(Note: 'Organist's Corner' (Organistens hjørne) was a section of the weekly parish bulletin at St. Hallvard kirke in Oslo, in which I gave the congregation some programme notes on the music performed during the service. I continued the custom on the noticeboard at Rotherhithe, and now my notes will appear in 'In Touch', the magazine of St. Mary's, Dalmahoy. Here is a pre-publication taster.)
Sunday 4th January - The Second Sunday after Christmas
Prelude: The Holy Boy – John Ireland (1879-1962)
Communion: Prelude on 'Whence is that goodly fragrance' – Harrison Oxley (b.1933)
Postlude: Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern (BuxWV 223) – Dieterich Buxtehude (1637-1707)
The earliest version of 'The Holy Boy' was written at Christmas 1913 and was published as 'The Holy Boy - a carol', forming the third movement of his Four Preludes for Piano. The piece was composed while Ireland was the organist at St Luke's Church, Chelsea.
Harrison Oxley's prelude on 'Quelle est cette odeur agréable' features the melody played on a 4 foot stop in the pedals, appearing to be in the middle of the romantic texture.
Buxtehude's fantasia on 'How brightly shines the morning star' is sectional and uses the whole melody twice.
Sunday 11th January - The First Sunday after the Epiphany – The Baptism of the Lord
Prelude: Christ, unser Herr, zum Jordan kam (BWV 684) – Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)
Communion: O come, everyone that thirsteth ('Elijah') – Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847)
Postlude: Christ, unser Herr, zum Jordan kam – Johann Pachelbel (1653-1706)
The chorale prelude from 'Clavierübung III' published by Bach in 1739 is a musical painting of the moment of Jesus' baptism. The two parts in the right hand representing Jesus and John use Bach's four-note 'sign of the Cross' motif and the two are continually crossing each other. The fast-flowing line in the left hand is the river Jordan, more like a little brook ('Bach' in German!) than a large river. The chorale melody from Johann Walther's Songbook of 1524 is played by the pedals on a four-foot stop thus sounding in the middle of the texture.
Mendelssohn's oratorio Elijah was premiered in Birmingham at the Triennial Music Festival on 26 August 1846, using an English translation by William Bartholomew, who served as his text author and translator for many of his works during his time in England.
Like Bach, Pachelbel also places the melody of the chorale 'Christ, unser Herr, zum Jordan kam' in the pedals, but this time in the usual place at the bottom of the texture, underneath some busy manual parts.
Sunday 18th January - The Second Sunday after the Epiphany
Prelude: Voluntary in D (No.1 of 'Twelve Voluntaries') – Samuel Wesley (1766-1837)
Communion: Variations on Gelobet seist du, Jesu Christ – Samuel Scheidt (1587–1654)
Postlude: Impromptu no.1 in F – Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (1875-1912)
Today's first reading recounts the call of the young Samuel, so it is appropriate to play music by three composers bearing his name.
Samuel Wesley, son of Charles the hymn-writer, was born in Bristol. He was a child prodigy, writing an oratorio at the age of eight. He was one of the foremost organists of his day and was instrumental in introducing the works of Bach to England - a role later handed over to Mendelssohn, whom he met shortly before his death. Wesley’s friend Vincent Novello, founder of the publishing house, said of him : ‘Samuel Wesley was one of the greatest musical geniuses that England ever produced.' This Voluntary is in three movements.
Samuel Scheidt was born and lived for the whole of his life in Halle, where Handel was later born. Scheidt studied with the famous Dutch organist Sweelinck, whose style influenced him greatly.
Samuel Coleridge-Taylor was born on 15 August 1875 in Holborn to Daniel Hugh Taylor, an African surgeon from Sierra Leone, who returned to Africa before Samuel's birth, and Alice Taylor, 'formerly Holmans'. In 1890 he won a scholarship to the Royal College of Music, originally as a student of the violin, then graduating to studying composition with the composer Sir Charles Villiers Stanford. He left the RCM as a highly-esteemed and promising young composer. His greatest success was 'Hiawatha's Wedding Feast', based on the poem by Longfellow. Between 1898 and 1907 he was chief conductor of the Croydon Symphony Orchestra and resident conductor to the Westmoreland Festival, as well as the Rochester Choral Society. In 1904 he became chief conductor to the Handel Society concerts, a post he held until his death. At the same time he served as guest conductor for performances of 'Hiawatha' (by 1904, it had been performed 200 times in England). He also lectured in Croydon, later joining Trinity College of Music (1903), Crystal Palace School of Art and Music (1905) and then the Guildhall School of Music as professor of composition. On 28 August 1912, Coleridge-Taylor collapsed at West Croydon station while waiting for a train. He died a few days later of pneumonia at his home in Croydon, on 1 September 1912, at the age of 37.
Sunday 25th January - The Third Sunday after the Epiphany
Prelude: Organ Sonata no.1 (2nd movement) – Paul Hindemith (1895-1963)
Communion: Be thou faithful unto death ('St. Paul') - Mendelssohn
Postlude: Overture to 'St. Paul' – Mendelssohn
As today is also the feast of the conversion of St. Paul, two movements from Mendelssohn's oratorio of the same name are appropriate. Composition of the music began in 1834, and the work was premiered on May 22, 1836 at the Lower Rhenish Music Festival in Düsseldorf. The English premiere was in Liverpool on October 3, 1836 in a translation by Mendelssohn's friend, Karl Klingermann.
Paul Hindemith's Organ Sonata no.1 was written in 1937, one of only three works he composed for the organ. His style has been described as neoclassical, but is very different from the works by Igor Stravinsky labelled with that term, owing more to the contrapuntal language of Johann Sebastian Bach and Max Reger than the Classical clarity of Mozart.