*****5-Star Review in The Organ, Aug-Oct, 2014! (please see below)
In a 2-CD set, Anthony Hammond, plays César Franck's Three Chorals and Charles-Marie Widor's Symphony No. 5 on the famous four-manual, 92-rank organ built by Harrison & Harrison in 1962 for the new Coventry Cathedral edifice, the earlier cathedral and its organ having been destroyed in World War II. On the second CD, Anthony Hammond improvises a five-movement Symphony in homage to Widor, a Choral in homage to Franck, a Prelude on the Coventry Carol, and Figures at a Crucifixion: Three Studies after a Work by Francis Bacon.
CD 1 French Romantic Masterworks
César Franck: Trois Chorals pour Grand Orgue
Choral No. 1 in E
Choral No. 2 in B minor
Choral No. 3 in A minor
Charles-Marie Widor: Symphonie V en Fa pour Orgue, op. 42, no. 5
Allegro vivace · Allegro cantabile · Andantino quasi allegretto · Adagio · Toccata
CD 2 Improvisations by Anthony Hammond
Hommage à Widor: Symphonie Improvisée
Allegro vivace · Allegro cantabile · Andantino quasi allegretto · Adagio · Toccata
Hommage à Franck: Choral
Prelude on The Coventry Carol
Figures at a Crucifixion: Three Studies after a Work by Francis Bacon
Figure One · Figure Two · Figure Three
Anthony Hammond, author of the critically acclaimed Pierre Cochereau: Organist of Notre-Dame (Eastman Studies in Music, University of Rochester Press, 2012), is Director of Music at Cirencester Parish Church, having earlier held posts at Chester Cathedral, St. Mary Redcliffe Church in Bristol, and Bristol Cathedral. A graduate of the University of Bristol from which he holds a Ph. D. in musicology, he studied the organ with Roger Fisher and David Briggs in England and with Naji Hakim in Paris.
During his seven-year doctoral study of Pierre Cochereau, he transcribed and published two of Cochereau's famous improvisations: a symphony realized in 1972 at St. Mary Cathedral, San Francisco, and Scherzo sur deux Noëls realized in 1959 at Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris. Both are published by Dr. J. Butz Musikverlag, Bonn.
Anthony Hammond's first recording for the Raven label follows several earlier CDs, most for the British Priory label. His first organ concert in the United States was given at St. Mary Cathedral, San Francisco, in 2009, and he has subsequently played several times, including the National Cathedral, Washington, D. C., and Holy Cross Cathedral, Boston.
The Harrison & Harrison Organ of Coventry Cathedral
The old cathedral housed a fine “Father” Willis organ from 1886, identical to that in Truro Cathedral, but this instrument was totally destroyed when the cathedral was reduced to ruins in an air raid in November 1940.
The new cathedral, designed by architect Sir Basil Spence, needed a new organ, and Harrison & Harrison of Durham were awarded the contract in 1952. This was a period of great upheaval in organ building. The organ reform movement advocated a return to classical principles in organ building, and the Harrison organ in the Royal Festival Hall, London, without doubt the firm’s most iconic instrument of the period, reflected much of that philosophy. On the other hand, more Romantic or eclectic organs, typifying the English cathedral sound, had their staunch defenders. It was no surprise, therefore, that it took a long time to reach agreement on the styling of the Coventry instrument and the eventual scheme agreed in 1959 – the work of Dr. Sidney Campbell (organist of St. George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle) in conjunction with Cuthbert Harrison and with advice from various other musicians – was, intentionally, a compromise between the two extremes. However, this compromise resulted in what must surely be one of Harrison and Harrison’s greatest instruments.
