Durham Cathedral Choir Association

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The arrival of yet another organ-compilation CD might seem to cal at least for an explanation if not for an apology. First, this recording is intended as a souvenir of Durham, a vignette in sound for the pilgrim or tourist to take home. Second, it is a permanent record for our regular recital-goers of some pieces they have especially enjoyed hearing in recent years. Third, through the generosity of all concerned with its production, it will help to raise funds towards the completion of the cleaning and overhaul of the organ on which it was made (the console and the north side were so treated in the 1990s; the south side awaits attention).

But, even if that were sufficient excuse, we make no apology for offering a wider audience the opportunity of hearing, familiar repertoire newly interpreted on this magnificent instrument. Recent research and the historically-aware restoration of many organs of different nationalities and periods have given the modern listener greater insight into the sound-worlds of much of the music presented here. But the cathedral organ at Durham remains a supremely fine example of its type, and if it is most truly home in English Romantic repertoire it is none the less able to articulate a wide variety of styles and periods in a coherently musical manner.

One item in the programme perhaps calls for further comment. Raising funds for a choir tour some years ago, we put on a recital of organ favourites in a advance of which intending members of the audience had the opportunity of choosing and sponsoring individual pieces. One of the Lay Clerks offered a certain sum towards the arrangements for organ duet of all or some of The Dance of the Sugar-Plum Fairy from Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker; the sum to be increased if all three organists would undertake it jointly. In the event, no arrangement was ever made; we preferred to turn the attempt into a score-reading and transposition test, playing from the full score. The performance achieved sufficient notoriety for it to be repeated on subsequent such occasions, and it seemed high time to capture it for posterity. Daniel Hyde (the third of our Organ Scholars to undergo this form of keyboard test) plays the celesta part; Keith Wright, the woodwind; James Lancelot deals with strings, horns and three swell-pedals. The film awaits release....

For the rest, we have aimed to capture the mood of an evening spent in the cathedral on our own, with good music and a wonderful instrument for company. We hope the listener will enjoy eavesdropping as much as we have enjoyed playing.

Toccata and Fugue in D minor, BWV 565

Chorale-prelude: Liebster Jesu, wir sind hier, BWV 731

Johan Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)

Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor is probably the best-known piece of organ music in the world. Given its popularity, it comes as a surprise when one learns that the work may not be by Bach, may not have been written during his lifetime, may not have been originally an organ piece, may not have been originally in D minor, and almost certainly was not called Toccata and Fugue by it composer.The fact is that the piece is confusing; if it is by Bach, it forms a category of its own, for no other piece is quite like it (no other Fugue, for example, has an unaccompanied pedal entry half-way through), and the evidence to link the work to Bach all Dates from after his death. Perhaps the most ingenious solution to the problem is that it was written for a solo instrument - violin, most probably - by Bach, and arranged by some other composer for the organ. The resulting piece is none the worse for it; it shows a very good control of the device available to the eighteenth-century organist, including bold gestures, dramatic pauses and echo effects.

Bach produced a large number of chorale-preludes; pieces based upon Lutheran hymn-tunes, and intended to ‘set the scene’ before the hymns were sung. Liebster Jesu is one of many chorale settings which have come down to us, not in a printed collection, but from manuscript copies made by Bach’s pupils and friends. The hymn Liebster Jesu is a prayer before the sermon, and Bach captures perfectly the devotional nature of the text in this simple setting, in which the tune is presented - in a decorated form - in the right hand, whilst the left hand and pedals weave their own supporting textures.

Fancy for two to play

Thomas Tomkins (1572-1656)

Although Tomkins’ church music has made him a household name to cathedral choirs, his keyboard music remains one of the hidden treasures of English music. A large collection survives, half of it written in his final, debt-ridden years after the beheading of King Charles I and the destruction not only of the fine organ at Worcester Cathedral (where Tomkins was Organist for the last sixty years of his life) but also (in the preceding Civil War) of the Organist’s house there.

One of only two keyboard duets to have survived from the age of the English virginalists, this Fancy (or Fantasia) is otherwise typical of Tomkins’ voluntaries; a series of “points” or musical motives is treated in imitation, one after another. Like much though not all keyboard music of the period it appears equally suited to performance on the organ, the harpsichord or (its smaller cousin) the virginals.

Two pieces for flute-clocks

Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809)

Both Haydn and Mozart were commissioned to write Flötenuhrstücke - pieces for flute-clocks, or (as here) for mechanical organs, which consisted of a single short rank of pipes (sounding at four-foot pitch), blown by clock-driven bellow and played by means of a revolving drum with pins (also clockwork). Haydn wrote for three of these instruments at different times; here are an Allegretto in F for an instrument of 1772 and a March in D for one of 1793 (another organ, of 1792, actually sports a clock; the two represented here are flute-clocks only in name).

