Notes on Organ Music for March 2017

5th March – Lent 1

PRELUDE: Prelude No 1 in d minor (Camille Saint-Saens)

POSTLUDE: Kyrie Eleison from Messe des Pauvres (Eric Satie)

Saint-Saens (1835-1921) was featured two weeks ago – a child prodigy, he was organist at St Merri and La Madeleine in Paris. An effortless tunesmith, he remained faithful to his classical models of composition even when derided in later life by the modernists. His Ave Verum Corpus is entirely representative of his sweet-natured compositions, with typical chromatic harmonies. Fellow Parisian composer Eric Satie (1866-1925) is best-known for his Gymnopédies for piano, but the Messe des Pauvres (Mass of the Poor) comes from his slightly later ‘mystic’ period, bearing no resemblance whatever to the musical style of the former. Six motifs inspired by the plainsong Kyrie are scattered amongst this constantly surprising chordal piece. More Satie at the end of the month!

12th March – Lent 2

PRELUDE: Interludes on ‘Quam Dilecta’ (Alec Rowley; Henry Coleman)

POSTLUDE: Postlude in g minor (Charles Villiers Stanford)

All the music today is from the British Isles. John Stainer (1840-1901), Henry Coleman (1888-1965) and Alec Rowley (1891-1958) are all regarded nowadays as minor composers, with only Stainer carrying any fame for his well-known oratorio The Crucifixion (from which today’s anthem is taken) and some excellent hymn tunes. The preludes are based on Quam Dilecta, the tune we sing to today’s Gradual hymn. Dublin-born Stanford (1852-1924) was in a different league – his somewhat neglected organ works are enjoying increasing exposure, including his stormy Postlude in g minor.

19th March – Lent 3

PRELUDE: Meditation on ‘Just as I am’ (Dale Wood)

POSTLUDE:  Canzona in d minor (JS Bach)

The organ works of American composer Dale Wood (1934-2003) appear regularly at All Saints, with his directness and simplicity of approach underpinned by superb craftsmanship. He uses the American tune for ‘Just as I am’ as the basis for his meditation. Bach’s Canzona is serious by contrast, although the second of the two sections is more energetic; the genius of his skill, of course, shines throughout.

26th March – Lent 4

PRELUDE: Chant Ecclésiastique; Priere pour le salut de mon âme (Messe der Pauvres: Eric Satie)

POSTLUDE: Prière de Orgues (Messe de Pauvres: Eric Satie)

Three further pieces today from the Messe des Pauvres (Mass of the Poor) by eccentric Parisian Eric Satie (1866-1925), of ‘Gymnopédies’ fame. The Chant Ecclésiastique (a term for plainsong) and Prière pour le Salut de mon Âme (prayer for the salvation of my soul) are both gentle and mystical pieces, with the constantly surprising harmonies very reminiscent in places of the music of the great Olivier Messiaen, as yet unborn when Satie’s Messe was written. The Prière des Orgues (Organ prayer) is, like the rest of the work, a series of often surprising chords; the composer’s markings include exhortation at various points to play ‘very Christianly’, ‘with a great forgetfulness of the present’, ‘without ostentation’, and ‘inflexible’.  Soon after the Messe was written he abandoned the private church he had set up, and sold his clerical robes in exchange for seven identical corduroy suits.