Harrison & Harrison, Durham, England
Coventry Cathedral, Coventry, West Midlands, England
16 Double Diapason
8 Open Diapason 1
8 Open Diapason 2
8 Stopped Diapason
2-2/3 Octave Quint
2 Super Octave
16 Double Trumpet
Swell to Great Reversible Man., Foot Pistons
Choir to Great Reversible
Solo to Great Reversible
8 Hohl flute
8 Céleste (B flat)
16 Contra Fagotto
Swell 4, Unison
Solo to Swell Reversible
8 Claribel Flute
8 Harmonic Flute
4 Rohr Flute
1-1/3 Larigot (1988)
Swell to Choir Reversible
Solo to Choir Reversible
8 Rohr Flute*
8 Viole Céleste*
4 Open Flute*
2 Wald Flute*
16 Corno di Bassetto* 73 notes, also available at 8’ pitch †
8 Orchestral Trumpet
4 Orchestral Clarion
Solo 4 Reversible
Solo Unison Reversible
† The Corno di Bassetto is also available at 8’ pitch via a dedicated
manual combination piston which collectively engages the stop as well as
the Solo 4 coupler and Solo Unison Off, cancelling any other Solo
32 Sub Bourdon (20 from Gt Bourdon)
16 Open Wood
16 Open Metal
16 Diapason (Gt Dbl Diap)
16 Sub Bass
4 Rohr Flute
2 Open Flute
16 Fagotto (Sw)
Great to Pedal Reversible Man. & Foot Pistons
Swell to Pedal Reversible
Choir to Pedal Reversible
Solo to Pedal Reversible
8 foot pistons and cancel to the Pedal Organ
8 pistons and cancel to the Choir Organ
8 pistons and cancel to the Great Organ
8 pistons and cancel to the Swell Organ (duplicated by foot pistons)
8 pistons and cancel to the Solo Organ
12 general pistons (8 duplicated by foot pistons)
General cancel piston
2 general pistons for couplers
Great and Pedal Combinations Coupled
Swell on General foot pistons
8 divisional and 64 general piston memory levels
Balanced expression pedals to the Swell and Solo Organs
The manual compass is 61 notes; the pedal 32 notes.
The actions are electro-pneumatic.
French Romantic Masterworks
César Franck’s Trois Chorals were the last works by the father of the French Romantic organ school. Composed within two months during the summer of 1890, they were not published until 1891, after the composer’s death. Franck’s pupils Louis Vierne and Charles Tournemire later recalled him playing the pieces through at the piano with a student filling in the pedal line, and Vincent d’Indy records that the gravely ill composer dragged himself to his beloved organ in the Parisian church of Sainte-Clotilde one final time to try out some registration ideas. Yet the sad fact remains that Franck never heard a true first performance of what are widely regarded as his greatest masterpieces for the instrument.
In his analysis of Choral No.1 in E, d’Indy points out that the various themes of the piece, which he calls “lieds,” are all related to each other and culminate at the work’s end in their simplest guise of all. Franck takes inspiration from Liszt here and the work is an emotional journey, during which the themes will evoke everything from profound dignity to touching melancholy before, eventually, achieving glorious simplicity. When Franck began what would become the Trois Chorals he did not envisage a set of three pieces. This first was intended as a stand-alone work. It is not difficult to see why he was so pleased with it that he decided to write two more.
Choral No.2 in B minor begins in a manner suggestive of a passacaglia – four variations over a theme heard initially in the pedals. Recitative-like passages then begin to disrupt the flow of this idea and lead to the central fantasia section, monumental in its blazes of sound and hurtling figurations. Returning to an ordered serenity, Franck then begins to develop his contrapuntal ideas. His implacable theme is ever present, refusing to have its progress disrupted by the increasingly varied music in which it is enveloped. It then disappears for a period, as if gathering its strength while other ideas are left to have their fun for a time. In its absence, and without its steadying influence, the music becomes increasingly chromatic, ever growing in both volume and intensity. Finally, when the tension has reached breaking point, the theme makes an explosive and triumphant return. Order is restored and the dark chromaticism defeated to allow the piece to end in a quiet, beautiful and luminous B major.
Choral No.3 in A minor begins, as many have observed, with an overt homage to J. S. Bach. Sections containing figurations originating in Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in A Minor, and huge chords built from the bottom upwards recalling the Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, are interspersed with quieter chordal sections reminiscent of the Fantasia and Fugue in G Minor. The middle section of the work, one of Franck’s most sublime constructions, begins with a beautiful trumpet melody. The deft handling of chromaticism and the subtlety with which the harmony is manipulated in this section shows the genius of the mature Franck at its best. The opening ideas then return leading to a majestic and shattering climax.
