Mattias Wager

Organ Treasures

With its diverse sonorities, the renowned 1976 Grönlund organ in the Hedvig Eleonora Church gives life to a programme of known and unknown treasures from the
organ repertoire. 

    The most famous organ piece ever written is without doubt the Toccata and Fugue in D minor by Johann Sebastian Bach. Its challenging introductory fanfares and the spinning theme of the Fugue have with time become universal musical signals of the same dignity as the first motifs from Beethovenís ìFür Eliseî or Fifth symphony. It is therefore an intriguing musicological irony that some of the most prominent stylistical features of the work have caused musicologists to question whether Bach himself really is the composer! Could the piece be written by another member of Bachís musical circle? Regardless of the answer to this riddle Bach is universally accepted as the greatest of all composer of organ music, due to the scope and quality of his work. 
    Organ arrangements of Bach pieces not originally intended for the instrument was a genre in itself in the Romantic period. The following three pieces are examples of various styles of adaptation.  Being the most recent of the three, Maurice Durufléís arrangement of the hymn setting ìJesus bleibet meine Freudeî is the most true to the original, reflecting the new-found respect for the old masters typical of the Neo-classical school. Alexandre Guilmant has arranged the Sinfonia from Cantata 29, a piece which Bach himself has written in various versions, the others being for Violin or Lute solo. Guilmant brings to his arrangement the powerful and virtuoso French organ style. Sigfrid Karg-Elert made his arrangement of Bachís famous Air a written-out Romantic interpretation, indicating expressive dynamics and even changing the counterpoint.

   César Franck is often credited with being the father of the symphonic style in French organ writing. Among his twelve major organ works, the Pièce Héroïque stands out as one of the most concentrated examples of the style. Franck was organist in the church of Ste Clotilde in Paris, where his source of inspiration was the new symphonic organ by Aristide Cavaillé-Coll. Pièce héroïque, though, is written directly for the organ of the Palais du Trocadéro, built by the same master. 

   At once ground-breaking and entertaining, Charles Ivesí îVariations on Americaî is the only major work for organ by its composer. Ives, widely regarded as the first true modernist in American music, wrote the piece at the tender age of sixteen. On the surface, the piece falls neatly into the tradition of virtuoso arrangements of patriotic songs (ìAmericaî being a song set to the same melody as ìGod save the Queenî), but the piece already reveals the typical traits of Ivesí style: daring experiments in free tonality combined with traditional structures, creating an unmistakable blend of humour and seriousness of expression. 

   One of César Franckís successors at the organ in Ste Clotilde was Gabriel Pierné, a prolific composer but with a small output of organ music. Most frequently heard are his Trois pièces op. 29, a collection of three tasteful Romantic character pieces featuring a Prélude where a gently flowing melody line is carried by harp-like broken chords,a Cantilène where the solo Trumpet sings out in a sweet ìsong without wordsî, and a Scherzando de concert as the lively and stirring finale. 

   Sigfrid Karg-Elert is one of the most singular personalities in organ history, through his enormous output and stylisic breadth. His use of the late Romantic musical idiom today associated with the style of the old cinema-organ is very evident in his Three New Impressions op 142, pieces that seem to be composed with an American-style cinema
or theatre organ in mind. Valse Mignonne is a charming impression where dream-like fragments of sweet waltz-melodies come and go, finally to dissolve into thin air. 

    îWidorís Toccataî is something of a brand name in organ music. This piece, actually the last movement from Charles-Marie Widorís Symphony no. 5, has become for many the ultimate processional music for big church feasts. The Toccata is built up in a way that is typical of the virtuoso French Toccata: rapid perpetuum-mobile-like movements in the hands, accompanying a majestic melody on the pedals, drawing on the full tonal resources of the organ.

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