You are invited to join us for traditional or contemporary worship in our sanctuary at the corner of Grace and Observatory in Hyde Park .
The Prominent Postlude Project
For the next five Sundays (May 24 through June 21), Resident Organist Brenda Portman will offer prominent selections from the organ repertoire as slightly extended postludes, ranging from German Baroque composer J. S. Bach to 20thcentury French composer Jehan Alain. If you enjoy organ music, please stick around at the end of the live-stream broadcast to hear all the stops pulled out on our fantastic Casavant organ! Program notes will be sent to you each week so you can read background information about the composer and the piece. The plan is as follows:
Mendelssohn: Prelude in D minor, Op. 37 No. 3a
Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847) was profoundly influenced by the music of Johann Sebastian Bach. Throughout his short life (he died at age 38), he promoted Bach’s music as a performer, scholar, and music editor, and Bach’s influence can be seen in Mendelssohn’s own compositions. Mendelssohn traveled widely as a performer, and he always brought along some of Bach’s preludes and fugues to play on organs that he visited. In England, he encountered challenges with playing Bach’s works because the pedalboards were not as well developed as those in Germany – Bach’s music is quite virtuosic, including the pedal parts! – but he played at St. Paul’s Cathedral whenever he visited London because it had a 2-octave pedalboard, one of the better ones in England. When in London, he stayed with Thomas Attwood, organist at St. Paul’s Cathedral, and a former student of Mozart. Mendelssohn is best known for his Six Sonatas (Op. 65) for organ and his Three Preludes and Fugues (Op. 37), each of which shows the influence of Bach in different ways. The Preludes and Fugues are modeled after Bach in their title/form and their virtuosic pedal parts, and they are dedicated to Thomas Attwood. They were composed around 1837, when Mendelssohn was 28 years old.
Bach: Fugue in E-flat major, BWV 552b
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) is hailed as the greatest composer of all time. Living in central Germany in the late 17thand early 18thcenturies, he was firmly in Protestant (Lutheran) territory, and he was a devout Lutheran all his life. The Prelude and Fugue in E-flat major form the bookends to the Clavierübung III, a collection of pieces that was published in 1739 while Bach was the music director of the four major churches in Leipzig. The pieces in the collection represent important parts of a Sunday in the life of a Lutheran Christian, including morning prayer (the Prelude), morning Mass (Kyrie and Gloria settings), afternoon Catechism class (chorale preludes about Baptism, the Ten Commandments, etc.), Martin Luther’s four teaching precepts (four duetti), and evening prayer (the Fugue). Rich in Trinitarian symbolism, the Prelude and Fugue are written in the key of three flats, the Prelude has three main themes, and the Fugue is in fact a triple fugue (three fugue subjects and three expositions). The Fugue has been nicknamed the “St. Anne” Fugue because of the likeness of the first fugue subject to the hymn tune St. Anne (O God, Our Help in Ages Past), although it is unlikely that Bach knew of this hymn tune when he composed the piece.
Mulet: Tu es petra
Henri Mulet (1878-1967) was a French organist and composer who studied at the Paris Conservatory, served as organist at St. Philippe-du-Roule in Paris, and taught at the Niedermeyer School and Schola Cantorum, two renowned music schools in Paris. This piece, Tu es petra, is the tenth piece in a set of ten Esquisses Byzantines(Byzantine Sketches), composed in 1914-1919 and inspired by the Romano-Byzantine architecture of the Basilique du Sacré-Coeur de Montmartre in Paris. The first five pieces of the set were named for different physical features of the basilica, the next four represent ceremonies or events, and the final piece takes its inspiration from Matthew 16:18: “And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.” This text, in Latin, was inscribed over the west door of Sacré-Coeur and chosen especially because the church was built on top of a very large rock: Montmartre, the highest point in the city of Paris.One writer suggests that the rapidly alternating chords of this exciting French toccata, together with the agitated pedal underlay, represent the battle against Evil, continuing until a blaze of glory on the final page, when one senses that Good has triumphed. Interestingly, the organist must cross his/her left arm over the right in order to finish the piece, forming the symbol of a cross.
English-born composer, conductor, and organist Alec Wyton (1921-2007) was educated at the Royal Academy of Music and Oxford University, and he came to the United States in 1950. He is best known for his career as Organist and Master of the Choristers at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City from 1954-1974. He also taught at Union Theological Seminary and was Chair of the Organ Department at Westminster Choir College. Wyton’s Fanfare was composed for the Aeolian-Skinner organ at St. John the Divine, which has 141 ranks and 8,035 pipes. Of particular interest is the State Trumpet, which is placed horizontally under the Rose Window at the west end of the Cathedral and speaks on a wind pressure of 50 inches (in other words, it is extremely powerful!). This Fanfare makes good use of that extraordinary trumpet – and the Trompette royale on the Casavant organ at HPCUMC is not half-bad either!
Litanies, originally entitled Supplications, is the most famous organ work by French composer Jehan Alain (1911-1940). It was composed in 1937 and intended as a prayer that becomes an obsession. The chant-like theme is repeated over and over, with increasing fervency and passion. The piece has elements of both comedy and tragedy. It contains a rhythmically irregular “train motive:” alternating chords which sound like a train going over the tracks, because he often composed while on the train to Paris and he wanted his music to be true to life. One manuscript indicated that the piece was about a man pushing a small three-wheeled cart, with twenty policemen throwing bricks at him. However, three weeks after the piece was finished, Jehan’s sister Marie-Odile died tragically in a climbing accident, and Jehan was deeply affected by this loss. He then dedicated the piece to her: “When in its extremity the Christian soul can find no new word to implore God's mercy, it tirelessly repeats the same plea with vehement faith. The limits of reason are reached, and only faith can pursue its ascension.” Alain himself was tragically killed in action as he served in World War II as a motorcycle dispatch rider for the French army. Litanieshad been one of the few compositions to be published during his lifetime; however, after his death, his sister Marie-Claire, a renowned concert organist and teacher, promoted his works tirelessly and is to be thanked for the widespread popularity of his music throughout the world.