Concert Variations

Andrew Shenton, Organ

Recorded on the Mander Organ in The Princeton University Chapel

This recording is available to stream or download from all major sites such as iTunes, Spotify and YouTube.

Sample audio clip: Leighton – Paean

1. Paean: Kenneth Leighton (1929-1988). [5’31”]

2. Scherzo for the White Rabbit: Nigel Ogden (b. 1954). [6’44”]

3. Partita über ‘Ach wie nichtig, ach wie flüchtig’Georg Böhm (1661-1733). [9’28”]

4. Con moto maestosoFrom Sonata in A Major, Op. 65, No. 3. Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847). [9’02”]

5. Andante tranquillo: From Sonata in A Major, Op. 65, No. 3. Felix Mendelssohn. [3’12”]

6. Toccata, d-moll, BWV 565: J. S. Bach (1685-1750). [2’58”]

7. Fuge, d-moll, BWV 565: J. S. Bach. [7’19”]

8. Fantasia super ‘Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland,’ BWV 659a: J. S. Bach. [5’48”]

9. Toccata: Georgy Mushel (1909-1989). [4’20”]

10. Balm in GileadJoe Utterback (b. 1944). [3’36”]*

11. Swing LowJoe Utterback. [2’46”]*

12. Variations de Concert, Op. 1: Joseph Bonnet (1884-1944). [9’30”]

* World premiere recording

Program notes

© 1998, Andrew Shenton

Kenneth Leighton was one of the most distinguished British composers of the twentieth century. He was educated at Oxford where he took degrees in music and classics. In 1970 he was awarded an honorary doctorate by Oxford University and the same year was appointed Reid Professor of Music at the University of Edinburgh, a post he held until his death. Leighton published more than 100 pieces in a variety of different genres. His Paean was commissioned by Oxford University Press in 1966 and first performed by Simon Preston at the 40th anniversary of the Organ Club. In ancient Greece a paean was a hymn of thanksgiving to the Gods (especially Apollo), but it is now more widely used to describe any piece of joy, triumph and praise. Leighton’s Paean (published by OUP) has great vitality and a rhythmic energy that is typical of much of his music. It begins with a brillante opening which introduces the melodic and harmonic material for the piece: four-note arpeggiated chord clusters punctuated with offbeat accents. A section marked Allegro marziale (malta ritmico) leads into a slightly faster section in which characteristic rhythmic patterns in the manuals are underscored by legato pedals that outline the chord clusters of the opening manual chords. This material is developed with increasing fervor until it erupts into a fantasia reminiscent of the opening.

In March 1998 Nigel Ogden celebrated his 1000th broadcast and his 18th year as presenter of BBC Radio 2’s longest-running specialist music program, The Organist Entertains. A well-known performer, Ogden is equally at home with classical and popular music, and regularly performs on theater organs and classical instruments. As a composer, Ogden has published several pieces for organ, including Penguin’s Playtime and An Art Deco Three-Piece Suite. His Scherzo for the White Rabbit (published by Stainer & Bell) is in ABA form. The ‘light and capricious’ A section, which features the Great Concert Flute 8′ and Piccolo 2′, is contrasted with a slower, more lyrical B section which utilizes the Swell Oboe. The music is prefaced by a quote from Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland:

” … suddenly a White Rabbit with pink eyes ran close by her. There was nothing so remarkable in that; nor did Alice think it so very much out of the way to hear the Rabbit say to itself, ‘Oh dear! Oh dear! I shall be too late!’ (when she thought it over afterwards, it occurred to her that she ought to have wondered at this, but at the time it seemed quite natural); but when the rabbit actually took a watch out of its waistcoat pocket, and looked at it, and then hurried on, Alice started to her feet, for it flashed across her mind that she had never seen a rabbit with either a waistcoat-pocket or a watch to take out of it, and burning with curiosity, she ran across the field after it, and was just in time to see it pop down a large rabbit-hole under the hedge … ”

