Sketches on Negro Spiritual Songs
Dezsö Antalffy-Zsiross (1885-1945) was born in Hungary. After periods of study in Budapest and Leipzig with Max Reger and Karl Straube, he went to Italy, where he was taught by Marco Enrico Bossi. In 1906 Antalffy-Zsiross was appointed a répétiteur with the Cologne Opera, and the following year he returned to Budapest to take up the joint positions of organist of St. Stephen's Cathedral and tutor at the Budapest Academy of Music. In 1921 he left Europe for America, where he taught at the Eastman School in Rochester and at Columbia State University. In 1932 he was appointed organist of the Radio City Music Hall in New York, and he served as organist of the New York Philharmonic until 1942.
He wrote some 27 pieces for solo organ, including the Sketches on Negro Spiritual Songs from 1931. The dramatic, fanfare-like opening soon subsides and the first of the spirituals, "Deep River," emerges in a lush harmonic setting on the softer stops of the organ. The tempo changes into a more swinging style for the second spiritual, "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot," which builds towards a massive climax, out of which emerges the most up-beat of the spirituals, "Hold On." This takes the music on to its flamboyantly jazzy conclusion.