Symphonie V en Fa by Charles-Marie Widor was published in 1879 as the first of the composer’s second set of organ symphonies. In many ways Widor was Franck’s natural successor in terms of his influence on the development of organ composition and performance in France. When Franck died responsibility for the organ class at the Paris Conservatoire passed to Widor who, although in his late 40s by then, was widely viewed as a young, worldly and cosmopolitan virtuoso in profound contrast to his much admired, but much more old-fashioned, predecessor. Organist of the great Parisian church of Saint-Sulpice since 1870 - and always on a temporary contract there which never became permanent in sixty four years! – through his studies in Brussels with Lemmens he had acquired a prodigious organ technique the like of which no Frenchman had had before.
Symphonie V was premièred in full by Widor at the organ of the Trocadéro in Paris on 19 October 1879, the first movement having already been played in public by him the previous February. Although its composition pre-dates Franck’s Trois Chorals by more than a decade, in stylistic terms this symphony is a much more “modern” work. Unlike the earlier Op.13 set of 1872 which, although called symphonies, were really more properly suites of individual pieces, the 1879 works were more genuinely symphonic conceptions. Although still not as cyclical as were the later examples of the genre by his pupil Louis Vierne, especially in such aspects as the manipulation of themes through multiple movements, nevertheless Widor was now demonstrating a clear concept of a single work comprised of multiple movements. For an example we might look at the last movement, “Toccata,” which may justly lay claim to being one of the two most famous pieces of organ music ever written (the other being the Toccata and Fugue in D minor attributed to J.S. Bach). It acquires an extra dimension when heard in the context of the entire symphony because, when the pedal enters, its first two notes define a two-octave drop – a development of the one-octave leaping ideas heard in both the first and third movements.
The first movement is a set of virtuosic variations designed to exploit to the full the new sonorities and mechanical capabilities of the instruments of Aristide Cavaillé-Coll. Widor made no concessions here to the old-fashioned techniques of most of his target market when publishing this music – to play it required the kind of technical mastery which had been demanded of him and which he, in turn, expected of his students. The second movement is a pure evocation of the salon society of which Widor was part. It is a charming and simple “song without words” which balances the bravura of the first movement perfectly. The third movement, although not actually a scherzo, fulfils a similar role in the structure of the symphony as a whole. Its central section again calls for an impressive dexterity in both controlling the instrument and negotiating the pedal line. The fourth movement is, in many ways, the complement to the second. Once again song-like in character, this time the mood is much more reflective. Finally comes that “Toccata;” a veritable cascade of notes from beginning to end exploring to the full the resources of the organ. This movement is a true masterclass in how to make the most from the least. Structurally and harmonically the music is extremely simple, which may explain why it was so immediately and universally popular, but the manner in which Widor treats his material elevates it to a truly sublime level.
Improvisations by Anthony Hammond
At the conclusion of the sessions in Coventry Cathedral during which we had recorded the works by Franck and Widor, we found ourselves with a few hours to spare. I had found the sessions a deeply inspirational experience – the perfect marriage of organ and building had given rise to many ideas – so I suggested that we record some improvisations. The result is what you hear on this disc. The music is unedited and there were no alternative takes. I had the idea to improvise some pieces which responded to the written works which I had been recording and which, broadly speaking, confined themselves to the musical language of the composers to whom they pay homage. Then I felt that I wanted to carry the use of the instrument forward into areas unexplored either by Franck or Widor, and which were not represented on my own previous album of improvisations.