Unlike Mozart, most of whose works in this genre seem to suit a larger canvas, Haydn wrote perfect miniature music; redolent of dolls’ houses and toy soldiers, and of their childlike, stylised charm. The registration presented here seeks to capture the spirit if not the letter of these musical thumbnail-sketches.


César Franck (1822-1890)

César Franck’s career as an organist is very closely connected with Aristide Cavaillé-Coll’s career as an organ-builder: Franck acted as ‘artistic adviser’ to Cavaillé-Coll, and was frequently called upon to demonstrate new instruments. The influence of the partnership is also felt in this country, as the British organ-builder, Henry Willis, learned much from his visits to Cavaillé-Coll’s workshops, and applied his knowledge to the building of the many cathedral and concert-hall organs produced by his firm in the latter years of the nineteenth century. Cantabile is one of three pieces composed by Franck for the opening of the new organ at the Trocadéro, and displays to excellent effect the singing qualities of the Trompette stop.

Fiat lux

Théodore Dubois (1837-1924)

Dubois was a pupil of Benoist at the Paris Conservatoire, and helf a number of important church posts in Paris, as a choirmaster as well as an organist, including both positions at La Madeleine (where he succeeded Saint-Saëns as organist). He was made Director of the Conservatoire in 1896, having been professor of harmony and composition there for many years before. Fiat lux, like many of his organ works, is not to be taken too seriously, and shows the light-hearted touch which he usually associate with Saint-Saëns and Lefébure-Wély. The piece is based on the simple idea of a long crescendo, with a fanfare-like idea interspersed with dashing pianistic figurations in the manuals.

Chant de mai, Opus 53

Joseph Jongen (1873-1953)

Jongen was something of a child prodigy, entering the Liége Conservatoire at the age of seven and carrying off prizes for composition, fugue, improvisation, piano and organ playing. In 1903 he was appointed to the staff of the Conservatoire as professor of harmony and counterpoint, and, after spending the war years 1914 to 1918 in England, he returned home to become the Director of the Brussels Conservatoire, He was honoured in France as well as in his native Belgium, and his circle of friends included d’Indy and Fauré.

He composed a large amount of music in all fields, from solo songs to symphonies, but is best-known for just a a few organ pieces, most notably the Sonata Eroïca. Chant de mai was written in 1917, and shows off the more lyrical, expressive side of Jongen, and some of the organ’s quieter solo stops.

Sketch in D flat, Opus 58 No 4

Robert Schumann (1810-1856)

For a century after the death of Bach, very few ‘mainstream’ composers wrote significant amount of music for the organ; the contribution of Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven and Schubert, for example, amount to just a handful of pieces, and many of those were written for clockwork organs, Schumann, breaking, the mould slightly, did compose sets of fugues and canons for the organ, but stipulated on the score that they could also be played upon the pedal-piano. The pedal-piano is exactly what its name suggest: a piano to which a set of organ-style pedals has been added. It was not, however, primarily used as an organist’s practice tool, but as an instrument in its own right, with a limited repertoire of its own which exploited the possibilities of adding extra bass-notes below the left hand. Schumann’s Four Sketches were originally intended for the pedal-piano, and performance of them on the organ requires the player not only to play the notes as printed on the page, but also to re-interpret the pianistic qualities of the music in organ terms. The Sketch in D flat is the last of the set, and displays a delicate staccato touch in the other sections, with a cantabile melody in the contrasting central section.

Lied des Leiermannes (Faust)

Petr Eben (born 1929)

Petr Eben’s early life was spent in Southern Bohemia, where he began to learn the piano an the organ. During the war he was interned in Buchenwald, and in his return to Czechoslovakia in 1945 he took up the ‘cello, and continued his studies at the Prague Academy of Music. He became well-known in the West following his period as a Visiting Fellow in Composition at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester in 1978. His musical style is unique: a blend of plainsong, Eastern European folksong and an austere harmonic language, with a vivid ear for texture and colour. The score of Faust was composed for a production of the Goethe play at the Burgtheater in Vienna in 1976, and arranged for organ by the composer in 1981. In the this movement, which translates as The song of the beggar with the barrel-organ, a simple theme is played three times: firstly in the pedals, then in the left hand, and finally in the treble, where one or two faulty notes on the barrel-organ cause progressive disruption to the flow of music.

Andante tranquillo; Scherzo (from Five Short Pieces)

Fanfare (from Four Extemporisations)

Percy Whitlock (1903-1946)

Whitlock was educated at the King’s School in Rochester and the Royal College of Music in London. At the conclusion of his studies he returned to Rochester as Assistant Organist at the Cathedral. The final years of his short life were spent in Bournemouth, where he was organist at St. Stephen’s Church, and at the Municipal Pavilion (which housed a magnificent Compton organ).

