Monthly archives "September 2015"

TAO October 2015–Baroque and Beyond

Baroque and Beyond

A while back, I was reminded that “bigger isn’t always better.” Several years ago, I was invited to play a wedding on an instrument new to me. It was a charming one-manual/pedal suspended tracker with a split keyboard located in Founders’ Chapel at the University of San Diego. As simple and delightful as it was, I had to go on a search for the music it wanted to play. It wanted to play from the Baroque and Neo-classical treasury, but I had little to nothing in my library for such a small organ. Oh, well, who am I to fight cruel fate’s demand that I find some new repertory?
These days, more and more riches are sweetening the Baroque banquet. So much so, that we now need a menu to find our way around the over-laden dessert table. Let me be your maitre d’. If you are one of our adventurous diners, you may have already discovered that IMSLP is stuffed with Baroque music. I have discovered three problems that go along with my every probe into its pages. First, I don’t know all the composers, so I don’t know where to start, and I don’t have time to explore everything. Second, just because it’s there doesn’t mean it’s worth playing. And finally,the music editing is unreliable. While many pieces are just fine, others may be over- or under-edited. They may contain inaccurate notes. Others are hard to read due to poor layout. Nevertheless, IMSLP is truly a revolutionary resource worth exploring.
If you are willing to spend just a little, you can get a lot for $19.95 with Subito’s CD-ROM editions of Bach’s works (Subito 00220505) or their Baroque Organ Works: The Ultimate Collection (Subito 00220558). The latter collection contains the Big Five: Buxtehude, Froberger, Handel, Pachelbel, and Sweelinck. Unless someone is going to hand you their complete works for free, this is a nifty way to compact these composers into your library.
If you are curious to know more about the historical legacy of organ composers and their literature, I heartily recommend this affordable little volume to help fill the some of the gaps in your knowledge: The Cambridge Companion to the Organ, edited by Thistlethwaite and Webber (Cambridge University Press, 1998). Each chapter is a lecture on topics that range from organ design and construction to literature surveys of the various organ schools. Arranged chronologically and highly readable, The Companion will be a helpful guide as you make your way through all these resources.
Wouldn’t it be great if you had all the time in the world to enjoy searching for new and engaging literature to share with your congregation? If that’s not you, here are some suggestions that will get right to the heart of the matter. First, English Organ Music of the 18th & 19th Centuries (Edition Peters 72533). Rarely do you see such clear lay out and printing! This is a new compilation of mostly manuals-only works by Boyce, Burney, Green, Stanley, and Walmisley. German Chorale Preludes of the 17th & 18th Centuries (EP 72532) is a companion volume that offers manuals only and easy pedal chorale preludes of Pachelbel, Telemann, Walther, Buxtehude, and Zachau. (Thanks to the great folks at Lois Fyfe Music for these two suggestions.)
I continue to delight in the music I discovered in my search for one-manual literature. Maybe it was a good thing that the British took so long to add pedals. Their delay leaves us with cups and cups of good cheer, including two volumes of 18th-century English Organ Music, edited by David Patrick (Oxford University Press). Clear and easy to read, Patrick offers just enough history and performance practice to be helpful without becoming tedious. Equally useful are the three volumes of Oxford Service Music for Organ (Manuals Only), edited by Anne Marsden Thomas. She has included music from across the Channel and across the centuries—even a few 20th century composers who add a little spice to the mix. Thomas has also compiled a very useful Oxford Bach Books for Organ (Manuals Only), Volumes 1 & 2. Here are a mixture of chorale preludes, keyboard concerto movements and miscellaneous harpsichord pieces that combine to make a set of volumes useful for almost any occasion.
Arranger Martin Setchell, invites us to take one more step into the Baroque world with Bach Transcriptions for Organ (Oxford, 2014). With just a little more technical demand, including full pedals, here are some new transcriptions mixed in with some favorites. Drawing from the cantata literature, Setchell brings “In Tears of Grief” from St. Matthew Passion, “Blare Forth, Ye Merry Trumpets from Cantata 207, along with an ornamented version of the famous “Adagio.” From the sonata literature, we find fine transcriptions of the flute’s “Siciliano” and “Badinerie.” From the keyboard literature there are the charming English Suite #2: “Boureé” and French Suite #1, “Sarabande.” Favorites include much loved, “Largo” from Double Concerto, “Sinfonia” from Cantata 29 and the “Pastoral Symphony” from Christmas Oratorio.
The same wonderful ethos that infuses the Baroque era came back into fashion during the mid-twentieth century as musicians sought a way forward after the excesses of Stravinsky and Schönberg. Drawing a straight line from Hindemith, Distler and Peeters are these recent publications, which would be right at home on the little organ that started my search for this literature-of-constraint. What about Carson Cooman’s Three Renaissance Dances (Zimbel 80101365), Craig Penfield’s Madrigal Sonatas (Zimbel 80101322), or Sandra Gay’s Sentiments for Organ (Zimbel 80101336)? All are manuals-based, harmonically conservative and rhythmically vital. So are 20 Short Organ Pieces by Michael Canales (Zimbel 80101363). If you are looking for short postludes, here they are! My final recommendation in this neo-classic genre is a Sonatina (2010) by another Christopher, Christopher Uehlein (Zimbel 80101314). Here is a three-movement work that sparkles with life. Now that I have found it, I am including it in my plans for the fall—even though I do have more than one manual at my command. Now, that’s a compliment!
We organists are a lucky bunch. We play such delightful music–music sparkling with life and joy. Why not let some of that good cheer spill out into our daily lives? Not only can we be good witnesses to the transforming power of music in our own lives, but we can bring the same joy to those around us—in the church family and out in the world. Joy comes in many forms, not the least of which is mirth. So, in closing, I offer three jokes to prime your fun-o-meter. 1. Why is the pipe organ more moral than a grand piano? Because its principals are more upstanding! 2. Why is a person who plays a pipe organ like a baby? Because she plays with her feet! What do you call a pedal trill? A tootsie roll! And here is one just for us organists: What is the standard answer when someone asks you why you play the organ so loudly? “Pardon?”