I planned my senior recital at Westminster Choir College for Sunday evening, October 31, so I decided to include some selections appropriate for the day. I opened with the Bach Toccata and Fugue in D minor, concluded with the Toccata from Louis Vierne’s Pièces de Fantasie. In the middle of the program, I played the complete L’Orgue mystique, no. 48 for All Saint’s (November 1). this was the second suite from L’Orgue mystique that I learned. The first was no. 17 for Easter which I had learned and played for a chapel service earlier in the spring at the request of my chant teacher, Fr. Gerard Farrell. Fr. Farrell was not only a chant scholar, he was an organist and had studied with Flor Peeters. Fr. Farrell’s love of chant the organ music based on it definitely led to my interest in the music of Tournemire and improvisation.
The first movement of the suite for All Saints is a simple one page prelude. It alternates a brief harmonic progression with accompanied presentation of portions of the introit chant Gaudeamus omnes in Domino. I have marked up a copy of the score here showing the alternating sections. In it’s simplest description, the piece is a seven part rondo: ABABABA with A being simple harmonic fill and B containing the theme. This plan of alternating sections will be our model for the form. The tonal language of the accompaniment is simple, staying virtually all the time in the mode of the chant providing atmosphere more than following traditional harmonic progressions.
In Tournemire’s day, the organ was not used during the season of Advent except on the third Sunday, referred to as Gaudete Sunday and the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. As most organists continue to play during the Advent season now, I thought it would be a good idea to take themes from Advent and apply Tournemire’s forms and ideas to them in order to fill in the gap in today’s repertoire not covered by L’Orgue mystique. Perhaps the best know Advent theme today is Veni Emmanuel, a modal chant tune that I’m sure Tournemire would have used if he had needed to write more organ music for the season.
One of the tasks that I’ve suggested from time to time that will help us become better improvisations is to actually take pencil and paper and write out our ideas. I took the time to craft a Prélude à l’Introït on Veni Emmanuel following rather closely Tournemire’s prelude for All Saints. (Donwload the score here.) While I can claim it as a composition, it really is simply an example of how we can take the form and ideas from Charles Tournemire and apply them to themes that we know and use in our liturgies today. I encourage you to play through both the scores and to try your hand at improvising your own prelude following this model on a theme of your choice.
While I haven’t managed to make a video lesson of this yet, I was able to record performances of both the All Saints Introit and my Advent version. I also recorded an improvisation on Adoro Te Devote following the same idea (and registration). None of these is terribly long, but they can be fabulous ways to fill a couple of minutes, introduce a new tune to the congregation, or even provide an introduction to singing a hymn. I hope these lessons and examples will lead you to enjoy and discover the music of Charles Tournemire as I was led to it by Fr. Farrell.
May your improvisations be inspired,
Newsletter Issue 51 – 2015 10 04
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