience to their audiences or there's no point in performing. That's still entertainment in my book.

 

I recently saw the DVD of  Abbado conduct Mahler 9 shortly after his recovery from cancer - nothing less 'entertaining' can be imagined, but my God what a privilege to hear it. Kleiber's last recorded Brahms 4, on DVD from 1996 ( I think) - gruelling and far from entertaining - he's a wreck by the end of the slow movement -  but again, an extraordinary experience. I would be surprised if anyone in the hall (maybe there were even a few organists there)  felt that the purpose of the evening was to sit back and fold their arms and let it all roll over them with an ice cream to hand....so what's the difference?

But surely the fact that you appreciated these performances and found them rewarding proves that you found them entertaining - in the sense I mean it above?

 

So part of business is to persuade the world that it does want a better mousetrap - i.e. marketing!

 

Then you can do this on your own terms.  Well, it's worked for Microsoft, and to a considerable extent for the HIP movement.

Indeed. But the art of succeeding with a new product is to know what the market wants but doesn't yet realise it wants - which requires business acumen.

 

As far as organists are concerned I can't see anything wrong at all with presenting audiences with new music they will enjoy - or even find challenging. After all, a recital doesn't want to be all of a type; variety is essential (unless you're deliberately setting out to be didactic, as e.g. with a "complete Duruflé" programme - but do such programmes appeal to anyone other than organists?) But if you want to "stretch" the audience, I think drip-feeding is more likely to be better received than a full-frontal assault. I know people who have been "wowed" at hearing Dieu parmi nous for the first time at the end of a recital, but I am also fairly certain that they would have been completely turned off if the programme had consisted of nothing but the whole of La Nativité.

 

Not sure whether I've made myself at all clear here.

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Entertainment through art.

 

Just to clarify, because I think there is some confusion in recent posts, I mean entertainment in its widest sense. In this sense I believe it is essential. It comes in many forms. Musicians don't have to behave like The Two Ronnies to entertain, but they do have to impart a rewarding experience to their audiences or there's no point in performing. That's still entertainment in my book.

But surely the fact that you appreciated these performances and found them rewarding proves that you found them entertaining - in the sense I mean it above?

Indeed. But the art of succeeding with a new product is to know what the market wants but doesn't yet realise it wants - which requires business acumen.

 

As far as organists are concerned I can't see anything wrong at all with presenting audiences with new music they will enjoy - or even find challenging. After all, a recital doesn't want to be all of a type; variety is essential (unless you're deliberately setting out to be didactic, as e.g. with a "complete Duruflé" programme - but do such programmes appeal to anyone other than organists?) But if you want to "stretch" the audience, I think drip-feeding is more likely to be better received than a full-frontal assault. I know people who have been "wowed" at hearing Dieu parmi nous for the first time at the end of a recital, but I am also fairly certain that they would have been completely turned off if the programme had consisted of nothing but the whole of La Nativité.

 

Not sure whether I've made myself at all clear here.

Enthralled maybe the word I want - but I think most uses of the word 'entertainment' in the thread have implied the toe-tapping, tune whistling kind; the Mahler and Brahms recordings I mentioned don't offer any sort of escapism from uncomfortable things - and in that sense I suppose I don't think of them as entertainment.

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Guest paul@trinitymusic.karoo.co.uk
I regret to say that you are almost certainly correct in everything you say, MM.

 

If I could get a job as Titulaire in a nice Parisian church, belive me, you would not see me for dust.

 

If this country has not yet gone to the dogs, then it is exercising them regularly - and it buys their Pedigree Chum.

 

 

Dear pcnd,

Even if you get a Titulaire post in Paris, you may not have to move over there to hold it and still get paid! My wife and I were regaled with two stories very much a propos when we were in Bordeaux this summer.

1. A new Titulaire has been appointed to the no.2 church in Bordeaux after competition (often the system). He intends to remain resident in Paris (many hours of travel away) and he has now announced that he will be available to play three times a year. The rest of the time they all expect they will have to manage somehow without him!

2. We were warned not to attend the big Mass in The Cathedral on 15th August (Feast of the BVM) because the choir were going to sing. Not their only handicap is the fact that the average age of members is apparently 80. I gather that their choristers do at least all read music. I know the choirmaster at another French cathedral not far away and not a single one of his choir reads music. They all learn their parts from cassette recordings.

 

 

I think it was MM above who suggested that churchgoing abroad is much better than over here. Unless you're thinking of Africa or the USA, I would not count on this being the case - even then, keen organists are not that pentiful. I think this is one of those 'grass is always greener' moments.

 

Turning to the Recitals question:

 

Things that might help with establishing recitals:

1. Considerate performers - not expecting to play their party pieces ff all the time!

2. Well lit, reasonably warm churches.

3. A regular (well publicised) pattern of events that everyone can remember.

4. A decent welcome and simple refreshments afterwards

 

The places abroad where we have all seen massive numbers: bear in mind that these are major regional centres and most have the sense to concentrate their concerts into Festivals or summer months. In some of these places, organ music 'out in the towns and villages' is pretty thin on the ground. People come for the spectacle as much as they come for 'The Art'. As a ex-State School Teacher for many years, I would suggest with confidence that the standard of education in UK schools does not generally prepare Joe Public for Classical Music much. The Media don't help much either .... we have all heard (and probably tired) of the 'bleeding chunk' school of classical music broadcasts.

 

Over here, Cathedrals and Town Halls which still run a recital series still seem to be doing pretty well for audience support. There the criteria (above) are often met. For an example: I remember Oxford Town Hall as being especially friendly and pretty well supported. There the organisers make a point of spelling out to players the sort of balanced programme that will go down well with their punters (which, please note, are only rarely under-graduates!).

 

I think the question is: what do you think people want when they do come to recitals?

My suggestion is that they want to be lifted from the mundane into another, higher sphere....but.. they also need to be entertained, at least a little. Even an all-Bach programme would have lighter moments if properly planned. If you are lucky to have a sizeable instrument, there is no question that people also like the (more-or-less) physical thrill from hearing this driven hard. This, please note, for moderately short periods at a time.

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Dear pcnd,

Even if you get a Titulaire post in Paris, you may not have to move over there to hold it and still get paid! My wife and I were regaled with two stories very much a propos when we were in Bordeaux this summer.

1. A new Titulaire has been appointed to the no.2 church in Bordeaux after competition (often the system). He intends to remain resident in Paris (many hours of travel away) and he has now announced that he will be available to play three times a year. The rest of the time they all expect they will have to manage somehow without him!

2. We were warned not to attend the big Mass in The Cathedral on 15th August (Feast of the BVM) because the choir were going to sing. Not their only handicap is the fact that the average age of members is apparently 80.  I gather that their choristers do at least all read music. I know the choirmaster at another French cathedral not far away and not a single one of his choir reads music. They all learn their parts from cassette recordings.

I think it was MM above who suggested that churchgoing abroad is much better than over here. Unless you're thinking of Africa or the USA, I would not count on this being the case - even then, keen organists are not that pentiful. I think this is one of those 'grass is always greener' moments.

 

Turning to the Recitals question:

 

Things that might help with establishing recitals:

1. Considerate performers - not expecting to play their party pieces ff all the time!

2. Well lit, reasonably warm churches.

3. A regular (well publicised) pattern of events that everyone can remember.

4. A decent welcome and simple refreshments afterwards

 

The places abroad where we have all seen massive numbers: bear in mind that these are major regional centres and most have the sense to concentrate their concerts into Festivals or summer months. In some of these places, organ music 'out in the towns and villages' is pretty thin on the ground. People come for the spectacle as much as they come for 'The Art'.  As a ex-State School Teacher for many years, I would suggest with confidence that the standard of education in UK schools does not generally prepare Joe Public for Classical Music much.  The Media don't help much either .... we have all heard (and probably tired) of the 'bleeding chunk' school of classical music broadcasts.

 

Over here, Cathedrals and Town Halls which still run a recital series still seem to be doing pretty well for audience support. There the criteria (above) are often met. For an example: I remember Oxford Town Hall as being especially friendly and pretty well supported. There the organisers make a point of spelling out to players the sort of balanced programme that will go down well with their punters (which, please note, are only rarely under-graduates!). 

 

I think the question is: what do you think people want when they do come to recitals?

My suggestion is that they want to be lifted from the mundane into another, higher sphere....but.. they also need to be entertained, at least a little. Even an all-Bach programme would have lighter moments if properly planned.  If you are lucky to have a sizeable instrument, there is no question that people also like the (more-or-less) physical thrill from hearing this driven hard. This, please note, for moderately short periods at a time.

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If I could choose the parisian Church to be Titulaire, it would be St Severin on the left bank. Small but perfectly formed with a lovely case at the west end. Once heard Guillou in recital there. Played Bach audaciously fast !

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