A News Update and Happy Holidays

First, I wish to offer my apologies for not sending out newsletters or posting regularly at organimprovisation.com for the past month. My schedule has been subject to change on an almost daily basis for the past two months as I have been coping with two different events in my life. In a live conversation, here is where I would ask if you want the good news or the bad news first. Since I’m writing and have to make the choice for you, we’ll start with the….

Bad News

On December 9, early in the morning, my mother passed away. She developed other difficulties while undergoing her second round of chemotherapy for lymphoma. Her condition kept us and the doctors guessing for several weeks as she would seem to be deteriorating as we got good test results or otherwise showed signs of improvement. I was able to spend a couple of weeks with her and my family as we journeyed through this difficult time together. I played for the funeral, improvising the prelude. Another organist friend sang a composition I had written earlier in the year when I began to face the possibility that my mother would not be with us much longer. For me, improvising is not just a skill for making music, but also a life skill. Being able to change directions and make choices that reflect your values and the current conditions is not simply a useful skill for creating a piece but also for daily living. I’ve had to employ it quite often while coping with the bad news and the …

Good News

On January 15, I will begin my new position as Director of Music for the Cathedral and Archdiocesan Liturgies at the Cathedral of Mary, Our Queen in Baltimore, MD. The space is fabulous with a large four-manual pipe organ. There is a tour of the building on-line here. With such a wonderful instrument at my disposal, I hope to begin posting videos in the new year where I can provide examples and lessons for the content I have been providing here. In the mean time, my postings may still be a little erratic, but I plan to be back on pace by the end of January once I am settled in Baltimore.

Happy Holidays

As I suspect this will be the last newsletter issue until after the new year, I will wish you both Merry Christmas and Happy New Year now. Thank you for your interest in organ improvisation. For your holiday inspiration, I found the clip below showing Pierre Cochereau improvising on a noel. Enjoy all the marvels of the season!

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

Glenn

CochereauVideo


 
Recent additions to organimprovisation.com:

Themes:


 
Newsletter Issue 31 – 2014 12 24
See the complete list of past newsletter issues here.
Sign up to receive future issues using the box to the right on this page.

Jacques Taddei

JacquesTaddeiJacques Taddei (1946-2012) was organist titulaire at the Basilique Sainte-Clotilde from 1993 to 2012. He began as co-titulaire in 1987 and was the successor to Jean Langlais. His successor is Olivier Pénin. He also served as Director of the CNR de Paris (1987-2004), Director of Music for Radio France (2005-2006), and Director of the Musée Marmottan in Paris (2007-2012).

He studied organ with Pierre Cochereau and Marie-Claire Alain. In 1980, he won the Grand Prix d’improvisation in the Concours international d’orgue de Chartres.


Recording:
Hommage a Pierre Cochereau
Includes Liszt “Ad Nos” and an improvised symphony.

La Marseillaise

LaMarseillaise

Allons enfants de la Patrie
Le jour de gloire est arrivé !
Contre nous de la tyrannie
L’étendard sanglant est levé
Entendez-vous dans nos campagnes
Mugir ces féroces soldats?
Ils viennent jusque dans vos bras.
Égorger vos fils, vos compagnes!

Aux armes citoyens
Formez vos bataillons
Marchons, marchons
Qu’un sang impur
Abreuve nos sillons



La Marseillaise is the national anthem of France. The song was written and composed in 1792 by Claude Joseph Rouget de Lisle during the French Revolutionary Wars, and was originally titled “Chant de guerre pour l’Armée du Rhin”. It acquired its nickname after being sung in Paris by volunteers from Marseille marching on the capital. The French National Convention adopted it as the Republic’s anthem in 1795. It later lost this status under Napoleon I, and the song was banned outright by Louis XVIII and Charles X. It returned briefly after the July Revolution of 1830, but was not restored as France’s national anthem until 1879.

See a list of other traditional song themes here.

Videos:

Xaver Varnus – La Marseillaise – Mathias Church, Budapest
Pierre Cochereau (Jeremy Filsell plays) – La Marseillaise – Liverpool

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

Xaver Varnus

varnus-xXaver Varnus is a Hungarian-born Canadian organist, improvisor, writer, and television personality. His first piano teacher was Emma Németh, one of the last pupils of Claude Debussy. At sixteen, he undertook his first concert tour of Europe. In 1981 Varnus left Hungary to study with Pierre Cochereau in France. Over the course of his short career, Xaver Varnus has played to more than six million people worldwide, recorded 51 albums, made sixty concert films, and written five books.


