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Evan C

Organ Music

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The conversation in the classical music thread branched off into organ music, so I decided to make a thread both to introduce anyone who's interested to some of the organ repertoire and to share some of my own recordings.

Louis Vierne is one of my favorite composers, for his chromaticism, jazz influenced harmonies, and extension of traditional formal structure. His 6th organ symphony is a contender for my favorite piece of organ music. The finale alone may not be the best starting place--it's one of the most triumphant pieces he wrote, and it has a much more transformative affect when heard at the end of the entire symphony (not me playing)--but it's a recording I'm very proud of. The opening of Vierne's 2nd symphony may be a better introduction, for its gravitas and solemness.

Jeanne Demessiuex was one of the first women to hold a successful international career as both an organist and composer, her Te Deum is one of my favorite pieces to play, and I've discovered the short motives that are repeated and varied make it a "modern" sounding piece that most audiences can really appreciate.

Maurice Durufle's Prelude and Fugue on the Name of Alain is a piece I think everyone should know. It was written to commemorate his friend and fellow organist and composer Jehan Alain who died during WWII.

Everyone knows Mendelssohn, but few people know his organ sonatas. The first is my favorite, but all six are quite good.

Julius Reubke was a student of Liszt, and he died quite young, but he wrote one massive organ sonata based on the 94th Psalm, which is an epic staple of organ rep. That recording is by Gillian Weir, who's unquestionably one of the greatest organists ever.

And of course, there's J. S. Bach, but I assume most people have at least some familiarity with his organ music. I also adore Messiaen's organ music, but for an introduction to the repertoire, I think the pieces above might be better starting places.


"Anyway, in general I love tragic artists, especially classical ones."

"Even the forms for expressing truth can be multiform, and this is indeed necessary for the transmission of the Gospel in its timeless meaning."

- Pope Francis, August 2013 interview with Antonio Spadaro

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Thank you for sharing these, Evan.  I look forward to listening to them in the coming days.

Messiaen is another 20th C composer that I haven't been able to wrap my head around.  Based on Alex Ross' recommendations for gateway compositions, I gave a couple of pieces a listen back in February (From the Canyons to the Stars and Quartet for the End of Time, IIRC).  If I wanted to try another toehold into his music, is there an organ piece or two that you'd recommend?


To be an artist is never to avert one's eyes.
- Akira Kurosawa

https://www.patheos.com/blogs/secularcinephile/

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I'd definitely say Dieu Parmi Nous, the 9th and final movement of La Nativite. For a second, there are a couple possibilities, so I'll go with one recording that I've made of Combat de la mort et de la vie, the fourth (of seven) movement from Les Corps Glorieux. With both pieces, try to construct a program for the music to represent something beyond itself. That's usually the best way to "get" Messiaen.


"Anyway, in general I love tragic artists, especially classical ones."

"Even the forms for expressing truth can be multiform, and this is indeed necessary for the transmission of the Gospel in its timeless meaning."

- Pope Francis, August 2013 interview with Antonio Spadaro

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Evan, thanks very much for this primer on organ music! I'm going to bookmark the links you posted and go through them in due time. I hadn't heard of Vierne before, and you're right about Mendelssohn: I went through an extended phase years ago listening to his music, and I had no idea he wrote organ sonatas. I look forward to listening to them, along with everything you posted. 

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