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Organ Music of René Louis Becker, Vol. 2
Damin Spritzer, Organist
****Four-Star Review in Choir & Organ, "Spritzer proves a committed and eloquent advocate . . ." - [OAR-949]
$15.98

René Louis Becker, born and educated in Strasbourg, France, as the son of a prominent organist, moved to the USA at age 21 in 1904 and worked as a composer and organist in St. Louis, Illinois, and Michigan for 52 years. Damin Spritzer plays nine of his 152 organ works, including the splendid First Sonata in G (5 mvts) on the 1880 Cavaillé-Coll 4m organ in the cathedral of Orléans, France.

Organ Music of René Louis Becker on Volume 2

Toccata in B-flat, Ite, missa est, op. 69c

Postlude in D minor, op. 75a

Toccata, op. 32

Cantilène, op. 63

March in D Minor, op. 76a

Toccata, Benedicamus Domino, op. 68a

Interlude from 12 Compositions for Organ, op. 16

Prelude from 12 Compositions for Organ, op. 16

First Sonata in G, op. 40: Praeludium festivum; Dialogue; Scherzo; Prayer; Toccata

**** Four-Star Review in Choir & Organ!  writes Michael Quinn in the March/April 2015 issue:
This second instalment in Damin Spritzer's enterprising rehabilitation of the prolific but largely unknown Alsatian-American René Louis Becker comes an attention-sapping three years after the first volume. Happily, it's been worth the wait. This nine-track compendium boasts eight first recordings, the five-movement First Sonata, Becker's most substantial and sophisticated work the exception to the rule. Highlights among the new discoveries are the B-flat Toccata, Ite, missa est, with its gymnastic use of counterpoint, the effusively lyrical Cantilène and a fiercely dramatic D minor March. Spritzer proves a committed and eloquent advocate on the wholly sympathetic-sounding 1880 Cavaillé-Coll of Orléans Cathedral.

*****Five-Star Review in The Organ, writes James Palmer in the Feb-Apr 2015 issue:
    The Alsatian-American composer René Louis Becker (1882-1956) is a particularly interesting if relatively quiet, unknown figure, and it is due largely to the work of Damin Spritzer that we hear any of his music outside of the most specialist of organists. One has to say that this on the strength of this second set of recordings of his music, it manifestly does not deserve the unaccountable neglect into which it appears to have fallen.
    All of the music on this CD was composed between 1908 and 1923 - not a long period in which to go from opus 16 to opus 76a, those 60 works (and more) averaging at around four a year in the 15-year period. Becker (whose name and music were largely unknown to me before I was sent this CD), would seem therefore to be a composer well worth the time and investigation that have been devoted to it by Damin Spritzer. Becker is unafraid of the big gesture; neither would he appear to have been fazed by the quality of more established organist-composers who were well-known internationally at that time - unaffected directly by the War then being raged across France and Belgium.
    What shines through this music is Becker's command of his instrument and of his chosen idiom, and the generally positive outlook of this composer is one of his most attractive features, without ever lapsing into superficiality. I was very taken by this recording, and I hope it plays an important role in the rehabilitation of this notable composer.

René Louis Becker

by Damin Spritzer

Introduction

Although René Louis Becker received recognition from many colleagues and published prolifically during his lifetime, his elegant organ music has been all but forgotten. I am honored to reintroduce his beautiful organ music to the world, the rediscovery of which clearly demonstrates his importance as a 20th-century Alsatian- American composer. Becker’s music is perhaps best summed up in this apt description of his writing from Albert Riemenschneider, who said, “True to the heritage of his native land, he combines in an unusual degree the best characteristics of the French and German schools. His melodies are always singable and beautiful and his earnestness and seriousness as shown by his sonatas is equaled only by his great command of rhythmic treatment.”1

René Becker’s grandfather (Jean-Baptiste,2 1813-1865), and father (Edouard, 1838-1895) were prominent organists, his father holding positions including Chartres Cathedral and the Strasbourg Cathedral3 (from 1871 to 1875). René was the second-to-last child in the large family, formally trained at the Strasbourg Municipal Conservatory of Music (1896-1904): piano with Ernst Münch and Fritz Blumer (a student of Franz Liszt), harmony with Carl Somborn (a student of Joseph Rheinberger), and organ with Adolph Gessner.4

