Durham Cathedral Choir Association

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Francis Jackson has been on of this century’s foremost English organist-composers, maintaining the tradition of his predecessors as organist of York Minster, Thomas Tertius Noble and Edward Bairstow. He studied with Bairstow, and sang in the Minster’s choir as a boy, before being appointed organist at the conclusion of his war service in 1946. This short fanfare was written for the enthronement of Archbishops Coggan in 1961, and includes a brief reference to the dotted ‘fanfare’ rhythm of Stanford’s B-flat Te Deum.

Vaughan Williams came from a Gloucestershire family of churchmen, and was educated at Charterhouse, Trinity Cambridge and the Royal College of Music, where he came under the influence of Stanford and Parry. He studied further, with Bruch in Berlin and Ravel in Paris, and then returned to the RCM in 1918, as Professor of Composition. Apart from his compositions, which include operas and symphonies, he was also largely responsible for The English Hymnal and The Oxford Book of Chorals, for both of which he was the musical editor. Surprisingly, for one so in-volved with Church music, he wrote very little for the organ: notably, three hymn-preludes and the Prelude and Fugue in C minor. The fugue was composes a few days before the prelude, in 1921, and both movements were later revised and arranged for orchestra. After the rhapsodic prelude, the fugue has a Brahmsian flavour, enhanced by the juxtaposition of triplet and duplet figures.

William Harris, a Londoner by birth, was also educated at the RCM, studying under Parratt and Walford Davies. He led an active life in Church music, working in turn at Lichfield Cathedral, New College and Christ Church, Oxford, and St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle, where he was organist from 1933 to 1961. He was closely involved with many royal occasions, among them the funeral of George V in 1936 and the coronations of 1937 and 1952. The Prelude was begun on a trip to Leipzig which Harris made with a friend in 1930; upon arriving at the Thomaskirche, he took up pencil and paper, and sketched this short piece in the same mould as Bach’s Air on the G String.

Charles Macpherson, despite being a native of Edinburgh, spent most of his life in close association with St Paul’s Cathedral in London; he was first a chorister, then assistant organist, and finally, from 1916 until 1927, organist there. He was also Professor of Harmony at the Royal Academy of Music, and wrote numerous books on theoretical subjects. This Andante comes from the collection of pieces written for Sir Hubert Parry’s memorial service, which was held in St Paul’s in 1918. Among the other contributors were such figures as Stanford, Ivor Atkins, Henry Ley, Frank Bridge and a youthful George Thalben-Ball.

Harvey Grace’s name is associated with Musical Times, which he edited from 1918 until his death. He was also an accomplished practical musician, playing the organ at several London churches (is teacher was Arnold Richardson, organist at Southwark Cathedral) and directing the St Cecilia festivals. The hymn-tune Martyrs is a Scottish Psalm-tune dating from 1635, set to the words ‘O God of truth, whose living word’ in The English Hymnal. The melody is notable for its almost-modal austerity, and its dour solemnity.

Parry’s contribution to the musical life of the country was immense: not only was he a prolific composer, but as an educator he was a powerful force for the raising of standards of performance and criticism. His best-known works are probably I was glad and Jerusalem: his large-scale vocal writing displays an excellent sense of splendour and occasion. This Prelude on Croft’s 136th comes from Parry’s second set of chorale preludes, Opus 205. The tune is sung to Walsharn How’s hymn ‘To thee our God we fly’, with the refrain ‘O Lord, stretch forth thy mighty hand, and guard and bless our fatherland.’

Bossi made his name as an organist in the nine years he spent at Como Cathedral. For the last 35 years of his life he held no permanent church post, but taught in Venice, Bologna and Rome, and built a career as a virtuoso recitalist. He dies at sea, returning from a concert tour of the USA. He tried his hand at most types of composi-tion, including opera, but is remembered for just a few organ pieces. The Scherzo in G minor is a masterpiece of creativity: with the slightest of material, Bossi achieved the most persuasive effects, by means of perpetual forward motion and several small climaxes.

Brahms was one of the very few ‘mainstream’ composers after Bach to write for the organ: between them, Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven and Schubert produced only a handful of works. As with his younger contemporaries, Karg-Elert and Reger, Brahms felt himself to be part of the Bachian tradition, and concentrated on chorale-based works and preludes and fugues. The Opus 122 collection of chorale preludes dates from Brahms’ last year, 1896: seriously ill with liver cancer, and grievously affected by the death of his close friend, Clara Schumann, he wrote 11 preludes on predomi-nantly reflective hymns. The ghost of Bach stalks this first prelude, with sinuous manual lines standing in relief against the melody in the pedals.

