Pulling Out All The Stops: Program Notes
As well as offering the listener a variety of styles, a recital that trades the same instrument off to several different virtuosos cannot help but make the occasion lighter, if comparing apples to oranges still remains an unresolvable but enjoyable task. Bringing together a relay team of talents consisting of eight different artists with highly diverse backgrounds, this program celebrates the instrument in Walt Disney Concert Hall through its own sort of stylistic prism, setting the stage for pleasant surprises along the way.
Of all the marvels available in the keyboard repertory of Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750), some fall into a small category of works that are so anomalous in the way they are written on the page that they appear at first blush to belong to another composer. The Chromatic Fantasia and Fugue in D minor, BWV 903, belongs in this category, although a good performance easily demonstrates much of the mature language that Bach mastered composing not only for solo keyboard but also for any solo instrument.
Commencing with what appears to be a purely monophonic line of improvisation (that is, one running line of scale passages without harmonization), the nimble figures move the player’s hands relentlessly up and down, to and fro, using repetition to form rhythmic and metric groupings of notes. In the original score, which survives mostly through copies written out by Bach’s students, some of the arpeggios are held and sustained into chords ad libitum, while simply notated chords are expressly indicated to be similarly broken into arpeggios. Roughly halfway into the Fantasia, the music suddenly breaks into an extensive and ponderous recitative.
The fugue subject begins with a stepwise movement upwards between A and C, giving the work its subtitle “chromatic.” This figure also tricks the listener into believing that the fugue might start in F major instead of D minor.
When composer Max Reger (1873-1916) published some of Bach’s keyboard works arranged for organ in 1901, there was some criticism that his approach to the organ was more Romantic than Baroque. Nonetheless, Bach himself seems to challenge composers from later eras to rework the materials and find new things to say with them, and this Fantasia and Fugue is no exception.
In M. Searle Wright’s (1918-2004) Lyric Rhapsody, the title describes succinctly what the composer has in mind as far as exploring continuous melody lines. The very subdued, even meditative music brings with it an improvisatory style that can be imagined as chanting celebrants who come together imitatively, invoking some sort of cascading, heavenly event, before softy reverting back to solo voices again.
For the 1980 opening of the Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, California, organist Virgil Fox (1912-1980) submitted what was to become the initial but posthumous design for a pipe organ appropriate for that very distinctive space. Two years later, organist Frederick Swann had expanded the design of what was then known as the Hazel Wright pipe organ (named after the donor), and taken a position as the organist there.
For Swann’s debut recital on the finished organ, composer Robert Hebble (b. 1934) wrote his Heraldings as part of its consecration. Its opening character employs an antiphonal fanfare in parallel fifths, followed by continuously chromatic passages. This stark contrast settles into a clearly flowing melody midway through the piece, followed by a syncopated contrasting theme.
– Gregg Wager
Dezsö d’Antalffy-Zsiross (1885-1945) born in Nagybecskerek (now Zrenjanin, Serbia), studied in Budapest, Leipzig, with Max Reger and Karl Straube, and in Bologna with Enrico Bossi. He taught organ and harmony at the Budapest Academy of Music and was organist and choirmaster at St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Budapest. When he was on concert tour in the United States, D’Antalffy-Zsiross was asked to teach at the Eastman School of Music, Rochester, New York, from 1922 to 1923. He shared his talents from then on between Hungary and the United States with such institutions as the Budapest Academy of Music, Columbia University, Radio City Music Hall, and the New York Philharmonic. He wrote orchestral and chamber works, choral pieces, and works for piano and organ.
Sportive Fauns, dedicated to French organ virtuoso Marcel Dupré, is written “after Arnold Böcklin” (1827-1901). Hailed by the 1890 Munich Exhibition as one of the foremost of modern German artists, this Swiss-born painter was fond of depicting landscapes and mythological characters. Fauns, deities having human forms with pointed ears, small horns, and sometimes goats’ tails, frolic about in several of Böcklin’s paintings. Inspired by these scenes, D’Antalffy-Zsiross paraphrases the merry-making with his scherzo-like composition.
The life of Clarence Mader (1904-1971), American organist, composer, painter and poet, has been chronicled in an archive bearing his name, which is housed at the University of California at Los Angeles. Organist at Immanuel Presbyterian Church in Los Angeles for 37 years, Mader achieved great renown as a teacher of internationally acclaimed organists and professors who currently occupy positions in major institutions. His creative genius is further revealed through his painting, poetry, and compositions. Besides numerous organ works, his compositions include Visions of St. Stephen, a sacred opera, and The Fifth Mystery, a choral work which stands as a reminder of his diverse talents both as a poet and composer.
After a tragic automobile accident, the Ruth and Clarence Mader Memorial Scholarship Fund was established in his wife’s and his name. The fund sponsors one of the most prestigious national organ competitions in the United States and provides scholarships and awards in organ composition and research related to the organ.
