Modeling Tournemire: Offertoire

As I prepare to play selections from Tournemire’s L’Orgue mystique for All Saints this weekend, I thought we’d look at the second movement for some improvisation ideas.

Form and Language

The Offertoire for All Saints is based on the chant Justorum animae. The short piece contains five sections: A)harmonized chorale, B) monophonic chant, A’)elaborate harmonized chorale, B’) shorter monophonic chant, C) Coda.

The chant is in Dorian, Mode 1, so though there are no alterations in the key signature, because Tournemire starts the chant on G, every B is flatted except at the final cadences of the A sections. He borrows from closely related modes by including E-flats and A-flats. The chant is presented in half notes in the soprano, but Tournemire suppresses all the repeated notes, making each pitch of the chant equal in duration. While a traditional Bach-style chorale harmonization would include many root position chords, Tournemire rarely uses root position triads. Sevenths, suspensions, and inversions keep the progression unstable even at the cadence in the middle of the section at the end of the first phrase of the chant. The voices move mostly with step-wise motion.

The second section is a monophonic statement of the last two phrases of the chant. The change of registration and texture provide a contrast to the opening chorale. The relative speed of the chant also changes dramatically from half-notes to eighth-notes.

The return to the opening material for the third section is on a slightly softer registration and now includes more motion. While there were occasional eighth-notes in the first harmonization, this repetition keeps to the same harmonies, but includes constant eighth-note motion.

The fourth section is an echo of the second. The registration is softer, and only the second (final) phrase of the chant is cited. The final section seems to be a return to the opening material, but does not cite any of the chant. It is more of an extended harmonic return to an open fifth on the tonic G.

As offertories often take different lengths of time in different places, it strikes me that this piece could be easily shortened if needed by leaving out a section (or two or three). It would also be possible to repeat the longer B section instead of the shorter B’ section in order to lengthen the piece. While I do not know that Tournemire intended a performer to do these things, if we consider these pieces as examples of how we can improvise and fulfill the musical needs of the liturgy, I see no reason not to alter the number of sections we might play.

Applications

To summarize, here are ten ways to apply ideas from Tournemire’s Offertoire in our improvisations:

  1. Alternate contrasting sections to create a piece to cover an unknown length of time.
  2. Borrow from closely related modes or keys for harmonic interest.
  3. Use inversions and suspension to keep the piece moving forward.
  4. Suppress repeated notes in the melody.
  5. Standardize the rhythm of the melody into one time value.
  6. Change the unit of standardization for contrasting formal sections.
  7. Use single voice textures.
  8. Plan for repetition. Make sure you can play what you just played again.
  9. Repeat with variation. Keep it the same, but add more motion.
  10. Use registration to help mark formal sections.

As an example, I recorded an improvisation on Veni Veni Emmanuel following the model of this movement which you can watch here. As I recorded it before writing this column, I’m not sure I followed all ten of the above ideas, but hopefully it demonstrates at least some of the ways to apply ideas from Tournemire to a new theme.

Happy Halloween!
Glenn


Newsletter Issue 52 – 2015 10 31

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Modeling Tournemire: Preludes

SeniorRecitalCoverI 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 Prélude

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.

Advent

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.

Videos

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,

Glenn


Newsletter Issue 51 – 2015 10 04

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Models and Anchors

Composers create music for many different reasons. Occasionally, they write pieces to demonstrate techniques for their students, either as examples of instrumental technique or compositional practices to master. The Orgelbüchlein of Johann Sebastian Bach is a fabulous place to look for simple chorale treatment ideas. L’Orgue Mystique by Charles Tournemire offers a wealth of ideas for how to work with chants. As improvisers (and composers) we need to spend some of our time studying the masters that came before us and learning to use the material (notes, harmonies, and sound colors) that we have available to us.

