November is the month of the dead, the harvest of humankind. It's the custom at Dalmahoy at the end of the All Souls' service to carry lighted lanterns into the darkness of the churchyard to place on graves or at the ancient standing stone. A few days later the focus turns to war, and at the end of the month on Christ the King at the Day of Judgement separating sheep from goats. The wheel of the year turns, and we are in Advent again looking forward to the coming of Christ in its twofold expressions – as a baby in Bethlehem and as a king at the end of time. The end of the year is also its beginning.
Organ Music played by me at St. Mary's Church, Dalmahoy, Scotland, in October and November 2018.
Sunday 7 October – Pentecost 20
Centenary of the death of Charles Hubert Hastings Parry on 7 October 1918
Chorale Prelude on 'Rockingham'
Chorale Prelude on the 'Old 104th'
After early attempts to work in insurance, at his father's behest, Parry, born in 1848, was taken up by George Grove, first as a contributor to Grove's massive 'Dictionary of Music and Musicians' in the 1870s and 80s, and then in 1883 as professor of composition and musical history at the Royal College of Music, of which Grove was the first Director. In 1895 Parry succeeded Grove as Director, remaining in the post for the rest of his life. He was concurrently Heather Professor of Music at the University of Oxford from 1900 to 1908. He wrote several books about music and music history, the best-known of which is probably his 1909 study of Johann Sebastian Bach. Edward Elgar learned much of his craft from Parry's articles in Grove's Dictionary, and among those who studied under Parry at the Royal College were Ralph Vaughan Williams, Gustav Holst, Frank Bridge and John Ireland. Parry's first major works appeared in 1880. As a composer he is best known for the choral song 'Jerusalem', his 1902 setting for the coronation anthem 'I was glad', the choral and orchestral ode 'Blest Pair of Sirens', and the hymn tune 'Repton', from the oratorio 'Judith', now sung to the words 'Dear Lord and Father of Mankind'. His orchestral works include five symphonies and a set of Symphonic Variations. (text mostly from Wikipedia)
Sunday 14 October – Pentecost 21
'The first shall be last and the last first' today's Gospel tells us. All three pieces end as they began.
Prelude in E minor (BWV 548) – Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)
Bach's flamboyant Prelude and Fugue in E minor was written sometime between 1727 and 1731 in his early years at Leipzig.
Little Harmonic Labyrinth (BWV 591) – attributed to Bach
The 'Little Harmonic Labyrinth' was included in Wolfgang Schmieder's catalogue of Bach's works (the 'BWV') in 1950, but is now thought to be by Johann David Heinichen (1683-1729), a former pupil at St. Thomas's School, Leipzig and a predecessor of Bach as a musician to Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Cöthen. Entering the labyrinth from C major, the music moves through a series of outlandish keys to the centre, where there is a short fugue in C minor on the notes HCAB ('BACH' reversed). The labyrinth unwinds through more modulations back to C major, where it began. 'Heinichen reaches the keys no other composers can reach' (well, I couldn't resist that one, could I!)
The fugue's nickname, the 'Wedge', is derived from the visual shape of its subject:
Music from Handel's 'Messiah'
Surely he hath borne our griefs / And with his stripes
He shall feed his flock
All we like sheep
Today's first reading from Isaiah 53 provided Charles Jennens with some of the material for his libretto for Handel's 'Messiah'. Handel's music, which inevitably comes to mind when reading these familiar Biblical texts, makes the perfect musical companion to them.
Sunday 28 October – Pentecost 23
Greenwich Mean Time resumes
It's about time! Mechanical organs driven by clockwork were popular luxury items in the eighteenth century, and many of the foremost composers of the day, including Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven, were commissioned to write pieces for them.
Andante in F (K.616) – Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)
The Andante in F major, K. 616, dated 4 May 1791, is the last of the three works that Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart wrote during the last year of his life. Originally written for mechanical organ, it was most likely commissioned by Count Joseph Deym von Strzitez. Less solemn and complex than its two larger companions, K616 possibly reflects Mozart's increasing irritation with a commission that obviously bored him from the outset: 'If it were on a large clock-work with a sound like an organ, I’d be glad to do it; but as it is a thing made up of tiny pipes only, which sound too shrill and childish for me.' (Letter to his wife Constanze, October 1790).