The German organist and composer Georg Bohm was organist at Hamburg before 1698 and then at St. John’s Church, Liineburg. His works include a Passion, numerous songs, and works for organ and harpsichord. As a composer he was an important forerunner of J.S. Bach. His partita (a set of keyboard variations) on the chorale Ach wie nichtig, ach wie flilchtig is typical of the North German school. After statement of the chorale in four-part harmony, there are seven partitas that show a great deal of resourcefulness in their technique. The first partita makes use of trills, the second uses running eighth-notes in the right hand, the third features a descending scale in the bass line, while the fourth has a characteristic leaping figure. The sixth variation, which changes time from the 4/4 of the preceding partitas to triple meter (3/4), returns to the homophonic texture of the chorale statement and is followed by a partita which combines trills and scale passages and returns to four beats per measure. The last partita, again in triple meter, is dance-like and contains a dotted figure and trills in both hands. I have added my own ornamentation to the text of the Breitkopf & Hartel edition of the score, and used only the Great organ (except for some echo effects on the Swell in the sixth partita).

Felix Mendelssohn was a renowned champion of the music of J. S. Bach, and had a career as a concert organist in addition to his activities as conductor, composer, scholar and painter. An English publisher requested some sonatas for organ from Mendelssohn, who, between 1844 and 1845, assembled a set of six from various pieces available. This explains the unusual form of the third Sonata, which has only two movements: an extended symphonic first movement coupled with a short but charming slow movement. The opening march of the Sonata was originally written for the marriage of his sister, Fanny, in 1829. In this recording the march utilizes the stunning Fanfare Trumpet in the gallery at the west end of the nave. The long fugal development on the Lutheran chorale Aus tiefer not (In deepest need) which follows the march was added later. The fugue begins in the tenor part with short, fragmented phrases. The alto, soprano and bass enter in the manuals and the chorale is heard in long notes in the pedals. A gradual accelerando breaks into a pedal cadenza, which in turn leads to a return of the opening material. While the fugue shows Mendelssohn ‘s complete command of contrapuntal techniques, the slow movement that follows demonstrates his mastery of the art of the miniature. Firmly rooted in A major, this short piece is marked andante tranquillo. Despite the regularity of its two- and four-bar phrases it is a work of great elegance and poise. In this recording it is played entirely on the exquisite Solo strings: the Viola and Viola Celeste in the manuals, and the Gamba in the pedals. The text for the third Sonata seems to be consistent in the various editions available, but phrasing presents problems since many versions are highly edited. For this recording I used phrasing from the original Breitkopf edition of 1845 which Mendelssohn approved.

The Toccata and Fugue in D minor, BWV 565, is probably the best-known organ work by J. S. Bach, and one of the most celebrated pieces in the repertoire. It was made popular by its use in horror movies, by Captain Nemo, and in an orchestral arrangement by Leopold Stokowski that Walt Disney used in his film Fantasia. Scholars are fascinated by the many unusual features of the piece and ask several questions of it: was it originally in D minor, was it originally an organ piece, and if not who transcribed it? No answers to these questions are currently available, but the piece continues to fascinate. The opening of the Toccata, with its three dramatic mordents (three-note turns) and runs, announces a fantasia-like movement in free form. It mixes passages of rapid manual work with pedal solos, and includes several echo sections. The Fugue subject is much more conversational and conventional than the Toccata. The subject begins in the tenor voice (but placed high), and moves through alto, soprano and finally bass. It does not undergo a great deal of mutation, but rather stays within an established key structure relying instead on repetition and echo for its effects. The final section returns to the array of keyboard techniques found in the Toccata. In this recording I employed phrasing and articulation appropriate to the music but made no attempt to make the Skinner/Mander organ sound like a Baroque instrument, preferring instead to imagine what Bach himself might have used if he were playing this organ. I utilized the Principal choruses Great, Swell, Choir and Pedals, and the appropriate reeds including the impressive pedal Bombarde 32′.

The text ‘Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland’ is Luther’s translation of Ambrose’s Advent hymn Veni redemptor gentium. In the Lutheran calendar it was the main hymn for the four Sundays in Advent, which explains why there are so many settings of this chorale. Bach set it himself five times (with additional variant settings), and there are also versions by Sweelinck, Scheidt, Pachelbel and Buxtehude. In modern times Dupre, Distler and Reger have also set the chorale. BWV 659 (formerly one of ‘The Eighteen’), is one of Bach’s most beautiful slow movements. The chorale is played in an ornamented form in the soprano line (here played on the Great 8′ Stopped Diapason, Twelfth and Tremulant), with a three-voice accompaniment which provides the harmonic support for the poignant melody. The main difference between BWV 659 and 659a is the additional ornamentation in the latter version. For both Bach pieces on this recording I used the Neue Bach-Ausgabe texts.

