The schedule of Friday Pipes recitals for the spring of 2014 has been finalized. Here’s the lineup:
Friday pipes recitals are 30 minutes long and begin at 12:30pm. We have some fantastic artists lined up, so please mark your calendar for what promises to be 11 excellent concerts!
We’re happy to announce Friday Pipes will be back in 2014 with 23 weekly concerts in March, April, May, September, October, and November. Recitals will be at 12:30pm on Fridays. Keep watching here for the lineup.
In the meantime, if you are a recitalist interested in performing on Third’s restored pipe organ, and you are or can be in the St. Louis area this Spring or Fall, please contact Brent Johnson for available dates.
Grand Pièce Symphonique, op. 17 by César Franck
Brent Johnson, Organist, Third Baptist Church
On November 8, 1890, 123 years ago today, César Franck succumbed to an unknown illness. His health had been deteriorating rapidly as he suffered from pneumonia, injuries sustained in an accident a few months earlier, and from a constant and overbearing workload. Some of Franck’s greatest compositions date from this period near the end of his life. He died as a controversial figure in French musical circles, respected by his students, but not always lauded by music critics and audiences. Although he became a French citizen, his Belgian origins made him an outsider among the elite of Parisian music. However, he managed to rise the top of his profession in France as an organist, composer, and teacher. Among the attendees of his funeral were the notable composers Camille Saint-Saëns, Eugène Gigout, Gabriel Fauré, Felix Alexandre Guilmant, and Charles-Marie Widor.
Grand Pièce Symphonique dates from early in Franck’s career. Written in 1860, it was the second in a series of six works composed for the new organ of the church of St. Clotilde in Paris where Franck had been appointed titular organist just 11 months before the instrument was completed. The work calls for stops that did not exist in the relatively small organ of St. Clotilde, hinting that Franck intended for this work to be published and performed elsewhere as well. While the Grand Pièce is a monumental work in scale, it is not considered his best composition. It is, however, full of landmarks worthy of note. While the piece is composed as one complete work, it can be divided into sections which form together the semblance of 4 single movements, and for the sake of these notes, will be considered as such. Viewed in this manner, this work assumes the status of the first great French organ symphony, and predecessor to the great organ symphonies of Charles-Marie Widor, Louis Vierne, and other composers to come.
While the work might not have been composed only for the organ of St. Clotilde, it does require some of the registrational aids that were becoming available in organs of Franck’s time, thanks specifically to the work of organbuilder Aristide Cavaillé-Coll. The ventil stop action used by Cavaillé-Coll is called upon multiple times. Ventils were mechanisms that allowed the organist to turn groups of stops on or off with the flip of a foot. While they were limited by the standards of today’s combination actions, they granted additional control to organists that were used to having very little. For example, this work includes the first instance in the organ literature of such an aid being required for a lone organist to create the desired effect. While a large chord is held, the Great reed stops are added via the ventils, creating the effect of trumpets making an entrance over the rest of an orchestra. Without these ventils, either an assistant would have to pull the stops, or an additional manual (and probably an additional hand or two) would be needed.
The choice of stops to use when performing Franck’s organ works is not usually up for much discussion. Like most French composers of the time, the composer was careful to specify exactly what stops he required in his works (which is why we know this piece could not be properly realized on the St. Clotilde organ). These registrations combined with the extant organs from the period allow us to hear the music exactly as it was originally performed. However, while the organ of Third Baptist is a beautiful instrument, it is not a Cavaillé-Coll, and strict adherence to Franck’s registration scheme does not create the same results here as in Paris. Instead, the composer’s ideas and the sounds of the intended organ have been taken into consideration when searching for combinations that are effective on this organ and in this space. Liberties have been taken to find tonal solutions outside the usual strict realm of French romantic registration to bring the work to life today and to allow the organ of Third Baptist to be utilized to its best effect.
The Grand Pièce Symphonique begins with a gentle opening theme. Franck spends a little time developing this first theme from mezzo-piano to forte before introducing the main theme of the work. This descending three-note theme appears in the pedal and then the manuals. The simple theme is displayed in numerous ways, set against a martial backdrop, and then played in both the pedal and the manuals against a triplet accompaniment. The first “movement” of the piece finally closes with a reprise of the opening.
The second section inverts the three-note theme into a melody that is both simple and haunting, and is filled with lush harmonies typical of Franck. In this section liberties again have been taken with Franck’s intended registration. The movement is reconsidered as an orchestral work and stops have been chosen for this effect. This allows a bit more dynamic depth and allows for sounds endemic to Third Baptist to fill the music created by Franck. A scherzo with arpeggiated figures more like Bach, but still with the harmonic language of Franck splits the movement before the opening melody returns and brings the section to a quiet close.
Much has been written about the third movement, due primarily to its similarity to the third movement of the 9th symphony of Ludwig van Beethoven. In that work, Beethoven takes time to revisit all of the themes explored in the symphony, as if he’s searching for just the right way to end the work. The same happens here, as we hear bits of the entire work replayed until Franck finds what he’s looking for. Finally he returns to the main theme, the three-note theme found in the first movement. This time, however, we hear the theme on the full organ in the bright key of F-sharp major, instead of minor, with a running pedal accompaniment, to boot. A fugue on a simple 4-note theme follows, and then that same theme is heard against a rhythmic backdrop and taken through a cycle of several keys before finally, in one last short section we hear the fugue theme joyously presented on the full resources of the organ.
