Recital by Fergus Black
This concert was given on Wednesday 26th August 2009 at St Martin’s, Stamford - as part of a series of organ recitals featuring the sonatas of Felix Mendelssohn in honour of his bicentenary.
The idea of this programme is to take the text of the chorale which forms the idea behind Mendelssohn’s Sonata No. 6 – Vater Unser (Our Father, The Lord’s Prayer), and seek to illustrate it through the works of other composers which touch on the themes of The Lord’s Prayer. There is something of an Advental feel to these other pieces – even the avowedly Easter Meditation has an Advent melody in it. (Is the Our Father advental in its content?)
Pray for us
Ora Pro Nobis S262
Franz Liszt (1811-1886)
Liszt was nearly the same age as Mendelssohn - he just lived longer, and after his virtuoso phase, became rather mystic and religious. Variously titled, Litany, or Ora Pro Nobis (Pray for us), this quiet piece was composed in about 1864. It is based on a theme alleged to have been brought back from Jerusalem by Duchess Catharina Hohenzollern. The composition is built up by repetition and elaboration of this theme.
Vater Unser im Himmelreich BWV 683
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685 - 1750)
This very short Chorale Prelude for manuals only has the theme in the upper part, accompanied by running sextuplets. This setting comes from the third part of the Clavierübung, literally keyboard-practice, four-volumes of keyboard music which Bach wrote.
Our Father, who art in heaven,
Père (from Trois Méditations sur la Sainte Trinité)
Jean Langlais (1907 – 1991)
Extremely slow first section, followed by the chant Pater Noster, (The Lord’s Prayer, again) interrupted by returns to the opening material.
hallowed be thy name;
Choral-Improvisation: Nun Danket Alle Gott - Marche Triomphale Op.65, No.59
Sigfrid Karg-Elert (1877 – 1933)
It may not be immediately obvious that this well known piece is based on the hymn Now Thank We All Our God. Fragments of the melody are alluded to, but the main way it is presented is by disjointed notes, marked by an x in the score - it is perhaps easier to see than to hear.
As an aside: the hymn Now Thank We All Our God appears in our modern hymnbooks in a harmonisation by Mendelssohn.
thy kingdom come;
Praeludium: Veni, Veni, Emmanuel
Hendrik Andriessen (1892 – 1981)
This piece is in three sections: in the first, a block chord harmonisation of the Advent hymn, O Come, O Come Emmanuel, is rhythmically distorted. The second has two contrasting ideas: a skittering semiquaver comment, and a chordal response. In the third section, it becomes apparent that these two ideas, at half-speed, work as a countermelodies to the main theme in the pedals, (all three ideas at the same time!).
thy will be done; on earth as it is in heaven.
Nocturne (from The Suite for Organ)
Humphrey Clucas (b.1941)
Based on the Advent Prose, Rorate Coeli, “Drop down, ye heavens, from above, And let the skies pour down righteousness.” ( Isaiah 45:8) this is a ternary (three-section) movement, the first and third being based on a high countermelody to the plainsong theme, which is in long slow notes in the bass. The central section is an unsettling valse, where the tune is more audible.
Give us this day our daily bread.
Bread of Heaven
Caleb Henry Trevor (1895 – 1976)
This is a simple phrase-by-phrase presentation of the hymn tune Bread of Heaven: one of the very few pieces by this famous editor of organ music and teacher.
And forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
Father, forgive them (from The Seven Last Words)
Alan Ridout (1934 – 1996)
The uncompromising modernism of Ridout’s The Seven Last Words comes as something of a shock, even after the ‘modern’ music of Langlais and Andriessen. In fact, throughout the whole cycle, there are extremes of dynamics and tempo.
And lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil.
Easter Meditation, No. 6
Robin Milford (1903 – 1959)
The score is prefaced by a quotation of two verses of Joseph Addison’s paraphrase of Psalm 23, The Lord My Pasture Shall Prepare, from The Spectator (1712):–
II. When in the sultry Glebe I faint,
Or on the thirsty Mountain pant;
To fertile Vales, and dewy Meads
My weary wand’ring Steps he leads;
Where peaceful Rivers, soft and slow,
Amid the verdant Landskip flow.
III. Tho’ in the Paths of Death I tread,
With gloomy Horrors overspread,
My steadfast Heart shall fear no Ill,
For thou, O Lord, art with me still;
Thy friendly Crook shall give me Aid,
And guide me through the dreadful Shade.
The main four-bar melody is unknown to me, but it fits the first line of the text, so may be a setting of the words. It is rather obsessively repeated in a waltz rhythm, and moves through a variety of keys, often with false relations (where the composer uses the different colours of the same note (flat, natural, sharp) in close proximity (or even at the same time).
Under this main theme, two other hymn tunes are referenced: (1) the fifth line of the tune Surrey, to which Addison’s hymn in usually sung nowadays:–
and (2) the chorus of Veni Emmanuel, which become gradually audible: “Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.”:–
Sonata No. 6
Sonata No. 6 in d minor
Felix Mendelssohn (1809 – 1847)
(i) Choral – Andante sostenuto – [L’istesso tempo] – [L’istesso tempo] – Allegro molto – Fuga (Sostenuto e legato)
(ii) Finale – Andante
The sonata comprises a set of contrasting variations on the Lutheran choral “Vater Unser” (The Lord’s Prayer), concluding with a fugue. The second and final movement, which is thematically related to the fugue is a soft and gentle reflection. This sonata has traditionally been the most played of the set - perhaps because it is the most unified.
Vater unser im Himmelreich,
der du uns alle heissest gleich,
Brüder sein, und dich rufen an,
und willt das Beten von uns han,
gib dass nicht bet allein der Mund,
hilf dass es geh von Herzengrund.
Our Father in heaven,
who asks all of us alike,
to be brothers, and to call out to him,
and who wishes to receive prayers from us,
grant that we pray not from the mouth alone,
but help us to pray from the bottom of our hearts.
The Lord’s Prayer paraphrased by Martin Luther