Organ Music for January 23

by Dr. Dennis Keene

At the Prelude (10:50am)


A “Cornet” is a special organ sound made when 5 flute stops of different pitches (8’, 4’,      2-2/3’, 2’, 1-3/5’) are combined. The timbre created is rather “reedy” even though only flute pipes are playing. Cornets are an integral part of all organs, particularly in Spain, and even more so in France. Our Holtkamp organ had 2 cornet combinations. The Quoirin organ has 6, including some that are very rare in this country (a set in the Grand Orgue which is a whole octave below a normal cornet, and one in the pedal which is 2 octaves lower!)

This morning I am playing 4 pieces from Couperin’s Mass for Convents which show different cornet sounds. This is the first time I have been able to play these pieces with proper sounds since my student days in Paris!

Excerpts from Messe à l’usage des Couvents (Mass for use in Convents)
çois Couperin (1668-1733)

Récit de tierce

In French Baroque organ music a Récit is a solo or an aria for a particular stop, with accompaniment. In this case the solo is for the tierce stop, the most defining component of a cornet. One could use all 5 stops of the cornet, or less – as long as the tierce (1-3/5’) is there. For this sweet, tender, expressive solo I have chosen the delicate cornet of the Echo division, accompanied by a flute on the Positif.

Duo sur les tierces

This sprightly, fun movement calls for two cornets – a normal one in the right hand, and 16’ cornet in the left hand. And the two cornets play off each other in this duo. The lower cornet is a really marvelous and unique sound – one seldom heard outside of France.

Récit de tierce en taille (at the Elevation)

Here is one of the most beautiful and profound movements in the French baroque repertoire. This is a cornet solo in the tenor (“taille”) register, played by the left hand, with accompaniment in the right hand and pedal. This registration was saved for compositions of depth and contemplation. There is no form to speak of in these movements – just a free recitation of profound feelings, and in this case, often of peace.

Récit de tierce

This Récit de tierce is more lively and extroverted than the first piece today, so I am playing it on the Positif cornet, which is louder and more brilliant than the cornet of the Echo division.


At Communion:

Echo Fantasia
Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck (1562-1621)

This haunting, old-world piece is a very simple work where the melodies are passed back and forth between two flutes, one louder than the other. I have chosen two baroque flute stops (bourdons) – one in the Grand Récit division, the other in the Echo.

At the Postlude:

Prelude and Fugue in D Minor
Dietrich Buxtehude (ca. 1637-1707)

Buxtehude was the most important German organ composer in the generation before Bach. His Preludes and Fugue are very different from Bach’s. While Bach would compose a totally structured Prelude and a separate, totally structured fugue, Buxtehude’s consisted of one short section after another – some sections like fantasias, some like short fugues, each section different. You don’t look for development in Buxtehude. You look for one fascinating section after another, often with surprises along the way. That is his charm; and the challenge for the interpreter is to make sense of all those seemingly independent sections. It helps a lot if you have one marvelous organ sound after another to help point out the character of each section!