A. HERBERT BREWER: Marche Heroïque
HERBERT HOWELLS: Psalm-Prelude, Op. 32, No. 1
WOLFGANG AMADEUS MOZART: Fantaisie, K. 608
SAMUEL BARBER: Adagio for Strings, Op. 11 (arr. Strickland)
LEO SOWERBY: Pageant
LOUIS VIERNE: Impromptu
LOUIS VIERNE: Clair de lune
CHARLES MARIE WIDOR: Symphonie No. 6
Allegro · Cantabile · Finale
The grand acoustics of a resonant cathedral building present the ideal setting for any organ, and when the instrument has many fine qualities so expertly exploited by a vastly talented organist, the results are spectacular! Thomas Bara, one of the organists and accompanists at St. Thomas Church in New York City under Gerre Hancock for many years, plays this recent (2003) organ built by The Reuter Organ Company for the Roman Catholic Cathedral of St. Francis Xavier in Alexandria, Louisiana. Recording engineer Peter Nothnagle captures the fine acoustics and sumptuous sounds in a technically outstanding CD.
Program Notes by Thomas Bara
When The Reuter Organ Company invited me to record on their Opus 2218 at St. Francis Xavier Cathedral in Alexandria, Louisiana, I jumped at the opportunity. In many ways this organ is the big sister to our new instrument at Interlochen Arts Academy, Reuter Opus 2227, with the added advantage of a beautiful cathedral acoustic. This is an eclectic program to showcase an eclectic organ, a celebration of the rich and varied tonal palette of a great modern instrument.
Arthur Herbert Brewer (1865-1928) was a chorister at Gloucester Cathedral in his boyhood and later became its organist, where he served from 1897 until his death. He directed the Three Choirs Festival in Gloucester many times and was most certainly familiar with the music of Edward Elgar. March Heroïque (1915) shares its musical form and accompanying ceremonial grandeur with Elgar’s famous series of Pomp and Circumstance marches.
Herbert Howells (1893-1983) studied with Brewer at Gloucester Cathedral and later with Charles Villiers Stanford, C. Hubert H. Parry and Charles Wood at the Royal College of Music. Howells is widely regarded as one of the great composers of Anglican Church music of the 20th century. His musical language is rich, modal, improvisatory and impressionistic, ideally wedded to the architecture of England’s great reverberant sacred spaces. The Psalm Prelude Set 1, Op. 32, No. 1, was written around 1915, the same time as Brewer’s March Heroique. It is a meditation on Psalm 34, verse 6: “Lo, the poor crieth and the Lord heareth him: yea, and saveth him out of all his troubles.” Covering a gambit of emotions, from nostalgia and melancholy, to fervent hope, to resignation and despair, this piece demands seamless crescendi and diminuendi, from the softest sounds of the organ to the loudest and back down again.
Although Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) is credited with crowning the organ “The King of Instruments,” he wrote precious little for the instrument. The Fantasy in F, K. 608, one of the last pieces he composed, was actually commissioned for an automated organ operated by a clockwork-like mechanism. However, like Beethoven and the Romantics to follow, he stretches all boundaries musically. The piece clearly calls for significant tonal resources that only a few “clockwork organs” possessed; conversely, as it was written for an automated mechanism and not an actual human performer, it calls for more technical resources than is ergonomically feasible. The Fantasy combines a potpourri of musical forms under the umbrella of a giant rondo: dramatic French overtures, fiery fugues, an elegantly lyric theme and variations, and even a “concerto cadenza,” complete with triple trills.
Samuel Barber (1910-1981) originally composed his Adagio as the middle movement of his String Quartet No. 1, Op. 11. Barber’s own transcription of it for string orchestra was debuted by Arturo Toscanini and the NBC Orchestra in 1938 as Toscanini’s first performance of an American composer. There are many other transcriptions for various ensembles and solo instruments; in addition to Barber’s later transcription for eight part choir, a quick search uncovered arrangements for solo guitar, clarinet choir and marimba ensemble, to name a few. This organ transcription was arranged by William Strickland (1914-1991) when he was Assistant Organist at Saint Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church in New York, after he was “bowled over” by Toscanini’s NBC broadcast. The work, deemed by surveys conducted by National Public Radio and the BBC Today Programme to be “one of the 100 most important pieces of 20th century American music” and the “saddest classical music piece ever,” is beautifully served by the subtle, sustained sounds of this organ.
