Spoken Introductions to “Seasonal Soiree”

Welcome. So much of the music in this concert is based on hymn tunes of the season of Advent and Christmas, that I thought it might be worth seeing with one of the pieces on the programme whether the tune was recognisable. I’ve chosen therefore not to print the title of the first piece, but to let you guess it: although perhaps you won’t be guessing it! I must say that I find that in the Fantasy, based on a well-known Advent hymn, by the composer Kenneth Leighton, the tune is fairly well hidden. See how you get on:

Fantasy on an Advent Hymn Tune Kenneth Leighton

Lo he comes with clouds descending: perhaps you picked up on the opening triad, or the descending scale that forms the first phrase of the hymn. Our next piece is by the English organist George Oldroyd, organist of St Michael’s Croydon - written in 1948 on the plainsong hymn Verbum Supernum Prodiens - of three liturgical improvisations that Oldroyd wrote: Heavenly Word, proceeding from the eternal Father's bosom, by Your birth You came to man's help when time's course was drawing to its close. Shine Your light into our hearts now and inflame them with Your love so that heavenly desire and joy may take possession of a heart emptied of earth's fleeting desires. And thus, when the Judge on His throne sentences sinners to hell and a welcom?ing voice calls the saints to the heaven prom?ised them, may it be that we are not cast into the black whirlpool as food for the flames but that we be granted the vision of God and possess the joys of heaven.

Verbum Supernum Prodiens - Oldroyd

We turn to Germany next and the great Johann Sebastian Bach for three short pieces: the first an arrangement of a cantata movement - Wake, O Wake, the watchman cries from the high tower: Wake up O city of Jerusalem. And then two movements based on the same chorale: Nun Komm der Heiden Heiland - Come thou redeemer of the earth, reminding us that Advent is a time of waiting and longing - a time of preparation for Christmas. Well, not this year, because Christmas comes before the interval tonight!

Wachet Auf Chorale
Wachet Auf J S Bach
Nun Komm Chorale
Nun Komm der Heiden Heiland (The Eighteen) - two versions - J S Bach

One of my favourite Advent Hymns is O Come, O Come Emmanuel - the verses are based on the Great O Antiphons which are sung from the 16th to the 23rd December each year. The great hymn provides a suitable framework for another of Kenneth Leighton’s Hymn Tune Fantasies.

Veni Emmanuel Kenneth Leighton

To take us from Advent to Christmas, a couple of short Ricercars by Johann Kaspar Ferdinand Fisher, a Bohemian organist from the early 18th century. These two short pieces are based, respectively on an Ave Maria for Advent, and the German choral “The day which is so full of joy to all people” - Der Tag, der ist so freundlich” - notice the way that each line of the tune is echoed by each voice in the texture in turn - the original meaning of ricercare is to seek out

To close the first half, I’ll stay in a Christmas mode, with an exuberant set of variations on the old Dutch tune “King Jesus has a garden, by the 20th century composer Flor Peeters - from a set of ten Christmas chorale- preludes. Peeters is one of the most prodigious organ composers of the last century, with over 200 works to his credit: a Belgian, he studied with Tournemire and Dupré. After a simple statement of the tune as a theme, there are five variations - each of which states the tune in full, once through - a two part invention, a trio sontata with some rather alarming ‘wrong-note” harmonies, a fast scherzo in two keys at once, a slow and high chromatic string movement and a virtuoso finisher for the pedals. The variations are delightful and show off the colours of this magnificent organ to the full.

After the Peeters we have the interval, and before it the two Ricercars by Johann Kaspar Ferdinand Fisher - I just like saying it

Ricercar pro Tempore Adventus J K F Fisher
Ricercar pro Festis Natalitys J K F Fisher
Herr Jesus hat ein Gartchen Flor Peeters


We’re going to start the second half in a more pastoral idiom: reminding us that Christmas is the time of shepherds in the fields - first of all from Italy, the Offertory from a pastoral mass setting: in a gentle compound time over a drone bass. Most of this mass is suitable for the foundations stops of the organ, and doesn’t need a range of colours.

By contrast, the variations on Laissez paistre vos bestes by Abbe Pierre D’Andrieu (not to be confused with his more famous nephew, Jean-Francois d’Andrieu), show off a much wider palette, with contrasting sounds and echo effects.

Messa Di Natale Anon Italian 18th century
Laissez paistre vos bestes Pierre d’Andrieu

I wanted to include the Christmas Concerto by the Swiss composer Hannes Meyer in the concert, partly because all the other composers represented are dead, but mostly because of what he writes in the introduction to his book of pieces about how it is a pity that Christmas is confined to the end of December! which I hope rather justifies the anticipation of the feast in tonight’s programme.

“Nothing has been so fruitful to all disciplines of Western artistic creation than the Christmas story related in the Kew Testament. Certain images, figures of speech, melodic turns familiar to everyone suffice to turn a picture, a poem, a song into a vivid Christmas experience, in the same manner that garlic, for instance, gives a meal an unmistakable flavour.

“Come December, and the streets begin to echo with the tidings of the joys of Christmas: carols are heard, children sing and play music, and a veritable epidemic of glittering ornaments and coloured lights hits the store windows in the cities and in the country. People suddenly re?member forgotten affinities and group together gregariously: homes, churches and clubs are filled with warmth.

“For some, the troubling proximity of baby Jesus and stable odours cannot be supported long or even at all; others, however, are so exhila?rated by misguided devoutness at the birth of our Saviour, that they are lucky not to have to swallow more than one dose of this a year. How sad that Christmas falls at the same time for so many people!

“May these Christmas pieces stimulate music lovers to light their tiny Christmas candles throughout all the four seasons, for the glory of Christmas is an effective cosmetic for the soul: it makes you feel wonderful and keeps you in shape. After all, the Three Magi travelled through all four seasons several times in order to attain holiness at one precise moment.”

There are three movements - fast, slow, fast.

Christmas Concerto Hannes Meyer

And so we come to the Epiphany, with a short selection of music in different styles - again Hannes Meyer makes an appearance, this time with his tongue firmly in his cheek to characterise the three wise men with different marches, presumably according to their characters.

For Buxtehude’s variations on “How Brightly Shines the Morning Star”, I’ll again play the choral before starting.

And I’ll finish with an Epilogue - the Epilogue on Dix, which is the name of the tune for the hymn As with Gladness, by WH Harris - he directed the music at New College Oxford, and Christ Church Cathedral before finishing at St George’s Windsor. One of the great men of English Cathedral music in the 30s, 40s and 50s.

First of all though, in this Epiphany group, another plainsong-based movement - this one by Maurice Duruflé - we do a lot of plainsong at my church, and it is good to be reminded sometimes that it isn’t all slow!

Prelude sur l’Introit de l’Epiphanie Maurice Durufle
Three Kings’ Marches Hannes Meyer
Wie Schon Chorale
Wie Schon Leuchtet Dietrich Buxtehude
As with Gladness William H. Harris

Encore - Noel Eccossaise - Guilmant