YouTube Channel:
https://www.youtube.com/user/xavervarnus

Videos:
Improvisation on three given themes – Walcker Organ
Xaver Varnus – Improvisation on a theme by Jean Guillou – St. Eustache, Paris
Xaver Varnus – Improvisation on a theme of Stokowski – Wanamaker Grand Court Organ, Philadelphia
Xaver Varnus – Variations on Frère Jacques – Dominican Church, Budapest

Veni Sancte Spiritus

VeniSancteSpiritus

Veni Sancte Spiritus is a sequence prescribed in the Roman Liturgy for the Masses of Pentecost and its octave, excluding the following Sunday. It is usually attributed to either the thirteenth-century Pope Innocent III or to the Archbishop of Canterbury Stephen Langton. Veni Sancte Spiritus is one of only four medieval sequences which were preserved by the Council of Trent in the Missale Romanum published in 1570.

The chant is in the Dorian mode.

See a list of other popular chant themes here.


Video:
Pierre Cochereau – Choir of Notre Dame sings ‘Veni Sancte Spiritus’ – Paris
Clint Kraus – Improvisation on Veni Sancte Spiritus – St. James Cathedral, Seattle, WA

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.

Firmin Decerf

firmindecerf1Firmin Decerf is a laureate of the Lemmens Institute (Malines-Louvain) where he studied organ and educational theory of music. He also studied improvisation for two year in Paris and Nice with Pierre Cochereau. Professor emeritus of organ and improvisation at the IMEP (Institut Supérieur de Musique et de pédagogie Musicale) at Namur, he also is permanently titular of the Schumacher organ of the Saint-Pierre church in Bastogne. He has made several recordings dedicated to improvisations.


Recordings:

Le chant de l’Abbaye de la Pierre-qui-Vire, Aurore de la Joie
Includes five organ improvisations

Videos:
Firmin Decerf – Esquisse Symphonique on the names LISZT and BACH – Baelen

Anthony Hammond

AnthonyHammondWebsite:
www.anthonyhammond.com

Equally renowned as an interpreter and improviser, Dr. Anthony Hammond studied the organ in England with Roger Fisher and David Briggs, and in Paris with Dr. Naji Hakim. A graduate of the University of Bristol, he held posts at Chester Cathedral and St. Mary Redcliffe Church, Bristol, before spending a period as Sub-Organist at Bristol Cathedral. Today he is the Director of Music and Organist of Cirencester Parish Church. A Fellow of the Royal College of Organists and winner of the Dixon Prize for Improvisation, his passion for French organ music and improvisation led to doctoral research into the career and technique of legendary French organist and improviser Pierre Cochereau, for which he was awarded his Ph.D. in July 2010.

He has reconstructed a Symphony improvised in 1972 by Pierre Cochereau at St. Mary’s Cathedral, San Francisco, and the score is now published by Dr. J. Butz Musikverlag. This piece is included on his recording A Phenomenon Without Equal.


Book:

Pierre Cochereau (Eastman Studies in Music)

Recordings:

French Organ Masterworks & Improvisations

Improvisations for the Church Year / Organ of St. Mary Redcliffe


A Phenomenon Without Equal / French Organ Improvisation / The Organ of Blackburn Cathedral
Contains reconstructed improvisations by Louis Vierne, Marcel Dupré, Charles Tournemire, and Pierre Cochereau played by Anthony Hammond.

Videos:
Anthony Hammond – four part symphony – Mother Church, the First Church of Christ, Scientist in Boston, Massachusetts
Anthony Hammond – Improvisation on “Pange Lingua” – Bradford Cathedral

Kyrie Orbis Factor

KyrieOrbisFactorThe Missa Orbis Factor is Mass XI in the Graduale Romanum and is intended for use on Sundays throughout the year. The name for this Kyrie comes from the text of the trope Orbis factor, rex aeternae.

See a list of other popular chant themes here.

Videos:
Pierre Cochereau – Kyrie XI ‘Orbis Factor’ – Introit, Chant and Sortie
Marcel Dupré – Improvised Double Fugue on Kyrie XI ‘Orbis Factor – Recorded 1957