by Alan John Phillips
During February, in the run-up to Lent, I play works by four of the greatest of the French Romantic composers, Franck, Guilmant, Widor and Vierne, centring on Franck's last great organ works, the Three Chorals (published posthumously in 1892). Franck, originally Belgian, was organist of St. Clothilde, Paris, for 31 years and professor of organ at the Paris Conservatoire. He is considered to have been the founder of the French Romantic organ school.
Sunday 5th February - Fifth Sunday after Epiphany
Prelude: Prelude (from 'Prelude, Fugue and Variation') – César Franck (1822-1890)
Hymns: Christ be our light (CH4 543), 438 (tune 64), *158, *13, *334
Communion: Panis angelicus – Franck
Voluntary: Pièce Héroïque – Franck
Franck's 'Prelude, Fugue and Variation' is the third of the Six Pieces (1860-62), and is dedicated to Saint-Saëns. 'Pièce Héroïque' comes from the set of Three Pieces (1878).
Sunday 12th February - Sixth Sunday after Epiphany
Prelude: Cantilène Pastorale (Op.15 no.3) – Alexandre Guilmant (1837-1911)
Hymns: 485 (tune *356), 238, 473, 265, *174
Communion: Communion (Op.15 no.1) – Guilmant
Voluntary: Choral no.1 – Franck (dedicated to Eugène Gigout)
Guilmant was organist of La Trinité in Paris, and succeeded Widor as professor of organ at the Paris Conservatoire, with Vierne as his assistant. He was succeeded in 1911 as professor by Gigout, the dedicatee of Franck's first Choral, and a former pupil of Saint-Saëns.
Sunday 19th February - Seventh Sunday after Epiphany
Prelude: Symphony no.5 (2nd movement) – Charles-Marie Widor (1844-1937)
Hymns: Let us build a house (CH4 198), 361, 433, *22, *247
Communion: Symphony no.5 (4th movement) – Widor
Voluntary: Choral no.2 – Franck (dedicated to his pupil Auguste Durand)
Widor was organist of Saint-Sulpice and professor of organ at the Paris Conservatoire in succession to Franck. His fifth organ symphony ends with the famous Toccata, but here are two of the earlier movements.
Sunday 26th February - Transfiguration Sunday
Prelude: Arabesque – Louis Vierne (1870-1937)
Hymns: 199, 502 (tune 141), 102, 440, *210
Communion: Berceuse – Vierne
Voluntary: Choral no.3 – Franck (dedicated to his pupil Augusta Holmès)
Pupil of both Franck and Widor, Vierne was organist at Notre-Dame for 37 years. The well-known Berceuse is dedicated to his six-year old daughter Colette (1907-1961).
Wednesday 1st March - Ash Wednesday
Prelude: Ich ruf' zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ (BWV 639) - Bach
Hymns: 227, 362 (tune 64), 123, *60, *42
Communion: Aberystwyth – Hylton Stewart
Voluntary: O Mensch, bewein' dein' Sünde gross (BWV 622) – Bach
Sunday 5th March - First Sunday of Lent
Prelude: Durch Adams Fall ist ganz verderbt (BWV 1101) - Bach
Hymns: 56, 217, 117, 136, 114
Communion: Durch Adams Fall ist ganz verderbt (BWV 637) - Bach
Voluntary: Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott – Johann Nicolaus Hanff (1630-1706)
The fall of the first Adam in the Garden of Eden is reversed by the redemption of humanity by Jesus, the second Adam, who, in the desert, rejects the temptations of Satan. Martin Luther celebrates the victory of Jesus over Satan in his famous hymn 'Ein feste Burg' (AMNS 114), the words and music of which he wrote ca.1529. This year, at Halloween, is the 500th anniversary of Luther nailing his 95 theses on the door of Wittemburg Cathedral, the act which kick-started the Reformation.
Sunday 12th March - Second Sunday of Lent
Prelude: Voluntary for the organ (published 1826) – Esther Elizabeth Fleet (1809-1851)
Hymns: 331 (omit * verses), *28, *12, *419, *255
Communion: God so loved the world ('The Crucifixion') – John Stainer (1840-1901)
Voluntary: Finale from the Overture to 'Esther' – George Frideric Handel (1685-1759)
Today (14 Adar 5777 in the Hebrew calendar) is the Jewish feast of Purim, which celebrates the deliverance of the Jews from their imminent doom at the hands of their enemies, a story recorded in the Book of Esther.
As in Jewish tradition, we open our morning service today with the Yigdal ('magnify'), which is based on the 13 Articles of Faith formulated by the twelfth century Sephardic philosopher Moses ben Maimon. This melody may date from the 17th century or perhaps earlier. The tune was used by the chazzan (cantor) Myer Lyon (1750-97) at the Great Synagogue of London, where it was heard in 1770 by the Methodist Thomas Olivers; he adapted the tune (now named 'Leoni') for his own English paraphrase of the Yigdal 'The God of Abraham Praise'.
Sunday 19th March - Third Sunday of Lent
Prelude: Choral in E major – Alice Sauvrezis (1865-1946)
Hymns: 214, 247, *301, *121, *248
Communion: God is a spirit (from 'The Woman of Samaria') – Sterndale Bennett
Voluntary: Prelude and Fugue in C minor (Op.81) – Marie Josephine Claire Prestat (1862-1933)
Alice Sauvrezis and Marie Prestat were both students of César Franck in Paris. Prestat was the first woman to win four first prizes at the Paris Conservatoire, later becoming Professor of Piano and Organ at the Schola Cantorum (1901-1922).
Sunday 26th March - Mothering Sunday
Prelude: Stabat Mater – Pierre Dandrieu (1664-1733)
Hymns: *299, *223 (tune 256), *211, *297, 419 (tune 143)
Communion: Stabat Mater (1st movement) - Giovanni Battista Pergolesi (1710-1736)
Voluntary: Fuga sopra il Magnificat – Johann Ludwig Krebs (1713-1780)
'and a sword will pierce your own soul too' (end of today's Gospel)
'Stabat Mater' (AMNS 69) is a mediaeval hymn on the suffering of Mary as she stands at the foot of the Cross, much-used at the Stations of the Cross. It is generally ascribed to the Franciscan friar Jacopo da Todi (ca. 1230-1306). Dandrieu's setting of the usual melody (see below) is a set of variations. Pergolesi's setting (1736) was commissioned by the Confraternità dei Cavalieri di San Luigi di Palazzo, which presented an annual Good Friday meditation in honor of the Virgin Mary. Pergolesi's work replaced one composed by Alessandro Scarlatti only nine years before, but which was already perceived as 'old-fashioned', so rapidly had tastes changed.
Formerly attributed to Bach, the fugue on the Magnificat is now thought to be by his brilliant pupil, Johann Ludwig Krebs, whose father Bach also taught. Krebs is thought to have also composed the 'Eight Short Preludes and Fugues', well-known to all beginner organists!
Hymn numbers from Hymns Ancient and Modern New Standard, except for those marked with an asterisk, which are from New Hymns and Worship Songs