Guest blogger and Organ expert Michael Barone explores our upcoming January 19th Handel • Rheinberger • Brossé concert featuring Dirk Brossé, conductor and Miho Saegusa (violin), Matt Glandorf (organ), Alan Morrison (organ), Jeffrey Brillhart (organ) in a four part series about this amazing night of concertos! Tickets and information here.
If the ‘organ concerto’ enjoyed an only occasional presence during the 19th century, the use of the organ in combination with a symphonic ensemble was explored in other ways. Hector Berlioz, who references the pipe organ in his famous handbook on orchestration, wrote a wonderful organ part into his Te Deum, completed in 1849, in which the organ’s voice…often from the opposite end of the church…engages in an arresting call-and-response with the orchestra in the score’s opening pages, and afterwards provides both poetic interludes a grand underpinning to climactic moments. Franz Liszt incorporates a critically important organ part in his symphonic poem, Hunnenschlacht/The Battle of the Huns of 1857.
Following those precedents, Belgian theorist François-Joseph Fétis, the new director of the Brussels Conservatory, went against his most confirmed feelings but nevertheless acceded to the requests of his colleagues to write a sort of symphony to inaugurate the pipe organ in his institution’s new concert room. His Fantaisie symphonique of 1866 may be the progenitor of a new genre, for it gave the organ more than a mere walk-on role. From the very first chord, the pipe organ is boisterously present throughout the work’s thirteen-minute duration, and matches the symphonic ensemble both in volume and vigor.
After Fétis, the famed recitalist and teacher Alexandre Guilmant (who toured in the United States at the turn of the century) also created several single-movement concert pieces for organ and orchestra. Much more substantial are Guilmant’s two grandly extravagant “organ symphonies,” from 1879 and 1911, the first of them predating oft-performed Op. 78 by Camille Saint-Saëns (1886), and also the first organ-and-orchestra work (Opus 42 bis, 1882) by Charles-Marie Widor, which was an arrangement of movements from his earlier-composed solo organ symphonies. Guilmant’s symphonies, too, were derived from or related to works he also published as organ-only solos (covering his bets), in which guise he called them “sonatas.”
Hearing is believing, and further French and Belgian composers followed those leads. In 1927, Widor’s star pupil, Marcel Dupré, created his own Organ Symphony (as well as a major Organ Concerto, 1934); and his protégé Jeanne Demessieux wrote a fragrant Poéme for organ and orchestra. Numerous other composers in the Franco-Flemish pool continued this sweep of activity: Louis Coerne, Eugene Gigout, Léon Boëllmann, and Charles Koechlin; and later, Flor Peeters, Jean Langlais, Pierre Petit, and Charles Chaynes.
Best of this bunch, though, are the marvelous scores of Francis Poulenc (whose Concerto for Organ, Strings and Timpani has been performed at Verizon Hall several times before) and Joseph Jongen (1873-1953), whose magnum opus, Symphonie Concertante, Opus 81, was commissioned in 1926 by Philadelphia magnate Rodman Wanamaker and intended for performance at the Wanamaker Department Store, a performance put off after Wanamaker’s death in 1928 and not eventually realized until 2008! Since Jongen’s Opus 81 is beyond the resources of a chamber orchestra, we’ll hear instead an earlier piece, his lovely Hymne, Op. 78 for Organ and Strings (1924), which embodies many of the more reflective emotional elements that two years later would show up in the Symphonie Concertante. And Matt Glandorf reappears to play the organ part here, a context very different from his appearance in Handel.
That brings us closer to present time. But what about contemporary contributions to this fascinating repertoire? Check the next blog post on Friday, January 10!
About our Guest Blogger: Michael Barone has been employed at Minnesota Public Radio/American Public Media for 45 years, for a quarter-century as music director and more recently as host/producer of national classical broadcasts such asPIPEDREAMS. He is a graduate of the Oberlin Conservatory, and awards from the American Guild of Organists, the Organ Historical Society, and the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers have paid tribute to his lifelong contributions to the world of music.
This show is part of the Fred J. Cooper Memorial Organ Series, and is co-presented by The Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia and the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts.
Organ performances are made possible through a donation by the Fred J. Cooper Restoration Fund as recommended by Frederick R. Haas and Daniel K. Meyer.