In 1904,5 René departed from France to travel to the United States to join his two older brothers, Lucien (an organist) and Camille (a tenor) in St. Louis, Missouri, where they founded the Becker Bros. Conservatory. He also taught pianoforte at the St. Louis University as an Instructor of Music6, and taught Gregorian Chant at Kenrick Seminary.7 He lived in St. Louis for nine years. In 1912, Becker moved to Belleville, Illinois, and became the organist for St. Peter’s Cathedral. He left Belleville in 1915 and moved to Alton, Illinois, remaining 15 years, until 1930, as the organist for Ss. Peter and Paul Church.8 1928 saw his last published organ piece, and in 1930 he moved again and became the organist at Blessed Sacrament Cathedral in Detroit, Michigan,9 until 1942. He left Detroit after 1942 and took his last church position at St. Alphonsus Church in Dearborn, Michigan,10 for eight years. René Becker died of Parkinson’s disease11 at his home in Detroit12 on January 28, 1956, at the age of 74.

His career spanned highly productive decades in which he created more than 180 documented, individual pieces for solo organ and published more than 70 of them between 1908 and 1928. Surviving organ works include 34 marches, 15 toccatas, three large-scale sonatas, three extended fugues, numerous smaller works styled as preludes, postludes, finales, chansons, fantasies, and many other small- scale compositions with various titles. René Becker was a gifted and capable composer with easy command of his craft. It is evident that he was influenced by the music of other composers, recognizably by Johann Sebastian Bach, Theodore Dubois, Alexandre Guilmant, Felix Mendelssohn, Johannes Brahms, Charles- Marie Widor, and others. However, he was no plagiarist and creates his own distinctly unique works.

In the several church positions he held during his career, he was associated with Kilgen, Estey, and Hook & Hastings instruments during his active years of composing for the organ. However, there is no “Becker organ” and his registrations almost never specifically match existing stops and manuals on the instruments from his church positions.

Interestingly, during his years of study at the Strasbourg conservatory, the organs played by his keyboard professors underwent significant alterations and renovations. They should therefore be considered as influential on the style of composition in his earliest published works. His organ professor, Adolph Gessner, served Saint-Maurice in Strasbourg, where in 1899, a 42 stop, three manual13 organ by Friedrich Weigle (of Stuttgart) was installed. Becker studied with Gessner from 1899 to 1904. Becker’s piano professor in 1896-1897, Ernst Münch, was the organist and the choirmaster for Saint-Guillaume in Strasbourg.14 Andreas Silbermann built the first significant organ there in 1726, but the organ was completely rebuilt in 1898 (into the existing organ case) by E. F. Walcker (op. 804, 52 stops, three manuals and pedal, pneumatic action15).

The Music

With the sole exception of the First Sonata (recorded in 1999 at a live recital in France and now out of print), all selections on this disc are the first recordings of these works. As a companion to my first disc of Becker’s music (Raven OAR-925), this volume offers pieces truly among the most sophisticated and varied of his organ compositions.

The toccata was a favorite genre of Becker as evidenced by the fact that he wrote more than fifteen of them. His Toccata in B-flat, Ite, missa est, op. 69c, published in 1923, was dedicated to Clarence Eddy, who wrote a wonderful and effusive personal letter of thanks to René Becker after receiving it, in which he says Becker’s “…stunning new Toccata in B-flat … is splendidly written … there are very few composers who know how to write such wonderful counterpoint!”16 The work also represents one of Becker’s very few works based upon Gregorian chant, the incipit of which is provided on the first page of the score. It is a virtuosic work, relentless in its profusion of intricately arranged 16th-note figuration. Fragments of the chant are heard throughout in the soprano and pedal lines, ending with pedal octaves in the closing material.

The dramatic Postlude in D minor, op. 75a, was published in 1923, and it is full of contrast and color. The rhythmic opening theme is developed extensively, then Becker writes a contrasting melodic section in the relative major of B-flat that is itself in a petite ternary form. There is a brief return of the main theme that leads to a maestoso Chorale Gothique and coda.

The Toccata, op. 32, is dedicated, “To my sincere friend Rodney Saylor, Organist at Pilgrim Congregational Church, St. Louis, Mo.” In ternary form (a favorite compositional form of his), it was published in 1910, placing it among his earlier works dateable by copyright. It takes delightful inspiration from the French school and particularly from Theodore Dubois.

Becker’s sumptuous lyricism and gift for melody is shown at its very best in the Cantilene, op. 63. Again in ternary form, it was published 1918 and dedicated to organist Clarence Eddy. The poignant melody on the combined harmonic flutes of the Sainte-Croix organ in the A sections are contrasted with delicate arpeggios in the B section.