My Hommage à Widor: Symphonie Improvisée follows the structural model of Widor’s Symphonie V. The plainsong theme Rorate coeli runs throughout the work – sometimes present in full, sometimes in part and sometimes only in hints. Following Widor’s lead, the first movement is a loosely structured set of variations exploring many of the sonorities of the Coventry organ in the same way that Widor explores the most characteristic Cavaillé-Coll sonorities in the first movement of his work; the second movement is a song without words and the tripartite third movement has aspects of the scherzo form without actually being a scherzo. For my fourth movement, I allowed the language to expand a little toward some of the regions into which Widor ventures in his later works, and which were more fully explored by his pupil Louis Vierne. The concluding toccata does not attempt to mimic Widor’s but is, I hope, always informed by clarity of musical thought seen in his example.
Hommage à Franck: Choral immerses itself in Franck’s sumptuously rich late-Romantic language, as heard in the Trois Chorals. The theme is Franck’s own name, worked out in musical notation by the system that composers back to Bach’s own time have used. In German notation B flat is called B, and B natural is called H. Thus one "spells" in music by first listing the notes A to H in a horizontal line, then placing a second line beneath for I to P and so forth until for every letter of the alphabet one can see which musical note corresponds.
Taking as a theme the ancient and beautiful “Coventry Carol” seemed, in the context of these improvisations, too good an opportunity to miss. In the uncompromisingly modern architecture of this magnificent cathedral my Prelude on “The Coventry Carol” is an attempt to set an old melody in a simple manner with a modern twist.
I am fascinated by the work of the British figural painter Francis Bacon. The artist himself was a vociferous atheist, yet his willingness to engage with religious ideas in a number of his paintings led to works which somehow convey a spiritual message in a manner much more profound than is found in the work of many artists of strong religious faith. The work which brought Bacon to prominence was the 1944 Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion, a triptych depicting three savage biomorphic creatures often linked by commentators with the furies of Greek myth. Bacon intended that these paintings would stand at the bottom of a much larger installation depicting a crucifixion (note a crucifixion, and not necessarily the crucifixion of Christ) but that larger work was never realised. The artist intended viewers of his paintings to experience a shock to the nervous system which conveyed directly some of the horror inherent in the concept of crucifixion itself. Coventry Cathedral has no window in its east wall, that whole space instead being covered by Graham Sutherland’s majestic and monumental tapestry depicting Christ in Glory. Sutherland had a strong religious faith but he was a great friend and promoter of Francis Bacon in the latter’s earlier career. I had the idea of improvising a musical triptych which, in some way, approached the subject of crucifixion from Bacon’s angle while in the shadow of Sutherland’s masterpiece. Figures at a Crucifixion: Three Studies after a Work by Francis Bacon is not intended as a depiction of any particular characters from the Bible story, but as a musical meditation on the feelings experienced by three onlookers at such a scene.
Interpreting the Trois Chorals of César Franck at Coventry Cathedral
In the mid-1980s, the musicologists Jesse Eschbach and Robert Bates discovered among the papers of César Franck in Paris’s Bibliothèque Nationale some surviving leaves from a notebook in which Franck wrote down themes and ideas for improvisations and, perhaps more significantly, many registrations for liturgical improvisations. What is striking about those registrations, which are for his beloved Cavaillé-Coll organ at Sainte-Clotilde, Paris, is that they show Franck to have experimented with a much more varied palette of sounds than has traditionally been assumed on the basis of the registrations marked in his published works. This important discovery, still somewhat underestimated, has definite consequences for what constitutes correct practice in interpreting those written works – works which, perhaps more than any others of the French Romantic period, incite debate among players – because it forces us to reconsider the traditional view of the primary importance of the organ of Sainte-Clotilde to the way that the music ought to sound.