Like Barber, Leo Sowerby (1895-1968) sounds quintessentially “American,” though in a way that contrasts and compliments Barber. Combining a mostly self-taught knowledge of music theory with folk and jazz idioms, Sowerby’s music sounds exuberant, spunky, rich and festive. Pageant (1931) in particular evokes images of Art Deco and Tin Pan Alley. It is an introduction, theme and variations which take the listener on a journey through the colors and textures of the organ. Written for Italian organ virtuoso Fernando Germani (1906-1996) as a tour de force for organ pedals, Germani is known to have commented on receiving the score, “Now write for me something really difficult!”
Charles-Marie Widor (1844-1937) and his student Louis Vierne (1870-1937) stand as leading protagonists of the French Symphonic School of organ composition and playing, immeasurably inspired by the remarkable organs of Aristide Cavaillé-Coll. Louis Vierne was a student at the Paris Conservatory in 1890 at the time Widor took over following the death of César Franck. Young Vierne was an especially brilliant student and was soon appointed Widor’s assistant at the Conservatory and at St. Sulpice. In 1900 Vierne became organist at Notre Dame where he remained until his death. The twenty-four Pièces de Fantaisie (1926-27) make particularly imaginative and effective use of the modern organ’s range of color, often forming musical pictures in much the same manner as the Impressionists Debussy and Ravel. Impromptu is a playful, light-hearted dialogue between the flutes and the clarinet stop. Clair de lune, a seductive moonlight serenade, features the beautiful harmonic flute.
Widor was organist at St. Sulpice from 1870 until 1934, where he played Cavaillé-Coll’s largest and arguably finest instrument. Widor’s Sixth Symphony (1878) testifies to the glorious aesthetic of the symphonic organ in the hands of a mature composer thoroughly aware of its possibilities. The Allegro starts with a fortissimo statement of a march-like theme followed by a quasi-recitative statement of an allegro theme. Widor interweaves these two ideas throughout the movement, closing with a heroic recapitulation of the march in the pedals. The Cantabile, a theme and variation, consists of a simple, lyrical melody played on the oboe accompanied by the harmonic flute. Full of virtuosic display and thrillingly developed, the Finale, yet another march, brings the symphony to a brilliant, triumphant close.
Thomas Bara, Organist
Thomas Bara is Instructor of Organ at the Interlochen Arts Academy and Arts Camp in Michigan. Considered by many to be the top fine arts boarding school in the United States, the Academy was recently awarded the National Medal of Arts, the nation’s highest recognition for excellence in the arts. As a member of the faculty, Mr. Bara maintains a studio of about 15 organ students and teaches Music Theory and Class Piano. He also holds the position of Choirmaster at Central United Methodist Church in Traverse City.
Thomas Bara came to Interlochen from Saint Thomas Church Fifth Avenue, New York, New York, where he worked as Assistant Organist under Gerre and Judith Hancock. Prior to his appointment to Saint Thomas, Mr. Bara served as Organist-Choirmaster and Fine Arts Chair at the Saint James School, Saint James, Maryland and as Director of Music Ministries and Organist at Bethany Presbyterian Church, Rochester, New York. He was Organ Scholar at Saint Thomas Church Fifth Avenue and the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine in 1991-92.
Mr. Bara studied organ at the Interlochen Arts Academy, where he was awarded the Fine Arts and Young Artist awards upon graduation in 1987. He then earned the B.Mus. from the University of Michigan and the M.Mus. from the Eastman School of Music. At Eastman, Mr. Bara received the prestigious Performance Certificate and the first Harold Gleason Emerging Artist Award. His teachers include Robert Glasgow, Arthur Haas, Gerre Hancock, David Higgs, Robert Murphy, John O’Brien and Russell Saunders.
Mr. Bara won first prize in the Arthur Poister National Organ Competition and was a finalist in the National Young Artist Competition and Fort Wayne National Organ Competition. As soloist and as accompanist to The Saint Thomas Choir of Men and Boys, he has performed widely, including concerts at the Royal Cathedral, Copenhagen; King’s College, Cambridge; Saint John’s Smith Square, London; and Saint Paul’s Cathedral, London.