Karg-Elert was a chorister at St John’s church in Leipzig, and began to compose at an early age. After a short time teaching, at the Magdeburg Conservatoire, and serving in the Great War as a bandsman, he succeeded Reger as a tutor at the Leipzig Conservatoire. It was Reger who persuaded Karg-Elert to write for the organ: his first love had been the harmonium, and he also enjoyed some fame as a pianist. Freu dich sehr is a gentle sarabande in G major; Lobe den Herren is a festive allegro in B flat; and O Gott, du frommer Gott is a simple, devotional setting of a hymn which takes the form of a prayer for safety in all dangers, including death. This last piece was dedicated to Karg-Elert’s mother, and composed on the day she died, November 13th, 1908.

Hindemith trained as a violinist in Frankfurt, and led a busy life as a performer in the interwar years, leading orchestras and playing the viola in his own string quartet. In the 1920s he turned more to composition, and began to gain some recognition, but the Nazis denounced his music as ‘degenerate art’. He lectured at Yale University, USA, from 1939 until 1946, before returning to Europe, to work increasingly as a conductor. His works cater for virtually all forces, from piano duet to concert band, and he contributed to the solo sonata repertoire of most popular instruments.

His three organ sonatas are often labelled ‘neo-classical’, implying that they require a Bachtype organ, but in fact all they need is an instrument which has balanced choruses and, above all, clarity. The Third Sonata was given its premiere by E Power Biggs at Tanglewood, Massachusetts, in 1940. The work is based on German folk-tunes, which Hindemith treats in a quasi-baroque manner. The first movement has the melody (‘O Lord, to whom should I complain....’) as the bass of siciliano, and then in the treble in a chordal setting; the second movement (with the melody ‘Awake, my treasure...’) is very slow, and has the tune in the left hand. The final movement is more agitated, and the melody (‘I bid her then...’) is again in the feet.

Four of the twentieth century’s most striking voices are represented in the final works on this disc. Vierne, Messiaen, Alain and Langlais all studied at the Paris Conserv-atoire (the latter three under Paul Dukas). Vierne and Langlais were both blind, and both dell under  the influence of Franck-Vierne through his studies with the older man, Langlais at one remove, through his appointment to the church of St. Clothilde, where Franck had been organist over 50 years previously. Although the name Messiaen is likely to be most enduring, the greatest talent of the four was probably Alain, who was killed in action at the age of 29. Vierne died in 1937, whilst giving a recital at Notre Dame; Langlais and Messiaen, born in 1907 and 1908 respectively, died in 1991 and 1992.

Vierne’s Légende comes from his 24 Pieces en style libre, a collection of pieces in all the chromatic keys, intended for performance on the organ or harmonium. The piece is in F sharp major, and in a gentle compound time, and displays the Vierne hallmarks, including semitonal side-slips and a harmonic palette dominated by diminished chords. The Messiaen piece is a tonepoem: a vision of the eternal Church, massive and rock-like. Messiaen wrote the ‘The Church comes into sight and recedes. The pedals mark the hammer-blows of the Grace that builds the divine edifice.’ Alain’s Choral Dorien is one half of a pair of Chorals which are small-scale pieces, not to be confused with the Chorals of Franck. Alain was not thicnking of the Church modes when when he gave the piece its title, but the Greek modes: the piece tends towards E minor, rather than the D minor we feel we might expect. Langlais’ Incantation pour un jour Saint is a massive, sectional toccata, based on the plainsong for Easter Eve, sung as the new light is brought into the church: ‘The light of Christ’, sings the priest; ‘Thanks be to God’, reply the people.

© Keith Wright, 1993


The Archbishop’s Fanfare

PRCD 346


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Francis Jackson

The Archbishop’s Fanfare     

Ralph Vaughan Williams

Prelude and Fugue in C Minor  

William Harris


Charles Macpherson

Andante in G (from A Little Organ Book in memory of

Hubert Parry)

Harvey Grace

Psalm-tune Postlude “Martyrs”              

Hubert Parry

Chorale Prelude on Croft’s 136th

Enrico Bossi

Scherzo in G Minor, Opus 49 no. 2  

Johannes Brahms

Chorale Prelude “Mein Jesu, der du mich”, Opus 122 no.1  

Siegfried Karg-Elert

Chorale Preludes:

Freu dich sehr, O meine Seele. Opus 65, no.5

Lobe den Herren, O meine Seele. Opus 65, no.28

O Gott, du frommer Gott. Opus 65 no.50

Paul Hindemith

Sonata In (über Alte Volkslieder)

Louis Vierne

Legende (24 Pieces en style libre) Opus 31, no.13

Olivier Messiaen

Apparition de l’Eglise Eternelle  

Jehan Alain

Choral Dorien

Jean Langlais

Incantation pour un jour Saint