Since the time of Vierne and Tournemire, both of whom studied with Franck, it has been assumed that the registration indications on the scores relate specifically to the organ of Sainte-Clotilde, from which the composer drew so much of his inspiration. In the introduction to his 1957 edition of the Trois Chorals, Maurice Duruflé declares that a knowledge of this instrument’s peculiarities, which he lists, is essential when interpreting the composer’s intentions. Some of these have obvious practical significance. For example, there was no Récit to Pédale coupler at Sainte-Clotilde, but if one coupled the Récit to the Positif and then coupled the Positif to the Pédale, both manual divisions would couple to the Pédale. Ignorance of this could cause problems when Franck says to couple the Positif and Grand-Orgue divisions to the Pédale but does not mention the Récit – one must remember that if the Récit is coupled to either of those other manual divisions at that point then it too will need to be coupled to the pedals. However, although the specification of the Sainte-Clotilde instrument during Franck’s time may appear curious to us now, as indeed it did to the 1950s organists to whom Duruflé’s guidance was addressed, in Franck’s own time it was common for even quite large French instruments to have only the principal manual division capable of being coupled to the Pedal, all other divisions only coupling down through it. Therefore, although Franck’s markings of this nature must be correctly interpreted, they are more generally applicable than sometimes has been acknowledged. It seems likely that he gave guidance on registration by reference to the Sainte-Clotilde organ not because he was obsessive about players reproducing its sounds precisely but because he considered it to be fairly typical of a medium sized instrument of the time.
The Trois Chorals have always been slightly troubling pieces in this respect because Franck died before ever having the opportunity to perform them or to teach them to others. The surviving manuscript of the second has registration markings in an unidentified hand (definitely not the composer’s) and some spelling mistakes which would have been most uncharacteristic of the fastidious Franck; and the registration scheme of the third is widely considered incomplete. There is, therefore, a certain amount which must come down to the good sense of the performer, and in this respect Duruflé is absolutely correct insofar as knowledge of the type of organ for which the composer wrote is the only way to avoid potential pitfalls.
The Récit division at Sainte-Clotilde was small, and notably had no reed at 16’ pitch. When Franck calls for the full Récit, the sound he had most readily in mind was probably the Sainte-Clotilde division with only 8’ and 4’ reeds; so, does that mean that it is always wrong to use a 16’ reed on the Récit (or Swell) division when performing these works? Some would argue that this is the case, but I would tend to agree with Jesse Eschbach, who is less convinced (see Jesse Eschbach, “Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale, MS 8707: A New Source for Franck’s Registrational Practices and Its Implications for the Published Registrations of His Organ Works” in French Organ Music from the Revolution to Franck and Widor, ed. Archbold and Peterson (New York: University of Rochester Press, 1995)). Franck did not perform only at Sainte-Clotilde. The Trois Pièces of 1878 were, for example, premièred by him at the much larger organ of the Trocadéro. Are we sensibly to assume that he would have resisted drawing the 16’ reed on the Récit there even if using it suited the music? And what to make of the Final from the earlier Six Pièces, which actually calls for a Récit 16’ reed?
Taking an approach to this or, indeed, to any music that is overly straight-jacketed by historical musicological worries tends, in my opinion, to lead performers to abdicate responsibility for being interpreters of the work in question. We do need some idea of what came most readily to Franck’s mind when he thought of the sound of the full Récit, because that guides thinking; but, then, we must listen to the actual instrument on which the work is to be performed and pay careful attention to how it sounds in its space. This philosophy underpinned the edition of all of Franck’s organ works by Marcel Dupré, although Dupré courted controversy by indulging in wholesale revisions to the registration scheme. As fascinating as it is to see how Dupré viewed these works, most Franck scholars would now argue, and I would agree, that he went much too far. However, in the introduction, Dupré recalled that his own teacher, Alexandre Guilmant, had played Franck’s works to the composer himself and received guidance and advice far beyond what was printed on the scores, including on registration. This suggests that Franck did, indeed, see his score markings as basic guidelines only. Between the extremes of, on the one hand, strict and unyielding adherence purely to the registration palette available to Franck at Sainte-Clotilde and nowhere else, and, on the other, Dupré’s total reconception, there would seem to me to be a comfortable middle ground where the performer is free, within reason, to make enlightened value judgements. If including a 16’ reed in the full Récit (or Swell) registration does not confuse the textures but actually enhances the effect, then, why not consider it?