Paul Manz

One of the great American composers and hymn players of the twentieth century was Paul Manz. He produced countless volumes of pieces based upon familiar hymn tunes. Published with the title of Improvisations, many of these pieces could be models for us to follow, suggesting ideas and techniques for us to learn and apply to other melodies. One of his collections that I’ve had in my library for many years is his Improvisations for the Christmas Season, Set 1. It includes settings of the chorales Nun Komm der Heiden Heiland, Veni Emmanuel, and Wachet Auf along with a few others. Though the volume is labeled for the Christmas season, these are Advent chorales, so I typically will use them in the weeks leading up to Christmas. (That is, if I remember to take my score out of the file cabinet and bring it to church!)

Veni Emmanuel

One of the settings in the collection that fascinated me was a very simple setting of O Come, O Come, Emmanuel. It is a short one page piece. The pedal part consists entirely of a single note, the tonic E. The melody is presented on a solo stop and the chordal accompaniment on a softer registration. I found a performance on YouTube that you may hear by following the link here. What fascinates me about this composition is how Manz begins and ends with cluster harmonies and triads from within the mode, but then ventures quite far afield in the middle, using chromaticism might otherwise be out of place in a modal piece.

When evaluating an improvisation (or composition), I like to fall back on the four C’s that I outlined in the first newsletter issues: competent, convincing, coherent, and colorful. The mixture of chromatic and modal harmonic language could make this Manz piece incoherent and perhaps not very competent either, yet our ears accept the chromaticism. Why?

Anchors

This improvisation gives our ears two anchors to hold on to: the pedal point and the melody. Being a familiar tune, the melody (as the loudest voice) clearly has the strongest pull for our ears. The pedal point also orients us just as the north pole orients a compass. Regardless of which way we may turn, the pedal will enable us to gain our bearings and return home again. The chromaticism also has a direction to it – the chords continue moving up – giving our ear an expected resolution to the dissonance as well. All these together combine to create the color of the piece, enabling it to be coherent, competent, and convincing, in spite of the rather simple and perhaps uninteresting ideas that are combined to make the composition.

Try it for yourself

How can this piece serve as a model for us? What can we practice following this example?

While normally, pedal points can be boring and would often be discouraged, they can be useful in times of very chromatic movement. What sort of harmonic tension can you create over a pedal point? How long can you keep a listener’s attention with only one note in the pedal? Explore chromatic harmonies by changing one note at a time in the accompaniment. Does this work better with the melody in the soprano or tenor range? What difference does it make if the theme is in a major mode? What if the chromatic lines move down instead of up? Here’s a technical challenge for you: play the pedal point with the left (or right!) hand and the melody in the pedal. Choose different themes and try out all the different combinations of pedal point, melody and accompaniment that you can imagine!

May all your improvisations be competent, convincing, coherent and colorful!

Glenn


 
Recent additions to organimprovisation.com:

Themes:


 
Newsletter Issue 30 – 2014 12 01
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André Fleury

fleury_andre_mediumAndré Fleury (1903-1995) was born in Neuilly-sur-Seine, France. He received his musical training as a private student of Henri Letocart (a former student of César Franck), and later, of André Marchal and Louis Vierne. At the Paris Conservatory, he studied organ with Eugène Gigout and received a first prize in organ performance and improvisation under Gigout’s successor, Marcel Dupré, in 1926. Fleury also studied composition with Paul Vidal.

In 1920, Fleury became Gigout’s assistant at St. Augustin in Paris, and, later, also assistant of Charles Tournemire at Ste. Clotilde. He became titular organist at St. Augustin in 1930. In 1941, he was appointed professor of organ at the École Normale de Musique in Paris.

After World War II, Fleury relocated to Dijon. In 1949, he succeeded Émile Poillot as titular organist at Dijon Cathedral and as professor of piano (a year later also of organ) at the Dijon Conservatory. In 1971, he accepted Jean Guillou’s invitation to become co-titular organist at St. Eustache in Paris. He also was appointed as professor of organ at the Schola Cantorum and as titular organist at Versailles Cathedral.