The feisty and furious March in D minor, op. 76a, published in 1923, is dedicated to Clarence Dickinson, and the musical style and harmonic language draws openly on the fire and playfulness of L. J. A. Lefébure-Wély and his flair for the dramatic. In a modified ternary form, there is a contrasting melodic section, followed by an abbreviated A section and a powerful coda.

Toccata: Benedicamus Domino, op. 68a, was published in 1919. It is another of Becker’s rare works that uses a Gregorian chant incipit. Fragments of the chant melody appear throughout the work, at times in the soprano, other times in the pedal. The coda is preceded by a virtuosic pedal cadenza, and the chant is heard for the final time in pedal octaves.

The Twelve Compositions for Organ, op. 16 of 1908, were Becker’s first published organ music, and the collection is dedicated to “Fr. Lemke at St. Barbara’s in St. Louis.”17 The works are small in scale but lovely, and they are important from a scholarly perspective because they exist in both the published versions as well as the unpublished manuscripts (few other of his published compositions exist in manuscript). However, the manuscript bearing most of the twelve published pieces is marked op. 10, not op. 16, and two other extant manuscripts of op. 16 differ from the published op. 16 set. The Interlude featured on this disc was originally titled Choral in the manuscript marked op. 10. This brief but exquisite piece draws heavily on the musical language of Johannes Brahms‘ monumental Fugue in A-flat minor (WoO 8) and thus I have chosen to register it similarly with the rich foundations of the Orléans organ.

The extant manuscript of the published version of the recorded Prelude is titled op. 69a, but an alternate version is the first piece in the op. 10 manuscript, the main differences being in the contrasting B sections. The published version modulates to F-sharp major, though the unpublished version modulates to G major. This delicate work is reminiscent of the writing of Mendelssohn.

The First Sonata in G, op. 40, published in 1912, is dedicated to Dr. William C. Carl, Director of the Guilmant Organ School, New York. It is Becker’s largest, most sophisticated, and most significant work. The five movements render it more on the scale of an organ symphony, though the compositional techniques and styles employed (fugue, counterpoint, etc.), along with the general adherence to the convention of “fast-slow-fast” in regard to the movements, are well associated with both organ sonatas and organ symphonies.

The first movement, Praeludium festivum, opens with a dramatic theme in the tonic key of G minor with powerful chords on the full organ interspersed with virtuosic solo triplets in scalar patterns. The lovely and lengthy second movement, Dialogue, bears a distinct structural similarity to the second movement, Allegro cantabile, of Widor’s Symphony No. 5 in F Minor, op. 42, no. 1: the opening solo begins in the tenor register, the Hautbois and Flûte harmonique are heard in dialogue, and a chorale-like contrasting section emerges before the recapitulation. The third movement is a charming Scherzo in ternary form in the dominant major of D, a perfect vehicle for the combination of all the harmonic flutes on the instrument. The A section is harmonically closed, and the contrasting section is chorale-like with playful interpolations of rippling 16th notes. The lovely fourth movement, titled Prayer, is in the key of E-flat major, the relative major of the original tonic key of G minor. The main theme and its answer are heard three times, each with minor melodic or harmonic alterations. The entire movement builds to a gentle crescendo, leading to six measures of an extended final cadence made all the more romantic by chromatic alterations including flat-sixth and supertonic seventh chords.

The sonata ends with an extended Toccata in the original key of G minor. Beginning on the full swell with the box tightly closed, this toccata modulates frequently, building tension all the while to the coda, where cascades of arpeggiated triplets are heard over a rising double-pedal theme in the bass that calls to mind the writing of Léon Boëllmann in his Suite Gothique. Mirroring the ending of the first movement, the toccata closes with grand chords that finally cadence in a triumphant G major.

1. Albert Riemenschneider, Baldwin-Wallace College Bulletin, School of Music, Vol. 4, No. 4, Sept. 1916, Becker family collection, Birmingham, MI.

2. Gene Scott, “La famille Becker” Musica et Memoria, www.musimem.com/becker.htm (accessed September 2011).

3. M. J. Erb, “Episodes de la vie d’un musicien d’Alsace (IV)”, L’orgue 42 (1947): 7.

4. Nicolas Slonimsky, ed., Baker’s Biographical Dictionary of Musicians, Fourth Edition, New York, G. Schirmer, Inc., 1940, 76.

5. J. H. T. Mize, ed., “Becker, René Louis,” The International Who is Who in Music, Fifth (Mid-Century) Edition, (Chicago: Sterling Publishing Company, 1951), 64.

