Organ Music, March 20

by Dr. Dennis Keene

FRANCK, MENDELSSOHN & BACH

Cantabile (from Trois Pièces)
César Franck (1822-1890)

electric organ console in chancel, as shown in concert position
One of the twelve great organ pieces of Franck, this sweet, touching piece is very beautiful indeed. It begins with four rich chords on the foundation stops (fonds) of the Grand-Orgue division, with the principal melody of the piece hinted at in the pedal line. Then the melody officially starts – on a wonderful combination of stops from the Grand-Récit division: the trompette, hautbois, and foundation stops. This is an extremely beautiful, singing sonority. On our organ, these stops are the same designs as those of the great 19th century builder Aristide Cavaillé-Coll, the man who built virtually all the great 19th century French organs, including the one Franck played for many years at Ste. Clothilde in Paris. This beautiful melody is accompanied by the flutes of the Positif and Pedale divisions.

The work builds up to a climax, returns to material from the first section, and ends peacefully.

Adagio (Sonata II)
Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847)

This plaintive composition is the third movement of Mendelssohn’s Sonata in C Minor. It is a serious piece, which, I think, reflects the sadness, and sense of loneliness for which today’s Psalm is the answer. In the organ sonata, Mendelssohn follows it with a victorious swirling finale. But here, during Communion, I have substituted another reassuring contrast: the chorus, Lift thine eyes, the text of which does indeed come from today’s Psalm (as does the Offertory Anthem!)

Prelude in C Minor
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)

One of the great, mature organ works of Bach, this mountain of a piece begins right away at a full-blown level of intensity. Bold C-Minor chords are thrown back and forth between the hands. This opening section is very solid, very grounded, and towering in its proportion and grandeur. This musical material returns throughout the Prelude in different keys and for shorter and longer durations.

When the pedals disappear, a second section continues the solemnity, but with less force, and sometimes offers moments of hope (in major keys). This second section alternates with the block-like first section throughout the works several times. The work builds to an immensely intense climax, then subsides before returning to the opening material.

I use the full principal chorus of the organ (plenum/plein jeu) for the second section, and add to that some strong reeds and heavy pedal stops for the block-like primary sections. The huge scope of the work comes across amazingly!