Whitlock’s compositions, therefore, tend to fall into one of two categories: ‘concert’ works, or church voluntaries (although there are several pieces which tiptoe along the border-line between the two). This group of pieces begins with a calm and reverent Andante tranquillo, followed by a very jolly Scherzo for the black keys, with a rousing Fanfare to round off.

Mozart Changes

Zsolt Gárdonyi (born 1946)

Zsolt Gárdonyi is currently Professor of Music at the Music College in Wurtzburg, Bavaria, and is the son of the distinguished Zoltan Gárdonyi. Mozart Changes was commissioned for the Oklahoma Mozart Festival in 1995, and resolves around two dance-like motives from the final movement of Mozart’s las piano sonata in D major, K 572. As the title suggests, the work is closely linked with jazz harmony, where the word ‘changes’ indicates chord progressions. Gárdonyi overlaps Mozart’s more traditional harmony with stylistic chord progressions of descending fifths still employed in jazz today, to produce a rather perky additional dimension for the word ‘changes’.

Sonata in G, Opus 28: first movement (Allegro maestoso)

Edward Elgar (1857-1934)

Elgar’s career as a church organist lasted only from 1885 until 1889, when he played (as his father had done before him) at St George’s Roman Catholic Church in Worcester. A few short voluntaries date from this time, but the Sonata in G, composed in 1895, was to be Elgar’s only large-scale organ work. Written to mark the visit to Worcester Cathedral of a party of American organists, and first performed by the Cathedral Organist, Hugh Blair, it remains one of the finest examples there is of ‘orchestral’ writing for the instrument, providing the player with the opportunity to display a wide range of emotions, as well as the full tonal palette of the organ.

Prière à Notre-Dame; Toccata (Suite Gothique)

Léon Boëllmann (1862-1897)

Boëllmann was a brilliant young student at the Ecole Niedermeyer, studying under Eugéne Gigout, and winning prizes for piano, organ, counterpoint, fugue and composition. He married the daughter of the director of the Ecole Niedermeyer, and the couple lived together as quests in Gigout’s home until Boëllmann’s death at the age of only 35.

Boëllmann served first as Sub-Organist, and then as Organist, at the church of St-Vincent-de-Paul in Paris, and wrote a considerable amount of liturgical music for the organ and the harmonium, The only work of note to survive, however, is the Suite Gothique, and the best-known movement is the final Toccata: a more menacing example than many in the genre, with a brooding theme in the pedals, set underneath chattering figuration for the hands. The serene Prière à Notre-Dame which precedes it makes a perfect contrast.

The Dance of the Sugar-plum Fairy (from The Nutcracker)

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893)

First choreographed and performed in St Petersburg in 1892, Tchaikovsky’s enduring popular ballet The Nutcracker was arranged by him as an orchestral suite the same year. His colourful use of the orchestra is shown, as recreated in organ terms, in this short excerpt from one movement.


Kenneth Leighton (1929-1988)

The untimely death of Kenneth Leighton was a great loss to the world of church music. Although he had been a boy chorister at Wakefield Cathedral, Leighton never thereafter held a church post, but taught at Leeds, Oxford and Edinburgh Universities, becoming Professor at Edinburgh in 1970. He was prolific in many fields (particularly chamber music) and his religious works and organ music are at the forefront of his output, and have stood the test of time at least as well as the music of many of his contemporaries. Paean ia an organ fanfare in a startlingly modern idiom; it was commissioned for the 40th anniversary of the Organ Club in 1967, and was first performed at the Royal Festival Hall by David Willcocks.

© Daniel Hyde, Keith Wright and James Lancelot


Melody and Medley

PRCD 746


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Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, BWV565


Liebster Jesu, wir sind hier, BWV731

Thomas Tomkins

Fancy for two to play

Joseph Haydn

Two pieces for flute-clocks

Joseph Haydn

Two pieces for flute-clocks   

Cesar Franck


Theodore Dubois

Fiat Lux

Joseph Jongen

Chant de Mai

Robert Schumann

Sketch in Db for pedal-piano

Petr Eben

Lied des Leiermannes (Faust)

Percy Whitlock

Andante Tranquillo (from Five Short Pieces)

Percy Whitlock

Scherzo (from Five Short Pieces)

Percy Whitlock

Fanfare (from Four Extemporisations)

Zsolt Gárdonyi

Mozart Changes

Edward Elgar

Sonata in G for organ, op.28, first movement


Prière à Notre-Dame (from Suite Gothique)


Toccata (from Suite Gothique)


The Dance of the Sugar-plum Fairy

Kenneth Leighton