Concert organist Jane Parker-Smith was in St. Louis to play a recital at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis. The following morning she came to Third Baptist to conduct a masterclass for the St. Louis chapter of the American Guild of Organists. Performers were Stephen Eros, Travis Evans, and Brent Johnson. Here are a few photos taken by guild photographer Rene Zajner.
Spitfire Prelude, arranged by Dennis Morrel – William Walton (1902-1983)
Praeludium in G major (BuxWV 149) – Dieterich Buxtehude (c. 1637-1707)
Pièces de Fantaisie, Suite III, Opus 54 – Louis Vierne – (1870-1937)
William Walton wrote music in many classical genres including cantatas, concertos and a symphony, but when war came to Britain, he was exempted from military service under the condition that he compose music for British propaganda films. The music from the 1942 film First of the Few about the British Air Force was later rewritten into a concert suite, titled the Spitfire Prelude and Fugue, named for the British fighter plane. The opening of today’s recital is a shortened arrangement of this prelude for organ.
Dieterich Buxtehude is known for his own music as much as for his influence on other musicians. His early years are a bit cloudy, but he was most likely born in a town that was then part of Denmark, today in Sweden. He established himself firmly, however, in Germany, in the town of Lübeck at St. Mary’s church, where he succeeded his predecessor Franz Tunder by the not-uncommon practice of marrying Tunder’s daughter, and it was a requirement for his own successor as well. We can only guess about his eldest daughter Anna Margareta, knowing that both George Frederich Handel and Johann Matteson made trips to Lübeck to interview for the job there, but both headed back home the day after meeting Anna Margareta.
Those were just two of many musicians who traveled to Lübeck to hear the famous Abendmusik recitals. Started by Franz Tunder, Buxtehude made them into events worth traveling across the country for. It is well documented that a young Johann Sebastian Bach walked over 250 miles to get there. He was granted 2 months leave to make the trip, but ended up staying 5, a mis-step that landed that noble composer in a jail cell when he finally returned home.
Nineteen of Buxtehude’s Praeludia have survived, and form the core of his organ works. All are different but manage to hold to a basic pattern of free improvisation alternating with strict counterpoint. The Praeludium in G major is the best example of his common pattern of Prelude-Fugue-Interlude-Fugue-Coda. This form would later evolve into the Prelude and Fugue used by Bach and many other composers. This style allows the composer to vary between showy moments of technical virtuosity, while still demonstrating the ability to craft fugues, showing mastery over the skill of counterpoint.
Louis Vierne was the organist of Notre-Dame Cathedral from 1900 until his death there at the console (during a recital!) The Pièces de Fantaisie are a series of four suites composed in 1926-1927 in preparation for a tour of America, a tour which brought him to Grand Boulevard in St. Louis to perform on the organ of the church of St. Francis Xavier (the College Church, 2 blocks south of here). His tour was a great success, and these works no doubt contributed to that success. Each suite could be considered almost an organ symphony.
Impromptu would be the scherzo movement of this symphony. In it we hear the flutes of the Great and Swell division, as well as a bit from the Clarinet in the choir. Étoile du Soir is a serene example of Vierne’s impressionistic style, and of his colorful harmonic language. We hear the contrasting colors of the flutes and the many string tones in Third’s organ. Finally, Carillon de Westminster, possibly Vierne’s most well-known piece, is a fiery French Toccata, set against the simple melody of the Clock Tower of Westminster Palace. The work is dedicated to Vierne’s friend, the English organbuilder Henry Willis. The story is that Willis hummed the tune of the chimes to Vierne and ended up getting the second phrase wrong, and thus it is wrong in the published work. There is still debate if this story is true, or if the composer just altered the melody to make it fit better in the Carillon.
Brent Johnson serves as organist at Third Baptist Church. He previously worked as a technician for the Wicks Organ Company of Highland, Illinois, starting there after studying organ with Robert T. Anderson in the Meadows School of the Arts and Kenneth G. Hart in the Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University. Brent teaches piano, organ, and percussion through the CityArts program at Third Baptist, and oversees production of the Internet audio stations Organlive and Positively Baroque for The Organ Media Foundation. Brent is a Volunteer at the Animal House shelter and serves on the board of the Show-Me Wood Turners of Festus, Missouri.
Once again, you can look for our Friday Pipes posters showing up in windows around Grand Center:
I’m also happy to announce that Jane Parker Smith will be coming to Third Baptist on Saturday October 12. She’s in town that week to perform a concert at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis, and then will be holding a masterclass at Third Baptist the following day, sponsored by the St. Louis chapter of the American Guild of Organists.
This fall the Friday Pipes Concert series will resume with 12 weekly half-hour concerts on Fridays at 12:30. The schedule is still taking shape, but here’s what it’s starting to look like:
Links point to our Facebook events for each recital.
In addition, the St. Louis Theatre Organ Society will be meeting at Third Baptist on Sunday, September 15. Benjamin Kolodziej is slated to be the performer for this event!
Mark your calendar for these great concerts, and keep watching this site for updates!
Some work this week showed that the pipe counts, as frequently expected, are not correct. Also, for some reason an independent rank in the Pedal has always been marked as borrowed. This means the organ is (now) 4933 pipes and 72 ranks. See the most up-to-date specifiction here.
If you’ve stopped in a store or restaurant in Grand Center recently, you’ve probably seen one of our posters: