Festival Toccata Percy Fletcher (1879-1932)
Percy Eastman Fletcher was born in Derby, England in 1879 and studied organ, viola and piano from an early age. While he only wrote five organ works, Fletcher’s total output of compositional material was quite impressive. The Fountain Reverie and Festival Toccata, both composed in 1915, are his most notable works composed for the organ. Primarily a director of musical theater, Fletcher broke ground by composing the first piece specifically written for brass band, which led to other composers such as Holst and Vaughan Williams to adopt that idiom. The Festival Toccata, a triumphal piece dedicated to famous concert organist of the time Edwin Lemare, is a fitting opening to this program, as it utilizes the the English style tubas and high pressure trumpet in the back of Rockefeller Chapel in dialogue.
Jesu, Dulcis Memoria (2010) Pamela Decker (b. 1955)
Pamela Decker is professor of organ and theory at the University of Arizona School of Music in Tucson. This piece is based on a well-known Gregorian chant. The melodic and harmonic materials are derived from extensions of ecclesiastical modes, allowing a language that is lush and post-romantic in nature. The prelude is a gentle meditation on the chant theme, with strings and celestes supplying an accompaniment progression based on transforming sigh motives, and a solo french horn stop combination sings the chant melody. The texture expands to include augmentations and diminutions of the melody that ornament the signature repeated notes at the beginning of the melody. Motion and intensity increase at the point where diminution of the chant melody begins to swirl around the longer-duration notes in the counterpoint. The fugue evolves finally, by a pedal statement of the chant melody in augmentation. This piece was composed for Douglas Cleveland and was premiered at Rockefeller Chapel in Chicago on September 15, 2010.
Pieces de Fantaisie, Suite II, Op. 53 Louis Vierne (1870-1937)
Louis Vierne studied at the Paris Conservatoire with Charles Marie Widor and Cesar Franck. Showing great talent at an early age, he won the esteemed Premier Prix for organ, while still a student. Vierne ultimately succeeded Widor as professor of composition at the conservatoire, and in 1900 went on to win a competition for the post of organist of Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris. He was a well-known recitalist, making several tours of Europe and the United States. A shy and reclusive individual by nature—and almost blind from birth---Vierne’s compositions were influenced by a life filled with overcoming the hardships of blindness, divorce, and the death of a child. Also a well known recitalist of his time, Vierne made several concert tours of Europe and America. In 1926 and 1927, before a recital tour of America, Vierne composed these four suites he titled Pieces de Fantaisie. Each set includes six miniatures, most of which do not exceed five or six minutes. Vierne dedicated each of the six works to an American organist or organ builder he would have visited on tour.
Book II begins quietly with a Lamento (Adagio quasi larghetto) in C minor, which Vierne dedicated to New York organist Seth Bingham. The very expressive theme which opens this work expands into a complex harmonic style. The second piece is a Sicilienne in e minor, (Allegretto moderato), which is dedicated to Boston organist Monsieur Zeuch. This composition’s main theme, on the oboe stop, is a rocking dance that appears three times, separated by two interludes. The Hymn au Soleil (Hymn to the Sun), is dedicated to Mrs. Ruth Conniston, a New York organist and a former pupil of Vierne. The dotted rhythm recalls the characteristic use of rhythm in the French Baroque. The Feux Follets, or “Will o’ the Wisp”, is a whimsical composition in B minor, which was dedicated to Charles Courbouin, the organist at the Wanamaker Auditorium in Philadelphia. The Clair de Lune (Moonlight) was dedicated to famous American organ builder Ernest Skinner, whose instruments Vierne played and enjoyed on his American tour. The longest movement in the suite, the piece unfolds over a gentle undulating accompaniment; the accompaniment becomes more alive as the theme moves to the pedal before a reprise of the opening material and coda. The suite concludes with the Toccata in B flat minor, which was dedicated to Alexander Russell, University Organist at Princeton University. The fiery perpetual motion is one of Vierne’s best-known individual compositions.
At the age of 67, Vierne died in his beloved Notre Dame cathedral, at the organ bench during a service – a befitting end to a life of musical contributions to the great cathedral.
Four Concert Etudes (2006) David Briggs (b. 1961)
David Briggs is one of the world’s leading concert organists, composers, and recording artists. He studied at Kings College in Cambridge, where he was an organ scholar, and with Jean Langlais in Paris. Having held positions at Truro and Hereford Cathedrals, David Briggs is Organist Emeritus at Gloucestor Cathedral, where he directed the music for eight years. A prolific composer, he has composed large scale works for solo instrument, oratorios for choirs, and a setting of the St. John Passion for choir, chamber orchestra and soloists. Inspired by composers Marcel Dupre and Pierre Cochereau, these Etudes are demanding compositions of sonic fireworks utilizing the full resources of the organ and the organist. The Four Concert Etudes were commissioned by Douglas Cleveland and premiered in 2006 at St. Mark’s Cathedral in Seattle for the American Institute of Organbuilders’ National Convention.