As a composer, Fleury wrote numerous works for organ, many of which have not been published yet. He premiered several important organ compositions, such as the organ sonata of Darius Milhaud, Maurice Duruflé’s Scherzo op. 2, as well as La Nativité du Seigneur by Olivier Messiaen (the first integral performance of this organ cycle, after the premiere by Jean Langlais, Jean-Yves Daniel-Lesur, and Jean-Jacques Grunenwald).

Among his students were Bernard Gavoty, Pierre Cochereau, and Jean-Yves Daniel-Lesur.

Videos:
André Fleury – Improvisation-Demonstration of Dijon Cathedral – France

Jeffrey Brillhart – Breaking Free

BreakingFreeBrillhart
Jeffrey Brillhart
Breaking Free: Finding a Personal Voice for Improvisation through 20th Century French Improvisation Techniques. Published by Wayne Leupold Editions.

One of the great difficulties I see in the teaching of improvisation is choosing where to begin and how to cover the wealth of material that a well-trained improviser needs to know. Whereas Gerre Hancock focuses almost entirely on form throughout his book Improvising: How to Master the Art, the bulk of the material in Breaking Free concerns harmonic language.

Jeffrey Brillhart attacks the challenge of what to cover and where to begin by narrowing the focus to “finding a personal language for organ improvisation through 20th century French Improvisation techniques,” the subtitle of the book. In the Introduction, Brillhart acknowledges that each student’s route to mastery is different:

There is no “one size fits all,” in learning to improvise or in teaching someone to improvise. What may work for one student may completely stymie another student.

Improvisation is a mystery. We do not fully understand what happens within the mind of the improviser while improvising. Improvisation is a search. It is a search for a personal musical language. It is a search for musical coherence. It is a search for personal self-expression. It is a search for beauty.

Breaking Free is a book filled with ideas for the student to explore. The first part (chapters 1-5) provides a philosophical grounding of improvisation and establishes the importance of the theme. Many example themes are given and chapter 4 is a catalog of development techniques. Any advice or examples provided are always accompanied by the encouragement of the student to find his or her own solution for how to treat the theme.

Part II (chapters 6-15) move into harmonic language and provides a framework not of scales, but intervals. Each chapter is devoted to a different interval (fifths, fourths, thirds, seconds, and so forth) and the harmonic colors that can be generated while using that specific interval to either harmonize or accompany the given theme. The pentatonic mode is also introduced and the student is urged to explore canons in this mode because of the harmonic simplicity the mode offers. Triads and seventh chords are also given their own chapters in this part, and while there may be references to key centers in the text, the student is encouraged to explore the textures without the restriction that a scale or specific mode would require.

Part III (chapters 16-20) begins with a look at Charles Tournemire. This chapter combines the techniques already covered with the structure and style of a specific composer, and provides a bridge into a harmonic language built upon modes. The next three chapters explain and explore the modes of Gregorian chant, a common theme source for much of French music. The final chapter of this part looks at the Bartok mode and serves as a bridge into Part IV which covers the more complex modes of Olivier Messiaen.

Only in Part V (chapters 25-35) does Brillhart finally begin to address large scale forms. Forms covered in this part include Passacaglia, Song From, Scherzo, Sonata Allegro, the structures of Louis Vierne and Pierre Cochereau, free improvisation and finally improvising on a literary text. The last two chapters (Part VI) provide examples of the language of Debussy and Ravel for the student to explore. Finally, for the student still searching at the end of this book there is a wonderful two-page bibliography of high quality resources for further exploration either of improvisation or other specific musical topics such as harmony or counterpoint.

