The new organ at Pinnacle Presbyterian Church in Scottsdale, made by master builders Ralph Richards and Bruce Fowkes, was conceived as an eclectic 3-manual organ, with special emphasis on some of the timbres that J.S. Bach would have known on central German baroque organs. This recording exploits the full resources of the organ with a program of fantasies, from the earliest English “Fancys” of the 16th century, with Baroque examples by Sweelinck and Bach, including classical and romantic examples by Mozart and Franck, and culminating with the exotic Fantaisies of the early 20th-century French composer Jehan Alain. The recording is framed with Fantasies by J. S. Bach, showing the different ways in which he developed the genre.
Bach’s Fantasy in G Major, BWV 572, is entitled “Pièce d’orgue” in its principal manuscript source, suggesting French connections. The sectional structure and rich harmonic language are reminiscent of French Classical Offertoires and Plein Jeu movements. The work is in three main sections, each with a distinctive musical texture. The opening features a single line of virtuosic writing that incorporates sequential figurations; the majestic middle section creates a sense of tension and release through the resolution of suspended harmonies; the final part contains a series of rapid arpeggiations over relentlessly repeated notes in the pedal.
Composers in Elizabethan England wrote pieces of imitative polyphony entitled “Fancy” that are some of the earliest examples of the keyboard fantasy. The Fancy by the Italian Alfonso Ferrabosco was composed while he was working at the English court and is found in a 16th-century English manuscript. The piece begins in duple meter with a point of imitation treated in four voices, leading to a chordal section that erupts into fast scale passages in both hands. The closing section, in a contrasting triple meter, suggests contemporary dance pairs, such as the Pavane and Galliard, where a dance in duple meter is followed by one in triple.
Sweelinck’s Fantasia chromaticais a masterpiece of counterpoint. The main theme is a descending chromatic line which the composer manipulates to create a sectional work of large scope and aesthetic impact. The imitation heard in the early English Fancies is here taken to a new degree of complexity. Sweelinck treats the theme in both augmentation and diminution, combining it with itself as well as with new countersubjects in a gradual build-up of intensity. For two of the bass entries I employ the Pedal Trompete, one of two pedal stops that Sweelinck had on the large organ at the Oude Kerk in Amsterdam where he served as organist for most of his life.
Little is known of the English composer Newman except that some of his keyboard music was included in the Mulliner Book, an important collection compiled around 1683 for the eponymous nobleman. Newman’s Fansye is a short piece comprised of several points of imitation, where a theme is repeated in the four voice parts of a composition. To reflect the use of small organs at the Elizabethan court, I selected high-pitched principal registers for this piece on the Richards-Fowkes instrument, adding short ornaments to accentuate the melodic lines.
J. S. Bach wrote two C-minor Fantasies that reflect his study of the classical French composer, Nicolas de Grigny. In the Fugues of his Livre d’orgue (1699), Grigny used a 5-voice texture, with two parts in the right hand, two in the left, and one in the pedal. The Bach Fantasy recorded here (BWV 562) exhibits the same distribution of parts, with themes treated imitatively between them. The highly ornamented first theme incorporates the pincé and descending coulé of French embellishment practice; Bach’s choice of C minor may also refer to French classical music that employs this key for its melancholy character.
Mozart composed two fantasies for a small player organ, and these are often performed by organists on larger instruments. These well-known works have been recorded numerous times, so I thought it might be more interesting to adapt one of Mozart’s pianoforte fantasies to the Richards-Fowkes organ. We know that Mozart greatly admired the organ—in a letter dated Oct 17, 1777, he wrote: "When I said to Herr Stein that I should like to play on one of his organs, as the organ was my passion, he seemed surprised, and said "What! a pianist like you to play on an instrument devoid of expression, no piano and no forte, but always going on the same?" Mozart's reply was that "lack of that sort of expression does not matter, the organ always was, both to my eyes and ears, the Queen of Instruments." Organ timbres can be used to great effect to “orchestrate” keyboard music, as heard in Mozart’s Fantasy in D minor, K. 397. The juxtaposition of flutes and principals from different divisions provides dynamic contrast, and the pedal is used to reinforce the bass line.
Moving to the romantic music of the following century, the French composer César Franck wrote several Fantaisies, including onein C Major, published in 1868 as part of his Six Pièces pour orgue. It seems to have been a personal favorite because he used the same musical material in several different versions, adapted for different contexts. The version recorded here may have been conceived for Frank’s performance during the inauguration of the new Cavaillé-Coll organ at Notre-Dame Cathedral in 1868. The opening is identical to the published fantasy, but Franck composed new material for the following section, which later accompanies one of the earlier themes. A gradual crescendo and acceleration leads to a thrilling climax, and the fantasy quickly recedes back into calm to end softly. The great dynamic contrast in this version may have been intended to demonstrate the vast resources of the new Notre-Dame instrument and to show how quickly sounds could be added and taken away thanks to Cavaillé-Coll’s windchest design.
A contemporary of Olivier Messiaen, Jehan Alain was killed while working for the French Resistance during WWII. Despite his short life, he developed a very personal style of composing for the organ that is exemplified in the language of his Two Fantaisies. The first fantasy opens harshly, with dissonant chords on the reed stops and an angular pedal line. Harmonic sequences then pass between keyboards, with occasional eruptions of fast passagework. These short sections build in sound, leading to penetrating chords that are reminiscent of the work’s beginning. To this, Alain appends a simple lullaby on single stops that brings the piece to an ethereal close. Alain’s much younger sister, the noted organist Marie-Claire Alain, recalls hearing this lullaby as a small child, perhaps as her brother composed the piece.
The sectional structure, theatrical pacing and innovative use of keyboard writing in Alain’s Second Fantaisie suggest a 20thc response to Sweelinck’s essay in the genre.
The fantasy is in arch form, beginning and ending quietly like the Franck example on the program. Several themes are treated in discrete sections with distinctive colors; especially prominent is a sinewy melody first heard on the crumhorn that returns towards the end of the work. The contours of this theme suggest north-African music, which fascinated Alain with its chromaticism and pungent instrumentation. Alain increases the registration to explode in a powerful central section where the pedals play a new motive on the reeds accompanied with exotic figuration in the manuals. From this climax, the piece recedes in tension, returning to the opening texture. This fantasy could be a musical depiction of Victor Hugo’s poem “Les Djinns,” where the length of each line increases to create a crescendo representing the onslaught of the genies as they overtake the town, after which each line decreases in length to reflect their gradual departure.
The DjinnsVictor Hugo (1802-1885)
Hark! a sound,
Far and slight,
On the night
High and higher,
Nigh and nigher,
Like a fire,
Now, on 'tis sweeping
With rattling beat,
Like dwarf imp leaping
In gallop fleet
He flies, he prances,
In frolic fancies,
On wave-crest dances
With pattering feet.
Hark, the rising swell,
With each new burst!
Like the tolling bell
Of a convent curst;
Like the billowy roar
On a storm-lashed shore,--
Now hushed, but once more
Maddening to its worst.
O God! the deadly sound
Of the Djinn's fearful cry!
Quick, 'neath the spiral round
Of the deep staircase fly!
See, see our lamplight fade!
And of the balustrade
Mounts, mounts the circling shade
Up to the ceiling high!
'Tis the Djinns' wild streaming swarm
Whistling in their tempest flight;
Snap the tall yews 'neath the storm,
Like a pine flame crackling bright.
Swift though heavy, lo! their crowd
Through the heavens rushing loud
Like a livid thunder-cloud
With its bolt of fiery might!
Ho! they are on us, close without!
Shut tight the shelter where we lie!
With hideous din the monster rout,
Dragon and vampire, fill the sky!
The loosened rafter overhead
Trembles and bends like quivering reed;
Shakes the old door with shuddering dread,
As from its rusty hinge 'twould fly!
Wild cries of hell! voices that howl and shriek!
The horrid troop before the tempest tossed--
O Heaven!--descends my lowly roof to seek:
Bends the strong wall beneath the furious host.
Totters the house as though, like dry leaf shorn
From autumn bough and on the mad blast borne,
Up from its deep foundations it were torn
To join the stormy whirl. Ah! all is lost!
O Prophet! if thy hand but now
Save from these hellish things,
A pilgrim at thy shrine I'll bow,
Laden with pious offerings.
Bid their hot breath its fiery rain
Stream on the faithful's door in vain;
Vainly upon my blackened pane
Grate the fierce claws of their dark wings!
They have passed!--and their wild legion
Cease to thunder at my door;
Fleeting through night's rayless region,
Hither they return no more.
Clanking chains and sounds of woe
Fill the forests as they go;
And the tall oaks cower low,
Bent their flaming light before.
On! on! the storm of wings
Bears far the fiery fear,
Till scarce the breeze now brings
Dim murmurings to the ear;
Like locusts' humming hail,
Or thrash of tiny flail
Plied by the fitful gale
On some old roof-tree sere.
Fainter now are borne
Feeble mutterings still;
As when Arab horn
Swells its magic peal,
Shoreward o'er the deep
Fairy voices sweep,
And the infant's sleep
Golden visions fill.
Each deadly Djinn,
Dark child of fright,
Of death and sin,
Speeds in wild flight.
Hark, the dull moan,
Like the deep tone
Of Ocean's groan,
Afar, by night!
More and more
Fades it slow,
As on shore
As the plaint
Far and faint
Of a saint
-Les Orientales, 1929
English translation by John L. O’Sullivan
The recording ends with a return to J. S. Bach, in one of his most famous pieces, the Fantasy in G Minor, BWV 542. Like all of the fantasies included here, this is in a sectional form; here Bach intersperses passages in improvisatory style with strict points of imitation, a structure favored by composers in northern Germany to demonstrate their large instruments. The freedom of the florid melodic writing and the drama of the punctuating chords harken back to the Italian stylus phantasticus, used to great effect by Dieterich Buxtehude, whose music Bach emulated during the early part of his career. This fantasy is considered to be a somewhat later work, probably towards the end of Bach’s time in Weimar, because of its harmonic experimentation. The composer pushes the modulations far away from the G-minor tonal center, increasing the dissonance created by the remote chords in the organ’s tuning. He ultimately pivots back towards the home key through an enharmonic relationship between E# and F, gradually returning to a final cadence in G Minor. The technical bravura and narrative tension of this fantasy make it a classic of the organ repertoire, and it has been adapted in piano and orchestral versions.
The wide survey of the fantasy genre recorded here suggests the wealth of invention expressed in the work of European composers for the organ over five centuries. No other instrument can claim such a vast heritage, and very few single organs could render so eclectic a program so convincingly. Ralph Richards and Bruce Fowkes are to be commended on their exceptional achievement, and the congregation of Pinnacle Presbyterian Church should be congratulated for making this significant commitment to the organist’s art in the Valley of the Sun.