Afternoon of a Toad is unpublished and was written sometime before 1949. During an informal gathering of Mader’s friends, the naming of animals depicted in music became the topic of discussion. It was stated that the toad was woefully neglected. Mader went home and rectified the matter by composing Afternoon of a Toad, whose title was inspired by Debussy’s Afternoon of a Faun! Not typical of the usual serious nature of his compositions, this witty work is a compilation of short vignettes employing different secular styles of music used in the 20th century, including swing bass, rag, and jazz with riffs and flourishes. Additional classical styles are heard and woven into Mader’s own distinctive style. The piece concludes with a “French” toccata in which the Toad theme is majestically stated in the pedal.
– Cherry Rhodes
What began for Maurice Ravel (1875-1937) as a last-minute experiment in orchestration to substitute for another orchestration project that had been cancelled, became his now famous, if not altogether infamous, 17-minute Boléro. The premiere took place in 1928 at the French Opéra by Ida Rubenstein’s famous troupe.
The phrase structure of the simple melody was so four-square over a relentlessly repetitive snare drum pattern of the familiar Spanish dance that Ravel even issued a public apology. Still, something about the single and gradual crescendo from beginning to end, which corresponds to a gradual transition from simplicity to complexity of musical timbres, puts extra emphasis on the snake-charmer-like melody and all of its nuances and the trancelike state it can induce. Whatever mystery tends to provoke the audience’s curiosity to this very day about the experiment can convincingly be likened to a genuine seduction.
Perhaps the organist and carillonneur for the Marktkirche in Wiesbaden, Hans Uwe Hielscher (b. 1945), took on a similar muse of experimentation in 2012 when arranging Ravel’s Boléro for pipe organ, four hands. One player must always take the role of the snare drum’s repeated pattern, substituted here by a droning G against the predominantly C-major piece, leaving the other player free to explore the timbres avaliable on what was conceived as an organ with at least three manuals.
– Gregg Wager
Tonight’s music I have tailored for this very special occasion. After playing a concert here a few years ago and then making the DVD TourBus Goes to the Disney Hall Organ, I wanted to create something unique for tonight’s program. With this in mind, I composed two new works – both are available at the gift shop.
Venus Toccata, Op. 9: For Manuel Rosales – the man who loves and cares for this world-famous organ. The work is triumphant. It is really a typical, up-beat toccata composed in the positive key of A major. Manuel has a passion for astronomy and hence the name Venus Toccata!
Walk on the Wild Side (Lou Reed): I have always admired the work of the late Jimmy Smith – I heard him once in a NYC night club and will never forget the experience. Such rhythm and subtle dynamics on the Hammond organ. I grew up playing Hammond organ and still adore this vintage sound. The Walt Disney Concert Hall organ is one of the few pipe organs in the world that can create the jazz flavor I need tonight.
Freedom, Op. 12: In the making of the TourBus DVD, we had the privilege of interviewing Frank Gehry. I was in awe of this great man. His free and remarkable approach to architecture made me want to write something for him. So here is Freedom, dedicated to him. The rhythms are free but there is always a movement forward. The first melody is in the pedals – specifically for the right foot. It is a work of power and grandeur as is Walt Disney Concert Hall and this wonderful organ.
– Carol William
With his Sonata No. 4, Opus 30, Alexander Scriabin (1872-1915) created his first piece of program music. He himself wrote a poem in French to closely accompany the music; it described in highly metaphorical language an obsessive fascination for the stars and the human longing to embrace them. Written in F-sharp major and in two movements, Andante and Prestissimo volando, the distinct melody used throughout is first stated in the right hand and distinguishes itself between half step motion followed by a large leap upwards, symbolizing the longing toward the stars.
The Andante movement has often been analyzed as a theme and four short variations, ending with a peripatetic bridge section but without a clear break directly into the second movement. In the seventh bar is a good example of Scriabin’s famous “mystic chord” (C-sharp, F-double-sharp, B, E-sharp, A-sharp, and D-sharp).
The second movement uses the theme from the first movement as its primary theme, but also introduces a second and closing theme, forming the exposition to a standard sonata form. This sonata form plays out with a development, recapitulation, and extended coda, but the buildup of a thick pianistic texture of repeated chords and arpeggios makes for a large sonic accompaniment that almost deliberately buries the identity of the themes.
In transcribing the work for organ, much of the sustained pianistic accompaniment would probably require some rethinking. Other than that, the organ can still symbolize stars as well as any other instrument, including the piano.
– Gregg Wager
Gregg Wager is a composer and critic. He is author of Symbolism as a Compositional Method in the Works of Karlheinz Stockhausen and High and Low Culture Since 1975. He has a PhD in musicology from the Free University Berlin and a JD from McGeorge School of Law.