In these recordings of the Trois Chorals, for much of the time I have not used Coventry Cathedral’s Swell 16’ Contra Fagotto because I deemed it unnecessary, but at the end of the third Choral there was, to my mind, no reason not to include it. Furthermore, in the same place I saw no reason not to include a 32’ reed, which Franck also did not have at Sainte-Clotilde. Finally, although it is renowned for its suitability for French music, the Coventry Cathedral organ does lack one sonority particularly beloved of Franck – the Voix Humaine (or Vox Humana). This sound is requested in both the first and second Chorals and some would argue that its absence would have been reason enough not to record these works on this instrument. To me, this suggestion seems ludicrous, as in so many other respects the Coventry organ imparts such beauty and grandeur to them. Once again, the performer must become an interpreter in the search for an alternative sound which respects the effect intended by the composer, even though it cannot be precisely replicated. A common mistake is to assume that, merely because it has the word "Voix" in its name, a Voix Céleste is a suitable alternative. It definitely is not and one needs to be more creative, but if we know the sound intended by the composer and then we use our ears, solutions are possible. Mine satisfies me, others may prefer an alternative, but it is through such processes, enlightened but not constrained by knowledge of the sounds which were in the mind of the composer, that the music comes to life afresh every time that it is taken to a new instrument.
All notes by Anthony Hammond
Dr. Anthony Hammond is an English concert organist, improviser, composer and musicologist. He studied the organ with Roger Fisher and David Briggs in England and with Dr. Naji Hakim in Paris. A graduate of the University of Bristol, he held posts at Chester Cathedral, St. Mary Redcliffe Church, Bristol, and Bristol Cathedral before moving to Cirencester Parish Church, where he is currently Director of Music. His passion for French organ music and improvisation led to doctoral study of legendary French organist Pierre Cochereau, for which he was awarded his Ph.D. He has reconstructed a number of improvisations by Cochereau, several of which he has published and recorded.
His CDs have been critically acclaimed and his repertoire covers all periods, but he is particularly associated with Romantic and 20th century French and English music. Many of his concerts include improvisations and he is known for his improvised accompaniments to classic silent films. He has broadcast for the B.B.C. and has given recitals in churches, cathedrals and concert halls throughout the U.K., in Europe and in the U.S.A.
In 2009, he made his American solo debut in San Francisco, and among his most notable recent concert venues are the National Cathedral in Washington D.C., the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Newark, New Jersey, the Cathedral of Notre-Dame in Paris and Westminster Abbey in London. In 2012 his book Pierre Cochereau: Organist of Notre-Dame, written with support from Cochereau’s family, friends and colleagues, was published to widespread critical acclaim.
Writes James Palmer in The Organ, August-October, 2014:
". . . although the music and influence of French composers for the organ in the generations succeeding the collapse of the French monarchy in 1848 is more than apparent here, this issue deserves to be taken very seriously indeed on its own terms. The first CD here is a programme of the major works by Franck and Widor - the former's Trois Corals and the latter's Fifth Symphony - both composers' music being given with considerable insight and authority and very well recorded in Coventry Cathedral. So far, so good: but what makes this a truly engrossing and indeed unique presentation is the second CD of music and improvisations by Hammond himself - beginning with a major five-movement improvised Symphony - a work that I would respectfully suggest should be published without delay, for on this basis it surely constitutes one of the most important large-scale organ works by any living British composer. It would appear to be magnificently played.
The Hommage à Franck takes the form of a genuine homage to the master's three Chorals, and is well worth the attention of all admirers of Franck and his school - nor is this a mere piece of jobbery 'in the style of', although it is not too difficult to appreciate where Hammond, in this work, is 'coming from' so to speak. The much shorter Prelude on the Coventry Carol, and the 14-minute three-movement 'Figures at a Crucifixion' is another of that quite remarkable series of musical works that appear to have been inspired by the individual British artist Francis Bacon - although this is surely
the first organ work, as opposed to orchestral piece by Gerard Schurmann and Mark-Anthony Turnage, to have been directly inspired by the artist's creations.
I have found this to be a recording of no little importance, and it is very strongly recommended to those keen to hear what modern composers, with a more than working knowledge of the instrument, are creating for the organ. But it is extraordinary that this comes from an American company!"