6. Slonimsky, ed., Baker’s . . ., 4th Ed., 76.

7. Slonimsky, ed., Baker’s . . ., Fifth Edition, (New York: G. Schirmer, Inc., 1958), 108.

8. Slonimsky, ed., Baker’s . . ., 4th Ed., 76.

9. Slonimsky, ed., Baker’s . . ., 4th Ed., 76.

10. Mize, ed., “Becker, René Louis,” The International Who . . . , 5th Ed., 64.

11. Julius Becker, interview by author, Birmingham, MI., 13 May 2010.

12. “In Loving Memory: René L. Becker, Musician, 73” Detroit Sunday Times, 29 Jan. 1956

13. Eric Eisenberg, “Strasbourg, St Maurice Friedrich Weigle, 1899,” http://decouverte. orgue.free.fr (accessed 21 Sept 2011).

14. Albert Schweitzer, “Memories of Ernst Münch,” in Essays on Music, ed. Stefan Hanheide, (Bärenreiter-Verlag, 1988), 185-194.

15. Robert Poliquin, “Église protestante Saint-Guillaume Protestant Church Strasbourg (Bas-Rhin),” Université du Québec, www. uquebec.ca/musique/orgues/ france/ strasbourg.html (accessed 27 June 2011).

16. Clarence Eddy to René Becker, Chicago, 29 Nov 1923, Becker family collection, Birmingham, MI.

17. St. Louis Public Library website, “Two Hundred Years of St. Louis Places of Worship” accessed 22 Feb. 2013.

Damin Spritzer

Sought for lectures and performances, praised for “enormous sensitivity and musicianship” by the Journal of the Association of Anglican Musicians, and hailed as “elegantly assured” by the Dallas Morning News, Damin Spritzer has performed organ recitals from coast to coast and records internationally. Her performances are notable for programs that champion unknown romantic works for organ, new compositions by living composers, and collaborative performances with other instruments, particularly trombone and harp. In addition to other topics, she lectures on Becker frequently, has been a featured artist for American Guild of Organists Conventions, and has been heard with Michael Barone’s nationally-syndicated “Pipedreams” radio broadcast on numerous occasions, both live and recorded.

Dr. Spritzer serves the Cathedral Church of Saint Matthew in Dallas as Principal Organist and Artist-in- Residence for the Cathedral Arts series, and is Adjunct Instructor teaching Organ Literature and Sacred Music at the University of North Texas. Additionally, she was appointed Visiting Professor of Music at the University of Oklahoma for Fall 2014. Her dissertation for the Doctor of Musical Arts degree at the University of North Texas was on the life and music of René Louis Becker, and she is writing an extended preface for a forthcoming critical edition of several of Becker’s organ works (Wayne Leupold Editions). She received the Master of Music degree in Organ Performance from the Eastman School of Music and the Bachelor of Music degree in Organ Performance from the Oberlin Conservatory of Music.

The Organs of the
Cathedral of the Holy Cross, Orleans, France

First built in the seventh century, several different Romanesque and Gothic cathedral buildings and chapels have existed on the site, but all were destroyed and/or rebuilt. Joan of Arc famously attended Mass at Sainte-Croix in 1429, and her story is depicted in many of the stained glass windows of the present building, the cornerstone of it having been laid on April 18, 1601, by King Henri IV.

Several organs have graced the church since the first in 1523, built by Alexandres des Oliviers. The stunning Cavaillé-Coll organ in the gallery is comprised of pipework from both Louis Callinet (1786-1846) and Aristide Cavaillé-Coll (1811-1899). Its restoration by Bernard Hurvy of Nantes was completed in 2008.

Louis Callinet of Paris was hired to reassemble on a specially built gallery in the south transept of Sainte-Croix an organ which arrived in 1821 from the abbey in Saint-Benoît- sur-Loire. The organ had been purchased during the sale of national assets in 1796 by architect and Ste-Croix parishioner Benoist Lebrun (1754-1819) who gave it to the bishop of Orléans in 1806. That organ had been built in 1631 and rebuilt in 1705, and Callinet reconstructed it with four manuals and 45 stops, 12 of them reeds. Callinet enlarged its classical case, already modified over the years, though the original sculptures adorning it are original. The case was moved to the liturgical west gallery (the building not having been completed until the mid-19th century) and houses the Cavaillé-Coll organ.

When Callinet installed the organ from from St-Benoît-sur-Loire, the existing organ at Ste-Croix had been built in 1657 by Noël Grantin and completed in 1705 by Jean Brocard, then expanded by Jean-Baptiste Isnard in 1757.

In 1870, the Callinet instrument was badly damaged in the Franco-Prussian war, and though many organbuilders submitted proposals, the cathedral organist, Henri Tournaillon (1832-1887) was adamant that Cavaillé-Coll should be the builder -- he had provided the excellent choir organ in 1846. Cavaillé-Coll submitted his proposal for the work in 1878 and it was completed in 1880, when Alexandre Guilmant played the inaugural recital. Interestingly, Cavaillé- Coll wished to lower the organ gallery by several meters in order to improve the acoustical placement of the organ for the exceptionally long nave of Sainte-Croix, but the architect, Lucien Douillard, refused, as it would have altered the design of the magnificent doors to the church. However, Cavaillé- Coll’s mastery of his craft is evident in the careful voicing of the instrument for the unique space, despite his frustrations. Though the wind system was electrified with motors in 1921, this organ managed to escape the trends in revoicing that were rampant in the 1930s, and Robert Boisseau undertook an initial cleaning and regulation of the organ in 1949 after it had fortunately survived bombings in 1940 and 1944. In 1973, the organ was declared a “monument historique” through the efforts of Marie-Claire Alain. From 2004-2008, the entire instrument was painstakingly and exquisitely restored to its original 1880 condition, in both sound and appearance, by Bernard Hurvy. All interior wood was restored to original colors and the case was even refinished with the precise varnish used by Cavaillé-Coll, as his specific recipes had since been discovered. All pipework was meticulously measured and restored to original specifications and voicing. More than 19,000 hours went into the restoration, and the results are truly stunning. A unique feature of this organ, found on no other known instruments of Cavaillé-Coll, is the 32’ Contre-Bombarde, which in its low octave is actually a 10-2/3' reed stop playing simultaneously with the 16’ Bombarde, producing a resulting 32’ tone.

Organ of the Cathedral of Sainte-Croix in Orléans, France

1880 Aristide Cavaillé-Coll, Restored 2004-2008 Bernard Hurvy, Nantes
incoporating parts of 1822 Louis Callinet

CL = Callinet      CC = Cavaillé-Coll     * = 18th-C or earlier pipes     BH = Bernard Hurvy

I. Positif

8’         Montre façade CL modified by CC, interior pipes CC

8’         Salicional CC

8’         Bourdon CC

8’         Unda Maris BH

4’         Prestant CLC

4’         Flûte douce CC

2-2/3’  Quinte CC

2’         Doublette CC

V         Plein-Jeu CC

8’         Cromorne CC

8’         Trompette CL

4’         Clairon CL

II. Grand Orgue

16’       Montre façade CL modified by CC, interior pipes CC

16’       Bourdon CC

8’         Montre CL mod. CC

8’         Bourdon CC

8’         Flûte harmonique CC

8’         Viole de gambe CC

8’         Salicional CC

4’         Prestant CC

4’         Flûte douce CC

Anches G. O. (all stops of III)

Octaves graves G. O.

Copula Positif sur G. O.

Copula des Bombardes sur G. O.

Copula Récit sur G. O.

III. Clavier de Bombardes

V         Fourniture CL reconstitued by CC

IV        Cymbale CL reconstituted by CC

V         Grand cornet * or CL

16’       Bombarde CL

8’         Trompette CC

8’         Basson CC

4’         Clairon CL

Anches du Clavier de Bombardes

Octaves graves Bomb.

Copula Récit sur Bombardes

IV. Récit expressif

16’       Bourdon CC

8’         Principal CC

8’         Bourdon CC

8’         Flûte harmonique CC

8’         Viole de gambe CC

8’         Voix céleste CC

4’         Flûte octaviante CC

2’         Octavin CC

V         Cornet CC

16’       Bombarde CC

8’         Trompette harmonique CC

8’         Basson-Hautbois CC

8’         Voix humaine CL

4’         Clairon
harmonique CC

Trémolo

Anches du Récit

Octaves graves Récit

Pédale

32’       Soubasse CC

16’       Soubasse CC

16’       Flûte CC

16’       Violon-basse façade CL modified CC, interior pipes CC

8’         Flûte CC

8’         Violoncelle CC

4’         Flûte CC

32’       Contre Bombarde mix by CC of sources CC, CL, *

16’       Tuba magna CC

16’       Bombarde mix of sources

8’         Trompette mix of sources

4’         Clairon mix of sources

Anches de la Pédale

Tirasse G. O.

Tirasse Clavier de Bombardes

Effets d’orage

Manual compass 56 notes

Pedal compass 30 notes

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