Having spent the majority of my formal instruction in improvisation learning from French teachers, I am delighted that Jeff Brillhart has created this volume. While it may not be exactly what I experienced in France, he provides a codified and logical progression for something that I saw many French teachers address in a very haphazard way. By choosing to focus on a specific style, he actually helps the student develop many tools that can be applied in other areas. The greatest difficulty with this book may come from the lack of specific challenges for the student. Each chapter of Improvising: How to Master the Art by Gerre Hancock concludes with specific activities for the student to complete before moving on. While each chapter in Breaking Free has numerous examples and may offer ways for the student to apply the materials in the chapter, there is no task given where the student (or teacher) can clearly know if they have understood and can apply the material presented. If the student is creative, then this is probably not much of a problem, but for a beginning improviser who has trouble generating ideas, this may make it difficult to use this book without the aid of a teacher. Perhaps unintended, but a likely benefit of a student working through this book will not only be a breaking free of harmonic language, but also a strengthening of the creative muscle.

It takes a lot of varied skills to master the art of improvisation. Breaking Free by Jeff Brillhart is an excellent resource for adding tools to the improviser’s toolbox. Using this book, not only will the student break free harmonically, but he or she will also break free from the reliance on a teacher and discover his or her own creative potential. For anyone interested in improvising in a modern style (whether French or not), I highly recommend this book.

Louis Vierne

vierne[1]

Louis Vierne (1870 – 1937) is best known as a composer and organist at Notre Dame in Paris, France. He was born in Poitiers, nearly blind due to congenital cataracts, but was discoverd at an early age to have a gift for music: at age two, a pianist played him a Schubert lullaby and he promptly began to pick out the notes of the lullaby on the piano.
After completing school in the provinces, Louis Vierne entered the Paris Conservatory. From 1892, Vierne served as an assistant to the organist Charles-Marie Widor at the church of Saint-Sulpice in Paris. Vierne subsequently became principal organist at the cathedral of Notre-Dame de Paris, a post he held from 1900 until his death (while performing a concert) in 1937. Though he held one of the most prestigious organ posts in France, the Notre-Dame organ was in a state of disrepair throughout much of his tenure. To raise money for its restoration, he undertook a concert tour of North America including a performance on the famous Wanamaker Organ in Philadelphia. Some of his students include Augustin Barié, Edward Shippen Barnes, Lili Boulanger, Nadia Boulanger, Marcel Dupré, André Fleury, Gaston Litaize, Édouard Mignan, Alexander Schreiner, and Georges-Émile Tanguay.
Vierne made phonograph recordings of six works of Bach, three of his own compositions and three improvisations. Originally recorded by Odéon, they were reissued most recently by EMI in 1981 with two of the improvisations appearing again in 1994. Maurice Duruflé transcribed the improvisations as he had done with the recordings of Charles Tournemire.

Biography:

Louis Vierne: Organist of Notre Dame Cathedral
by Rollin Smith, Pendragon Press, 2009.

Vidoes:
Recorded in 1929, there is some noise in the audio on these video, but I believe they are worth sharing because it is Vierne himself improvising.

Louis Vierne – Marche Episcopale – Notre Dame, Paris
Louis Vierne – Meditation – Notre Dame, Paris
Louis Vierne – Cortege – Notre Dame, Paris

and while it isn’t an improvisation, there is a short video of Louis Vierne playing at Notre Dame here.

Maurice Duruflé

Durufle

Maurice Duruflé (1902-1986) was a French composer, organist, and teacher. At age 17, upon moving to Paris, he took private organ lessons with Charles Tournemire, whom he assisted at Basilique Ste-Clotilde, Paris until 1927. In 1920 Duruflé entered the Conservatoire de Paris, eventually graduating with first prizes in organ, harmony, piano accompaniment, and composition. His harmony professor was Jean Gallon.

