Jason Biel

All Saints Anglican Cathedral
10035 – 103 St, Edmonton
Friday June 9, 7:30 p.m.


Épilogue, Opus 50 – Rachel Laurin (b. 1961)

Rachel Laurin is currently one of the most prominent Canadian composers for organ, but has also written many works for piano, orchestra, voice, choir, and chamber groups. Often her pieces make use of traditional forms, such as “rondo” or “fantasia and fugue”, but explore less-traditional sonorities.

Épilogue is basically in rondo form with the main theme first stated as a single line in octaves; this is interspersed with verses of either a flowing solo melody with light (elegant) accompaniment, or a majestic choral theme. Towards the end of the piece, that choral theme joins with the main theme to evoke, as stated in the Wayne Leupold edition, “bells ringing” and “a joyful noise!”

Unter der Linden grüne – Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck (1562-1621)

Sweelinck’s variations were prompted by the Reformation.  The organ (and every other musical instrument) was by and large banned from church services in favor of the “natural” solo human voice.  But without strong guidance from the organ, singing of hymns gradually fell into cacophony; so many church authorities in the Netherlands requested that organists improvise on hymn tunes before and after they were sung.  Thus a fair number of variations on Genevan Psalms survive from this time period.  Unter der Linden grüne was probably played at home for personal entertainment.  It is based on a secular song with poetry by Walther von der Vogelweide, which is not exactly church-friendly…

Fantasia & Fugue in G minor, BWV 542 – Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)

One of Bach’s better known works, the Fantasia and Fugue do not seem to be originally composed as a whole. The fugue may have been written quite early (perhaps around the same time as the Passacaglia BWV 582, roughly around 1710) where the fantasia shows a later compositional style.

Both parts explore the full range of the keyboard – several of the lowest notes did not even exist on some organs at Bach’s time! (The Katharinenkirche in Hamburg, where it is supposed Bach played the fugue, lacked the low C-sharp, E-flat and A-flat.) The fantasia alternates between virtuosic recitativo style, with quick scales and a sense of freedom, and arioso style, with a steady pulse and complex counterpoint between several voices. Bach makes heavy use of chromaticism through the fantasia (oh, the places you’ll go…). This harmonic exploration, as well as the rhetorical use of musical “cross” figures, give it a sense of striving and passion. While less chromatic, the fugue maintains a sense of strife; with large leaps in the subject and near-continuous 16th-notes, it drives forward with urgency (yet a deceptive lightness) all the way to the end.

Prelude & Fugue in D minor, Opus 98 – Alexander Glazunov (1865-1936)

Alexander Glazunov is well-regarded as a prolific Russian Romantic composer – namely for his orchestral works, but also many for piano, chamber groups, instrumental, and also several ballets. He represents a sort of tipping point in the Russian music school, between Romanticism and Neo-Classicism and more progressive approaches of the 20th Century. By the time of his death his music was regarded as quite old-fashioned, although very good, as he stoically resisted new styles of composition.

Opus 98 is the most chromatic of his three organ compositions, and perhaps the most interesting. Broadly speaking entire piece is made up of long lines ascending and descending; the prelude flows seamlessly into the fugue, and the fugue subject is clearly heard several times in the prelude. The listener would only know the fugue has begun by an increase in volume and energy – and by the fact that the subject is heard entering appropriately in different voices. One might actually hear this as two fugues fused together (using the same theme): the first is in a quick 4/4 time, the second in 6/8. This naturally increases the perceived energy, and Glazunov also plays around with the timing of the 6/8 by placing slurs (tiny breaks) in curious places. The changes in timing and energetic drive form a sort of furious dance, feeling like something between popping corn kernels and falling meteorites.

Nuages ensoleillés sur le Cap Nègre – Eugene Reuchsel (1900-1988)

Like Sweelinck, relatively little is publicly known about Reuchsel’s life, though Reuchsel is also unfamiliar to the organ world in general – he was better known as a concert pianist. However he also had a great interest in organ, evidenced by six collections of compositions for the instrument. Nuages ensoleillés sur le Cap Nègre is the fourth piece from the collection Promenades en Provence.

Promenades en Provence or “Wanderings in Provence” takes the listener on a sort of impressionist journey, each piece named for a different sight or experience. Nuages ensoleillés sur le Cap Nègre translates as “Sunlit clouds on Cap Negre”.

– Intermission –

“The Peace may be exchanged” (from Rubrics) – Dan Locklair (b. 1949)

Dan Locklair has earned international recognition as a versatile and prolific composer, situated in North Carolina, USA. His music often includes frequently-changing, quirky rhythms and extended harmonies, of which Rubrics includes much. It’s a liturgical suite in five movements, including “’Hallelujah’, has been restored…” and “…and thanksgivings may follow”. This is the fourth movement and acts as a sort of meditation before the jubilant final movement.

Sonata on the 94th Psalm – Julius Reubke (1834-1858)

A talented student of Franz Liszt, Reubke did not have the time to compose many pieces – he died when he was only twenty-four. Of his six surviving compositions, two stand out: a sonata for piano in B-flat minor, and this sonata for organ.

The Book of Psalms covers as wide a range of emotions as one can imagine. It is interesting that Reubke chose this particular psalm to compose on – there are few as dark as 94 (such as 88). Psalm 94 cries out for justice, demanding that evil be repaid. The verses which Reubke included, unnumbered, at the beginning of the score are:

1 O Lord God, to whom vengeance belongeth, shew thyself.
2 Lift up thyself, thou judge of the earth: render a reward to the proud.
3 Lord, how long shall the wicked, how long shall the wicked triumph?
6 They slay the widow and the stranger, and murder the fatherless.
7 Yet they say, The Lord shall not see, neither shall the God of Jacob regard it.
17 Unless the Lord had been my help, my soul had almost dwelt in silence.
19 In the multitude of my thoughts within me thy comforts delight my soul.
22 But the Lord is my defence; and my God is the rock of my refuge.
23 And he shall bring upon them their own iniquity, and shall cut them off in their own wickedness.

(taken from the King James Version)

One might imagine the psalmist searching the heavens, questioning the wickedness of the surrounding world. Reubke’s use of unstable harmonies does just that: it asks questions, and holds the listener in suspense. It is not until the very end that Reubke – and the psalmist – give a firm, definite answer.

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