Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Seventy Solos for the Hammond Organ or Reed Organ

I'm a big fan of anthologies, especially older ones.  They almost always have worthwhile things I haven't heard of, and even if the music doesn't turn out to be particularly exciting, there are things to learn.  An anthology speaks to the historical moment when it was made, to the taste of the compiler(s), performers and audiences of the time.

Seventy Solos for the Hammond Organ or Reed Organ, compiled by Frederic Archer and published by G. Schirmer in 1944, is worth browsing.   The Hammond Organ, as its Wikipedia entry makes clear, got a much higher profile for its use in jazz and popular music than it did in the Classical world, yet from this anthology it's clear that, at the same time as Ethel Smith and others were using the instrument in popular genres and styles, the Hammond Organ was still being thought of as a cheaper alternative to a pipe organ.  Apparently many churches agreed; thousands bought them.

Many of the composers represented are familiar: J. S. Bach, Beethoven, Clementi, Gounod, Delibes, Lully (here spelled "Lulli"), Mendelssohn, Mozart, Paradisi (Paradies), Reinecke, Rossini, Schubert and Spohr are all included.  A fair number of these are transcriptions.  The Clementi piece, "Andante con espressione", is from the Sonatina in F Major, Op. 36, No. 4, originally for piano.  The anthology doesn't announce the fact.  Beethoven is represented by an "Adagio", which is a brief excerpt from the "Adagio molto" of Piano Sonata No. 5 in C Minor, Op. 10 No. 1.  Again, no reference is made to the original.  "Andante cantabile" by Mozart is from Piano Sonata No. 10 in C Major, K. 330.  "Marche de la cloche" by Leo Delibes is from Coppelia.  If a collection like this one were published today, mention of the sources of the transcriptions would be expected.

A four-part arrangement of "Liebster Jesu, wir sind hier" by Bach carries no mention of the name of the chorale.  Again, someone who wanted to compile a similar collection today would hopefully include that information.

Other pieces in the collection are clearly marked as transcriptions, and the sources are (at least partly) identified: a chorus from William Tell by Rossini, a quartet from Woman of Samaria by W. S. Bennett, a trio from Athalie by Mendelssohn, "Funeral March" from the cantata, The Legend of St. Cecilia, and a duet from the opera, The Lady of Killarney by Julius Benedict.

August Reinhard had a particular interest in the harmonium, so while a registration for the Hammond Organ is provided, it's likely the "Marcia" here was originally a harmonium piece.

Paradisi is best known for his Toccata (from Sonata VI); the Andante in this collection is new to me.

A lot of the composers are new to me.  I hadn't heard of Théodore Salomé, L. Mourlan, J. Schlute, Gustav Merkel, J. B. Jaillet, A. Justin, Hubert Ferdinand Kufferath, William Vincent Wallace, Ignace Leybach, or several others.  J. Wanaus, represented here by the "Choeur de Pelerin", was another new name.

Louis Lefébure-Wely is the best-represented composer in the anthology, with eight different selections.  No other composer comes close.

Archer also included four of his own pieces; I wasn't able to find them on YouTube or SoundCloud.
A few other pieces of his are on IMSLP.

Here, perhaps, is a point worth remembering: keyboard instruments have always been pretty generous about sharing their repertoire.  Organ pieces can be, and have been, played on the piano, and vice versa.  When new instruments (or new versions of older instruments, depending on your view) were developed, they took over repertoire from their predecessors.  Pianists play material originally written for the harpsichord and clavichord without batting an eyelash, though not all harpsichord music works well on the piano, and harpsichord-lovers may cringe.

If you're in a situation where you need a lot of short pieces of moderate difficulty, this collection will serve.  It also contains enough pieces for many enjoyable evenings of reading through things.

Thanks to YouTube user Chris S, some of whose videos are linked above.  Want to hear more music for reed organ?  Click over to his channel.

The notes of some of Chris's videos mention earlier collections by Archer, including Reed Organ Album (1914) and Complete Method for the American Reed Organ.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Crossing Bridges: Book and Arts Fair, and starting a new piece!

An intercultural arts festival, Crossing Bridges, will take place in New York City from Saturday, May 19, 2018 through Tuesday, May 22, 2018, and I've been invited to write and perform a new piece at the opening event! The event will take place at the Brooklyn Public Library at 240 Division Ave. in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, from 11:00 AM to 6:00 PM.

I'm excited.  Events like this are a big deal for me, because there's a chance to meet so many wonderful people, and hear and read so much fine writing of all kinds.  Being invited to perform a piece of mine is icing on the cake!

This, however, requires a new piece, and that takes thought and work.  I've decided to take you along on the journey.

At an event in 2016, I presented a song I'd written, about a gardener who separates the fallen leaves (this was in fall/winter) carefully by color.  Of course, the wind comes along and mixes them up again, and the gardener thinks, "Isn't it more beautiful this way?"   The song is in Esperanto, and it's written in a mode known in Persian music as Avaaz-e Bayaat-e Isfahaan, in Azerbaijani music as Şüştər (Shushtar), and by other names in other musics of the general area.  You probably already know this mode, even if you know nothing about Central Eurasian or Middle Eastern music, because it has the familiar augmented second, much like the Western harmonic minor scale.  When anyone from the West first tries to write Middle Eastern-sounding music, this mode is the one they usually fall into.  It's probably about as intercultural as you can get.

For this event, I'd like to do something different.  I've been given a poem for inspiration, but I'm planning a keyboard piece.  The poem is called "Cruzando Puentes" ("Crossing Bridges"), and it's by Juan Navidad.  On a quick reading, the line that captures my attention is about "the most beautiful dreams" being "written from rage and injustice" (my translation).  I think I can work with that.