In 1927, Louis Vierne nominated him as his assistant at Notre Dame. Duruflé and Vierne remained lifelong friends, and Duruflé was at Vierne’s side acting as assistant when Vierne died at the console of the Notre-Dame organ on June 2, 1937. Duruflé became titular organist of St-Étienne-du-Mont in Paris in 1929, a position he held for the rest of his life. In 1943 he became Professor of Harmony at the Conservatoire de Paris, where he worked until 1970.

in 1947, Marie-Madeleine Chevalier became his assistant at St-Étienne-du-Mont. They married on 15 September 1953. The couple became a famous and popular organ duo, going on tour together several times throughout the sixties and early seventies.

His transcriptions of the recorded improvisations of Charles Tournemire have become some of the most widely performed and well known of Tournemire’s “compositions.”

Recordings:

Duruflé: En Concert
Appears to include an improvised rhapsody as part of the program of repertoire.


Duruflé: Works for Organ & Choir
This recording contains choral works of Maurice Duruflé, along with the Suite, op 5, and improvisations by Thierry Escaich.

Charles Tournemire

Tournemire2Charles Arnould Tournemire (1870 – 1939) was a French composer, organist, and accomplished improviser. His compositions include eight symphonies (one of them choral), four operas, twelve chamber works and eighteen piano solos. Today he is almost exclusively remembered for his organ music, especially L’Orgue Mystique, a set of 51 suites of pieces for the liturgical year based upon the chants of the day.

He studied organ with César Franck. From 1898 to 1939, Tournemire served as the organiste titulaire at Franck’s old church, the Basilique Ste-Clotilde in Paris. He was also professor of Chamber Music at the Paris Conservatoire. In 1931 he published a biography of Franck. A year before the biography appeared, Tournemire recorded five organ improvisations, which were later transcribed by Maurice Duruflé from the phonograph recordings. These recordings and most all of his improvisations were often rooted in the music of Gregorian chant.

Book:
TournemirePrecis

In 1936, Éditions Max Eschig published Précis d’éxecution de registration et d’improvisation à l’orgue by Charles Tournemire. Of the 117 pages, only the last 16 are devoted explicitly to the art of improvisation. Much of the text is devoted to philosophy, references to examples in repertoire, with some explanation of forms. Tournemire writes that the most profitable study that one could do is to read each day a sonata of Haydn, Mozart or Beethoven, and then to take the same elements and try to develop them oneself.

Recording:

Charles Tournemire: Complete Recordings

Videos:
*original audio recorded by Tournemire with slide show of pictures for videos

Charles Tournemire – Te Deum – Ste. Clotilde, Paris, France
Charles Tournemire – Fantasie on ‘Ave Maris Stella’ – Ste. Clotilde, Paris, France

I couldn’t find a video or audio online of Tournemire himself playing the other improvisations, but am including performances by other organists below because these have been such influential and well-known improvisations:
Charles Tournemire (Philippe Lefebvre plays) – Victimae paschali laudes – Chartres Cathedral, France

Ave Maris Stella

AveMarisStellaThis is the chant hymn for vespers for the feasts of the Immaculate Conception and Assumption.
The name Mary is said to mean “Star of the Sea” = stella maris.


See a list of other popular chant themes here.

Videos:
Charles Tournemire – Ave Maris Stella – Ste. Clotilde, Paris, France *original audio recorded by Tournemire with slide show of pictures for video

Lorenzo Bonoldi – 5 Versetti on Ave Maris Stella – Basilica di San Carlo, Milano

Victimae paschali laudes

VictimaePaschaliLaudesVictimae paschali laudes is the Sequence chant for Easter Day. Charles Tournemire recorded an improvisation on the chant which was later transcribed be Maurice Duruflé. This transcription has become a popular piece of organ literature.

See a list of other popular chant themes here.


Videos:
Charles Tournemire (Philippe Lefebvre plays) – Victimae paschali laudes – Chartres Cathedral, France
Lorenzo Bonoldi – Versetti on Victimae Paschali Laudes – Basilica di San Carlo, Milano
Sergio Militello – Victimae paschali laudes
Daniel Roth with Eric Lebrun – Victimae paschali laudes – St. Sulpice, Paris, France