Georgy Mushel lived in the republic of Uzbekistan in the Soviet Union. He made an extensive study of Uzbeck folk music whose modes and rhythms had an effect on his musical style. Mushel was also an artist and often illustrated his own scores with watercolors. His Toccata is the second piece in a suite for organ, but is published separately by OUP. This powerful and arresting piece has a strong rhythmic drive, derived from an almost relentless figure in the left hand and from the disruption of the triple meter by offbeat accents. Although modally centered on C major, the harmonies move into some extraordinary keys including E flat minor and A major. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the short coda, which races through several keys before vaulting back to a resplendent C major.

A renowned Jazz musician, Joe Utterback is also Director of Music and Organist at the First Congregational Church in Stratford, Connecticut, and teaches at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield County, Connecticut. Born in 1944, Utterback received a D.M.A. in piano performance from the University of Kansas. He has written and arranged several pieces for organ, which adopt and adapt jazz styles and techniques. Two of the best of these are his ballad version of Balm in Gilead and his arrangement in Blues style of the traditional spiritual Swing Low, Sweet Chariot, both of which were published in 1993 by Jazzmuze, Inc. Utterback’s mellow setting of Balm in Gilead provides lush chromatic harmonies to the familiar melody. In his arrangement of Swing Low, the bass is played on flutes 16′, 8′ and 4′ in the left hand. This provides a laid-back accompaniment for the tune, which is ornamented with some characteristic features of Blues style such as slides, trills and glissandi.

A pupil of the French organist and composer Alexandre Guilmant, Joseph Bonnet was sometime organist of the Church of Sainte Eustache in Paris. His Variations de Concert of 1908 was his first published work (Leduc Editions). The Variations were written to show off the splendors of the French ‘Grand-Orgue.’ After a bravura introduction the theme is heard on quiet registration. The first variation plays the theme on a solo flute accompanied by the Voix Celeste and a pizzicato bass. The second variation uses foundation stops at 16′, 8′ and 4′ pitch, and is based on a triplet figure in the manuals with the theme played in the pedals coupled to the Swell reeds. In contrast, the third variation plays the theme on the Trompette stop (in this case the French Trumpet on the Swell), with a three-part accompaniment. The fourth and final variation brings back the full organ sound in a magnificent presentation of the theme in chords on the manuals with a striking pedal accompaniment. The music climaxes to a single held B, before the section for which this piece is most well known: a pedal cadenza which includes scales, arpeggios, and chords in two, three and even four parts! A short cadenza in the manuals leads into the brief toccata-like coda.

The organ

The Skinner Organ Company built the original organ in the Princeton University Chapel (an impressive neo-gothic building by Ralph Adams Cram) in 1928. Its 100 stops were divided between the two chambers on either side of the chancel. Between 1951 and 1954 the Solo organ was turned into a ‘Positiv’ and part of the Choir was changed to a ‘Brustwerk’ as part of the vogue of the Baroque Revival. Further work was undertaken by the Aeolian Skinner Company between 1954 and 1956, and at some point the heavy-pressure reed choruses of the Great and Solo were disconnected and the Tuba Mirabilis was removed and stored in the basement. By the late 1980s a major renovation was clearly necessary, and was undertaken by N.P. Mander Ltd., in 1990-91. According to Mander, “any question of a strict restoration solely on pre-war Skinner lines [was] firmly rejected, and the organ has been nudged towards a broader usefulness, albeit in a voicing style compatible with that of the surviving original work.” Mander reinstated many of the old heavy-pressure reeds (including the Tuba Mirabilis) and added new stops including a French Hom and many Pedal stops. The current instrument has 109 stops operating 135 ranks of pipes in 7 divisions played from a four-manual console. The south chamber contains the Great, Swell, Choir and Pedal organs; the north chamber, the Solo organ. The Nave division is located in the north triforium halfway down the nave, and the gallery at the west end contains the horizontal Fanfare Trumpet. Both the Swell and Solo are enclosed divisions. Further information and photos of the instrument can be found at Mander’s web page.