Pieces for musical clocks – Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809)
Haydn's pieces are for three mechanical organs made by Father Primitivus Niemecz, the multi-talented librarian to Prince Nicolaus Esterhazy, in 1772, 1792 and 1793 respectively. Niemecz managed to persuade his friend and colleague Haydn to write 32 pieces for these machines. All three instruments still exist with their pinned barrels, so it is certain how these pieces were intended to sound. The 1793 mechanical organ, made for Prince Nicolaus, now located at the Museum Speelklok in Utrecht, can be seen and heard in this video:
The sixth piece in the third suite of Vierne’s four-suite set '24 Pieces de fantaisie', first published in 1927, 'Carillon de Westminster' was first performed by Vierne at Notre Dame, Paris on 29 November 1929. It derives from Vierne's improvisation on a theme given to him by the organ builder Henry Willis – the famous 'Westminster Chimes'. Vierne's version of the chimes is slightly different to the real thing. [see Wikipedia article]
Sunday 4 November – Pentecost 24
Handel's Music for the Royal Fireworks (1749)
'Remember, remember the Fifth of November...'
Sunday 11 November – Remembrance Sunday
The Sounds of War
The centenary of the end of the First World War serendipitously brings Armistice Day and Remembrance Sunday together on the actual anniversary day: the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. All the organ music today derives from this war.
Rhapsody no.3 (1918) – Herbert Howells (1892-1983)
'The third Rhapsody is inscribed "To Dr E. C. Bairstow" and was composed at York during March, 1918. Howells, who had been sent up to the Yorkshire Moors for a period of convalescence, was spending two nights in York as the guest of the cathedral organist. On one of these cold nights a Zeppelin raid made sleep impossible: the Rhapsody composed at that one sitting remains one of Howells' finest works, full of passionate intensity of expression, from its turbulent beginning in C sharp minor to its ending in the major.' (Programme note © 1977 Felix Aprahamian)
Elegy – Ernest Farrar (1895-1918)
Solemn Prelude 'In memoriam' (from 'For the Fallen', 1916) – Edward Elgar (1857-1934)
Elgar wrote 'The Spirit of England' between 1915 and 1917. 'For the Fallen' is the third of the three movements, all of which were settings of poems by Laurence Binyon. The work was intended to be a requiem for the dead of World War I and is dedicated 'to the memory of our glorious men, with a special thought for the Worcesters'. This third part includes the famous words 'They shall grow not old...'
Sunday 18 November – Pentecost 26
Why do the nations so furiously rage together (from 'Messiah') - Handel
'When you hear of wars and rumours of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom' (from today's Gospel). The words to Handel's aria come from Psalm 2:1-2 and Acts 4: 25-26
A Sad Pavan for these distracted times – Thomas Tomkins (1572-1656)
Thomas Tomkins, a staunch Royalist, wrote his Sad Pavan a fortnight after the execution of Charles I. 'Distracted times', indeed. Tomkins sadly did not live to see the restoration - he died in 1656, having seen his beloved 1613 Thomas Dallam organ in Worcester Cathedral vandalised by Cromwell's soldiers in 1642 and in the following year, his own house in the Cathedral precincts damaged by a direct hit by cannon shot, making it uninhabitable for a long period, destroying most of his household goods and probably a number of his musical manuscripts.
Fantasia and Fugue on B.A.C.H. (1870 version) – Franz Liszt (1811-1886)
A powerful organ fantasy on the BACH motif composed by Franz Liszt in 1855, later revised in 1870. It was composed for the consecration of the 4 manual, 81 stop, Friedrich Ladegast organ in Merseburg Cathedral (another specification can be found here). In music, the BACH motif is the succession of the notes B flat, A, C, B natural. In German musical nomenclature, the note B natural is named H and the B flat named B. In the video below, Andrew Dewar is playing the original 1855 version on the Merseburg organ.
Royal music in honour of the 'Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe'.
Arrival of the Queen of Sheba (Sinfonia to Act 3 of 'Solomon') – Handel
Act 3 of Handel's oratorio 'Solomon' begins with the Sinfonia popularly known as 'The Arrival of the Queen of Sheba', which has often been used outside the context of the oratorios as a processional piece, especially at weddings. Sir Thomas Beecham is believed to have named the piece 'The Arrival of the Queen of Sheba', either in 1933, when he made a recording of the piece, or in 1955, when he recorded the entire oratorio.
The Queen's Alman – William Byrd (1539/40-1623)
The 'Queen's Alman' is actually a set of variations on the French carol 'Une jeune pucelle', the melody used by St. Jean de Brébeuf for his famous 'Huron Carol', the first Christmas carol written in Canada, later translated into English as 'Twas in the Moon of Wintertime'.
Crown Imperial (1937) – William Walton (1902-1983)
Composed for the aborted coronation of King Edward VIII, 'Crown Imperial' was subsequently recycled for the coronation of his brother King George VI in 1937. Walton derived the march's title from the line 'In beawtie berying the crone imperiall'from William Dunbar's poem 'In Honour of the City of London'.